Back to Gwent Local History index page
Caerleon Net Home Page
The Gwent Local History Council was set up in 1954 to encourage public interest in local history, to bring together societies and persons interested in the study of local history, to arrange lectures and publish the results of historical research. Their twice yearly magazine "Gwent Local History" has made a valuable contribution to the store of historical knowledge. Here Caerleon Net, with the full agreement of the Gwent Local History Council, is making available many of the articles from this magazine relating to Caerleon.
Please note: copyright exists on all texts.
Enquiries relating copyright should be addressed to the Gwent Local History Council.

Gwent Local History No. 39, Spring 1975

St. Julian's Church, Newport

by Mrs. Olive M. Ellis

St. Julians, the mansion built by Sir George Herbert on the banks of the River Usk, was almost certainly built on the site of the church which housed the mortal remains of Saint Julius, the martyr, and was the home of the Herbert family for about two hundred years. There are stones in the present church which came from this site when the old barn adjacent to the mansion was taken down in about 1884, which are believed to have been part of this shrine. At the beginning of this century the house was used as a farm and was occupied until as recently as 1955. It has now fallen into a sad state of dereliction and decay, but the facade and some of the outer walls are made of stone which would be suitable for additional building to the church, and unless it is thought to be of sufficient historic or architectural interest to merit repair and restoration, it might be advisable, in the interests of public safety, to have it dismantled and used for this purpose.

When the Reverend A. J. Cottrell came to Newport in 1901 he became priest-in-charge of a corrugated iron church in Durham Road called St. Julian's. It had been there since 1891 as a mission church of St. John's, Maindee, and was to remain so until, in 1921, the new parish of St. Julian's was formed from the parishes of Christchurch and Maindee, and Father Cottrell became the first vicar. He spent the whole of his ministry - thirty-nine years - at St. Julian's, retiring for health reasons in 1940, and it was thanks to his tireless efforts and devotion, that we now have a church which stands almost in the centre of the parish, dedicated to the martyrs of this district who once laid down their lives for the Faith.

The stones used for the building of the church were taken from the old town bridge which had been built in 1800 and was in need of replacement by the beginning of this century. The stones of the bridge were Lliswerry limestone, old red sandstone and a coarse grained yellow stone from Caen in France. These were obtained for the church by Father Cottrell and work commenced on St. Alban's Day, 22nd June 1925, on a site given by Mr. A. A. R. Firbank. Three months later, on 24th September, the foundation stones were laid, with a large gathering of clergy and several hundred parishioners. The first cornerstone marking the north-east extremity of the nave was laid by the Mayor of Newport, Councillor W. E. Robinson, J.P., and the south-east cornerstone by Sir Leslie Forestier-Walker, K.B.E., M.P. The foundation stone at the east end of the chancel was then laid 'by Mr. Edward Steer, J.P., D.L. As the church was not to be built to its full length at the time, the stones marking the west end of the nave were not laid.

The plan of the architect, Mr. Coates Carter, was for a church approximately twice the size of the existing one, and with a central tower. On account of the cost the building has never been completed, and there still remain a Lady Chapel, Vestries, and three bays of the nave to be added, to finish the church as it was designed.

The church was consecrated by the Bishop of Monrnouth on 23rd September 1926, just one year after the laying of the foundation stone. The consecration stone in the east wall of the church behind the High Altar is of Kentish ragstone and is reputed to have come from the shrine of St. Augustine at Canterbury. It is embossed with the Canterbury Cross.

The magnificent reredos which completely obscures the eastern wall of the church was bought with the High Altar from the monastery church at Capel-y-Ffin in 1932, by Mr. Alfred Field, a friend of Father Ignatius, and given to St. Julian's. Opinions vary as to its suitability and size in a small church such as St. Julian's, but, as has been said before, the church has not yet been completed.

The reredos was made in Munich by Messrs. Meyers, and it cost the Capel-y-Ffin community about £2,000. It was erected at the monastery in two stages, the altar and three gradines being installed about 1872, and the tabernacle, expositorium lantern and angels about ten years later. On the reredos are the words: "Adoremus in Aeternum Sanctissimum Sacramentum", and it was on this altar that visions of the Blessed Sacrament are said to have appeared to some members of the community. On the same day apparitions of the Blessed Virgin were seen in the grounds of the monastery by eight people altogether.

The altar and reredos were brought from Capel-y-Ffin to Newport in lorries by men of the parish who first dismantled it and numbered the stones. This must have been a tremendous task and is proof of the devotion and loyalty of parishioners to their church, when one realises that the whole structure weighs forty tons and consists of hundreds of pieces. Ladies of the parish cleaned the stonework, which had been exposed to the rigours of the weather, before it was re-erected - again by parishioners. A scroll containing names and a record of the work is preserved in one of the pinnacles. The work was completed by 23rd September 1932, when Bishop Timothy Rees consecrated it once more to the glory of God and the Blessed Sacrament was again reserved in the central tabernacle. The original tabernacle could not be obtained and a new one had to be made; it was given to the church by Mrs. Cottrell, the vicar's wife. Above the tabernacle are two pieces of white marble which are said to have come from the ruins of St. Julius' Chapel which had been incorporated into a barn attached to St. Julian's mansion. The pieces of marble were under one of the arches of the old chapel.

In the wall of the ambulatory, near the sacristy door, is a stone seat from the monks' garden at the reputed site of St. Aaron's chapel near the Roman encampment of Penrhos outside Caerleon. Here stone coffins have been found showing that it was a place of Christian interment. The remains of the chapel were demolished about 1870 when they became dangerous.

The altar stone in the Lady Chapel was taken from the original monastery at Llanthony and given to the church by Senora Elfrida Mangioni, grand-daughter of the author W. S. Landor who bought the estate on which the Abbey stood, in 1807. It is one of the few pre-Reformation stones, with the five consecration crosses on it, which have survived in this part of the world. The church was given permission to keep it after it had been examined by Dr. Lodges, an archeologist sent by the Ministry of Works. At the same time Dr. Lodges gave the vicar two pieces of stone, one from Solomon's wall in Jerusalem and the other from Glastonbury Abbey. These are both incorporated in the wall at the right of the Lady Altar. He also gave a small tile from the house of Caiaphas in Jerusalem, and this now hangs in a frame on the north wall of the church.

Between the chancel entrance and the Lady Altar is a Madonna which was given by Father Cottrell in memory of his wife. The plinth on which this rests is made with stones taken from the base of the Llanthony reredos which was too tall for the church.

Other stones of interest in the church are the holy water stoup just inside the north-west door, which was once part of the font of Runston Chapel, near Chepstow, and the supporting stones came from Llanderwell, near Cwmbran, a daughter house of Llantarnam Abbey.

The font is made of black marble from Caldey Island and weighs over two and a half tons.

The pulpit which is made of Bath stone was a gift from the parish of St. Mark's, Newport.

This brings us to the end of the story contained in the stones of the present church of Saints Julius and Aaron which breathe history, prayer and sacrifice.

This may be the beginning of a new era in the history of the Christian faith and we hope that our church will stand for future generations as a witness to the Faith of the saints of old, and that it may truly be said:

"This is none other than the House of God
And this is the Gate of Heaven".


Margaret Deanesley, 1961: The Pre-Conquest Church in England.
Gildas: De Excidio Britanniae.
Bede: History of the English Church.
S. Baring-Gould: Lives of the Saints.
Rice-Rees: Essays on the Welsh Saints.
Bright: Early English Church History.
Bradney: History of Monmouthshire, Vols. 3 and 4.
Wade-Evans: "The Site of St. Alban's Martydom, in Archeologia Cambrensis, 1905".
W. Levinson: Antiquity, Vols. 15, 1941; St. Alban and St. Albans.
Liber Landavensis.
Enderbie: Cambria Triumphans.
Butler: Lives of the Saints.
Geoffrey of Monmouth: British History.
Giraldus Cambrensis: Itinerary through Wales.
Coxe: Tour of Monmouthshire.
C. J. O. Evans: Monmouthshire.
W. N. Johns: Historical Facts and Traditions Relating to Newport and Caerleon, Parts 1 and 2.
Fuller: Church History.
J. B. Matthews: Historic Newport.
Arthur Swinson: The Quest for Alban.
Rev. Lionel Smithett Lewis: St. Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury, pp. 86-87,
Donald Attwater: Father Ignatius.
Baroness Beatrice de Bertouch: Life of Father Ignatius.
Ministry of Public Buildings: Llanthony Priory, and Works Official Handbook.
Gordon Southeard: St. Julian's Parish Church.


back to Gwent Local History index

history index
full a-z index