Sunday, 7 October 2012


This is Part 1 of a two part post about  'The Pot and Pineapple',  the Gunters and St  David Lewis. 


Abergavenny is as pretty as it is historic.  It is indeed a happy pastime to meander along its streets and enjoy the intermingling of old and new – modern shops housed in ancient buildings.  One such shop is the delightful little sweetshop, ‘The Pot and Pineapple’, on Cross Street.

This recently opened establishment, located at 37 Cross Street, is a traditional sweetshop with rows and rows of jars, stuffed with glorious sweets, lining its shelves.  It has the power to make one feel like a child again, clutching a few pence and wondering which treat to purchase!  Well, that is how I felt anyway. 

‘The Pot and Pineapple’ is located in one of the oldest buildings in Abergavenny, the ancient Gunter Mansion.  It is very pleasing to note that the young proprietor has maintained the Gunter connection in her choice of name, thereby keeping alive an important part of Abergavenny history. 

Several shops, numbers 37-40 Cross St, now occupy the Gunter Mansion.   This historic building was originally constructed in the early years of the seventeenth century and it was home to generations of the Gunter Family.  Walter Gunter, who was born around 1717, was the last of the Gunters to reside there.

James Gunter, Walter’s son, left Abergavenny and went to London.  In 1777 James became a partner in a food business named “The Pot and Pineapple” at 7-8 Berkeley Square.  “The Pot and Pineapple” had been established twenty years earlier as a confectioner’s shop by Domenico Negri.  By 1799 James Gunter was sole proprietor and the shop had become a chic Mayfair gathering place where the smart set would stop to eat ices and sorbets.  It must have been quite a sight as the shop’s waiters raced back and forth across the street delivering orders to ladies, who remained in their carriages, while the gentlemen lounged nearby enjoying their confections.  As well as ices and confections, Gunter’s was known for its beautifully decorated cakes.  James Gunter’s son, Robert, took over the business on the death of his father in 1819.  In the mid 1930s, the east side of Berkeley Square was demolished and Gunter’s moved to Curzon Street.  Gunter’s continued to delight its customers until its closure in 1956.
It is now necessary to go back several generations of Gunters to James Gunter’s ancestor, Thomas Gunter.  Thomas Gunter was born about 1627 into the Catholic branch of the Gunter Family.  Thomas, an attorney at law, lived in the mansion on Cross St which now houses “The Pot and Pineapple” and other shops.  He was a Catholic at a time in the history of this country when Catholicism was outlawed.  Those who tenaciously clung to “Yr Hen Ffydd”, “The Old Faith”, were known as “recusants”.  Recusants were subjected to harsh fines, imprisonment and, sometimes, even death.  Thomas Gunter was a staunch Catholic and a fearless man.  He is known to have said, “I kept a priest during Oliver’s time of severity, and I shall keep one now”.  He made good his promise! 
Thomas had an attic room in his house furnished as a Catholic Chapel and here the Catholics of Abergavenny would assemble for Mass and to receive the Sacraments.  Thomas kept two Jesuits, Fr Philip Evans and Fr David Lewis, who celebrated Mass and conducted weddings, baptisms and funerals in the chapel.  A report referring to this chapel said there was at Abergavenny “a public chapel for Papists adorned with the marks of the Jesuits on the outside, and such numbers flocked there that a hundred were seen to come out of it when not above forty attended the parish (Established) church”.  In his deposition to the House of Commons in 1678, the vicious priest hunter, John Arnold, stated that he had seen the “mark of the Jesuits” on the outside of Gunter’s property.  Mr Greenhaugh, the Vicar of Abergavenny, said “there is a publick mark of the Jesuits on the outside of the building, which is directly towards the Parish Church”. 
Fr David Lewis S J was either Thomas Gunter’s uncle or his cousin.  Most historians come down in favour of uncle.   The youngest of nine children, David Henry Lewis was born in Abergavenny in 1616.  David’s mother, Margaret Pritchard, was a Catholic and she raised eight of her children as Catholics.  His father, Morgan Lewis, was a Protestant and head of Abergavenny Grammar School.  Morgan Lewis had his youngest son, David, raised in the Established religion.  As a young man, David visited Paris and while there he was received into the Catholic Church.  In 1638 David entered the English College in Rome to study for the priesthood.  Several years after his ordination, he joined the Jesuits.  Fr David Lewis S J was sent back to his homeland but, after a short time, he was recalled to Rome.  About a year later Fr Lewis was sent again to the English Mission.  He returned to Wales and for more than thirty years he tended to the needs of the beleaguered Catholics in the border areas of Monmouthshire and Herefordshire.   Based at Thomas Gunter’s, he ministered to the Catholics of Abergavenny and the surrounding countryside. 

For a time, Fr David Lewis stayed with his relatives, the Morgans, at Llantarnam.  It was at a cottage in Llantarnam, during the mayhem generated by the Oates’ Plot, that the Jesuit was arrested.   On Sunday morning, 17th November 1678, Fr Lewis was preparing to celebrate Holy Mass when a group of armed dragoons burst in.  Fr Lewis was held first in Monmouth Gaol, then in Usk Gaol.  Convicted of being a Catholic priest and saying Mass (which was considered High Treason), Fr Lewis was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.  The good priest met his fate at Usk on 27th August 1679.  St David Lewis was beatified in 1929 and canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.


1 comment:

  1. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.


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