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 .
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 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.
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”
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.
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.