For centuries, a Neath church has been home to a treasured a Georgian royal symbol, now conservation work has begun to bring the special coat of arms back to life.
Dated 1731, the Royal Arms of George II has hung in the Parish Church of St Thomas for nearly 300 years, a mark of the church’s importance in the town and district.
Believed to be the largest coat of arms of its kind found in a church outside of London, the Arms measure more than 11ft wide and over 10ft high and is painted in oils on a wooden boarded panel set in a gabled frame.
Mounted on the east wall of the church’s north aisle, the Arms has been a feature of St Thomas’ since the church was enlarged around 1730, the original church dating from the 12th century.
Prior to the removal of the Arms and transportation to Essex, they were viewed by HM Lord Lieutenant of West Glamorgan, D Byron Lewis Esq, KStJ, FCA.
Said HM Lord Lieutenant, “This is a wonderful piece of history which is going to be of great interest when the conservation work is completed and the Arms is returned to St Thomas’ Church, which in itself has such a rich and diverse history. I look forward to seeing the royal Arms again when it returns.”
Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 every church was encouraged to display a royal coat of arms to show allegiance to the king, however, the royal Arms in St Thomas’ is particularly late.
Church warden, Robert Williams added, “We don’t know who painted the Arms or why it came to St Thomas’, but it is inscribed with the names of two Neath townspeople – John Hopkin who was Portreeve, and William Gabb the churchwarden – something which is also relatively unusual.”
The conservation work is being carried out by specialist firm Howell & Howell Ltd. of Saffron Waldon in Essex. It is expected to take several months to clean away centuries of dust and dirt and to ensure the royal Arms is protected for future generations.
Mr Williams, who is also HM Deputy Lieutenant of West Glamorgan went on, “We hope that when the work is completed people will once again be able to see the colourful splendour and grandeur of the royal Arms. But conservation work of this kind does not come cheap, and we are very fortunate indeed to have a generous benefactor who is meeting the cost.”
In addition, St Thomas’ is home to a number of ancient hatchments, a large tablet usually diamond-shaped which bears the coat of arms of someone who has died. The Miers family hatchment, which dates from around 1800 has also been removed for conservation.