Wesley Street, Cwmbran, NP44 3LT
A plain stone-built Gothic church of the 1880s built by the Pontypool Franciscans, extensively altered and extended in the 1970s.
The Catholic heritage of the Cwmbran area is particularly rich. The Cistercian Abbey of Llantarnam, about half a mile from the present-day town centre, was founded in 1179 by Hywel ab Iorwerth, Lord of Caerleon, from the monastery of Strata Florida (Ystrad Fflur) in Ceredigion. The abbey was dissolved in 1536 and its lands came into the possession of the Morgan family. They were recusants, and Sir Edward Morgan sheltered the Jesuit priest St David Lewis, who in 1679 was arrested opposite Llantarnam church, imprisoned and executed at Usk on 27 August that year. In the nineteenth century the estate came into the hands of Sir Reginald Blewitt, who in 1834-6 had the house rebuilt in Tudor Revival style by T. H. Wyatt. Following further changes in ownership, in 1946 the estate was acquired by the Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy, who in 1957 had a chapel built from designs by F. R. Bates & Son. The chapel has a striking interior with concrete parabolic arches.
The early re-establishment of the Catholic faith in the area came about following the easing of Penal Laws in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and was largely achieved through the arrival of Catholic immigrants following industrialisation. The completion of the Monmouth Canal in 1797 led to the development of the local iron industry and collieries, and in the mid-nineteenth century many Irish immigrants moved to the area. Growth in the Catholic population prompted the Rev. Elzear Torreggiani OSF, mission priest at Pontypool, to establish a mission at Cwmbran in 1864. A Mass centre in a room in a bakery on Spring Street was followed by a room at the Forge and Hammer Hotel, rented for two shillings and sixpence per week:
‘An altar was formed of a table raised on four bricks to give it sufficient height, its unsightly legs being concealed by an antependium. The reredos consisted of the backs of three tall chairs, covered with a piece of red baize: a clean linen altar-cloth, a crucifix, a couple of bright brass candlesticks, and a few vases of flowers, gave a devotional appearance to the contrivance. The ‘asperges’ was given from a soup-plate, with a small branch of yew-tree; the cruets were two usually used for vinegar or pepper. Everything was in the extreme of poverty. The room was reached by a sort of ladder, the ceiling was almost on your heads, and it required great skill to get safely across the rickety floor. More-over, as there was frequently a club meeting late on the Saturday evening, when the father arrived at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning the first thing he had to do was to take a broom and sweep away the abundant traces of the late carouse, before arranging the altar and benches for the Mass. Underneath the room was an old stable inhabited by families of pigs, whose incessant grunting was somewhat disturbing, to say nothing of the unsavoury odours rising through the broken floor’ (parish website).
Eventually a plot of land was acquired on a long lease and an iron chapel erected, at a cost of £180. Dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels, the chapel was solemnly blessed and opened on 1 January 1867. It was built to accommodate 250 people, and during the week served as a school.
On 6 November 1882 Bishop Hedley OSB laid the foundation stone for a new, more substantial building, which also initially served as a chapel and school. The stone-built Gothic design was by M. Andre of Horsham, and the contractors were William Jones & Son of Newport (Weekly Mail, 11 November 1882). The building was opened by Bishop Hedley on 10 May 1883. The mission continued to be served by Franciscans from Pontypool until 1908, when the Rev. Dennis Quigley was appointed first resident priest. In 1928 a large parish hall was built next to the church. During the 1930s new altar rails, Stations of the Cross and stained glass windows were fitted, and in 1936 a pulpit was given by the CYMS. A new altar is said to have been installed in 1953 (parish website).
Developed as a New Town after the Second World War, Cwmbran again began to increase in size and population. The Catholic community had continued to expand, including a number of Polish settlers. In the early 1950s a second Mass centre was established in a hall at Pontnewydd, followed by a permanent church built in 1959-61 and dedicated to St David (qv); in 1963 this became a separate parish. In 1972 Our Lady of the Angels was reordered and extended, with a new south transept and porches and the sanctuary set on an angle to provide an L-shaped worship area. Incorporated into the design was a day chapel, and a cry chapel/parish room with facilities. Their design marks these additions out clearly as the work of Thomas Price of F. R. Bates, Son & Price, the de facto diocesan architects at the time. Bishop Daniel Mullins, Auxiliary Bishop of Cardiff, blessed and re-opened the church on 14 August 1973. The presbytery appears also to have been replaced about this time.
Today St David’s is once again served from Our Lady of the Angels, the two making up the parish of Cwmbran.
A small Gothic church of 1882, together with additions of 1972-3 forming an L-plan. The original church is of randomly course red sandstone with Bath stone dressings. It consists of a five-bay nave and a shorter sanctuary (the separation marked externally by a buttress) under one continuous ridge. The original appearance is largely unchanged on the north and east sides, with paired lancets in four of the nave bays and three shorter lancets to the side of the sanctuary and two single lancets and a hanging bell at the east end. Much of the rest is obscured by the modern additions. These are pebbledash rendered and partly flat-roofed. At the west end a central projecting portion is rendered and has a rose window of four quatrefoils. Below this is a single-storey rendered and flat-roofed narthex, which continues around to the south as a parish room, also flat-roofed, with a lantern light. The south transept is slightly lower than the main roof, rendered and with a shallow slate roof. It has two tall slit windows to the south and east sides and at the east side a side chapel under the same roofline. The presbytery adjoins by means of a short modern link that partially obscures one of the windows.
The narthex has typical Thomas Price leading detail in the windows. It leads south into the parish room and east into the main worship area, which is L-shaped on plan, consisting of the original nave and the 1970s south transept. At the west end of the nave is a gallery, reached by a stair in the north corner. The nave roof has timber arched braces springing from corbels, the transept exposed steel trusses. The sanctuary is placed in the angle between the two spaces, on two quadrant steps. Sacristies occupy the original sanctuary area, the archway of which is still partially visible within. A day chapel is down two steps in the southeast corner.
A Gothic oak celebrant’s chair apart, the sanctuary furnishings are modern and do not call for special mention. In the gallery is a pipe organ by Conacher & Co. of Huddersfield, its timber case now painted white and purple. The statues in the church were covered for Lent at the time of the visit.
Architect: Paul Andre; F. R. Bates, Son & Price
Original Date: 1883
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed