Approximately a mile north of Chepstow, on English side of the River Wye and right on the the border of Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire, sit the ruins of an old church, as seen above. It is all that remains of a medieval village, plus a still-working farm further up the hill behind the church; the lumps and bumps in the surrounding landscape also hint at how the small area around the church once had cottages and a community.
The etymology of Lancaut derives from the Welsh Lan (church) and Cewydd, a 6th century saint. Little is known of St Cewydd due to lack of written records but the 12th century Book of Llandaff, a collection of ecclesiastical charters covering 500 years of the Welsh diocese history, notes a religious establishment, lann ceuid, at Lancaut, established circa 625 AD and mentioned again circa 702/3 AD. It can therefore be deduced that a building dedicated to St Cewydd most likely existed under the Welsh Celtic tradition but whether St James sits on the actual site of a more ancient building, is unproven.
In his A Survey of St James Church (1990), Charles Parry notes that the earliest surviving part of the church (ruins) can be dated no earlier than late 12th/early 13th century; however, the fabric of some foundation stone is the same stone as used in the hall of Chepstow Castle in the late 11th century as well as the lead font that once stood in the church which has been dated to 1120 – 1140 and now stands in the Lady Chapel at Gloucester Cathedral. The church had almost total reconstruction during the post-medieval period and has been in ruins since c1865.
British History Online notes that Lancaut sat in the manor of Tidenham (sometimes spelt Tiddenham). In 1301, Lancaut had 10 tenants, in 1551 it had c19 communicants (church members) and in 1563 it had 5 houses. In 1710 there were 4 families living in Lancaut and only 2 inhabited houses by 1750; a ‘cottage and fish-house’ on the river bank was mentioned in 1815 although unoccupied in 1839 and ruinous in 1969. The church fell into ruin from c1865. The farm that is still there is thought to be c1700’s although some timber frame is evident in the south end of the farm – this more than likely sits on an earlier farmstead of some sort.
Lancaut is now a nature reserve under the care of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.
British History Online
Parry, Charles, A survey of St James Church, Lancaut, Gloucestershire, vol 108, pp 52-103. 1990
Unless otherwise stated, all images are my own.