St Aidan’s is located in Upper Solva, above the village’s pretty and popular harbour. This is the newest church in our local ministry area, having been built in 1879. Consequently, don’t expect to encounter the ancient features that are present in most of our other churches. But there is a medieval font and even a pre-Norman cross.
What is interesting, however, is to see what kind of church the Victorians built when they were building from new. St Aidan’s was designed, in plain lancet style (a lancet window is a tall, narrow window with a pointed arch at its top), in 1875-6, and built in 1877-9, by J.L.Pearson. The church consists of a nave and chancel in one, hipped roofed double bellcote, gabled north porch and south-east vestry. It was constructed in a colourful manner using green Middle Mill granite with yellow Doulting stone window heads and sills, and red brick for bellcote, eaves, window reveals and string course.
The undivided interior is plastered, with moulded brick sill course. The fine timber roof is open throughout, enhanced with wind-bracing in the chancel, which is otherwise marked only by a rood beam. Fittings include a pitch pine pulpit and rails in vigorous Gothic forms (1889), a twelfth-century scalloped font on a plain nineteenth-century cylindrical base (from the lost church of St Teilo at St Elvis), and a stone reredos since painted white. Stained glass includes work by Clayton & Bell (1892). In the porch is a large, pre-Norman cross-inscribed stone from St Elvis Farm, found in 1925.
- The stone is known as ‘Maen Dewi’ (St David’s Stone). It has an early Christian ring-cross carved onto it, but could, in fact, be an older, prehistoric stone.
The stone was brought to St Aidan’s church in 1925 after being discovered in use as a gatepost at St Elvis farm, about a mile and half east. It had stood beside the second entrance to the farm for some considerable time without anyone realising what it was.
The artefact has long been associated with St David and may have once stood beside St Aelbyw’s holy well in St Elvis farmyard. This well is considered to be the one where David was baptised in about 500 by St Ailbhe, bishop of Munster. It probably stood in the old church of St Teilo, which is now a ruin in the farmyard. The ruined church had fallen into decay after 1850, and the stone and the old font were brought for safety to St Aidan’s.
- The architect responsible for St Aidan’s, John Loughborough Pearson (1817–97), was a celebrated figure, restoring, for example, the north transept of Westminster Abbey. Today, however, he is widely condemned as a ‘despoiler’ of medieval churches, a man who imposed his own ideas on ancient structures with little regard for, even arrogant contempt for, the spirit of a church or even a cathedral. But when Pearson was designing new churches, he displayed genius. He is best known today as the architect of Truro Cathedral, the first new Anglican cathedral built since the Middle Ages (other than Wren’s rebuilding of St Paul’s). How fortunate that St Aidan’s in Solva was a ‘new build’.
- The architect JL Pearson was contracted by Canon Gilbert Harries, rector of Gelligaer, Glamorgan, whose family home, Llanunwas, was in Solva.
- The cost of building St Aidan’s was £1600. The church is now in need of repair and restoration, at an estimated cost of £138,000.
Solva: Church of St Aidan
Haverfordwest, SA62 6TQ
Rev Diana Hoare: 01437 721205
Rev Canon Michael Rowlands: 01348 831382