St Mary’s Church
The chapel of ease was built in 1868 and dedicated early in the next year, as is recorded in the following extracts from an article in the Monmouthshire Beacon of 30th January 1869:
‘On Thursday last the long-hoped-for dedication of this little church took place. Built for the accommodation of the aged poor who find it impossible to travel three miles in all weather to the distant parish church, the completion of the building has been hailed as a great boon by those who would otherwise have been deprived of spiritual ministrations. It consists of a nave and small chancel, with simple lancet windows, the east window having three lights; the interior being simply but correctly arranged, and showing how much can be done to produce a truly ecclesiastical appearance at a comparatively small cost. The school forms a north transept to the main building and opens into it.*
‘The day began in the best possible manner by a celebration of the Holy Eucharist, at which a large number of the parishioners communicated….Many friends came from a distance to join in matins at eleven o’clock, and not the least pleasing feature of the day’s arrangement was the total absence of any professional assistance in the musical department, the whole being executed by a voluntary choir… After service, the neighbours and friends were hospitably entertained by the Rev William Oakeley, the respected curate of the parish, and Mrs Oakeley, and the workmen employed on the church were given a dinner at the inn…The evensong at 3 o’clock was as hearty a service as the morning one.
‘The decorations were tasteful and not too elaborate. The beautiful altar frontal was the admiration of all, and we trust we are not offending any feelings of delicacy by mentioning that it was the entire work and design of Mrs William Oakeley…Mr William Simmons, of Monmouth, was the builder and contractor and deserves great credit, not only for the efficient manner in which the work was carried out but for the right and good spirit evinced during its progress.
The church thus auspiciously inaugurated has continued to serve the parish as a chapel of ease ever since, with services held there on alternate Sundays. When the parish church underwent extensive alterations and repairs in 1886 and again more recently, St Mary’s served temporarily as the parish church. In 1897 a new bell was presented to St Mary’s by Mr Payne, son-in-law of Richard Potter of the Argoed; the original bell was given to the school. The major occasion in its later history came in 1902 with the dedication of the stained glass in the east window. For an account of this event we turn again to the columns of the Beacon, 24th January 1902.
On Monday afternoon a very interesting religious function took place at St Mary’s Church, Penalt, the occasion being the dedication of a stained glass window which had been erected by some members of the family of the vicar, the Rev R P Goldney, in memory of his mother, Mrs Mary Goldney, whose death occurred on May 18th last year. The window is the east window immediately above the altar and contains three separate lights in the Early English style. The subject of the centre light is ‘Nunc Dimittis’; the north light ‘Christ the Good Shepherd’ and the south light ‘Christ the Light of the World’, all being adaptations of famous pictures, the latter being from the well known one by Holman Hunt. The whole has a very pleasing effect, the colour being remarkably soft and blending. The top and bottom of each light is relieved with some ornamentation and along a scroll extending across the three lights is the inscription ‘To the Glory of God and in Memory of Mary Goldney’. The window is the work of Messrs Bell and Son, Bristol, who have given every satisfaction. In addition the church generally has been restored and the interior redecorated, a good portion of the latter work being done personally by the Vicar.
The dedication service was attended by six clergymen, including the Rev William Bagnall Oakeley; Canon Harding preached the sermon, the Hon J M Rolls presided at the organ (still in admired use today) and among the laity were the Hon Arthur Pelham of Moorcroft and Mrs Chatfield from the Argoed.
St Mary’s, of course, continues with us but went through a time of declining congregations twenty or thirty years ago, and whilst the accounts for the two churches were separate, the constant need for repairs and redecoration caused a problem. Voluntary help came forward magnificently, however; standards were maintained and ultimately a good deal of funds expended on redecoration, the organ, and altar refurbishment under the Rev John Richardson. The new altar cloth and reading desk frontal were made thanks to our expert needlewoman, Olive Saunders. A flag pole was erected outside the church as a Silver Jubilee gesture. The church was again much of a centre with its popular Shrove Tuesday service and pancake party afterwards next door in the school, and the Harvest Festival with its concluding cheerful auction of produce.
The church was in use as a school chapel until the last week of the life of the school in July 1987. Easter services, harvest festival and Christmas carols sung, aided by Mrs Golder playing the organ, by the diminishing numbers of children, remain vividly in the memory. In December 1986 a ‘blue Peter’ bring and buy sale was held in St Mary’s for the school children to raise money to improve eye care in children of the Third world; this was most memorable not for the money gained but for the fact that it took place during a power cut and the sales were made by the dim light of four Advent candles! The school’s last use of the little church was at a farewell service in the week the school was closed, when the Rev Denerley presented each child with a bible bearing the inscription ‘By the Will of the Rev Zachary Babington’.
*Over the door is written ‘School Chapel’.
[from: Penallt – A Village Miscellany]