Thursday, 26 October 2017


The Gunter Premises on Cross Street, Abergavenny have for too long been neglected but at last something positive is happening. The Welsh Georgian Trust has purchased the building and a group of interested people, the Friends of Gunter Mansion, is dedicated to restoring the property and saving it for posterity.

The Gunter Mansion, Cross St, Abergavenny (Photo J D Smith)
To learn more about this very worthwhile project, just follow these links:

The A Board outside the Pop-Up Space (Photo J D Smith)

The Gunter Project Pop-Up Space (Photo J D Smith)
Just who were the Gunters and why is their former home so important?

James Gunter, born circa 1519, was the son of Watkin Gunter and Gwenllian Llwyd. James was descended from the Gunters of Tregunter, Breconshire, and it was his grandfather who had first settled at Abergavenny.  In 1536 he was admitted to Gray’s Inn where he trained as a lawyer.  About 1544, James married Ann Westcott.  In 1554 he was elected to Parliament as the Member for Monmouthshire. 

In partnership with his cousin, Richard Gunter of Oxford, James Gunter speculated in monastic lands, both as an agent for others and also on his own behalf. At the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, Abergavenny’s Benedictine Priory Church became the Parish Church and Gunter purchased the Priory and its demesne. 

King Charles I
James Gunter died in London in 1558. The Gunter family continued to live at the Priory for five generations and, in July 1645, his descendant, also named James Gunter, entertained no less a personage than King Charles I after the King’s escape from the Battle of Naseby.

Sometime around 1600, James Gunter’s grandson, Thomas Gunter, purchased part of the Priory lands and constructed a house (the Gunter Mansion on Cross Street). Little did Thomas know the vital part his mansion would play in the history of Abergavenny and of Catholicism!

Plaque on Gunter House
(Photo J D Smith)
Thomas Gunter’s son, Thomas, was a prominent Abergavenny lawyer and justice of the peace.  He was also a staunch Catholic.  This Thomas Gunter furnished a secret chapel in the attic of their home on Cross Street.  Here the Catholics of the area came to hear Mass and to receive the comforts of their forbidden religion. 

Thomas kept two Jesuits, his uncle, Fr
Fr David Lewis
(Photo J D Smith)
David Lewis, and Fr Philip Evans.  Fr Lewis was Abergavenny born and had links with many of Abergavenny’s leading citizens. The secret chapel was obviously not so secret because rabid priest hunter, John Arnold, reported its existence to Parliament. Mr Greenhaugh, the Vicar of Abergavenny did likewise. They described the
“mark of the Jesuits” on the outside of the house and reported the comings and goings of the Catholics who attended services in the Gunter chapel

Fr Philip Evans
(Photo J D Smith)
At the height of the Titus Oates Plot in 1678, both priests were arrested.  David Lewis was captured at Llantarnam and Philip Evans at Sker House.  In the summer of 1679 they were martyred for the treasonable offence of being Catholic priests and saying Mass. 

In October 1970, Frs David Lewis and Philip Evans, along with 38 others, were canonised by Pope Paul VI.  The group is known collectively as the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

So, why save this wonderful old building? Certainly its association with the prominent Gunter family and with two saints of the Catholic Church affords it great significance.  It is a little known but very significant part of not only Abergavenny’s history but also of the nation’s history.  As well, its attic chapel, where two brave and holy priests provided for the religious needs of their fellow Catholics, should surely be of major import to Catholics everywhere.
Inside the Pop-Up Space (Photo J D Smith)
To keep up to date with this exciting project, remember to visit the links below.

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