In Search of a Church … or Two …
By Sue Lloyd
At first glance there would seem to be a proliferation of churches in the ancient village of Templeton. But delve into history and it reveals no church building of any great antiquity. The derelict 13th century Mounton Chapel although now situated within the Templeton boundary was always a parish in its own right and only amalgamated into Templeton in the 20th century. The established church of St Johns was not built until c.1860, Molleston Baptist Church although founded in 1667 was not built until 1731 and The United Reform Church, built in 1833 replaced a former building built in 1813.
According to local legend St Johns church was built on the site of an earlier chapel that belonged to the Knights Templar. Early Pembrokeshire historians perpetuate the tale of the Knights Templar, Richard Fenton in his Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire describes Templeton as:
Being the favourite resort of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, for the season which they enjoyed the recreation of hunting. It is the skeleton of a large village consisting chiefly of a row of houses on each side of a great road leading to Tenby. It exhibits here and there the ruins of pretty large houses, and the remains of a cross now overturned, its shaft lying in one place and its pedestal in another. On the east side of the street a little recessed in a field, stands a fragment of what I suppose was once a chapel from its site due east and west, tradition likewise tending to confirm it.1
The shaft of that cross now stands in the churchyard of St Johns and it must have had some significance to be re-erected when the new church was built. St Johns church is situated on the east side of the village.
Whilst trawling through the records in the National Archives, I came across a document with the heading ‘ Order by official of St David’s settling a dispute among the parishioners of Narberth, Molleston and Templeton over the maintenance of their church’ dated 1386.2 I requested a copy of the document but was disappointed when I received it. I had expected it to be in Latin but I had not expected the writing to be so small. Firstly I tried to copy each letter to enable easier translation but this proved extremely difficult and in the end I gave up. I then tried to find a local translator but could not find any one willing to take on the difficult translation. In the end I responded to an advertisement in a Family History magazine. The translator was unable to provide a word for word translation but was able to under stand the gist of the document which it appears was a complaint by the men of Templeton against the charges that they had to pay for the upkeep of Narberth Church. The men of Molleston, Narberth and Templeton all paid an equal amount for the upkeep but the men of Templeton were also keeping a chapel in Templeton. The judgement by the clerk at St David’s was that Templeton men should only pay 10 shillings towards Narberth, whilst they were maintaining the Templeton church. The men of Molleston and Narberth should pay 20 shillings.
With proof of a 14th century church in the village I now needed to find its location. As well as the legend that the site is the same as the current church there is also mention of a site higher up the village behind the old post office. Searching through the Non-conformist history I came across the mention of a Meeting House in Templeton and of two brothers, James and John Relly (c.1722-79).3 They are said to have been born in Jeffreyston. James Relly was converted by the Calvinist Methodist Evangelist, George Whitefield when he attended a meeting with the intention of making trouble. James was so impressed by Whitefield that he was converted and became one of his preachers. The brothers had meeting houses in Pembroke and Templeton, which may have been redundant Anglican churches or just private dwelling houses. Both the brothers were prolific writers of hymns and sermons and other theological works.4 James Relly was an extrovert and he was often criticised for his religious works and his private life. After he toured the West Country and Ireland he broke with Whitefield and moved to London, succeeding John Wesley as preacher at the Meeting House in Bartholomew Close and finally to Crosby Square.5 There was a lot of disagreement between the Methodist around this time and James Relly was the subject of much vilification by both the organised church and the Nonconformists. He was accused of being an Antinomianist but this did not discourage him and his brand of religion became known as Rellyanism or Rellyists.
John Relly who was said to be the quieter of the brothers remained in Pembrokeshire and continued to preach at Templeton. He was involved with John Harries of St Kennox and also the Moravians who often used his Rellite Meeting House at Templeton.6 The Moravian said about Templeton:
lt had an almost Athenian love of novelty in religion: soon after 1800 there was a Unitarian congregation there for a while; possibly the semi industrial character of the place (there were collieries there) may have had something to do with this religious restlessness.7
John Relly often preached at the Moravian chapel. He died in 1777 and was buried at Carew. After his death the Rellites faded away probably turning to other forms of religion.A disciple of James Relly, John Murray, emigrated to American and in 1780 was instrumental in founding the American Universalist Church based on Rellyism.8 In the history of the American Universal Church they state that James Relly converted to Calvinism circa 1742 and became a preacher at Rhyddlangwraig (also spelt Ridllaniregg) Narberth.9 So far I have been unable to trace Rhyddlangwraig, it could it be the name of the Templeton Meeting House or is it yet another church? In Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Wales he states about Templeton:
‘The cottages in this village have an appearance of great antiquity, and the remains of numerous ruined buildings, together with the tradition that there was anciently a church or chapel here on the site of which is a building, subsequently used by a congregation of Unitarian dissenters, and now as a schoolroom, in connection with the established church, afford evidence of its having been at one time a place of greater importance.’10
This is more confusing because the schoolroom for the established church is on the west side of the road opposite the church. The URC schoolroom is on the east side but at the top of the village. Now I have four possible sites and just to add to my confusion another old legend suggests an ancient church in fields leading from Chapel Lane to Chapel Hill Farm at the back of the village. Another church or just a red herring?
- R. Fenton, A Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire (2nd edn., Brecknock, 1903), 137.
- The National Archives, E.135/23/55 (219660).
- National Library of Wales – Welsh Biography Online ‘Relly’.
- British History on line, E. Webb, The Records of St Bartholomew‘s Priory and St Bartholomew the Great, Vol. 2, 159-180.
- R. Jenkins, ‘The Moravian Brethren in North Wales’ , Y Cymmrodor, XLV, 40.
- Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography, ‘James Relly’ by A. Hill www.25.uua.org/uuhs/duub.
- Andover-Harvard Theological Library (Online) BMS.444, Reily, James 1772- 1778.
- S. Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1833).
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