St James, Manorbier, Pembrokeshire


Dyfed PRN 4219

 RB No. 2849

 NGR SS 0650 9764

 Listed Building No. 5975

 Grade I listed (1998)


Medieval church; 100% pre 19th century core fabric.

A multicell church, large, cruciform. Consists of a chancel, 3 bays; nave, 4 bays; tower (north of chancel), 4 storeys; north transept, 2 bays; south transept, with skew-passage/squint, 1 bay, south aisle, 3 bays; south porch (formerly with parvis?); medieval. North aisle, 3 bays, early 17th century. Vestry (north of chancel) 1 bay, 1865-8. Limestone rubble construction, some ORS, with remains of early 19th century external render; internal walls with early render/plaster. Nave, transepts and skew passage, aisles, tower, porch, barrel-vaulted, north transept north bay rib-vaulted. Slate gable roofs; vestry with slate lean-to roof; tower with slate pyramidal roof. Medieval arcades (open), chancel arch?, some windows, doors (open and blocked), rood loft stair, doors and corbelling, squint, piscina, tomb recess (with effigy), south porch vault and benching, medieval tower with vault, openings and parapet; limestone and ORS dressings. Early 17th century arcades, windows, sanctus bellcote and blocked door, with limestone and ORS dressings. Some windows from 1865-8, neo-Gothic, with limestone dressings.

(Early 17th century oak rood-loft/gallery; medieval and 18th century wall-paintings).

Roofs: medieval vaults and 1865-8 timberwork. Floors: 1865-8?. Finishes: medieval plaster, early 19th century render and 1865-8 pointing.

Condition – good. Porch (with painting) damp.

Archaeological potential – excellent. External cutting around 40% of church, secondary, footings exposed in 5% of church; shallow drain around 100% of church; 1m of churchyard build-up around 40% of church; levels unchanged; no underfloor void; known burials beneath 20% of church?; external memorials significantly close to 100% of church.

Structural value (pre 19th century) – very good. 100% pre-19th century core fabric; medieval arcades, chancel arch?, windows, doors, rood loft stair, doors and corbelling, squint, piscina, tomb recess and effigy, south porch vault and benching, tower with vault, openings and parapet; early 17th century arcades, windows, sanctus bellcote and door.

Group value – high. Important medieval landmark church with tower, in coastal hilltop location; in historic village with castle etc.; churchyard with associated masonry buildings (Grade II* listed), one vaulted, late medieval, function?; medieval ?consecration cross; adjacent masonry buildings (Grade II listed), late medieval, function?.


Phase 1 – Nave, early C13 (vault added early C14).

Phase 2 – Chancel, transepts, early C14.

Phase 3 – Tower lower storeys, mid-late C14.

Phase 4 – South aisle, late C15.

Phase 5 – South porch, c.1500.

Phase 6 – North transept north bay, late C16.

Phase 7 – Tower belfry stage, C16.

Phase 8 – North aisle, early C17.

(Phase 9 – Restored early-mid C19, low-medium impact; vestry built.)

Phase 10 – Restored 1865-8, low-medium impact; vestry rebuilt.


The present church

St James, Manorbier, is a multicelled church, of large size. It retains approximately 100% pre 19th century core fabric.

The present church is cruciform and consists of a 3-bayed chancel, a 4-bayed nave, a 4-storeyed tower north of the chancel west bay, a 2-bayed north transept, a single-bayed south transept and skew-passage, a 3-bayed north aisle, a 3-bayed south aisle, a south porch (formerly with a first floor parvis?) and a single-bayed vestry north of the chancel central bay. Construction is in local limestone rubble, with some Old Red Sandstone. The chancel arch and arcades are medieval, and some openings; there are also early 17th century openings. Other openings are from 1865-8, neo-Gothic, with limestone dressings. There are the remains of early 19th century external render in the north aisle, and, to a lesser extent,  the south aisle; pointing is mainly from 1865-8 but there has been some later 20th century repointing. The interior is plastered, which is early in the porch which has medieval wall-paintings, and in the north aisle which has a painting from 1701. The nave, transepts and skew passage, aisles, tower and porch are barrel-vaulted, and there is a rib-vault in the north transept north bay. Roofs are slated gables; the vestry has a slated lean-to roof and the tower roof was not seen.

There is a 17th century oak gallery.

An external cutting runs around the east and south walls, secondary, exposing footings at the east end. The church is surrounded by a shallow, external drain. There has been deep, post-medieval churchyard build-up concealing the base of the north and west walls to a depth of approx. 1m. There is no evidence for internal floor level changes. Floors are not suspended, and there is no void. Known burials lie beneath the tower ground floor, and probably the north transept. Many external memorials lie significantly close to the church.

The chancel

The chancel weeps markedly. Its walls have an external basal batter which incorporates the exposed footings. The east window has plain-cusped triple lancets from 1865-8, beneath a contemporary wide outer arch with a drip-mould on moulded stops. There is a plain, single lancet in the east bay north wall with a chamfered limestone surround, probably 14th century; in the opposite, south wall is a plain-cusped, 2-light window with plate tracery featuring a quatrefoil, from 1865-8. The central bay side walls both feature a doorway, ie. ‘priest’s doors’, each of which has a simple, square lintelled head, medieval. The west bay north wall is pierced by a plain, 2-centred arch into the tower, and is 0.4m higher than the rest of the north wall, featuring a corbel-table to support the body of the tower. The south wall is similarly an arcade, with a plain, segmental head, for the skew passage into the south transept; the low external wall of the passage projects only slightly from the angle between chancel and transept and is coped back to their  external walls. The lower half of the passage entry was blocked in the later medieval period to form a squint, which is now interrupted by a single-light, cusped window with a trefoil above, all from 1865-8.

The plain, 2-centred chancel arch is said to have been rebuilt in 1865-8; it was, apparently, previously ‘very narrow’ (Davies, n.d.), but the present arch appears convincingly medieval. Above it are 2 medieval corbels for the former rood loft and the northern half is pierced by a plain, segmental-headed doorway, medieval, representing the entry into the tower second stage (see below), and now associated with a 17th century gallery which extends into the north transept (see the Structural Development below).

Internally, the east bay north wall features a tomb recess with a 2-centred head, with a moulded chest and recumbent male effigy, in armour, all from the early 14th century and occupying a shallow projection from the external face. In the opposite, south wall is a piscina with a cusped, 2-centred recess and plain projecting bowl, probably 14th century; it has been supplanted by a similar piscina and adjoining, arcaded double sedilia, with cusped arches on cylindrical shafts, from 1865-8.

The chancel roof may be of oak and comprises queen-post trusses, arch-braced from wall-corbels, with softwood matchboarding, all 1865-8; the east bay has a contemporary ‘wagon-roof’ ceiling, with matchboarding. The patterned-tile floor is similarly from 1865-8.

The nave

The nave side walls are both pierced by inserted arcades (see below); the arches towards the west are wider. In the east central bay, the south wall is pierced by a single light, with a semicircular-headed embrasure from the 12th century, or more probably the early 13th century, above the level of the inserted arch which interrupts its sill. The west wall features a blocked doorway with a very low doorway with a 2-centred head comprising 2 chamfered limestone voussoirs. Above the door is a graduated triple-lancet window, each lancet with a drip-mould, all from 1865-8 but inserted into an ?earlier, segmental-headed embrasure. A flue from in internal heating apparatus rises through the west wall to emerge from the southern slope as a plain, square chimney in limestone ashlar, from the earlier 20th century. The nave has a plain barrel-vault, with a 2-centred profile, from the early 14th century (secondary, see below). The floor is quarry-tiled, probably without a void, 19th century, 1865-8?.

The tower

The 4-storey tower occupies a position, only seen within the area at one other church (Pembroke St Mary), north of the chancel west bay and in the angle with the north transept. It is also stylistically unusual, and the lower 3 storeys are probably early, lacking the basal batter and string course typical of the region, and not being tapered. The external facework suggests at least 3 successive builds, much of it in squared and coursed rubble, with good quoins, but with the exception of the belfry stage, the tower may be attributed to the mid-late 14th century.

The ground floor opens into the chancel via the arch described above, and to the north transept through a semicircular-headed arch with rather crude, plain voussoirs inserted in the mid-late 14th century. The east wall is pierced by a simple, single light with a stepped square head, from the mid-late 14th century, while the north wall has a single lancet that is medieval in origin but was rebuilt in 1865-8. Internal masonry benching runs along the north wall, medieval. The ground floor has a plain barrel-vault with a rounded 2-centred profile and a bell-raising port. The floor comprises earlier 19th century memorial slabs (used as a family chapel?) and quarry tiles from the 19th century, 1865-8?.

The second stage is entered through the doorway from the 17th century gallery described above, and lit by a simple slit light in the east and north faces, from the mid-late 14th century, while the third stage has a similar, contemporary slit in the east wall, and a square through-shaft in the north wall.

The belfry stage is an addition of the 16th century (or even possibly the 17th century) and features large openings similar to those at Castlemartin Church. They comprise a large, single plain lancet with an unchamfered surround in the east and west faces (and a blocked lancet in the south face), and a similar triple lancet in the north face. The contemporary crenellated parapet lies on a corbel table.

The north transept

The north transept comprises 2 bays roofed at different levels and from 2 periods, apparently having been enlarged as a family (mortuary?) chapel in the later 16th century.

The southern bay, which may be early 14th century, is the earlier of the two, and is entered from the nave through a plain, 2-centred arch, crudely cut through the solid side wall and pre-existing barrel-vault; the south-east corner of the western stop has a marked chamfer probably associated with the former rood-screen and loft, there being 6 medieval corbels above and around the arch. The southern bay is open to the northern bay through a plain 2-centred arch respecting the profile of the vault in the northern bay beyond, above which its north wall oversails the roof of the northern bay; in this wall is a window with a triangular-headed embrasure, 14th century, with an inserted, cusped 2-light window, with a quatrefoliated spandrel, from 1865-8. The upstand is gently ‘crow-stepped’, again from 1865-8. This bay also communicates with the tower through the arch described above, and with the north aisle (see below). Internally, the east wall exhibits medieval rood-loft corbelling now carrying the 17th century gallery which extends into the nave (see the Structural Development below). The softwood roof is like that in the chancel, from 1865-8. The floor is like that in the nave and also from the 19th century, 1865-8?.

The northern bay is an addition of the later 16th century, with walls that are lower than those in the southern bay. It is lit by windows in all 3 walls. That in the east wall  has a simple square embrasure, later 16th century, occupied by a single light window with a square surround from 1865-8; there is now no evidence in this well for the blocked doorway shown in earlier 19th century drawings (see below). The northern window occupies a similar embrasure and is similar to that in the southern bay but with a trifoliated spandrel, from 1865-8. The west wall is properly the north aisle east wall, which will be described below; however, in the lower part of this wall is a window that looks into the aisle, with a plain, square, chamfered surround in weathered limestone from the later 16th century, and thus pre-dating the aisle. This bay is roofed, at a much lower level than the southern bay, with a rib-vault also from the later 16th century; the vault has a 2-centred profile and the ribs have a simple square profile. Floored as the southern bay.

The north aisle

The gabled north aisle communicates with the nave through an arcade of three plain, 2-centred arches, on plain square piers without capitals or bases, which are, like the transept arches, crudely cut through the side wall and vault, but lower, and from the early 17th century. It also communicates with the southern bay of the north transept through a low, plain 2-centred arch having square stops with plain, roll-moulded imposts to the east. Above this, the eastern, gable wall rises above the north transept and is surmounted by a sanctus bellcote; this is plain, gabled, with a single, square opening, from the early 17th century. Beneath it is a single light window with a plain, square, chamfered surround in weathered limestone from the early 17th century.

The north wall is pierced by 4 windows. At the east end is a low, single light with a square embrasure and surround in chamfered limestone, from the early 17th century and associated with a former rood-screen. The straight stair to the former rood-loft occupies a shallow projection from the wall immediately to the west, which has coping back to the wall face that follows a downhill slope to the west reflecting the line of the stair. The stair is entered through a narrow doorway with a plain, 2-centred head with a chamfered surround and a hood-mould on carved head stops, from the early 17th century, and exits onto the loft through a contemporary doorway with a simple square head. The stair is associated with the ?contemporary gallery noted above (and see below, Structural Development), which is supported on corbelling. Above the stair projection is the second window, which lies in a large plunging embrasure, from the early 17th century; the single Caernarfon-headed light is from 1865-8. The remaining 2 windows are both rather low, uncusped double lancets with semicircular heads in chamfered, weathered Old Red Sandstone from the early 17th century. Between them is a blocked doorway, also from the early 17th century, whose 2-centred head is very low externally where ground levels have been raised.

The west, gable wall exhibits a joint to the nave west wall. It is pierced by a plain-cusped, 2-light window with a drip-mould on moulded corbels and plate tracery featuring a quatrefoil, all from 1865-8. The internal face has masonry benching from the early 17th century.

The aisle is barrel-vaulted, with a 2-centred profile, from the early 17th century. Floored as the nave. At the east end of the north wall is a painted Royal Arms from 1701 (Parkinson, 1978).

The south transept

The south transept contains a single bay, entered from the nave through an arch like that of the north transept, and also early 14th century, but taller and without the chamfered stop; a rood-loft corbel lies on the western stop. It also communicates with the south aisle, see below; the skew-passage/squint into the chancel has been noted above. It is lit by a window in the south wall like that in the end wall of the north transept and similarly from 1865-8, but in a 2-centred embrasure that may be medieval. The east wall has an external buttress from the 19th century, badly weathered and originally taller; it may overlie a blocked, earlier opening. It has a 14th century barrel-vault with a 2-centred profile. Floored as the nave.

The south aisle

The gabled south aisle is narrower than the nave and north aisle, with a lower roof-line. It communicates with the nave through an arcade of three plain, 2-centred arches like those to the north aisle, but is probably from the later 15th century. It also communicates with the south transept through a plain 2-centred arch.

The south wall features 2 windows, that in the east bay being an uncusped double-lancet from 1865-8 possibly occupying an earlier embrasure. The west bay window is a single light with a square surround in chamfered limestone, from the late 16th-early 17th century; there is a possible area of blocking immediately to the east, high in the external face. The south door lies between the windows and has a 2-centred surround in unchamfered limestone ashlar, from the later 15th century. The internal face has contemporary masonry benching, with a cut-out around the door.

The west wall is pierced by a 2-light window, with square heads in a chamfered, square limestone surround and a segmental embrasure, all from the early 17th century. Below it is a plain lintel, set very low down but probably representing a (late) blocked doorway where external ground levels have been raised.

The aisle is barrel-vaulted, with a 2-centred profile, from the later 15th century. Floored as the nave.

The south porch

The south porch is from c.1500. It is probable that it formerly comprised 2 storeys (ie. with a parvis); internally, the walls are very tall, the west wall features an internal socket at half-height, for a floor-joist?, and there is a scar within the angle between the east wall and the south aisle which may represent the site of a former (spiral?) stair. Both side walls feature medieval masonry benching. The main entrance doorway has a weathered, double roll-moulded, 2-centred surround in large limestone, and a similar drip-mould on corbelled stops, one of which has gone, all from c.1500. The porch has a 2-centred barrel vault from c.1500, exhibiting on its ?contemporary plaster finish painted ribs, dividing the space into 4 panels with a central boss, also c.1500? (Parkinson, 1978); the painting is in fair condition only. The post-medieval flagged floor slopes downhill from south – north and is laid directly on the substrate; in all there are 4 steps down from the churchyard to the south aisle.

 The vestry

The vestry was added in 1865-8 replacing an earlier 19th century building. It is entered from the chancel through the medieval doorway described above, and from the churchyard through a Caernarfon-headed doorway in its east wall, from 1865-8. It is lit by a window in its north wall like that in the end wall of the north transept, also from 1865-8. There is a disused fireplace in the south-east corner, leading to a tall, square chimney set diagonally to the wall, with a cusped, gableted smoke-vent in each face, from 1865-8. The softwood, lean-to roof and tiled floor are both also from 1865-8.

Structural development

The nave may be late 12th century, but is more likely to be early 13th century, dated by the contemporary window surviving high in its south wall; the barrel-vault is an addition from the early 14th century when the transepts were added and the chancel, wider than the nave, was rebuilt. The tower is stylistically early ad was probably inserted between the chancel and the north transept in the mid-late 14th century. The addition of the south aisle entailed the insertion of arches through the nave south wall; the aisle contains no original features that can be closely dated, but sequentially it appears to be late 15th century, to which the south porch was added c.1500. The tower belfry stage is an addition of the 16th century (or even possibly the 17th century) and features large openings similar to those at Castlemartin Church. The north bay of the north transept can be given, by its openings and vault, a broadly late 16th century date. There are no features in the north aisle that can be given a date any earlier than the early 17th century, and indeed it appears that they are all primary and that the aisle was added, with a crude arcade like that to the south aisle, at this late date, when the south aisle was refenestrated..

There appear to have been 2 rood-screens, which may have co-existed; the medieval screen in the nave and north transept has now gone (removed in 1865-8 according to Davies, n.d.), and an early 17th century rood-screen in the north aisle, represented by the present gallery that is probably contemporary? (see below); figure-carving was apparently present on the rood-screen or loft, which was removed in 1707 and replaced by the Royal Arms of William III (Cadw, 1996, 1).

The church was described as ‘rather dilapidated’ in 1833 (Lewis, 1833). There was the usual expenditure upon small-scale repairs during the early 19th century, and a west gallery was installed in 1841 (Pembs. R. O., HPR/5/16). The pre-restoration church is shown in a number of late 18th – early 19th century pictorial views (see sources) none of which, however, show the church from the south. The church was much as it exists today but the north door may still have been open until 1839, and a blocked door is shown in the north transept east wall. From the early 19th century onwards, a small, lean-to roofed vestry occupied the site of the present vestry. The nave and north aisle west windows were large, square openings from the late 18th century, and there was a similar, smaller sash window in the north wall of the north transept southern bay. The original, early 17th century window survived above the rood-loft stair in the north aisle. Some restoration evidently took place in the mid 19th century when the north transept north wall received a 2-light window and the chancel east window was replaced with a 3-light window; both had ‘Y’-tracery. No openings are shown in the tower ground floor.

The church was restored in 1865-8, to the designs of the architect Frederick Wehnert (Cadw, 1996, 1) who was also responsible for restoring Hubberston Church, Pembs. The restoration was largely superficial. The vestry was rebuilt to a larger plan. The chancel arch was apparently rebuilt (but nb. see above, Description). New windows were inserted in the chancel, transepts and at the west end. The tower ground floor openings were reopened/rebuilt. The chancel and north transept received their present softwood roofs. The tiled floors may date from this restoration, or may belong to an earlier, mid 19th century restoration. The 1841 western gallery was removed. The internal finishes were largely retained, with their paintings.

The roofs were reslated in the 1980s (Bartosch & Stokes, 1991).

In the southern bay of the north transept is an early 17th century carved oak rood-loft, partly restored, which is for the most part supported on corbelling for the medieval loft, but lying on an inserted 20th century openwork screen around the southern bay north wall. The gallery extends into the nave, and into the contemporary north aisle where it is supported from the east and north walls on a coved, panelled bressumer, which exhibits traces of colouring (Parkinson, 1978), and entered from a contemporary rood-loft stair.

The free-standing softwood pews are from 1865-8 and have boarded floors laid over the flooring; those at the west end of the nave are more robust and may be earlier. The tower clock was installed in 1907 (Bartosch & Stokes, 1991). The carved, softwood altar table and reredos are earlier 20th century, as may be the free-standing stalls and the carved, neo-Gothic traceried chancel and tower screens, and the pulpit. There is a contemporary vestry screen in the west bay of the nave/south aisle, with a heating apparatus. The chapel fittings in the north transept are from the 1960s, and there are similar ‘domestic’ fittings in the north aisle.

There are 2 fonts. One, in limestone, has a square, scalloped bowl on a cylindrical stem, 12th century, and a square base from the 19th century. The second has a later medieval octagonal bowl, in limestone, and a secondary stem and base, from the 19th century?.

There are 3 bells in the tower, dated 1639, 1698 and 1806 (Bartosch & Stokes, 1991); the casting of the latter is referred to in a churchwarden’s account of 1806 (Pembs. R. O., HPR/5/16).

The effigy in the chancel was described by Fenton, 1903, 241. A ?post-conquest cross-incised stone, which may be a consecration cross (RCAHM, 1925, 216), lies loose in the porch.

The church was Grade I listed in 1998.


 There is some circumstantial evidence for the pre-conquest religious use of the site:-

centre of pre-conquest commote.

St James, Manorbier, was a parish church during the post-conquest period (Rees, 1932), of the medieval Deanery of Pembroke, within the sub-lordship of Manorbier. It was assessed at £20 in 1291 (Green, 1911, 284). The church was granted to the Priory of St Nicholas at Monkton by John de Barri, Lord of Manorbier, in 1301 (RCAHM, 1925, 216). Monkton was suppressed as an alien priory by Henry V and fell to the crown; in 1507 the patronage of Manorbier was granted by King Henry VII to his mother Margaret, who regranted it to Christ Church College, Cambridge (Green, 1911, 284). In 1536 the annual value was £8 (ibid.).

Christ Church College, Cambridge, were the patrons in 1833 when the living was a discharged vicarage, rated in the king’s books at £8, endowed with £600 royal bounty and £1400 parliamentary grant (Lewis, 1833).

In 1998 St James, Manorbier, was a parish church. The living was a vicarage, held with St  Florence and Redberth (Benefice 810) in the Archdeaconry of St Davids, Rural Deanery of Castlemartin (St Davids, 1997-8).


 Map Evidence

NLW, Ordnance Survey 1:2500, First Edition, Pembs. Sheet XLIV.11.

NLW, Ordnance Survey 1:2500, Second Edition, Pembs. Sheet XLIV.11.

NLW, Parish of Manorbier, Tithe Map, 1840.

NLW,. Vol. 88, PZ8208, Estate Map Book, 130, 1774-5.

Rees, W., 1932, South Wales and the Border in the XIVth century.

 Pictorial sources

 Haverfordwest Library, Prints and Pictures, H6759 EL/L, c.1870 (church from south-east).

NLW, Topographical Prints, PD7062, Top A12, A90, 1778 (church from north-west by Paul Sandby).

NLW, Topographical Prints, PA2633, Top B12/5, B93, early 19th century (church from east by Richard Colt-Hoare).

NLW, Original Drawings,  PZ576, DV353, 1861 (church from north-east).

NLW, Drawing Volumes,  Tenby Views 24, 9, 1839 (church from north by Charles Norris).

NMR, Pe 0589-0595, Photographs of church, c.1940 (in National Monuments Record, Aberystwyth).

NMR, SS/89/0017/27, Photograph of church from north before restoration (in National Monuments Record, Aberystwyth).

Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1631, early 19th century (church from north).

Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1744, mid 19th century (church from north and interiors).

Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/2225, 1853 (church from north-east).

Church in Wales Records

Bartosch & Stokes, 1991, Quinquennial Report, Manorbier.

St Davids, 1997-8, Diocesan Year Book.

 Parish Records, Pembrokeshire Record Office, Haverfordwest

HPR/5 – Manorbier:-

HPR/5/16 – Churchwarden’s Accounts, 1801-65.

HPR/5/17 – Churchwarden’s Accounts, 1869-1903.

Unpublished Accounts

Parkinson, A. J., 1978, Notes on wall-paintings (in National Monuments Record, Aberystwyth).

Thomas, W. G., 1964, St James, Manorbier (in National Monuments Record, Aberystwyth).

Printed Accounts

Gordon Partnership, 1993, Redundant Religious Buildings in West Wales.

Cadw, 1996, Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest (Manorbier).

Davies, J. G., n.d., Manorbier Church and Parish.

Fenton, R., 1903 edn., A Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire.

Freeman, E. A., 1852, ‘Architectural Antiquities of South Pembrokeshire’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. III, Second Series.

Green, F., 1911, ‘Pembrokeshire Parsons’, West Wales Historical Records Vol. I.

Laws, E., and Edwards, E. A., 1911, ‘Monumental Effigies of Pembrokeshire’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. XI, Sixth Series.

Lewis, S., 1833, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales.

RCAHM, 1925, Inventory: Pembrokeshire.

Salter, M., 1994, The Old Parish Churches of South West Wales.

SPARC (South Pembrokeshire Partnership for Action with Rural Communities), 1994, Manorbier leaflet.

Thomas, W. G., 1964, ‘Manorbier Church’, Archaeol. Journal Vol. CXIX.