Saint Stephen

 Parish History

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The Parish of S. Stephen comprises largely of the district of Newport known as Pillgwenlly.  This is a corruption of Pill Gwynllyw or Gwynllyw’s Harbour.  Gwynllyw is said to have been the son of Glywys, Lord of Glewiseg (Wentllwch), who was a Prince of the district and died 20th March AD 500.

The word Pill (spelt with one L) is a Welsh word meaning ‘a sea ditch or trench filled at high water.’

The neighbourhood at that time was meadow land, leading to the mouth of the River Usk. 

The river mouth was known to regions far beyond our Island home, for many hundreds of years, and is very likely to have been used by Roman Galleys transporting members of the Second Legion to and from the Fort of Isca Silurum known today as Caerleon.

Later the Danes must have visited the local shores, because during the excavations for the present Alexandra Docks, the remains of a vessel of approximately seventy feet in length was discovered and this was believed to have been of Danish construction.

The entrance to the River Usk from the Bristol Channel was also a hunting ground for pirates and smugglers.

During the whole of this period and in fact, up to the early 1800’s, the area was part of the Ancient Parish of St. Gwynllyw, now known as St. Woolos, the church of which at the time, stood outside the Newport Borough boundary.

At a public meeting held on 7th November 1834, it was agreed that there was an urgent need for another church for the use of the inhabitants of the Borough of Newport and the Parish of St. Woolos.  Consequently, in September 1835, the foundation stone of St. Paul’s Church was laid, and the new church was consecrated on 3rd November 1836 and so, the first of the modern parishes was formed.

Within six years of the formation of the Parish of St. Paul, the Alexandra Docks were opened with great ceremony.  This period of activity witnessed a corresponding period of development in church life in the area, with the need to erect a permanent stone church to replace the small Mission Church in Pillgwenlly, built in 1824 for the purpose of the elementary education of the children of the area, as well as for public worship.

With houses being built in the district for the accommodation of the people engaged in the rapidly developing shipping industry, the stone church, known as Holy Trinity was built and consecrated by Dr. Ollivant, Bishop of the Diocese of Llandaff (of which Newport was then part) on 15th June 1852, and resulted in another parish being formed, namely the Parish of Holy Trinity.

During the years that followed, the immediate area around the Docks had become a hive of industry, and houses were being built on a large scale.

To accommodate the growing population of Holy Trinity Parish, the need was for yet another church.  This building was to replace the Mission Church which had stood on a site near to the Docks in Watch-house Parade since 1824, and incidentally is reported to have been the first place of worship within the Borough of Newport.

Consequently, at a meeting in October 1881, it was proposed that a new church be built in the Neighbourhood of the Alexandra Dock and the outlay contemplated was about £2,000.

It is reported in the “Monmouthshire Merlin” of July 1882, that the Rev. F. Bedwell BD, Rector of Holy Trinity, is quoted as saying that “additional church accommodation is urgently needed in Pill” and the “Tredegar Wharf Company has promised to give a piece of land near the Alexandra Docks on which to build a church.”

Having obtained the promise of a site, plans were then drawn up by Mr E.A. Lansdown, of a structure to cost between £2,500 and £3,000.  Tenders were requested for  the erection of the building and in due course, the following were received and published in the Monmouthshire Merlin in September 1883:

 W.M. Blackburn   £2,025
 W. Bowen & Co, Hereford  £2,294
 W. Jones & Son, Newport  £2,087
 L.B. Moore, Newport   £2,245
 Thos. Prosser, Newport  £2,000
 D.C. Jones & Co, Gloucester  £2,653
 Stephen & Bastow, Bristol  £2,314
 John Williams, Newport  £2,100
 H. Welsh, Hereford   £2,460

After careful consideration, it was decided to accept the tender submitted by W. M. Blackburn of Henry Street, Newport and work began with the laying of the foundation stone on 12th November 1883 by Lord Tredegar.

The building of the church was completed in under twelve months, for on 16th October 1884, the service of consecration took place, and was fully reported in the Monmouthshire Merlin as follows:
“OPENING OF ST. STEPHEN’S CHURCH, NEWPORT…The opening of this sacred edifice, dedicated for public worship according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, was celebrated this morning.  The building has been erected in the Parish of Holy Trinity, in the district of Pillgwenlly, for the purpose of providing for the spiritual requirements of the dense population which has, during the last few years, aggregated near the locality of the Alexandra Docks.”  The report continues with a description of the services which took place that day.  “At 8.30am there was a Celebration of the Holy Communion, of which a large number partook.  At 11.45 there was Morning Prayer and Sermon, the sacred edifice being crowded to excess.  A large quantity of flags and bunting were displayed in the neighbourhood.  The Lord Bishop of Llandaff, accompanied by a large number of clergy, marched into church.  The opening hymn was “All people who on earth do dwell” and the appointed psalms being the 24th, 48th and 122nd.  The Anthem, by Smart, being “A day in Thy Court is better that a thousand.”  The dedication hymn was “O word of God’s love.”  The service was fully choral, and Miss A. Morgan very efficiently presided at the harmonium throughout.  The sermon was preached by the Rev. W. Conybeare Bruce, Vicar of St. Woolos, who took for his text the 54th chapter of Isaiah, verses 2 and 3.”  At the close of the morning service, a public luncheon was laid in the Church Street schoolroom, to which over one hundred ladies and gentlemen sat down and Alderman H.J. Davies presided.

The Lord Bishop, the Rev. F. Bedwell (Rector of Holy Trinity), Messrs H.J. Gratte and W. Parifitt (Churchwardens), Mr. A.C. Jones and Capt. Homfray were among the company.  There were further services at 3pm, at which the Rev. J.W. Evans preached and again at 6.30pm when the Archdeacon of Llandaff was the preacher.  The collections at the opening services amounted to £55.13.9.

The Rev. Bedwell left Holy Trinity Parish in 1885 to become Vicar of Caerleon and was succeeded by the Rev. David Wilks, who continued responsibility for St. Stephen’s until he was succeeded by the Rev. Henry Morgan in 1903.

St. Stephen’s remained a “daughter church” to Holy Trinity until 1913, when it was made a conventional district, the services then being conducted by the Rev. Nathaniel Rees to 1916 and the Rev. E.H.R. Hughes to 1920.

The Disestablishment of the Church in Wales had been debated in Parliament for many years, but, with the outbreak of war in 1914, the matter was shelved.  Upon cessation of hostilities, the controversial question of Disestablishment was again raised in Parliament and in 1920 it became law.

St. Stephen’s was made a Parish in the newly formed  Monmouth Diocese, and the first Vicar in the parish, the Rev. Sidney Heber Jones BA was inducted.

He remained until his death in 1957 and during this 37 years, the parish had experienced some difficult times.  With a decline in worshippers and the upheaval of the Second World War, the building was falling into a state of disrepair, and was a challenge to any would-be incumbent.

The Rev. W.J. Charles Thomas was appointed to the vacancy and inducted by the Archbishop of Wales, Edwin Morris on 23rd June 1958.  During his four years as Vicar of the Parish, there was an upward trend in attendance.  The fabric of the church had been made good, the organ completely renovated, broken windows renewed and restored and many other improvements effected.

His successor, the Rev D.P. Glyn Davies continued the ministry in the parish until his retirement in 1969.

After a lengthy  interregnum, the Rev. John H. Douglass was appointed in 1970 to serve jointly the Parish of Holy Trinity (which had recently been vacated) and the Parish of St. Stephen, being Rector of the first and Vicar of the second, and taking up residence in Holy Trinity Rectory in Clytha Square.

During his six years ministry a number of changes were to take place.  The Newport Borough Council had embarked on a redevelopment scheme in the area, and compulsory purchase of numerous  premises were the order of the day.

One of the first buildings to fall within this category was St. Stephen’s Church Hall in Alexandra Road.  After some lengthy discussion between the local authority, District Valuer and the Church in Wales, a suitable agreement with compensation was reached, and the old hall was handed over and duly demolished.

St. Stephen’s was granted permission to erect a new hall in the church grounds, and this was finally achieved with the opening ceremony taking place on 31st May 1974, and performed by the Bishop of Monmouth, The Right Rev. Derrick Childs.

Whilst things seemed to be improving in St. Stephen’s Parish, alas the same could not be said for Holy Trinity, for the church building had developed a structural fault and the cost of renovation was prohibitive.  Consequently, the Lord Bishop had the sad task of de-consecrating the building and the church was closed on Easter Day 1975.

The clock had turned full circle and the two separate parishes had again become one, upon the “passing” of the Mother Church, the daughter church had taken over under the name of St. Stephen and Holy Trinity.

In 1976 the Rev. John H. Douglass left to take up the living in Trelleck.  During the six months interregnum that followed his departure, St. Stephen’s was ministered to by the retired Dean of St. Woolos, the Very Rev. R. Ellis Evans.  The Induction of the Rev. Brian M.W. Stares took place on 18th January 1977.

During his incumbency further changes took place.  In connection with the redevelopment, the houses opposite the church in Adeline Street had been demolished.

Fr. David Nicholson SSC 17th June 1987 - 13th June 1995

Fr. Malcolm Ainscough SSC 12th October 1995 to 9th March 2003.

With gratitude we acknowledge the Sacramental Ministry, advice and support that we received from Canon Keith Denison during the year-long interregnum which followed.

Our current Vicar, Fr. Edward Mathias-Jones SSC was inducted on 26th April 2004.

 

Adeline Street, PiLLgwenlly, Newport, South Wales, NP20 2HA