The Churchyard at St Michael's forms a picturesque background to the ancient church. It is much valued by couples and their guests arriving for weddings held in the church (and as background for their photographs afterwards). The Churchyard has many items of historic and general interest both nationally and locally as well as a wide range of wild life and flowers.
The Churchyard of St Michael's was closed by Order of the Privy Council on the 10th May 1906. There were some notable exceptions to the official closure with the later addition of graves marked with a military headstones for the internment of Guardsman P Morgan and John Fielding VC.
In the churchyard, you can see the old preaching cross, parts of the shaft of the cross are probably C15. Visiting preachers would have spoken here, and it was a stopping-off point in parish processions. The cross is listed as of special architectural and historic interest (Grade ll Scheduled Ancient Monument). It has a square base with rounded spurs at upper angles, the carrying shaft is square at the base, broached to octagonal. A late 19th century cap has been fitted to the shaft with a large ringed cross. Four renewed rubble stone steps with flagstone treads, some reused memorial stones. The stone column stands some 7 feet high topped with a cross of 3 feet six inches. The original weather worn cross was replaced in the early 1900's.
Memorial to Thomas Leadbetter
In October 2003 CADW (Welsh Historic Monuments) listed, for the first time, the memorial to Thomas Leadbetter as a Grade ll item of Special Architectural and Historic Industrial Interest. It is a prominent C19 graveyard memorial of industrial historical interest and is unique of its kind. The memorial obelisk stands in the churchyard some 20 metres NW of the Church, and can be seen immediately on the left hand side of the entrance gate to the church approaching from the road.
The memorial was erected in memory of Thomas Leadbetter, mills and forge manager of the Oakfield Iron Works, Cwmbran who died in 1870. The inscription records the name and details indicating that the memorial was erected by the workmen from the works.
The obelisk is of grey sandstone ashlar, in two sections on a small plinth with coved top moulding on a square base. It is raised on 2 steps with 8 stone piers with chains.
Grave of Guardsman Penry Morgan
In the Churchyard is the military grave of Guardsman Penry Morgan, the first soldier from Cwmbran to be killed in World War I. He died in hospital on 2nd April 1915, from wounds received in action from an enemy shell.
Grave of John Fielding VC
Also in the churchyard is the grave of John Fielding, a Rorke's Drift hero. He joined the 24th Regiment as John Williams, changing his name because he didn't want his parents to know he'd joined the army. He won the VC for his part in the battle of Rorke's Drift that took place on 22 and 23 January 1879.
parade is held at the church each year on the nearest Saturday to
the anniversary of the battle. More than 100 former servicemen turn
out to honour a brave son of Torfaen. John Fielding was from the Cwmbran area,
born at Merthyr Road , Abergavenny in 1857 changing his name to John Williams after running away from home to join the regular army. John Fielding lived in Llantarnam Road, Cwmbran and afterwards with his married daughter in Cocker Avenue, Cwmbran. He died on 25 November 1932 aged 75. On the day of his funeral the cortege was half-a-mile long, its progress filmed by Pathe News and distributed to cinemas nationwide.
Lest We Forget
Whenever attention is drawn to the fallen of this country we recall the eloquence of Laurence Binyon's (1869 - 1943) lines in his Poems for the Fallen.
shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them.
The following article appeared in the South Wales Argus on 28 January 2008
Memorial unveiled to VC hero
By Mike Buckingham
"With a brisk wind catching the regimental standards and a winter sun glinting on their polished brass points, a son of Gwent was remembered 129 years after the valour and defiance for which he was awarded Britain 's highest military honour .
This year there was an added dimension to the annual ceremony honouring Private John Fielding VC who served as Private John Williams of the 24th of Foot and who was one of the heroes of Rorke's Drift.
In the presence of 60 Gwent veterans and Paul Murphy, MP for Torfaen and local dignitaries a memorial for John Fielding was unveiled only two hundred yards from his refurbished grave.
On January 22, 1879 at the remote mission post at Rorke's Drift he was part of a small force detailed to defend the station against oncoming Zulus. When he and his comrade Private Hook ran out of ammunition they held off the attackers at bayonet-point allowing eight patients in the mission hospital to retreat to safety.
The 10 Victoria Crosses won by the 24th at Rorke's Drift remain the highest number ever earned in one engagement".
After the service at St Michael and All Angels the parade formed up behind the standards of the Comrades' Association of the South Wales Borderers (24th of Foot) Pontypool branch, the Cwmbran and District Ex-Servicemen's Association and the Newport branch of the Royal Engineer's Association for the short march to John Fielding Gardens, where the memorial waited under its shroud of scarlet velvet.
STANDARDS RAISED: Royal British Legion
standard bearers at the John Fielding memorial service.
Managing the Churchyard
The work of managing the churchyard of St Michael is not inconsiderable; nevertheless, it is also very rewarding. In recent years part of the churchyard behind the church, that been set aside as an area for nature conservation, had became overgrown. This area has been cleared and is now well tended. Recently the task of re-erecting fallen and damaged stones, and removing some of the curbing stones has considerably enhanced the overall appearance of the church.
Bluebells in the Springtime at St Michael's
The churchyard looks particularly beautiful in spring, with a profusion of wild flowers, though autumn has its own beauty and this year there have been some wonderful varieties of fungus on stumps and on the ground alongside the footpath that runs through the churchyard. Shuffling through golden leaves searching for chestnuts is not the least of life's pleasures.
The church has benefited from the Living Churchyard Project organised by Gwent Wildlife Trust. Members of the church have attended meetings to learn more about this Project. Visits by Rebecca Price of the Trust have given insight into how best to manage the churchyard to make the most of its potential for preserving a valuable habitat for wild creatures, trees and plants, while maintaining its primary purpose of being a place of quiet worship and remembrance. A report was drawn up by Rebecca Price following her last visit in April 2009 and has been accepted as a sound basis for future management. It draws attention to the importance of churchyards for wildlife. Rebecca says:
"Many of our churchyards and cemeteries have escaped the agricultural development and intensification that has caused the dramatic loss of semi-natural habitat elsewhere. For this reason there is growing awareness of the value of churchyards and burial grounds for wildlife, providing refuge for a variety of wild flowers, birds, invertebrates, mammals and reptiles. Furthermore they support often overlooked lichens, mosses and fungi.
With sensitive management this wildlife can be encouraged without detracting from the spiritual and contemplative role of the churchyard or cemetery.
The grassland in particular is unlikely to have been re-seeded or fertilised and therefore may be rich in wild flowers which are scarce elsewhere. Careful management of all or part of the site to encourage these plants offers a unique opportunity to safeguard this valuable habitat where it can be enjoyed by visitors and provide a food source for insects, birds, and other wildlife."
So that the Spring flowers have time to blossom and seed, the grass is now left to grow until late April or early May and then mown carefully to allow later flowers and plants to be enjoyed. Long grasses themselves can be beautiful and a source of food for birds and of shelter for small animals and insects.
Some ivy has been left on trees, walls and gravestones since it is attractive in itself and a source of shelter for small creatures. The use of weed-killers is now kept to a necessary minimum to control the invasive ground elder, dock and brambles, avoiding spraying the grave-stones and damaging the varied lichens that can be found on them.
In general, the introduction of non-native species of plants is not encouraged by the Gwent Wildlife Trust; however, for many years cultivated daffodils along the path to the church have been a splendid sight in spring and these have been added to this year. Other bulbs have been planted in contained areas beside the path with primroses, violets and celandine which grow naturally in the churchyard.
The most recent project is clearing and levelling the rough area of brambles and dock towards the back of the churchyard to make management easier. It is hoped that one or two native trees will be planted along the perimeter wall near the old yew tree when this work has been completed.
There is a book, in the porch of the Church, to record wildlife and plants observed in the churchyard. You are invited to enter your observations in it and, if you can spare the time, join the team of people who work to make the churchyard a peaceful and beautiful place.