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"USK, a parish, post and market town in the hundred of Usk, county Monmouth, 12 miles S.W. of Monmouth, and 10 from Newport. It is a station on the Monmouth branch of the Newport and Hereford (Great Western) line. The town is beautifully situated on the river of its own name, which is here crossed by a fine and very substantial bridge of five arches, erected by William Edwards, the architect of the celebrated Pont-y-pridd. Usk is a sessions and polling town, and jointly with Monmouth and Newport sends a member to parliament.
It was the Brynbega of the ancient Britons, and the Burrium of the Romans, on the Via Julia. On an abrupt eminence overlooking the town are the ruins of the once magnificent castle, including the round tower, keep, and an extensive courtyard, surrounded with vestiges of rooms and other buildings. Its history is remarkable as the birth-place of kings. It formerly belonged to the family of Richard de Clare, who came over with William the Conqueror.
It was possessed by the earls of Gloucester and Hereford till 1314, when by marriage it was claimed by the Earl of Ulster, through whose lady it descended to Lionel Duke of Clarence, the son of Edward III., through whom it was inherited by Mortimer Earl of March, marshal of England, and subsequently by his nephew, Richard Duke of York, with whom it was a favourite residence, and the birth-place of his sons Edward IV. and Richard III. At Richard's death it was given by Henry VII. to his son Arthur, Prince of Wales, and in 1544 it became part of the dower of Queen Katherine Parr. On her death Edward VI. granted it to the Earl of Pembroke.
It continued in this family till the 7th earl, when it devolved to his daughter, by whose son it was sold and again disposed of to Lord Clive, from whom it was purchased by the 5th Duke of Beaufort, and is now the property of the present duke. In the civil war of Charles I. it was taken by the Roundheads, and was finally dismantled by order of parliament.
The earls of Clare had also founded a Benedictine priory near the church, the remains of which have undergone various transformations - the most recent of which has resulted in a handsome mansion with spacious rooms, just constructed, and as nearly as possible a restoration of that raised from the old materials on the site in the Tudor period. The fine archway of solid masonry still remains entire. There were other monastic houses in the town connected with the Black Friars and the Grey Friars; of the former some traces remain, and of the latter an old Norman gateway and part of a chapel.
The principal charity is that of Roger Edwards, founded 1621, with an income at present of above £500 derived from lands. By a recent scheme the trustees, who are fourteen in number, are directed to apply the funds to the support of almshouses with chapel and chaplain; the remainder for educational purposes in the town of Usk and some neighbouring parishes. A grammar-school for boarders and day scholars is maintained by it, where a liberal education is afforded to the inhabitants for a small quarterly payment. The elementary and infant schools are also assisted by the charity, and a country school is contemplated for some neighbouring parishes.
The town of Usk consists of several streets, the chief of which are arranged in the form of the ancient Roman square, the centre being occupied by gardens, the margin with dwellings. The principal street (Bridge-street) contains several handsome shops, and is well paved and lit with gas, while the central position of the town makes it an important and often busy thoroughfare as a county road. Usk is the head quarters of the county constabulary, where most of the police are drilled, and the chief constable holds his office.
A very extensive and well ordered model prison, on the separate system, stands just outside the town; it has already undergone one enlargement since its construction, and, as soon the Monmouth gaol is to be abolished, it will undergo yet further enlargement. A small but effective reformatory school also stands a few miles from Usk, for convicted boys. The quarter-sessions for the shire, and the petty sessions for the division are held in the town-hall, which is a handsome and commodious structure, well lighted and aired, standing over the market house, and a well-arranged lock-up, with rooms for the reception of prisoners during trial.
Usk is a corporate town, governed nominally by a portreeve, who possesses magisterial authority, but who generally devolves it on the county magistrates; there are also a recorder, aldermen, and burgesses.
The church is a handsome structure; it was originally conventual, but the whole of the chancel which belonged to the priory has been destroyed, and a nominal chancel constructed under the tower, which is of massive work, and contains six good bells. The church is noted for its screen, which is of handsome canopy work, and stretches across the whole church from N. to S. The churchyard is adorned with several modern monuments and a fine vista of lime and other trees and fancy shrubs. Beneath the above-named screen is an ancient monumental brass, with an inscription, the interpretation of which has puzzled all antiquaries.
The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Llandaff, in the gift of W. A. William, Esq., of Llangilly Castle, value £280. Besides the parish church there is a chapel-of-ease in the hamlet of Glascoed. The Independents, Wesleyans, Baptists, and Roman Catholics have each a chapel. There are several handsome dwellings here, of which the principal are Tybreith, Porth-y-Carne, Ty-Newydd House, &c.
The Pont-ypwl ware once formed a chief object of manufacture, but has now entirely ceased. The great attraction to the town is the salmon fishery - the river being strictly preserved, and the fish abundant and of fine quality. The population of the parish in 1861 was 2,112, and of the borough 1,545. In the vicinity are numerous camps and ancient fortifications, the principal of which are Craig-y-Gaereyd, about 2 miles to the N.W.; Court-y-Gaer, 1,900 feet in diameter.
The hamlets of the parish are Glascoed and Gwchelog, the former of which is isolated from the town of Usk. Friday is the market day, and a cattle-market is held on the first Monday in every month. The fairs are on the 20th April, Monday after Trinity Sunday, 29th October, and Shenkin Jones' fair for beef on the Monday before Christmas Day. The principal inns are, the "Three Salmons Hotel" and the "King's Head". The access by road and rail is excellent, and the proximity of Raglan Castle, the Crumlin Bridge, Tintern Abbey, &c., makes Usk an additional attraction to visitors."
"GLASCOED, a hamlet in the parish of Usk, lower division of the hundred of Usk, county Monmouth, 3 miles W. of Pontypool."
"GWEHELLOG, a hamlet in the parish and hundred of Usk, county Monmouth, 2 miles from Usk, and 12 S.W. of Monmouth. It is situated in a pleasant spot near the river Usk and Via Julia, the old Roman way to Caerleon."
The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]
(Last updated - Gareth Hicks - 17 Feb 2009)
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