Monday, 5 October 2009

THE GUNTERS OF ABERGAVENNY

Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries could be prosecuted, imprisoned, or even executed simply for being Catholics. Much the same as today, families in the 16th and 17th centuries had Protestant members and Catholic members. Such was the Gunter Family of Abergavenny.



James Gunter, of a Breconshire family, was a London lawyer who speculated in Abbey lands. In 1546 he bought the Abergavenny Priory and its demesne. Robert Gunter was his son. Robert’s elder son was Walter Gunter of the Priory who, in July 1645, entertained King Charles I when he visited Abergavenny. Walter represented the Protestant branch of the family. Robert’s second son, Thomas, was a Catholic. His house in High Street was sequestered for recusancy in 1648. He was allowed to remain in his house as a tenant because of his age (approximately 79) and poverty. Some sources say his wife was Mary, a sister of St David Lewis. Thomas Gunter’s son, Thomas Gunter Junior, was an attorney who lived in a mansion on Cross Street. Another prominent Catholic Gunter was Richard Gunter, a capital burgess of the town and brother of the recusant Thomas Gunter. A Mary Gunter (Waun Mary Gunter Farm) had her farm and lands confiscated because of her Catholic faith.



Thomas Gunter Junior was probably a nephew of St David Lewis although some say he was a cousin. A staunch and fearless Catholic, he had a chapel in the attic of his home on Cross Street. Witnesses claimed that more people attended Mass there than attended services at the established church. Two priests who were known to say Mass at Thomas Gunter’s were the Jesuits, Fr Philip Evans and Fr David Lewis. Both priests were martyred for their faith in 1679 and canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.



Thomas Gunter’s house on Cross Street was a fine large house, fitting to one of his family and position. Originally, the back of the property faced Cross Street and the other side, facing Priory Lane, was the front, with a large court enclosed by thick walls. In his deposition to the House of Commons in 1678, John Arnold, vicious priest hunter, stated that he had seen the “mark of the Jesuits” on the outside of Gunter’s property. The Vicar of Abergavenny, Mr Greenhaugh, said “there is a publick mark of the Jesuits on the outside of the building, which is directly towards the Parish Church.”



The last of the Gunters to live in the Cross Street house was a Walter Gunter who was known to be living there in 1717. Over the years, the large house was divided into four smaller ones. In 1908, Mr & Mrs Foster, the owners of the end house, were carrying out alterations when an amazing discovery was made. When the workmen began to demolish the partitions dividing the rooms in the attic, they discovered a secret room behind the end room in the north end of the house. On the sloping ceiling was a beautiful fresco depicting the ‘Adoration of the Magi’. This was most likely the altar piece and would have had the altar positioned below it. Mrs Foster had the painting photographed by Mr Bailey the Photographer, of High Street, Abergavenny. She then had the fresco carefully removed and, in an attempt to preserve it, had it placed behind glass and framed. For many years the painting was in private hands but, thankfully, it is now on display at Abergavenny Museum. The “mark of the Jesuits” was found here, too. The letters I H S, within rays and surmounted by a cross, were clearly visible above the window looking out onto Cross Street.



When the attic floor boards were removed, a quantity of papers was discovered. The dates on the papers ranged from 1674 to 1697 and some bore the name of Thomas Gunter. The writing on one of them said “Thomas Gunter, Attorney at Law”. These manuscripts are now in the possession of Abergavenny Museum.



On closer inspection of the outside of the old house, they found traces of a staircase leading from the chapel down into the garden. However, the “mark of the Jesuits” referred to by John Arnold and Mr Greenhaugh could not be found.



Today, shops occupy Thomas Gunter’s grand mansion on Cross Street. The only reminder of the good and heroic people who lived and worshipped there is a blue Local History Society plaque on the front of the building. If one goes to the back of the building, at the pine end of the house, it is still possible to see, just above the roof of the adjoining property, part of the lintel of a doorway. This was the entrance to the attic chapel at the top of the outside staircase of which traces were found in 1908. If you are able to disregard the Satellite Dish, it is almost possible to picture the Catholics of Abergavenny climbing that staircase to attend Holy Mass celebrated by St Philip Evans or St David Lewis. An awesome thought indeed!

11 comments:

  1. I am related to the Gunters..my great grandmother on my mothers side was Minnie Matilda May Gunter b.1899.in Tadley. Her line goes back through Aldermaston, then Kintbury and to Wales. Back to Sir Peter Gaunt d'Or(Sir Peter Gunter) A Norman knight born 1034/5. Known as "The Knight of the Golden Glove"..His crest was 3 gauntlets argent. Anotehr decendent was Col. George Gunter of Racton who aided King Charles II escape England after the Battle of Worcester....The gunter family line is na interesting one indeed.

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  2. Hello Koczar Koenig
    It is wonderful to hear from you. According to our information, which, I admit, is scant, Thomas Gunter was related to St David Lewis. If this information is correct, it is possible you are also related to St David Lewis. In any case, I am very pleased to hear your news. If it is at all possible, I should like very much to hear from you again. Is there some way I could contact you, e g, e-mail or some other way. Thanks for looking in and for your extremely interesting comment. God bless.

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  3. I have been researching my Gunter ancestors, who appear to have remained in the Welsh borders for hundreds of years. My GGGgrandfather was Phillip Gunter of Much Birch, only a few miles from Abergavenny, who married Mary Tylor in 1801. My branch of the Gunter family have largely remained devout Catholics right up to the present day.

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    1. I am also researching the gunter history, but have come to a stop at his death 1851, cannot find his parents. It would appear that phillip and Mary had 12 children, where my line follows the son Thomas, then James, then George Henry, and to Charles Kippest my father, can anyone help please.

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    2. Good luck with the research, Sorry I can't help further. I hope someone out there will be able to give you some help.

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  4. Hello Helen
    How lovely to hear from you! Family history is an interesting subject. One never knows what will turn up in the family tree. Thank you for visiting my blog and for your very welcome comment. God bless you, Helen, and all your family.

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  5. Hi breadgirl & Helen.
    If you would like to email me your most welcome.
    my email is cripesamighty@sky.com

    Regards
    Koczar (Paul)

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  6. Hi Koczar

    It's great to hear from you again! Perhaps you and Helen are cousins - you both may even be distant relatives of St David Lewis. I hope you will let me know if you ever find that you are related to the Last Welsh Catholic Martyr.

    Even if you just drop in to say 'Hello' from time to time, it will be nice to hear from you. Any relative of brave Thomas Gunter is a friend of mine! God bless you.

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  7. I am Evan Gunter; a relative to Thomas Gunter, my father recently visited the Gunter mansion. I look forward to traveling to see it one day for we are direct decedents of Thomas Gunter. This page has been helpful. thank you for posting this
    -God bless

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  8. I am researching possible connections to the Gunter family, and wondering whether you have a Esther Gunter (AKA Easter) married to a William Jones, dob abt 1805 at Llanvapley where they lived.

    Also, can breadgirl and Helen contact me please with view of same info

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  9. Hello Evan & Debbie
    I am sorry I haven't replied sooner but things have been a little busy for us for the past months. However, I hope to be back to normal with my blogging now and I am very grateful to you both for your comments.

    Evan, I am delighted to hear from a direct descendant of Thomas Gunter. What a brave and faithful man he was! I am pleased you found this page helpful and I hope you will get to visit Abergavenny very soon.

    Debbie, it is nice to hear from you but I am very sorry I am unable to help you out with any information on Esther Gunter or William Jones. However, you could perhaps try contacting Koczar (see comments above).

    Thank you both again, and God bless you.

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