This passage forms part of historian Fred Hando’s journey through the Gwent

IT WAS first mentioned exactly seven hundred years ago, in 1254, and in 1291 is referred to as Llangeneth - the Maiden’s Church - the holy maiden being St Kenya, daughter of Brychan, and sister of our own Gwladys the wife of St. Woolos.

In the same year - 1291 - Runston was included among those parishes which paid rent to Goldcliff Priory, and by that time all the land appertaining to the church (‘Sladfordland’) had been handed over by the Bishop to Robert de St. Pierre.

References to Runston occur at intervals throughout the centuries. As an example in the 1717 Survey of Llandaff we read that revenues of the bishopric were derived, inter alia, from ‘the impropriate tithes of Runston’.

Then we hear no more of it until Coxe came by moonlight to the dead village, but it is cheering to know that an attempt will be made to preserve what is left of the little church.

Shirenewton is a pleasant destination. If we climb to it from the Cwm the embattled church tower resembles a hilltop fortress; from the Earlswood road with the Severn and Gloucestershire as background, the hamlet, embowered with tress, offers a charming welcome; and the gentle ascent from Crick bordered with pear-trees and blackthorn in blossom, and the steep hedge banks golden with cowslips and dandelions, tempts the visitor with the question, what lies hidden among all those trees?

Archdeacon Coxe took that last route in 1799, but reached only the dead village of Runston. Why he described Runston and neglected Shirenewton must remain a mystery.

Shirenewton has its root deep in history. Its name takes us back to Durand who as sheriff held of the king a tenement in Caerwent called Caldicot. As Domesday (1086) put it, ‘Durand vicecomes tenet de rege in careon j tenementum vocatum Caldecote.’

Shirenewton was the ‘sheriffs New Town’, but the Welsh in more poetic vein named it Trenewydd gelli fach - ‘the homestead in the little grove’. And in 1687 it was referred to as Nova Villa.

The church, dedicated to St Thomas a Becket, was founded by Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford. Constable of England, in the 13th century, not long after the canonisation of Becket in 1173. Among its rectors was our Adam of Usk, the chronicler who in 1399 exchanged Shirenewton for Panteg.

A survey of the twelfth and thirteenth century church-towers in our county convinces us that the Normans though it wise to combine worship with defence. Nowhere is this more evident than in that square tower of Shirenewton with its battlements and the windows, with the exception (obviously an afterthought) of the first-stage cinquefoiled lights, are defence slits. Four of these, by the way, are partly obscured by the clock faces.

My choice of a northern view-point for my drawing was made to get the full effect of both sets of battlements, the square turret and the effecting corbel-table below the battlements. The battered base of the tower I leave to your imagination.

I stayed a while, savouring the country quietude. A stroll around the exterior, with its gargoyles, its king and queen on the east window, its priest’s door in the chancel, and its sheltering yews, prepared me for the rich experiences within.

This is an extract from Hando’s Gwent, Volume One, edited by Chris Barber.