The Old And The New
This article details information from a report by Richard Hayman (buildings historian and archaeologist for the Pobl Group), Sarah Hodges (Project Manager for the Pobl Group) as well as material from Brian Hockey (former Vicar’s Warden at St. John’s Church Maindee) and Revd Christine Hockey.
Built in 1891-2, St Matthew’s Church was typical of late nineteenth-century public buildings. At that time, a large congregation was anticipated although this never materialised. The church, built in simple geometrical style, stood at the junction of Church Road and Hereford Street.
Significant alterations and additions were made to the interior of the building during its lifetime. Stained glass windows were inserted in the chancel in 1919 in memory of members of the congregation who fought in the Great War. Other alterations to the chancel in the 1920s changed the character of the interior to give more emphasis on the sacraments. The chancel roof was stencilled in 1928 by A.R. Henderson, who also painted the reredos. The latter was in a late Gothic style, heavily influenced by the work of Sir Ninian Comper and incorporated paintings of the Passion of Christ.
Other changes dating to the mid-twentieth century included the installation of altar rails and some re-ordering of the interior, documented by the church community itself. A new church hall had a parquet floor and a kitchen and toilets were added. Ceramic and linoleum tile floors in the nave and porches also dated from this time. In the remaining bay of the nave, the organ was added. When the Bevington organ was removed, an organ made by Sweetland of Bath was installed in the nave.
In 2014 the church had a wooden font, but it was probably not the original font. Outside of the organ chamber was the discarded upturned base of worked stone which might have been the original font bowl.
On the chancel, north wall was a memorial to Captain John Popham who died in 1935 and his wife Harriet. He was churchwarden from 1910 until his death. On the south side of the chancel was a memorial to the Reverend John Hosbons, the first vicar of the parish, who died in 1921.
The architecture of the church was always modest and its exterior represented an unaltered Gothic church of the last decade of the nineteenth century. Its interior plan reflected the Evangelical tone of the first congregation. The nave was wide, the sense of which was enhanced by the shallow transepts as if designed more for preaching than the sacraments.
Although the congregation was small, when worship ceased in 2013, the church clearly had communal significance as a place of baptism, weddings and funerals for more than a century.
Before it was decided to close St Matthew’s Church for good, there was a concerted effort by the clergy, wardens and congregation to involve the local community in various ways. An Open Day was arranged when the Bishop of Monmouth, Members of Parliament, Welsh Assembly Members, local councillors and people of the community were invited to view the church and make suggestions about its future use.
Having established that the building was eminently suitable for various clubs and activities, not least for the annual Night Shelter, it was necessary to apply to various funding bodies for help in renovating the building to make it safe for continued use. An architect was employed to submit detailed plans to accompany grant applications. It was hoped that a grant could be obtained to fund the renovation of the building, but unfortunately, this didn’t happen.
In view of the deterioration of the building, a structural engineer was employed to give a detailed report which confirmed that the building was unsafe for public use. Reluctantly the church authorities took the decision to close St Matthew’s Church for worship. With heavy hearts, the 10 remaining worshippers held a farewell service and left the church for good in November 2013. They continued to worship within the parish at St John’s the Evangelist, Maindee and at St Mary’s, Wharf Road.
The Church in Wales was pleased to sell the land, formerly occupied by St. Matthew’ s Church, in order to give something back to the community. In its place, at the junction of Church Road and Hereford Street, now stand 14 modern apartments comprising 7 one bed and 7 two bedroom homes. Designed for the 55+ age group these apartments have been purpose-built to provide social housing at affordable, below market rents.
Each new home is self-contained and very well appointed with level access shower rooms to aid mobility, and spacious lounge/diner/kitchens providing lovely views from their French doors. All apartments have either a patio area or balcony to provide residents with their own external recreational space and there are also communal landscaped areas surrounding the building with several mature trees that were retained. There is a private parking courtyard with space for up to 8 vehicles.
The three-storey building is serviced by a communal lift and on the ground floor is a storage room with electrical points for charging up to six wheelchairs / electric scooters. The building also benefits from solar panels fitted to the roof which are linked to the communal landlord’s electrical supply. This will enable communal utility costs to be reduced and lower service charges for the residents.
The contractor was able to retain one of the original flower pots that were sited at the front of the Church. This will be painted and replanted. Stone from the original church building has also been preserved and used to construct the bin store walls that front onto Hereford Street.
The official name of the new building will be Flats 1-14 Hen Egwlys, which translates as, “Old Church”.
Submitted by Linda Stevens