There has been a church on this site from Norman times, founded by monks from St Augustine’s Abbey, Bristol. The earliest documentary evidence is dated 1291 when Adam of Caerleon was the incumbent, and for most of its history it has been connected with St Augustine’s Church, Penarth.
Legend tells us that the church was once desecrated by the shedding of human blood; and twice burned, probably by the pirates who infested the Bristol Channel.
It has been rebuilt several times, most recently during the Victorian period. However, the windowless north wall is probably medieval, and the chancel arch may be a copy of a twelfth century original. During one rebuilding, old gravestones, one possibly thirteenth century, were re-used as foundations at the north and south corners of the chancel. A ruined tower was replaced by the present bell-cote. The single bell was cast in 1747 by Bayleys of Bridgewater. The pulpit and the font are Victorian.
St Lawrence’s served as parish church for the manor of Cosmeston (or Constantineston, named after the first Norman lord, Gilbert of Constantin or Constantine). The manor included a lost medieval village to the north of the church and the village of Cosmeston, now being reconstructed in the country park.
A grave near the churchyard gate for a ‘good gunner’ recalls the military occupation of the nearby fort, now a holiday camp. The grave of Thomas David has an epitaph with a nautical flavour –
‘Though borrowed winds
and Neptune’s waves
have tossed me to and fro
Yet now at last by God’s decree,
I harbour here below
But now at anchor here I lie,
with many of my fleet,
But once again I must set sail,
our Saviour Christ to meet.’
There is a simple memorial, formed by two boulders from the beach, to the artist and sculptor, Frank Roper, and his wife, who lived in Penarth. A plaque on the south wall of the graveyard recalls Marconi’s first successful wireless transmission across water from Flat Holm on 11th May 1897.
Lavernock was never a rich church and at the Reformation it was despoiled of its only treasures – a cross of copper gilt, two brass candlesticks, a censer, and red damask vestment. The thorough Victorian restoration swept away all inscriptions within the church except that marking a vault below the chancel, dated 1837.
Numbers attending the church declined in the latter part of the 20th Century and, with a heavy bill for repairs, the church was closed for services and declared redundant in October 2002. The following year it was re-opened for occasional services and other events. A steering committee was set up to organize these happenings, and eventually, in October 2010, a charitable trust was formed as The St Lawrence at Lavernock Trust, also known as SALt, to work towards the preservation and further use of the building. Finally, on 27th February 2015, the Representative Body of the Church in Wales granted SALt a licence so that the use of the premises was set on a legal footing.