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St Mary the Virgin, Angle

Location: Angle, near Pembroke
OS Reference: SM866029
Listed: Grade II
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

The church is open during daylight hours throughout the year.

The Village
Angle is a former fishing village situated at the head of the Milford Haven ten miles south east of Pembroke.  Its ancient name was Nangle, derived from in angulo, meaning "in a nook".  Its population in 1831 was 458 but has since fallen to 232 in 2003.

Angle's prominent position probably means that it's history long predates that which is recorded.  After the Norman Conquest Angle became part of the earldom of Pembroke and was constituted a "Knight's Fee" (a feudal unit) under the Marcher Lordship of Pembroke.   Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) held the living as Rector of Angle Church circa 1200.

The village of Angle is linear, being primarily a single street which runs east/west from Angle Bay in the Milford Haven Estuary to West Angle Bay at the entrance of the Haven to the Bristol Channel.  Medieval strip fields can still be seen behind the village.

Many medieval buildings survive in the village, among them The Tower House, on the site of the ancient castle, a dovecote, a mysterious building sometimes known as "The Priory" otherwise known as "The Almshouse", the Church and the Seamen's Chapel.

Present day Angle is noted for its beautiful beach at West Angle Bay; its surfing beach at Freshwater West, its Napoleonic Fort on Thorn Island off West Angle Bay and its flat roof houses built at the turn of the 20th century by the philanthropic Colonel Mirehouse.  His ancestor John Mirehouse was a notable agricultural improver who purchased The Hall at Angle shortly after 1800 after setting up a model farm at Brownslade, Castlemartin. His descendants still live at The Hall today.

The RNLI is a notable institution in the village and the local lifeboats (inshore and offshore) have been involved in many heroic rescues (including in recent years a herd of cows that fell into the sea over the cliffs).


The Church
In medieval times there were three churches in Angle: St Anthony's at West Angle Bay (which seems to have fallen over the cliffs around 1500), St Mary's at Chapel Bay and the present St Mary's which lies in the centre of the village.  The remains of the churchyard at West Angle Bay can still be seen as lead lined medieval graves still tumble over the cliff top from time to time.

The present church was probably built in the 14th century - the chancel, north transept and south porch are all that remain of the original structure. The tower was probably added in the 15th century.  R K Penson, who worked closely on some other south Wales buildings with Capability Brown, restored the Church in the 19th century.  The church was original cruciform in shape but the south transept was in such a state of disrepair that it was decided to take it down at the time of the restoration.

Notable features today include its fine Norman font and its 19th century stained glass windows.  The north transept also contains a fine old monument of the ancient families of Dawes and Ferrers who lived at Bangeston Castle, whose ruins can be found halfway up Combes Hill rising from Angle Bay.


The Seamen's Chapel
This tiny chapel lies in the medieval churchyard behind the church beside the salt marsh/creek, which runs up from the Angle Bay arm of the Milford Haven.  It is dedicated to St Anthony and was founded by Edward de Shirburn, Knight of Nangle in AD 1447.

There is an effigy, probably of de Shirburn to the left hand side of the doorway. Tiles around the plain stone altar are of the same pattern as those in St Davids Cathedral. Behind the altar there is a recently restored reredos depicting Christ on the Cross wearing His High Priestly Robes (of the Order of Melchizedek, symbolising his eternal love and care) overlooking early 20th Century Angle life, with fishermen on the beach, farmers in their fields, children playing, sailing ships going up the Haven, the church and the chapel and two guardian angels on either side of the scene.  Across the scene runs the text "I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me".

Underneath the chapel lies a crypt, which was used until the early 20th century to house the many bodies washed ashore along the local coastline. The 19th century Burial Register records many instances of the burial of unknown persons "drowned".


The Churchyard
There are two churchyards in Angle - the medieval churchyard surrounding the church and a large modem one on the opposite side of the road overlooking the football field.  In the old churchyard there is a medieval preaching cross, containing three steps, surmounted by a socket stone and a small modem cross with octagonal shaft and arms.

There is also an unmarked area set aside for the burial of a large number of Japanese sailors drowned when their ship sank off West Angle Bay during the First World War.  A substantial proportion of the graves are unmarked, indicative of the fact that the families concerned could not afford headstones.


"Whisky Galore"
Angle is well known in Wales for having its own "Whisky Galore" story.  On 30th January 1894 the sailing ship Loch Shiel ran on to the rocks of Thorn Island in a storm.  

The 27 people on board were in a spot inaccessible to the local RNLI Lifeboat; but three lifeboat men managed to rescue them.  The ship, however, carried 7,000 cases of the finest Scotch Whiskey most of which was washed ashore. Such a welcome bonanza proved too much for
some.  

A father and son were drowned whilst they were towing a keg ashore and another man died from "excessive whisky drinking".  Customs men discovered hoards everywhere; amongst holes in the cliff, in the roofs of houses and behind recesses that had been wallpapered over.  

One hideout was so well concealed that two bottles were found
sixty years later when a cottage was being improved.  Divers are still finding bottles on the seabed, even today.