Richard Vaughan Norman of Usk, clerk, purchased the property [site of Porth-y-carn House] for £315 [in 1775]. Norman died in 1797, and left his property to John Kemeys Gardner-Kemeys of Bertholey, who in 1805 sold it to John Haly, described as of Usk, clergyman. In 1828 William Gerard, catholic priest at Llanarth, and Joseph Hunt of Shortwood, co. Somerset, clerk,1 who held as trustees for the catholic denomination at Usk, sold the property to Thomas Reece, then of Llanvabon, with the exception of the building used as the catholic chapel with the house and garden attached. For many years the Catholics used this as a chapel until 1847, when the new chapel on the other side of the road was built. The old chapel is now [in 1923] the armoury of the local territorials.
Mr. Thomas Reece, who thus purchased the property, was an agent for Crawshay, the ironmaster at Cyfarthfa, and about the year 1835 built the house now standing. He came of an old family long settled at Longtown in Herefordshire, who claimed descent from Yr arglwydd Rhys (The lord Rhys), prince of South Wales, who was buried in St. David's Cathedral in 1196. His eldest brother Dr. Thomas Reece of Cardiff was an eminent physician, an antiquary of note, and friend of Sir Thomas Phillipps, the celebrated book collector.
Thomas Reece died in 1852, and his widow resided here for many years after. On her death it was purchased by Henry Stafford Gustard, solicitor and clerk of the peace and county council. Some part of the land, including that on which the modern house stands, was common or reputed common, on which games were played by the townspeople. Thomas Reece obtained permission to enclose this. This was known as the Island, and is of historic interest, for here was executed David Lewis alias Charles Baker, the catholic priest. Some doubt is expressed in Vol. I., p. 178 of this work [Bradney] as to the site of the execution, but this arises from the word island, which is now applied to land on the west side of the river. There is no doubt that the island referred to as the place of execution is the ground now occupied by Porth-y-carn House. David Lewis was one of those who was mixed up with Titus Oates, Wm. Bedloe and others of doubtful reputation, besides being the head of a catholic seminary at the Cwm in the parish of Llanrothal in Herefordshire. He was tried at the assizes at Monmouth on 28 March 1679, the judge being Sir Robert Atkins, and the charge that of high treason, having passed beyond the seas and taken orders in the Church of Rome he had returned into England, where he had continued forty days contrary to the statute of 27 Eliz. Found guilty by the jury, he was taken back to Usk gaol, situate in Bridge street, from whence on 27 August 1679, he was brought out and drawn on a hurdle to the gallows erected on the island, where he was hanged. His body was then cut down and disembowelled, the bowels burnt, and the body buried near the south porch of the [Priory] church. Before being hanged David Lewis made a speech in Welsh and English, in which he maintained his innocence and expressed his forgiveness towards his accusers and prosecutors.2
An account of the trial was written and published by David Lewis himself.3 The witnesses against him were William Price; Dorothy James, who said she saw him celebrate Mass and heard him preach in English and Welsh; William James, husband of Dorothy; Maney Trott,4 a dwarf; Roger Sayes;5 John James, who had been married by David Lewis; Katherine Thomas; . . . . Cornelius; Richard Jones; Anne Williams; Anne James; Katherine Cornelius; Elizabeth Jones; Charles Edwards.
In an account of himself, David Lewis says that after thirty years of missionary labour in South Wales he was arrested in a little house at St. Michael-Lantarnam on Sunday, 17 Nov. 1678, by six armed men, and was then taken to the house of Mr. Charles Prices6 at Llanfoist; where he found Mr. Thomas Lewis of St. Pierre, Mr. John Arnold7 (of Llanfihangel Crucorney); that he was taken that night to Mr. Arnold’s house, where he stayed the night and was well treated. The next day he rode to Monmouth escorted by armed constables, and was lodged in the gaol there. On 13 Jan., 1678/9, he was taken to Usk, and remained in the gaol there until his trial.
1. Though so called, I think he was a catholic priest.
2. For further account of him vide Vol. I., pp. 125 and 178; also The Families of Baker and Baker Gabb, by Richard Baker Gabb, p. 79 et seq.
3. A | NARRATIVE | OF THE | Imprisonment and Tryal of Mr. David Lewis, | Priest of the Society of Jesus | Written by himself.
4. Trott says that he had been in exile with king Charles II., and at the restoration attended the king at Whitehall, but had left the Court because he was in danger of his life among the courtiers.
5. For his pedigree, vide Vol. II., p. 95.
6. Vol. I., p. 861.
7. Vol. I., p. 219.