An extended version of Mark Muller’s article on one of our Hidden Treasures
This church creates different emotions in all who come to view it.
It is a treasure chest of history and it has of course the monument to the Howard family. But before we get to that there is also a bust of General Sir Thomas Picton, hero of Waterloo. His beautiful home of Poyston Hall is just up the road and this is the church where he was baptised.
His brother John, another general, is buried here (Sir Thomas is, of course, in St Pauls) and William Laud, Bishop of St Davids and Archbishop of Canterbury, adviser and supporter of Charles 1 for which he was executed 10 January 1645, held the living of Rudbaxton between 1621 and 1626 and has a memorial plaque here.
There is a further treasure trove of memorials to, amongst many others, William Owen, architect and builder of much of Haverfordwest and many of his noted family.
In the early part of the 12th century, not long after the Flemings arrived in southern Pembrokeshire, the living of the church was granted to the Order of Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem whose Commandery was situated where Slebech Park estate now stands.
But although this church has Norman origins and is dedicated to St Michael an earlier building appears to have been in existence which was dedicated to St Madoc.
Like many other churches it was heavily restored in the 19th century. The oldest of the two bells in the tower dates from before the Reformation and has the inscription Sancta Maria ora pro nobis which translates as, Saint Mary pray for us.
The church of St Thomas Becket, recently closed in Haverfordwest, has a similar inscription on a much bigger bell of similar age except that on that one the inscription asks for the prayers of Saint Gabriel.
The Howard (which seems to have evolved from a spelling of Hayward) family would be famous if only for this monument. It’s the sort of thing which if you hadn’t been expecting it, or if you haven’t visited the church for a prolonged period, you’re just so glad that you didn’t come on your own. The five almost life size figures in costume of the Restoration period gaze into the distance above you; four of them carry a skull.
The centre couple are James Howard and his wife Joanna. On the right are their children Thomas and Mary and the single figure on the left is George, brother of James.
The Howard family home was at Fletherhill but the fine property of that name on the edge of the Fishguard road is possibly not grand enough to have been the home of such a wealthy family. Closer to the road that leads to the church are substantial mounds of earth covered stone that potentially suggests where the property was.
The family did not enjoy longevity and despite having survived the plague of 1652, which was particularly rampant in Rudbaxton, George and James died in their thirties; as did Thomas although his death was as a result of a duel…there is a red daub on his breast signifying violent death.
Joanna seems to have commissioned the memorial and appears without the skull that the others carry which denotes death. She does carry something in her hand but it is difficult to identify what it might be.
And so we come to Mary. Mary Howard. But this isn’t the name by which she is famous. Mary Howard became Mary Tasker following her marriage to a master mariner from Steynton. It wouldn’t really be fair to Mary to add a sentence that merely reveals her as having been the founder of the secondary school of that name; she deserves an article of her own at some point in the future.
I am grateful to Revd Geoffrey Gwyther for permission to use the church and for information making this article possible. Following major restoration, the church is now almost always open, so it’s available if you want a treat…and a fright