Building » Usk – St David Lewis and St Francis Xavier

Usk – St David Lewis and St Francis Xavier

Porthycarne Street, Usk, NP5 1RY

A small church of the 1840s by Charles Hansom and a good example of his mentor A. W. N. Pugin’s model of a small rural church, in the ‘middle pointed’ style and (originally) with a rood screen. The church has good stained glass by Hardman, Wailes and others. The site (with burial ground) lies in the shadow of the remains of Usk Castle and the building makes a positive contribution to the local conservation area.

The county of Monmouthshire remained more steadfast than most in its adherence to the Catholic faith during the penal years. First amongst its post-Reformation martyrs was the Jesuit priest David Lewis, born at Abergavenny in 1616, arrested at Llantarnam in 1768, condemned at the Monmouth assizes on trumped-up charges associated with the so-called Popish Plot, and executed at Usk in August 1679. In 1970 he was canonised by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Part of his gravestone is set into the ground beside the present church.

In the eighteenth century Mass continued to be said in Usk at Llancayo House, home of the Davis family, and in 1799 Bishop Sharrock, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, appointed the Rev. Joseph Hunt to the town, but ministering also to a wider area that included Newport and Pontypool. Fr Hunt was succeeded in 1803 by the Rev. Charles Haly, who built the first chapel at Stow Hill, Newport. Mass was said in an improvised chapel in Porthycarne Street, Usk until 1847, when the present church was built on land given by Francis McDonnell, a solicitor who lived in a house he had built in 1835 at 34 Porthycarne Street (Plas Newydd); he also met half the construction cost. The architect was Charles Hansom of Bristol, and was built at the same time as his church of St David at Swansea (qv). The completed church was opened by Bishop Brown, Vicar Apostolic of the Welsh District, on 14 October 1847 in the presence of many of the Catholic great and good. The Tablet reported:

‘THE NEW CHURCH OF ST. FRANCIS XAVIER, AT USKE (sic). This church was opened with great solemnity, on the 14th inst. The Right Rev. Dr. Brown, Vicar Apostolic of Wales, and the Right Rev. Dr. Ullathorne, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, with fifteen Priests, attended the ceremony. High Mass, coram Episcopo was sung by the Rev. Dr Baldacconi, assisted by the Rev. Messrs. Fisher and Charles Davis at eleven, and the evening service commenced at half-past four. An eloquent sermon was preached in the morning by the Right Rev. Dr. Ullathorne, and another in the evening by the Rev. Thomas Michael McDonnell, of Clifton. The performance of the choir was admirable. The Rev. Mr. Bonomi, from Prior Park, assisted as Master of the Ceremonies. Amongst the laity present were the Hon. Mrs. Murray; Prince Czartoryski, and his cousin Count Stanislaus Rameyski; M. and Madame Rio, Mr. and the Misses Scroope, of Danby ; Mr. and Mrs. Jones, of Clytha; Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Jones, of Llanarth; Mr. P. Jones, Captain Jones, Mr. H. Montonnier Hawkins, Major Huddlestone, Mr. and Mrs. and the Misses McDonnell, Mr. and Mrs Blount, and the Misses Lambe; Mr. and Mrs. Davis, and Miss Borini; Mrs Trelawney, Messrs Gabb, sen. and jun., and Miss Gabb; Mr. Dowling, Mr. Fresney, M. Martini, Mr. Prujean, &c., &c. Plates were held by Mrs. Jones, of Clitha, Mrs. J. A. Jones, and the Misses Scroope, and a handsome collection was made. The church is a beautiful structure in the style of the fourteenth century, with a screen and stone altar from Caen, and the whole does great credit to the architect, Mr. Charles Hansom’.

After the church was opened, the former chapel became a school (it is now the parish hall). According to Newman and the list entry, the church tower was added in 1865, also from designs by Hansom. Hansom was a disciple of A. W. Pugin, and the church is a good example of Pugin’s ideal small rural church, in the approved ‘middle pointed’ style and provided with a rood screen. The Monmouthshire Merlin reported that it was ‘a perfect restoration, both in its general design and in its minute details, of the small parochial churches of the 14th century’. When the screen was removed is not clear. The Caen stone altar and reredos survive, but were separated and the altar brought forward in a reordering of 1970. In the same year the dedication was changed to include the newly-canonised St David Lewis.


The church is described in the list entry, below. The following additional points can be made:

  • In 1901 a new bell, Sancta Maria, cast by Messrs Byrne & Co. of Dublin, was consecrated and installed in the tower.
  • The church has two Caen stone altars. The high altar has been separated from its original reredos. It has pierced quatrefoils on the frontal carved with the Pelican in her Piety, Agnus Dei etc. The frontal of the Lady altar in the south aisle has a carving of the Coronation of the Virgin.
  • There is a small choir gallery overlooking the north side of the chancel, and a larger organ gallery overlooking the nave. A brass plate below the latter records that the organ was presented in 1916 in memory of Iltyd Edwin Maitland Watkins of the 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment, killed in action near Ypres in 1915. A contemporary account in The Tablet records that the organ was built by the Sweetland Organ Company of Bath; it was restored in 1994.
  • The rood screen mentioned in accounts of the opening of the church has been removed at some point. In its place is a modern wooden communion rail which, according to Coflein, was carved by inmates at Usk Prison.
  • The nave seating consists of open-backed pine benches, possibly original.
  • There is a small shrine to St David Lewis in the south aisle, with a reliquary and historical display.
  • A small octagonal stone font, painted, is located in a baptistery area at the west end of the south aisle.

The church has a good collection of stained glass:

  • The three-light east window is by John Hardman, 1857. It depicts Christ flanked by saints (a cardinal and a bishop; Newman says ‘apparently’ St Charles Borromeo and St Francis, but clearly Francis is incorrect); below the central figure of Christ is a kneeling figure of a bishop.
  • A two-light window on the south side of the chancel shows a boy presented to the Virgin Mary, in memory of Henry Montonnier Hawkins, 1851-62, also by Hardman, c.1862.
  • The two-light Annunciation window in the south aisle, over the Lady altar, is in the manner of William Wailes, 1850s.
  • In the south aisle, a two-light window depicting St George and St Thomas of Canterbury, in memory of the Rev. Thomas Croft, priest-in-charge 1873-1898, d. 1908, signed H. Beiler of Heidelberg, Germany.
  • Towards the west end of the south aisle, a modern two-light window depicting St Francis Xavier and St David Lewis, signed C(hristian) Ryan, 2002.

List descriptions:


Reference Number: 82758
Grade: II  
Date of Designation: 30/04/2004  
Date of Amendment: 30/04/2004  
Name of Property: Church of St Francis Xavier and St David Lewis  
Unitary Authority: Monmouthshire  
Community: Usk  
Town: Usk  
Easting: 337596
Northing: 201018  
Street Side: NE  
Location: To N of 24 Porthycarne Street, in small churchyard which backs onto Usk Castle.  

History: Built 1847 by Charles Hansom, architect (1816-88); tower added by same architect 1865. Hansom and his brother Joseph (inventor of the famous “patent safety cab”) were themselves Roman Catholics and in partnership and separately produced many of the churches made possible after the Catholic Emancipation Act of the early C19. Charles Hansom was based at Bristol where his best known building is Clifton College. The church was funded and built on land given by Francis McDonnell JP of neighbouring Plas-newydd, and his wife is buried at the church.  

Exterior: Church with nave and S aisle of 4 bays, chancel, vestry, N porch, N tower. Old red sandstone, coursed, Bath stone dressings, slate roofs. Decorated Gothic style. Three-light Geometrical style W window. Gabled porch with diagonal buttresses, quatrefoil window to R wall, stone benches inside; narrow Gothic doorway to church with stoup to R. Two 2-light plate tracery windows between porch and tower. Later tower has steep pavilion slate roof with lucarnes, 2-light Decorated style windows to bellstage which is recessed with angle buttresses. Vestry at NE corner with chimney, 2-light dormer, 3-light ground floor window. Clasping buttresses to E end; three light Geometrical style E window. North aisle has four 2-light plate tracery windows; similar window to W end of aisle.  

Interior: Nave roof with thin scissor braces and wall posts. Four bay arcade to S aisle with octagonal piers. Inner order of chancel arch on floral corbels; wagon roof to chancel. Stained glass; E window of risen Christ flanked by Saints by Hardman (1857), chancel S window Boy presented to Virgin also by Hardman circa 1862; in S aisle E window, Annunciation by Wailes (1850s); SE window of aisle has Saints by H Beiler of Heidelberg (circa 1908).

Reason for designation: Early example of C19 Roman Catholic church by prominent architect.  

Parish hall (3 Porthycarne Street)

Reference Number: 2186
Grade: II
Date of Designation: 1 April 1974
Date of Amendment: 30 April 2004
Name of Property: No.3 Porthycarne Street, and attached iron railings
Unitary Authority: Monmouthshire
Community: Usk
Town: Usk
Location: Adjoins The Three Salmons Hotel

History: Used as the Catholic church hall. The site of the original Catholic church in Usk before the building further N of the church of St Francis Xavier and St David Lewis in 1847/1865 by Charles Hansom.

Exterior: Small hall. Roughcast rendered and painted. Slate roof. One storey. Two window range of 12-pane sashes in reveals. Round-arched doorway with bracketed gabled hood and 6-panelled door with blocked fanlight. Railings on a stone kerb with scrolled and urn finials, continuous with numbers 5 & 7.

Reasons for Listing: Listed as part of a continuous terrace on W side of Porthycarne Street retaining its historic character and fabric. Group value with other listed buildings in Porthycarne Street.

Heritage Details

Architect: Charles Hansom

Original Date: 1847

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II