Carmarthen, St Peter's Church
Carmarthen, St Peter's Church
St Peter's is one of the largest parish churches in Wales, built of local red sandstone and grey shale. Its recorded history dates from 1107 when it was conferred by Henry I on Battle Abbey, but there was probably an ancient Celtic church here long before then.
The story of St Peter's goes back even further, for the church stands on the site of a 1st century gateway built by the Romans to defend their fort of Moridunum here. The circular shape of the churchyard suggests that there was Celtic church here as early as the 6th century. There is no structural evidence of that early building, but we are on firmer historic ground by the time the Normans subdued south Wales in the late 11th century.

Battle Abbey only controlled the church for a few years before it was transferred to the Bishop of St Davids. In 1125 Bishop Bernard of St Davids gave it to the Priory of St John (Carmarthen Priory), and it stayed with the Priory throughout the medieval period. In the late 14th century a chantry chapel was established.

Sometime in the 16th century a Consistatory Court was established at St Peters (a court for administering the church's own legal system). One of the most dramatic event in the long history of St Peters took place in 1555 when the Bishop of St Davids, Robert Ferrar, was tried in the court for heresy before being burned at the stake in Carmarthen's market place.

The Consistatory Court can still be seen in the south aisle, where a memorial to Bishop Ferrar stands. On the wall of the Court is a memorial to Sir Richard Steele (d. 1729), a dramatist, essayist, and publisher of the first true magazine in Britain. Steele's second wife, poet Mary Scurlock, is buried at Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries the church passed to the crown, then was given to St David's College at Lampeter, then back to the Bishop of St Davids.

The oldest parts of the church are the chancel, north transept, north aisle, and parts of the tower, all dating to the 13th century. Much older is a Roman altar stone kept in the porch, near a 13th century coffin lid. There are a wealth of historic monuments from the 17th-19th centuries.

Royal Connections
Probably the most interesting burial at St Peter's is in the chancel, where Charlotte Dalton (d. 1832), grand-daughter of George III, is buried in a vaulted underground tomb with her niece Margaret Augusta Prytherch, who died in 1839 at just 8 years of age. A black marble slab in the floor in front of the altar marks the location of the vault.

The story needs a bit of background. In 1759 George, then Prince of Wales, secretly married Hannah Lightfoot, daughter of a London draper. They had 3 children together, and though the marriage was valid, that did not stop George from marrying Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1761, just 2 years later. Charlotte would become queen, but the first marriage was never dissolved. One of the king's daughters married James Dalton of Carmarthen. They had 2 daughters, including Charlotte Dalton, who is buried here. Curiously, the burial was never recorded. Might it be that the royal family wanted it hushed up?

A Tudor Hero
Another historic tomb is that of Sir Rhys ap Thomas of Dynefwr (1525) and his wife Lady Janet. Sir Rhys was one of Henry Tudor's major allies in his bid for the throne in 1485, and fought at the Battle of Bosworth. Legend says that Sir Rhys killed Richard III on the battlefield. Henry, now king Henry VII, rewarded Sir Rhys by making him a Knight of the Garter and Governor of Wales. Sir Rhys also fought for Henry VIII in his 1513 invasion of France. On his death in 1525 he was buried at the Church of the Grey Friars in Carmarthen, but when the friary was dissolved by Henry in 1538 the richly carved altar tomb and alabaster effigies were moved to St Peters, to a place of honour in the chancel.

Another memorial in the chancel is that of Walter Devereux, First Earl of Essex (d. 1576), father of Elizabeth I's favourite. In the chancel is an elegant memorial to Edmund Meyrick (d. 1713) vicar and local benefactor, who established a charity school and left money for scholarships at Jesus College in Oxford.

In the churchyard is the tomb of General Sir William Nott (d. 1845), a veteran of campaigns in Afghanistan and India. Sir William's father famously owned an inn at Carmarthen with a sign outside the entrance saying 'Come in, eat, drink, be merry and pay Nott'! After Nott's death a statue of him was erected in the market square, which was then renamed Nott Square. The bronze statue was made from cannons captured at Battle of Maharajpur.

The organ is worth noting; it was built for the royal chapel at St George's at Windsor Castle, but George III had a change of heart and in 1796 he gave it instead to St Peters.