A Short History of the Diocese
By Canon Arthur J Edwards
This part of south east Wales became the Diocese of Monmouth in the Church in Wales on 18th October, 1921. The diocese is almost co-extensive with the ancient county of Gwent and was formed from the Archdeaconry of Monmouth in the old Diocese of Llandaff. The Archdeaconry of Monmouth was created in 1844 and was mainly comprised of the historic county of Monmouthshire, as created in 1536.
For that reason the boundaries of the Archdeaconry and of the new Diocese of Monmouth were virtually co-terminous with the county boundaries.Yet strangely, the unit of ecclesiastical administration that preserved the integrity of Church life here from the eleventh to the nineteenth century was the rural deanery, and collectively the four ancient deaneries of Gwent-Abergavenny, Usk, Netherwent and Newport.
The diocese serves an area of nearly 355 acres with a population of 430,000, some 20,000 fewer than the population in 1921 when the diocese was created. In 1844 when Monmouth became an archdeaconry, its population was 150,000 which had trebled since 1801 and would treble again by 1921. Thus the population explosion during the nineteenth centruy in the County of Monmouthshire was greater than that in any other county in England and Wales. The population increase that occasioned the need for the new diocese in 1921 was entirely due to the development of the heavy extractive industries or iron and coal and later steel in industrial Monmouthshire at the Blaenau (Heads of the Valleys) and along the valleys of Rhymney, Sirhowy, Ebbw (Fawr and Fach) and Afon Llwyd rivers and the consequent development of the town of Newport. There was a decline in population during the years of depression after 1926 when coal was no longer king, and a revival after 1950 when the new town of Cwmbran began to develop. The new Llanwern steelworks brought a new increase in population in the nineteen sixties and seventies. In recent years there has been a shift in population from the archdeaconry of Newport to the rural Archdeaconry of Monmouth with the development of new housing areas between Cheptow and Newport.
Monmouth was the first diocese to be created by the disestablished Church in Wales. Disestablishment had been on the cards for thirty years. Part of a letter written by Dean Vaughan of Llandaff to Sir Edward Hill on 25th February, 1893 reveals the attitude in the diocese towards disestablishment and the status of Monmouthshire in people's perception of Wales: "Bits of Wales still established (whatever that means) and bits of England disestablished (whatever than means) and poor Monmouthshire shovelled into disestablishment for the crime of belonging (though an English county) to the diocese of Llandaff".
Gwent, formerly Monmouthshire, is now officially a Welsh county, in spite of her motto utrique fidelis. The diocese is part of the Church in Wales and three of her eight bishops have become Archbishops of Wales while remaining Bishop of Monmouth, while her first bishop was translated to the diocese of Bangor before he became archbishop. It is true, as Dean Vaughan wrote, that some parts of Wales chose to remain in the Province of Canterbury, but only a few parishes along the English border. Almost no-one in the Diocese of Monmouth would now want to be part of an established Church, though we are all Anglicans in communion with Canterbury.
Monmouth diocese is small but it was already a clearly-defined unit in 1921 and it has always had a family feel about it. The single archdeaconry over which Charles Green presided as archdeacon for seven years before 1921 and bishop for seven years after, became two archdeaconries, Monmouth and Newport, in 1930 under Green's successor. St Woolos then became officially the pro-cathedral, and cathedral proper in 1949, with a chapter of ten canons and a dean.
Bishops of Monmouth