Llangwm Uchaf: Walter Cradock
Trevela is, architecturally speaking, one of the most important of the seventeenth century farmhouses surviving in Monmouthshire. It also has its place in the religious history of Wales, for here, round about 1610, when the house was less than a decade old, was born Walter Cradock, one of the fascinating men who would come to prominence in the religious, social and political turmoil of the English Civil Wars and Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth and Protectorate.
When I have communion with a saint, I must not look so much whether he be of such an opinion, or whether he have taken the covenant, or to have been baptized once or twice or ten times, but see if he have fellowship with the Father, and with Jesus Christ.Walter Cradock
Trevela lies within the parish of Llangwm Uchaf, whose medieval church, with its breathtaking screen and rood-loft of c.1500, came into the care of the Friends in 2018. It was here the young Walter would have worshipped, before completing his education at Oxford, ordination, and service in the market-town of Cardiff, as curate to the Puritan vicar, William Erbery. Quickly, he fell foul of the Laudian bishop of Llandaff, William Murray, who revoked his licence, thus launching Cradock on his career as an outstanding preacher, and founder and organizer of Reformed churches and congregations. In two areas in particular he made his mark; in London as preacher at All Hallows the Great, Thames Street, a known centre of radical reformed theology, and as one of the principal originators of the ‘Act for the Better Propagation of the Gospel in Wales’, passed by parliament in 1650. Soon after, he returned to his native Monmouthshire, and in 1655 was appointed vicar of Llangwm Uchaf. Life had come full circle; he was now pastor of the people among whom he had grown up, and here, on Christmas Eve 1659 he died, and was laid to rest in the chancel of his church. St Jerome’s was sensitively restored by J P Seddon, and his beautiful tiled floor of c.1866 now covers Cradock’s resting-place. There is no monument to his memory.
When a man’s ways please God, the stones of the street shall be at peace with him.
Walter Cradock was a moderate and peace-loving divine. At Llangwm, for example, he made no attempt to dismantle or destroy the great screen – something that his more radical fellow clerics would not have hesitated to have done. But his true memorial is the series of sermons which he preached, and which were carefully edited by the founder of the Bible Society, Thomas Charles of Bala, in 1800. Long out of print, they would repay a new edition, as they are as fresh and accessible today as they would have been when first preached. One biographer of Cradock, Noel Gibbard, said of him: ‘Cradock had one basic conviction: the newness of the New Testament’. For him the gospel message was primarily one of love, of the closest possible relationship between God and the believer. A child, said Cradock (himself a father), ‘can leap into his father’s lap at any time, and ask him anything without courting or compliment’. The father in his turn ‘will dandle [the child] on the knee’. Such ‘holy boldness’ and ‘holy fondness’ should, said Cradock, characterize the relationship between the Christian and God. Cradock’s home life, said his biographer, provided many of the illustrations he used in his sermons. So, too, did the countryside around Llangwm which he knew so well. Above all, he loved his people: ‘If a man wants to be a minister of the Word, he must study souls as well as books’, he said, and not be distracted by irrelevancies: ‘The eagle does not bother with flies’.
Take a saint, and put him into any condition, and he knows how to rejoice in the Lord.
Llangwm Uchaf Church, secluded in a little valley, close to the market town of Usk, repays repeated visits. When you come, remember the man who has been called ‘A New Testament Saint’.