St Augustine's Church and its spooky churchyard could be made much more inviting

A foggy morning at St Augustine’s Church. Its spooky and unkempt churchyard could be made much more inviting

The ancient graveyard at St Augustine’s Church – which long pre-dates the church itself – may be renovated and re-developed as a public park with dedicated “wildlife areas”,  paths and contemplative “sitting areas” .

The Friends of St Augustine’s have announced the plans – prompted by what they describe as  the “pitiful” present state of the churchyard .

St Augustine's churchyard is overgrown and in a

St Augustine’s churchyard is overgrown and in a “pitiful” state.

Many of the old headstones are decayed and unstable

Many of the old headstones are decayed and unstable

They say “Decaying tombs and graves make some parts dangerous to walk through and the cost of upkeep is growing”.

The group has seen how  churchyards in other parts of the country are being “transformed into places of interest, beauty, heritage and protection for wildlife and plants” and has developed a scheme to do the same at St Augustine’s.

The prominent St Augustine’s site – 220 feet above sea level on Penarth Head – was invested with special significance even in pre-Christian  times  because of its confluence of geographical ley-lines.

The vista from St Augustine's churchyard to the north over Cardiff

The vista from St Augustine’s churchyard to the north over Cardiff

The site with its sweeping 360 degree views  was originally bequeathed by Osbert de Pennard to the order of the Black Canons of St Augustine in 1183 .

The Prior of Augustine’s, William Saltmarsh, took the title Lord of the Manor and commissioned the building of the first church on Penarth Head.

The original St Augustine's Church stood for for nearly 700 years

The original 12th century St Augustine’s Church was demolished  in 1865. it was 682 years old

This modest original St Augustine’s Church, built in local stone with its distinctive Norman-style saddleback tower did sterling service for no less that 682 years until it was demolished in 1865 to make way for the present – 1,000-seater – St Augustine’s Church .

The last sermon was preached in the old church on Monday evening July 19th 1865 by the Rector, the Rev Charles Parsons, who spoke of the following day’s demolition  as “parting for ever from an old and tried friend. Its faults overlooked and forgotten” 

St Augustine's Church

St Augustine’s Church

The present William Butterfield-designed  church – (which has a 96 foot high tower in the saddleback style of the original because the Admiralty insisted it was a well-established nautical landmark) – was funded by the dynamic Baroness Windsor and was built in 15 months flat at a cost of £10,000.

The original Victorian building documents have been lost – but it’s understood the new St Augustine’s completely enclosed the original church site within its walls – thereby disturbing as few existing  graves as possible.  This is why so many of them have survived and why they bear dates prior to the completion of the present church in 1866  .

The Friends of St Augustine’s say the  churchyard “has the potential to become a place where, with careful planning, small areas could be left for wildlife, paths and openings created for visiting and sitting, and the more historic tombs and graves identified and listed” . Composer Joseph Parry’s tomb is given an example.

The idea has now been backed by the Parochial Church Council and Environment Wales has just awarded the Friends a grant to carry out a complete survey the churchyard which will help establish whether the scheme is viable.

If it is , there will then be consultation with local community before the plan goes ahead.

In 1914 there was an exchange of gunfire at St Augustines between a German spy and a sentry.

In 1914 there was an exchange of gunfire at St Augustines between a German spy and a sentry.

FOOTNOTE: St Augustine’s churchyard hasn’t always been a quiet spot. In 1914 its situation was ideal for keeping an eye on shipping movements in and out of Cardiff Docks. A German spy was reported to have been in hiding in the churchyard and – when discovered by a sentry – fired a revolver at him. The sentry returned fire twice – but failed to hit the spy , who got away.

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  1. David Moorcraft says:

    “The site with its sweeping 360 degree views was originally bequeathed by Osbert de Pennard to the order of the Austin Black Canons of St Augustine in 1183 .”
    The PDN reported a while ago on the Penarth “Castle” (probably a fortified house) of which the remains are at the rear of a house near the junction of Lavernock Rd and Castle Avenue. There was reference then to an early “Pennard” – not the one on Gower I think. Was the early name of Penarth possibly Pennard, not Pen-y-Garth ?

  2. Sepp Platter says:

    Great Idea, knock down that over powering stone building in the centre of the graveyard first. Replace it with a large interdenominational viewing platform, use those stone things in the new park with writing on them to construct a zigzag cycle velodrome around the viewing platform.

    Chairman of Vale’s FIFA Branch Mr Moore says:
    “We have identified new grant aided regeneration funds (from Tax Payers) and decided to press ahead with a number of white elephant projects in Penarth. I look forward to serving the Vale for a long time to come and will pump money into as many schemes as possible.”

  3. We are pleased to have an extensive report in PDN about the St Augustine’s Churchyard project. However, the headline is misleading. Public park’ suggests that there could be slides, swings and ice-cream kiosks. This is absolutely not the intention of the Friends of St Augustine’s or of the PCC. The project has twin aims: to protect wildlife and plants and create places to sit and relax, and to make the tombs and graves safe, enabling those visiting better access to them, and also to indentify the more interesting ones for people who enjoy gravestone spotting.
    If the survey proves that the scheme is viable, it will be the beginning of what is a major project in which we hope the whole community will take part. We will, of course, be consulting at various stages, and look forward to hearing from people.
    Tricia Griffiths, chair of the Friends

    • John Lilburne says:

      The churchyard is, presumably, unkempt because there is no money to pay for it to be managed so how will designating it a public park, or whatever, create funding? Will the church commissioners sell the land to the Vale or Penarth enabling (or forcing) the taxpayer to foot the gardening bill, why would either wish to acquire the expense, or will there be an entrance fee and who will collect it? It is all a mystery!

      • Judith Martin-Jones says:

        The churchyard is already a public space and used as such. The public footpath enables locals and visitors to absorb the ambiance of this place and enjoy the incomparable view. Its designation will therefore not be changed from its major function as a burial ground and setting for an important place of worship. The point of the Friends’ project is to make this space safer and more welcoming for all -including the flora and fauna that currently inhabit it.

    • RubyTuesday says:

      Nice to see a balanced response Tricia

  4. Woodworker says:

    Well said Sepp, Hilarious, if we can’t laugh about what is happening in Penarth, we’d cry!!

  5. What will be done with the tombstones with legible inscriptions? Will they be recorded and the record kept for family historians to view free of charge? My greatgrandparents are there, as is my grandfather. Will the composer Parry be left untouched?

    • Tricia Griffiths says:

      The heritage side of the project would be about preserving and repairing tombstones and making access easier and safer. If the project goes ahead we hope that relatives of people buried in the churchyard will be pleased to know that something is being done to improve the area for everyone. It is a large area which is becoming increasingly difficult to mow and keep even reasonably tidy, Any help and information from relatives will be welcomed.

  6. Mark Castle says:

    Joseph Parry, buried in the Church Yard, wrote Aberystwyth – Jesu Lover of My Soul, which tune was also used for the post apartheid South African National Anthem

  7. Sepp Platter says:

    “Will the composer Parry be left untouched?”
    No why should he remain, they will all have to be dug up, I don’t care a jot about Jerusalem (even if it is the wrong Parry)
    Onward Penarth, there is no time to lose.
    Even now my minions are looking for small patches of grass owned by the Council to build things on, as long as they are not houses or anything useful.
    Spend this money quickly I say before the FBI looks at our accounts.

  8. Helda Bragyion says:

    I came across this, very interesting fur your readers me thinks.

    Account of a night in de church yard on Penarth Hill

    “The usual peaceful calm of the residents near St Augustine’s Church was disturbed on Wednesday morning by the sudden firing of shots – – – It appears that a sentry on duty near the church was fired on by someone who shielded himself behind the bushes in the enclosure facing St Augustine’s Road. The sentry quickly responded with a couple of shots in the direction whence the shot was fired but the culprit managed to make good his escape.”

    Once the alarm had been given the whole area around the church – overlooking the dock – was searched but nothing was found. An overactive imagination, shadows flitting past guttering street lamps in the darkness, a prank by one of the sentry’s colleagues – or a real live enemy agent? We will never know.

    At the end of August a strange man was seen walking along Windsor Road in the town, asking passers-by about the deployment of troops in the area. He was followed, then chased, by a man called Beer.

    The pursuit took them out of Penarth and into the Riverside area of Cardiff, where Mr Beer lost his quarry in the warren of tiny streets. Again, the identity of the man – if he even existed – remains unknown but, by his report, and possibly his actions, Mr Beer did manage to achieve his 15 minutes of fame.

    Such incidents did not stop as 1914 eased slowly in the new year. In December 1914 a man was seen “prowling” near the power station in the docks. Challenged, the man turned and fired a gun, twice, in the direction of the soldier. As might be expected, the prowler made good his escape in the confusion that followed the shots.
    This and many of the stories about spies and enemy agents were undoubtedly figments of the imagination, the anti-German feeling in the country was very real – and very hurtful, as this letter to the Penarth Times clearly shows:

    “Dear Sir – I have been taken for a German many times and I am very sorry to see that the public is under a mis-apprehension as to my nationality. I was born in Mons, Belgium. I came to Cardiff twenty seven years ago. My wife is a native of Wales. After being so many years in Great Britain, with the British public, I call myself a British patriot. Yours truly, Jules Guldentops.”

    Extracts from “Cardiff and the Vale in the First World War” by Phil Carradice .

  9. Cathy says:

    Well done to Friends of St Augustines – a great idea and well done for all the hard work they do.

  10. Dizzydeb says:

    I think everyone is skeptical as often we are not ‘consulted’, as with the awful viewing platform on the cliffs! Or if we are consulted and our views are different from the council’s agenda then see what happens, St Johns Church!

  11. Johnabutt says:

    Taking an interest in the names on the War Memorial last year led me to go to this graveyard in search of long forgotten soldiers from both World Wars. Most of the CWGC memorials and the private burials were identifiable. There were two which I could not find because the graveyard reference system had been modified in the past. The Friends are to be congratulated on their work in restoring the memorial on the West wall inside St Augustine’s, so I hope any “restoration” or other works in the graveyard will include a full catalogue of all the graves. This needs to be available to family members and historians in a way that is easy to use. Like for example electronically or from the Parish Office. In other graveyards where stones have been used for paths or put around the edge of the graveyard this heritage is lost forever. There is a chance to upgrade the area for public use, but also to preserve important historical information for family and researchers.

    • Linda Guilfoyle says:

      Last year, on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War two members of the Friends of St Augustine’s identified and put poppies on the graves of 10 WW1 military burials. If you would like to contact me I may be able to help locate the two graves you were unable to find.

  12. Tricia Griffiths says:

    For clarification. This project has nothing to do with the council or the local authority. Consultation will be ongoing and the graves will be safeguarded – including that of Joseph Parry. Be warned, however, this is a big, longterm project and nothing will happen overnight!

  13. Jonnyoneye says:

    My father was one of the church goers who formed a Churchyard Cleaning team back in the 70’s and 80’s.
    I remember him and many others clearing big areas up there for a few years, but if i remember correctly, one of the men in one of the teams died of a heart attack whilst carrying out the clearing work and then it was all suspended.
    Eventually there was some agreement with the Vale Council to carry out the work, but i suppose that with all the cuts in services now, that was one of the first to go.
    Both my parents and my fathers family are buried up there and i’m sure that they would have loved to know that something was going to be done to the churchyard to tidy it up, if it could be arranged. There are great views from there, albeit a bit chilly in the Winter when the wind is blowing, but i do hope that something can be done with it, but preserving it’s rich history and the reason that it is there in the first place.

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