Ilston Church of St Illtyd

Has been described as a Questionable Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are major building remains

NameIlston Church of St Illtyd
Alternative Names
Historic CountryGlamorgan
Modern AuthoritySwansea
1974 AuthorityWest Glamorgan

There is reference to an Ilston church in 1119 and 1221; at the latter date it was donated to the Knights Hospitallers. In 1540 the patronage passed from the Crown to Thomas Penrice of Kilvrough. According to an old drawing (1847), the chancel arch was round and low, indicating that nave and chancel probably existed in the C12; the blocked north door of the nave is also round arched. Their relationship seems to suggest an earlier lost structure to their south, to which they may have been added; but the tower now in this position was probably considerably later than the nave. The awkward relationship of the tower perhaps results from the desire for a separate, stronger foundation. There is also a blocked east window to the tower, suggesting the original form of the vestry is still later. There is a blocked north door to the nave. In the C18 the roof was renewed.

The church stands on steeply rising ground, forming a picturesque mass with its unusually positioned tower (as at Llangennith). It consists of nave with chancel, small vestry to the south of the chancel, south porch, and the tower on a slightly different alignment standing in the space between the vestry and the porch. The masonry is uncoursed axe-dressed limestone throughout, except that of the tower which is in smaller stonework and slightly coursed. The west wall, on the low ground, is strongly battered. Slate roofs throughout, with Bath-stone coped gables to the east and the west of the nave, to the chancel and porch. The apexes of the gables to the chancel, the porch and the west of the nave carry small stone cross finials, but the vestry gable is a plain verge. A parapet wall links the east side of the tower to the nave east gable. The tower is low but massive, with one small window to south, numerous putlog holes, belfry slits to east and west and roof vent slits to north and south. Its parapet is crenellated and rises to a gable on the north and south sides

These gables cover the ends of the saddleback roof, which is an important feature as one of a small number of such locally characteristic roofs on Gower churches. The east and west sides of the parapet are carried on billet corbels. The windows are all restored. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Towered church suggested as defensive by Harrison. Part of a group of Gower churches that Harrison suggests where fortified against the welsh but what protection such churches had was likely to be against pirate raids and it is arguable if such protection can be considered as 'defensive' or 'fortification'. It should also be noted it was standard for all churches to use martial symbols like battlements to represent God's dominion on earth and that church towers are structure which have to hold heavy, moving and vibrating bells and which need to be strongly built for this reason, particularly in places, like much of Wales, where mortar is of poor quality. This church, and a number of others in Gower, were controlled by the Knights Hospitaller, a military monastic order for whom martial symbols of God's dominion would have had particular resonance.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

This is a Grade 2* listed building protected by law

Historic Wales CADW listed database record number
The National Monument Record (Coflein) number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSS556903
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  • Harrison, Peter, 2004, Castles of God (Woodbridge; Boydell Press) p. 82
  • Davis, P.R., 1997, Historic Gower (Swansea: Christopher Davies) p. 45-6
  • Newman, J., 1995, Buildings of Wales: Glamorgan (Yale University Press) p. 366-7
  • Orrin, G., 1979, The Gower Churches (Rural Deanery Of West Gower) p. 34-7


  • Walker, M., 1999, 'Ilston Church and its Clergy' Gower Vol. 50 p.
  • Harrison, Peter, 1995, 'The tower churches of Gower' Gower Vol. 46 p. 15-23 online copy
  • Glynne, 1897, 'Notes on the older churches in the four Welsh Dioceses (continued)' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 52 p. 293-4 online copy