James Henry Clark.

Usk past and present; antiquities, castles, church, customs and claims, priory, charters, charities, scraps and facts online

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Online LibraryJames Henry ClarkUsk past and present; antiquities, castles, church, customs and claims, priory, charters, charities, scraps and facts → online text (page 1 of 32)
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SK gives its name to a Htmclred wliich is
\3 *" divided into upper and lower divisions, and is
in the Poor Law Union of Pontypool. It is 11
miles distant from Abergavenny, 14 from Chepstow,
13 from Monmouth, 8 from Caerleon, 7 from Ponty-
pool, 11 from Newport, and 5 from Raglan. It is
situated nearly in the centre of Monmouthshire, on
the banks of the river from which it derives its
name, and which here receives the tributary streams
of the Berddin and Olway.

The situation of the town is uncommonly beauti-
ful, and the surrounding scenery is beheld with
extreme pleasure by those accustomed to the tame
and uninteresting views of low and long levels. It
is charmingly diversified by woods, pastures, and
interesting objects ; and the display of hill and dale,
park-like woods and grounds, intersected by clear
and meandering streams, cannot fail to create sen-
sations of delight and admiration.

From the bridge, on looking down the river, a
lovely prospect presents itself ; along the verdant
banks of the stream, studded with alders and
sycamores, rises the precipitous and beautifully
tinged wood of Graig-y-nallt on the right, and a
series of neatly*mown lawns planted with trees and
ihrubs, at the back of some of the i-esidences, foriQ


the boundary of the river on the left, with the
picturesque little Church of Llanbadoc beyond ;
from thence the Usk continues to wind its course
towards the base of the hill of Penycaemawr, which
is backed by the extensive forest of Wentwood, Up
the river, wooded knolls are interspersed with
verdant pastures, and the eye glances along the
bosom of the clear stream, which, under the sloping
grove of Beech Hill, assumes the aspect of a placid
lake, on whose face is reflected the graceful and
waving branches of the willow and alder, and a
short distance higher up the stream the water
rushes with impetuosity on its rocky bed. The
beautiful vale of the Usk from thence extends to
the neighbourhood of Abergavenny, and then, form-
ing as it were a background to the landscape, is a
mass of bold, steep, ridgy hills, broken up and
presenting deep ravines and valleys of great beauty,
among which the Blorenge, the Skirrid, the
Rholben, the Derry, and the Sugar Loaf form con-
spicuous objects. Within a short distance of the
bridge on the right, embosomed among trees, on
the spur of a hill and overlooking the town,
stand the venerable ivy -mantled walls of the Castle,
and on the eloping ground beneath are garden

The town stands on a considerable tract of
ground, the principal streets form a square, the
area of which, six or seven acres, is composed of
gardens and orchai-ds. The buildings are very
irregular and many of them much dilapidated.
Most of the streets are broad, with paved footways,
and the town is well drained by means of sanitary


With repfard to the appearance of the town itself,
the last half century has worked much improve-
ment. Sixty years ago the only pavement in the
town was a piece here and there in Bridge Street,
the principal thoroughfare, and a patch of some
twenty yards' extent adjoining the School in Church
Street, all the other footpaths being pitched with
pebbles from the river, or bare earth ; surface
gutters crossed the streets in every direction, and
obstructions to foot passengers in the shape of
palisades, railings, and iron barriers for protecting
windows. By the help of the Borough funds and
Highway and Local Boai'd rates, most of the foot-
paths are now paved or asphalted, and many of the
obstructions removed.

In 1842, Mr. James Williams, having purchased
the site of the old House of Correction, in Bridge
Street, commenced building extensive premises, in
which he carried on a large trade. This induced
other tradesmen to build and improve their
residences. Old cooperage premises, with a shed
extending over the footpath, were converted into a
neat and commodious grocery and drapery estab-
lishment. Some old thatched stabling opening into
the street on the footpath was converted into shops
with plate-glass fronts. Other persons then built
and improved their business premises in the town,
so that at the present time the shops in Usk bear a
favourable comparison with most small towns.

There are a number of very pleasant walks sur-
rounding the town ; the one on the Abergavenny
road as far as the Chain Bridge, a distance of about
three miles ; the uphill walk on the Monmouth road
as far as Gwehelog School, about two miles ; and


tbe shorier walk by the river side to Llanbadoo
are the roads most frequented.

In the town and in some of the neighbouring
woods and fields antiquities may be found. In a
field called Caeputta, to the south of the town, and
on the spot where the County Gaol now stands,
in the year 1796, a paved road was discovered some
feet below the surface; it was nine feet broad,
formed of hewn stones placed edgeways, supposed
to have been one of the streets of the ancient
town ; and in digging the foundations for the Gaol
in the year 1841, several interesting relics of Roman
origin were turned up. In the Graig-y-garcoed a
Bteep rocky wood about a mile and a half from the
town, on the side of the river, the remains of a
Roman encapment is visible, although overgrown
with trees and bushes ; the entrenchments in some
places are thirty feet deep, and several tumuli are
within the area from fifteen to twenty feet in height.
Two other camps are on the opposite side of the
river, east of the road leading from Usk to Clytha;
that of Campwood, about two miles from Usk, on
the common of Gwehelog is of an oval shape, inclosed
by a single fosse and vallum 700 yards in circum-
ference, completely overgrown with trees and bushes;
the other formed upon the summit of a commanding
eminence, near Clytha Castle, is known by the name
of Coed-y-Bunydd ; it is 480 yards in circumference ;
the west and north sides are precipitous, bounded
by one entrenchment ; the other sides are fortified
by triple ditches and ramparts ; the entrance is
covered by a tumulus, and traces of some foundations
of towers at each end may yet be found. The
remains of a small camp arc visible in the grounds


of Twyn Bell, overlooking Llanbadoc Church ; a
camp of much larger dimensions is found on
Ty Mawr Farm, Llansoy, on the top of the wood
overlooking Llandenny ; and another about three
miles distant therefrom on the Gaervawr. In a
field by the roadside on Gwrllwydd farm, in the
parish of Neweharch, about a mile distant from the
Gaervawr is a cromlech, the upper or incumbent
Btone of which is twelve feet long, three feet and a
half broad, and the supports are five feet high.

The trade of the town is inconsiderable, the only
manufactory of late years being the Chemical Works,
which are now out of work. In former years it had
a manufactory of Japan ware, established by Mr.
Edward Allgood, of Pontypool. The manufacture
at Usk was, after Edward Allgood's death, carried
on by Mr. Hughes, spoken of as "Mr. Hughes, of
the Elman." For him, Morgan Davies, alluded to
by Archdeacon Coxe, was the chief designer and
Ornamental painter. The John Hughes mentioned
as having been apprenticed to William Allgood,
oame to Usk and also took part in the designing and
painting, and used to go backwards and forwards
to Pontypool to assist Mrs. Allgood in the manage-
ment of her business. Mr. Hughes, of the Elman,
did not himself take an active part in the manu-
facture. The colours were mixed by his wife,
apparently an indication that she belonged to the
Allgood family. An aged lady. Miss Ann Hughes,
who claimed to be first cousin to old William Allgood,
and lived in Bridge Street, Pontypool, disclaimed
Mr. Hughes as being in any way related, though he
had been called Edward Allgood's nephew. The
Stockhams, who had come from Pontypool, played


an important pai't afc TJsk. Edward Stockham, who
died January 5tli, 1865, acted as limner, together
with John Bughes, Samuel Lucas, Elisha Reed,
— Hawkins, and Jonathan Lewis ; while John
Stockham (brother to Edward) attended to the
ovens, and Richard Stockham, another brother,
acted as clerk and bookkeeper. After the death of
Mr. Hughes, of the Elman, the manufactory was
carried on by Mr. Pyrke on the same premises,
next door to the George, in Market Street — the
George being kept by the painter Hawkins. Mr.
Pyrke had two sons in business as ironmongers in
London, and they used to send down urns, trays,
etc., ready made, to be japanned at Usk and then
returned to them for sale. Mr. Pyrke and Mr.
Hughes are both remembered as "gentlemen" — men
moving in a superior sphere iu society and exercising
a large-hearted benevolence towards tlieir humbler
brethren. Mr. Pyrke died at Usk, having conducted
the business but a few years, and that in a manner
in which he endeavoured to prevent the disclosure
of the secrets of the trade, as he was very careful
whom he admitted to the manufactory. The excel-
lence of the work turned out at Usk in his days and
those of his predecessor admits of no question, how-
ever much the assertion may clash with the popular
notion in Pontypool. The late Duke of Wellington,
the late Duke of Beaufort, and Louis XVIII., when
King of France, were supplied with their Japan
goods direct from Usk. After Mr. Pyrke, the manu-
factory passed, about 50 years ago, into the hands of
the late Mr. Evan Jones, who removed it to the
back of his shop, the third house in Biidge Street,
on the right from the bridge. Mr. Evan Jones, who


was also yeoman, and brick, tile, and pipe manu-
facturer, filled tl;e office of Portreeve of Usk, in
1850, 1851, and 1852. With him the Japan trade
dwindled and dwindled, in the face of the counter
attraction of Birmingham Japan and papier mache
goods, and it ceased altogether at his death, which
took place on the 13th March, 1860, when he was
70 years of age. The greater part of the stock of
Japan goods which lie left was dispersed by sale by
auction, in 1862. All who were engaged in the
manufacture, at Pontypool and at Usk, are now
dead. The last was John Stockham. The Usk
people believe that the secrets of the trade died
■with this man, as the Pontypool people declare that
they perished with Mrs. Mary Jones, daughter of
William Allgood. One of Mr. Kvan Jones's nieces
(the late Mrs. H. J. Parkhurst) afterwards resided
at Pontyraoel, and she possessed a miniature of
"Old Edward Allgood." The following verses were
conspicuously placed in Edward Allgood's manu-
factory : —

" Pray look at this as you pass by ;
Working the ovens is very dry ;
Many there be that do come here
That never think of a drop of Beer."
The above lines were painted on a tin plate fixed to
the stove-room door, where the finishing and polish-
ing was done in a temperature of from 70 to 80
degrees. Here old John Stockham worked up to
the last fifteen years of his life, and reached the long
age of 91. He died February 4th, 1866.

There was al.o a -weaving manufactory, several
grist mills in and near the town, and five malthouses,
which were in full work ; but the alterations in the
Jftw and the passing of the Free Trade measure^


rendered the manufacfcure of malt unremunerative,
and the dilapidated buildings are at present only
used as storehouses.

In an old work published in 1769, this town is
thus noticed : — " Usk, or Kaerwysk, is seated at the
confluence of the Byrden and Usk, five miles to the
north-east of Pontypool, eleven miles south-west of
Monmouth, and one hundred and thirty west by
north of London. This was also an ancient Roman
city, called by Antoninus Burrium. There are still
to be seen here the ruins of a large, strong castle,
built for the security of the town, and pleasantly
seated on the bank of the river ; this castle, of
which we have here given a view, at present
belongs to the Lord Viscount Windsor. The town
contains little else worthy of notice. It has a
market on Mondays, and two fairs, held on the
Monday after Trinity, and on the 18th of October,
for horses, lean cattle, and pedlary."


The Ancient Town— Roman Remains.

fflEN the Romans invaded Britain, Monmouth-
shire was inhabited by the Silures, a race of de-
termined valour. They were led by Caractacus, a
revered prince, "who was, after many engagements,
at length taken pi-isoner through the treachery of
the Queen of the Brigantes, and sent prisoner to
Rome. Though they had lost their leader, the
Britons rallied and so harassed the Roman General,
Ostorius Scapula, that he died of vexation and
fatigue. The Silures for a time recovered their
independence, which they raaintained until the reign
of Vespasian, when Julius Frontiaus obliged them to
submit. The Romans, however, found great diffi-
culty in retaining their conquest, and were obliged
to form and garrison a long line of military posts, of
which the stations of Venta Silurum (now Caer-
went), IscA Silurum (now Caerleon and then the
metropolis of the Silures), Burrium (Usk), Goban-
NIUM (Abergavenny), and Blestium (Monmouth),
were the principal. Roman Koads from Aberga-
venny and Monmouth were supposed to have joined
at Usk, and extended from thence to Gaex'leon, the
metropolis, by the lower road from Usk.

JSorsley says : " The situation and shape of the
town, lying in squares, together with some coins
found there, favour its having been a Roman station,
though at present there are no remains of it."

Coxe in his " Moxmouthshire," published 84
years ago, writes; "In digging wells and making
foundations f^ buildings, three ranges of pavement
have been discovered, and in the adjacent fields
pitched roads traced, which are supposed to have
been streets of the town. In a field called Cab Puta
to the south of the town, about five years ago (1795)
a paved road was discovered under ground ; it was
nine feet bi'oad and formed of hewn stones set edge-
ways, and a lane called Book Lane was pointed out
to me as having been a street of the (ancient) town ;"



and Britton and Bray ley considered that the road
found in Cae Putawas probably part of the old road
which extended from BuRRiUM (Usk) to Venta
SiLURUM (Caerwent), and added that "many ancient
houses are in ruins, and of some only the founda-
tions remain," they also infer, "that the Castle
(or rather its outer bailey) had been the Roman
Castrum and, from some of its aichitectural features,
it was of Roman or Roman-British origin."

In the year 1842, Cae Puta, was purchased by
the Justices of Monmouthshire and the present gaol
was built in or about its centre During the exca-
vations many remains were discovered which were
taken away by parties residing in the town, and,
unfortunately, no record of them has been preserved,
but some of the old inhabitants state that a road
running almost north and south was come upon
some feet beneath the surface with the foundations
of numerous buildings. A gi-eat number of coins,
pottery, fibulae, &c., were also found, but were dis-
persed and lost, a few articles only having been
preserved by Mr. Iltyd Nicholl's family and depo-
sited in the Museum at Caerleon. Mr. Lee, of
Caerleon describes also several very beautiful colored
glass beads found in the garden of Mr Iltyd Nicholl,
near the river, now occupied by Mr. H. Stafford

The field called Cae Puta is bounded on its
southern side by a watercourse, and the lane which
Coxe calls "Book Lane" is in the old deeds called
" Puck Lane " and pronounced as though spelt
" Pook," and the lane, until the New Court House
was built in 187G, divided Cae Fur a and the field
called the Priory Orchard and formed its northern

Subsequently when a new wing was added to tlio
gaol a Roman paved street Avas also come u]iou.

In the year 1876-7, when the new Court House ad-
joining the gaol was built, in order to obtain sufficient
space it was necessary to take in a portion of the
" Puck Lane " and also a part of the " Priory
Orchakd," and the course of the Puck Lane in con-


sequence had to be diverted farther northwards.

Duriug^ the excavatiuns for the southern walls of
the building and in digi^int? a water tank the work-
men cauic upon a regular pitched road running
noi'th and south with another crossing it. These
roads wore laid bare at the point of their intersec-
tion, and had raised footpaths at the sides, the width
of the central roadway was nine feet, and it was
pitched with blocks of limestone descending about
fifteen inches into the gi'ound, each stone appeai-ed
to have been hammer-dressed, and at the sui-face
was five inches by two inches. The Tkottoirs or
footpaths were three feet six inches in width with
kerbstones, and were paved with small rough stone
cubes, and in levelling the ground in front of the
Coui't House considerable portions of walls were
found. Amongst the numerous remains discovered
were several querns or hand mills and a quantity of
bones of animals ; and a shilling of James I. was
likewise discovered near the surface. A fragment of
an inscribed Roman tombstone, identified as com-
memorating the child of a soldier of the Second
Legion, which measured thii'teen inches by ten, was
also discovered on this occasion. Mr. A. D. Ber-
rington, of Pantygoitre, who was absent from home
at the time the Coui't House was erected, upon
hearing of the discoveries on his return, obtained
the consent of the Visiting Justices and set men to
work in the garden in the i-ear of the Court House,
and at the depth of about ten feet in a layer of sand
which had been cut through, various Roman remains
were found. The layer of pottery which was upon
the top of the sand included some fine specimens of
Samian ware, one embossed with an eagle and leaf
pattern, another with a dancing goat and bii'ds,
others had patterns composed entirely of leaves,
and various pieces of red pottery and portions of
black ware; some fragments of tile were also found
and one portion of a curved tile bore the inscription
Leo. II. In other parts of the town from eight to
ten feet below the present surface portions of build-
ings have been discovered, and during the excavation



in laying sewage pipes by tlie Local Board in 1874,
at a point nearly opposite the commencement of the
garden belonging to the Rev. Arthur Williams, the
workmen cut down in front of a worked stone arched
entrance to a building.

The Castle and its Possessors.

Few castles in the kingdom have been subject to
more frequent assaults than that of Usk, and its
present ruinous state is attributed to the merciless
attack of Owen Glendower at the Battle of Usk in
1405, when he sacked the town, but met with a
signal defeat and the loss of 1500 of his men, besides
having his son taken prisoner by the royal forces
under the Prince of Wales, afterwards Henry V.,
who was born at Monmouth.

The ruins of this fortress are of circular formation
on an abrupt eminence overlooking the town. The
approach to its walls is through a doorway between
turreted pillars from an open space called the Twtn,

Interrupted Sights of steps take the visitor to the
entrance door of the area or court 240 feet by 162,
the boundary of which is formed by straight walls
with square and round towers at intervals.

The principal tower is on the west side of the
court, its summit may be reached by a winding stone
staircase, and from this eminence an extensive pano-
ramic view of the surrounding sylvan and cultivated
country, backed by mountain ranges extending fi'om
Twyn Barlwm mountain below NewiDort on the left,
to the Blorenge, Sugar Loaf, Brecon Beacons, Holy
Mountain, and the Graig Hill to the right, whilst
the town lies immediately beneath the hill on which
the castle stands, pleasingly intersected with gardens
and orchards, and bounded by the meandering Usk.
An agreeable and shady walk surrounds a great por-
tion of the ruins and a rustic footpath leads to the
railway station.


The name of the founder of this fortress has not
been ascert

Online LibraryJames Henry ClarkUsk past and present; antiquities, castles, church, customs and claims, priory, charters, charities, scraps and facts → online text (page 1 of 32)