The mid 19th century Anglican Church in Newport was inclined to be Evangelical in its churchmanship despite the ever growing effect that the High Church Movement (The Oxford Movement) was having throughout the rest of the” State Church” in England. The very staunch Churchmen of Newport were soon to have a great shock, for in January of 1868, the English Church Union arrived in the town and held a conference, the result of which gained much publicity in the local press.
Anglican and Free Churches were having none of this ‘popish nonsense’ and very soon retaliated by holding a Anti-Ritualistic Demonstration at the Victoria Hall, Newport, in March of the same year. This demonstration meeting attracted about two thousand people, including the Town Mayor, local notabilities and most, if not all, the Clergy of the town.
Following this Anti-Ritualistic Demonstration, a small band of Anglicans fired with a zeal for reform in the Church, formed themselves into a guild and took the name,”The Guild of St John the Baptist”. The guild wished to see rapid changes within the local Anglican churches with a return to the devotions of the pre-reformation Church and to see the abolition of the “Pew Rent” which practically closed the church to the poor.
In 1876, The Guild of St John the Baptist now greatly enlarged, set up a mission church in Barnardtown to serve the needs of the poorer classes in Maindee parish, The site acquired was situated in Church Road and was directly opposite the present church dedicated to St Matthew.
The Vicar of Maindee, Archdeacon Sleeman, was sympathetic to the High Church Movement and on the morning of December 3rd, 1876 celebrated the first Mass at the Barnardtown Mission Church.
Fr Birkmyre was appointed the first priest-in-charge and for the next six years the mission church in Barnardtown enjoyed, what was then, very simple ceremony at the Mass.
Unfortunately the days of the mission church were numbered. The Vicar of Maindee was forced to retire because of ill health and there were still peo- ple who were against these high church tendencies and made their views known at every possible opportunity. The new Vicar, Revd T Griffiths, dis- missed Fr Birkmyre and promptly closed the mission; and on March 27th, 1882, the communicants of the mission met for the last time to bid a sad farewell to a church they had known and loved for six years.