Usk

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Usk
Commemorative town clock, Usk - geograph.org.uk - 1425897.jpg
Twyn Square and clock tower
Usk is located in Monmouthshire
Usk
Usk
Location within Monmouthshire
Population2,834 
OS grid referenceSO375005
Community
  • Usk
Principal area
Ceremonial county
CountryWales
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townUSK
Postcode districtNP15
Dialling code01291
PoliceGwent
FireSouth Wales
AmbulanceWelsh
UK Parliament
Senedd Cymru – Welsh Parliament
List of places
UK
Wales
Monmouthshire
51°42′14″N 2°54′07″W / 51.704°N 2.902°W / 51.704; -2.902Coordinates: 51°42′14″N 2°54′07″W / 51.704°N 2.902°W / 51.704; -2.902

Usk (Welsh: Brynbuga) is a town and community in Monmouthshire, Wales, 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Newport. It is located on the River Usk, which is spanned by an arched stone bridge at the western entrance to the town. Usk Castle, above the town, overlooks the ancient crossing point. It developed as a small market town, with some industry including the making of Japanware, and with a notable prison built in 1841/2. In recent years Usk has become known for its history of success in Britain in Bloom competitions, winning the Large Village award in 2005. The resident population of the town in 2001 was 2,318,[1] increasing to 2,834 at the 2011 census.[2]

Etymology[edit]

William Camden recorded that the town's English name derives from Caer-usk (the Caer or Castrum on the River Usk).[3] The name of the river itself may mean "abounding in fish" or simply "water".[4]

The origin of the Welsh name Brynbuga (Welsh: [brɨ̞nˈbɨ̞ga]) is less certain. The local Brythonic name adopted into Latin as Burrium or Burrio was recorded as Brunebegy and Burenbegie in the 15th century. The modern name is likely an example of the linguistic metathesis common in Welsh Topography. Folk etymology has suggested the name derives from Bryn Buga (Buga's Hill) or Bryn Bugeilio (Shepherding Hill).[5]

History[edit]

Usk and river from Llanbadoc Rock; 1860
Front page of the earliest surviving copy of the newspaper The Illustrated Usk Observer, 7 July 1855

Roman times[edit]

The Roman legionary fortress of Burrium was founded on the River Usk by the military commander Aulus Didius Gallus, around AD 55. He moved his XX Valeria Victrix legion into the area from its earlier base at Glevum (Gloucester).[6] It was the earliest legionary fortress in Wales and although the site was constricted by hills, subject to flooding, and not on a navigable river, it did offer good communications inland up the river. The fortress at Usk was surrounded by ramparts and covered a large area. However, by around AD 75 its disadvantages had become apparent and the Romans relocated their permanent military base further south to Caerleon, leaving only a small auxiliary fort and civilian settlement at Usk.[6]

The Roman remains are buried on the southern side of Usk.[7] Many of the Roman finds from Usk are now housed in the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon.[6]

Norman times[edit]

After the fortress was abandoned, it continued to be occupied as a civilian settlement, with evidence of iron working. The Normans also realised Usk's geographical and military importance within the region, and the powerful de Clare family built Usk Castle as part of their plans for controlling the area's resources and people. The castle, now hidden from view by surrounding trees planted in the early 20th century, is one of the few castles still privately owned and occupied.[8]

The town was laid out in rectangular building plots, centred on the market square. Markets were originally held in Twyn Square, twyn being a Welsh word for "hillock".[6]

Charters[edit]

The town was incorporated by charters granted by Edmund Mortimer, Edward II, Edward IV, and succeeding monarchs.[9] Its location meant that it was inevitably frequently caught up in the border disputes between the English and the Welsh in this section of the Welsh Marches.

The Welsh Revolt[edit]

Usk was the birthplace of Adam of Usk. His chronicle records the 'Welsh Revolt' in 1403, when Owain Glyndŵr burned Usk to the ground while gaining control of much of South Wales from the English under King Henry IV and his son, later to become King Henry V. The important Battle of Pwll Melyn in 1405 occurred immediately north of Usk Castle, when English forces routed their Welsh opponents, causing much loss of life, including that of Owain's brother Tudur. After their defeat, three hundred Welsh prisoners were executed in front of the castle.[10] In 2005 the 600th anniversary of the battle of Pwll Melyn was commemorated by a son-et-lumiere show at the castle.

The town appears as "Uck" and "Branbuga" on the Cambriae Typus map of 1573.[11]

The 16th and 17th centuries[edit]

The Great House of the town, later subdivided into smaller units, was built on Old Market Street in the mid-16th century for the Williams family. Its original entrance was at the rear of the present building, and faced onto gardens and meadows. Though much altered, the building retains many original features including chimney stacks and decorative plaster ceilings.[6][7]

The town market was moved from Twyn Square in 1598 to a location closer to the river, at New Market Street. The Old Town Hall was built on the street at the same time; this was later partially rebuilt at several times during the 19th century, and is now used by the Royal British Legion.[6][7]

In 1621 the wealthy Midlands wool merchant Roger Edwards, the owner of Allt-y-Bela in Llangwm, founded Usk Grammar School.[12]

The 18th and 19th centuries[edit]

The Usk Bridge over the River Usk was built in 1746–1752 to a design by William Edwards

The first stone bridge at Usk, replacing one of wood, was built to the designs of Welsh architect William Edwards. Unlike the bridge downstream at Caerleon, it withstood the great floods of 1795. The bridge was strengthened and widened in 1836, but two of its arches were destroyed by floods in 1877 and later replaced.[6]

From the late 18th century, Usk became well known for the high quality of its japanware,[6] a process of decorating metals by applying a lacquer to tinplate. The process, known as Pontypool japan, was first developed in the west by Thomas Allgood of nearby Pontypool and was taken on in Usk in 1763 by his grandsons Thomas and Edward Allgood. Products from Usk included tin trays, jardinières, and coal boxes. However output declined with changing fashions in the 19th century, and the last Usk japanware was produced in 1860 on the site of what is now Bunning's builders' merchants.[6][13]

Usk was a thriving market town in the first part of the 19th century, when many of its existing buildings were constructed, and into the Victorian era, although its population fell in the second half of the century as a result of agricultural depression.[7]

Amenities[edit]

The road passes Twyn Square, a large town square. The clock tower in the square was erected to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887.[6]

"Usk Island" is a park at the edge of the river ('island' is a literal translation of the Welsh 'ynys' meaning a river meadow). The park is mostly laid to grass, with surrounding woodland. It also has a substantial adventure playground. Usk Tennis Club was Tennis Wales "Club of the Year" for 2006.[14]

St Mary's Church

The BBC reported in May 2014 that Wales' rarest tree, Ley's Whitebeam (Sorbus leyana), would be planted in Usk to honour the man who rediscovered them, Peter Charlesworth.[15]

Priory Church of St Mary, Usk and the Priory Gatehouse[edit]

The parish church of St Mary originated as part of the Benedictine priory founded by Richard de Clare in the 12th century. The northern aisle of the convent church was added in the 13th century for the use of the town's residents, and after the Dissolution of the nunnery in 1536 the nave was also incorporated as part of the parish church. The original 12th century crossing remains, as does an original font. Most of the structure derives from the 14th century, although the two porches and the notably fine rood screen date from the 15th century and were probably built for William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who was constable of the castle. The church was partly rebuilt and extended c. 1844 by the architect T. H. Wyatt, and further restored and extended in 1899–1900.[6][16]

The priory's poor finances were improved in 1404 by a Papal indulgence obtained by Adam of Usk, who was buried beside the priory altar; there is a brass monument to him in the church, with an inscription in the form of a cywydd (a Welsh poetic metre from c. 13th century).[17] Usk later became a centre for pilgrims. The gatehouse of the original convent survives beside the main entrance to the churchyard. However, most of the priory buildings, such as the cloister and chapter house, were destroyed and their stones later used in town buildings.[6][18]

Sessions House[edit]

Prison[edit]

Usk Prison seen over the rooftops from Usk Castle

Her Majesty's Prison Usk is situated close to the centre of the town. It was built in 1842–44 to a Victorian 'rotunda' design, similar to that of Pentonville in London. The architect was T. H. Wyatt. It became the County Gaol for Monmouthshire in 1870, and operated until 1922. After being closed for more than a decade, it was reopened in 1939, adapted for use as a borstal to hold youth offenders. In 1990 it was adapted again for use as a Category C establishment for vulnerable prisoners, including sex offenders.[19]

The sister establishment of HM Prison Usk is HM Prison Prescoed, which is located three miles to the south-west of the town, towards Pontypool.

Usk Rural Life Museum[edit]

The Rural Life Museum is housed in a former malt barn, possibly of mediaeval origin, on New Market Street. Run by volunteers, it focuses on life in the area as it was between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries. It is open to visitors between April and October.[20]

Usk Natural Burial Meadow[edit]

Usk Natural Burial Meadow is a 14-acre (5.7 ha) site in Usk Castle Chase that offers full interments, and the burial or scattering of cremation ashes.[21] The site is located 1 mile (1.6 km) from the town centre along Monmouth Road and was established in 2005.[22] It was awarded Cemetery of the Year in 2008 by the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM).[23]

Climate[edit]

Climate data for Usk (43m elevation) 1981–2010
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 8.1
(46.6)
8.5
(47.3)
11.1
(52.0)
14.0
(57.2)
17.5
(63.5)
20.3
(68.5)
22.3
(72.1)
22.1
(71.8)
19.2
(66.6)
15.0
(59.0)
11.0
(51.8)
8.4
(47.1)
14.8
(58.6)
Average low °C (°F) 1.4
(34.5)
1.1
(34.0)
2.8
(37.0)
3.8
(38.8)
6.7
(44.1)
9.5
(49.1)
11.5
(52.7)
11.2
(52.2)
9.1
(48.4)
6.4
(43.5)
3.6
(38.5)
1.6
(34.9)
5.7
(42.3)
Average rainfall mm (inches) 127.6
(5.02)
87.4
(3.44)
83.1
(3.27)
67.5
(2.66)
71.5
(2.81)
60.2
(2.37)
62.6
(2.46)
73.9
(2.91)
81.2
(3.20)
126.3
(4.97)
113.7
(4.48)
121.9
(4.80)
1,076.9
(42.40)
Average rainy days (≥ 1.0 mm) 14.8 10.5 12.1 10.7 10.6 8.9 8.7 9.0 9.9 13.4 13.1 12.9 134.7
Mean monthly sunshine hours 49.1 73.2 103.0 153.1 179.8 173.6 187.0 184.7 127.7 94.8 59.9 42.2 1,427.9
Source: metoffice.gov.uk[24]

Usk in Bloom[edit]

Local residents formed the Usk in Bloom committee in 1981. The voluntary committee aims to improve the local environment by the imaginative planting of trees, shrubs, bulbs and floral displays; and to foster partnerships with other organisations and residents for work on environmental issues in the town. The town has won the "Wales in Bloom" competition for 35 times in a row between 1982 and 2016;[25] won the "large village" category of "Britain in Bloom" four times; and twice represented the United Kingdom in European competitions.[26]

Usk Brass Band[edit]

Usk has a brass band, which has represented the town at the National Finals of Great Britain regularly since registering as a competing band in 2014.[27]

Administration[edit]

The town is administered by Monmouthshire County Council and a town council. The Usk electoral ward, coterminous with the community, is represented by one county councillor.[28]

Notable people[edit]

The town was the birthplace of the priest and chronicler Adam of Usk, around 1352. In 1679 Usk was the site of the martyrdom of Jesuit father David Lewis, who was hanged for his alleged part in the fictitious Popish Plot conspiracy of Titus Oates.[29] In 1823 Llanbadoc, just across the river from Usk, was the birthplace of Alfred Russel Wallace, notable proponent of the theory of evolution.

Neighbouring areas[edit]

The South Wales Gliding Club is located near Gwernesney, about three miles east of the town. About three miles (5 km) west of Usk is the 1,000-acre (400 ha) site of the munitions production facility of BAE Systems at Glascoed.

Gallery[edit]

Twinning[edit]

Usk was twinned with the German town Graben-Neudorf in Baden-Württemberg in 1980. Over the past few years there have been numerous visits between the two towns, with the Usk Youth Brass Band making its most recent visit in autumn 2006. In 2006 the colour scheme of Usk in Bloom was based on those within the crests of both Usk and Graben-Neudorf.

Freedom of the Town[edit]

The following people have received the Freedom of the Town of Usk.

  • Jean Williams: May 2017[30]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Newman, John (2000). Gwent/Monmouthshire. The Buildings of Wales. Penguin / University of Wales Press. pp. 584–. ISBN 0140710531.
  1. ^ ONS, 2001 Census, Usual Resident Population
  2. ^ "Town and ward populations 2011". Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  3. ^ William, Camden (1607). Britannia.
  4. ^ Mills, A. D. (2003). A Dictionary of British Place-Names. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198527589.
  5. ^ Hywel Wyn Owen, The Place-names of Wales, 1998, ISBN 0-7083-1458-9
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Usk Civic Society, Usk Town Trail, 2010
  7. ^ a b c d John Newman, The Buildings of Wales: Gwent/Monmouthshire, 2000, ISBN 0-14-071053-1
  8. ^ "Official Website". Usk Castle. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  9. ^ "Usk, Monmouthshire - Extract from National Gazetteer, 1868". GENUKI. 17 February 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  10. ^ Battles and Campaigns from The Chronicle of Adam of Usk Archived 6 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ A reproduction of the map is at File:Atlas_Ortelius_KB_PPN369376781-011av-011br.jpg
  12. ^ Newman, 2000, p.595
  13. ^ "Japanware.org - Pontypool and Usk rivalry". Archived from the original on 4 September 2007. Retrieved 17 January 2008.
  14. ^ Usk Tennis Club Archived 6 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
  15. ^ BBC News, "Rare trees planted to honour man who discovered them", 15 May 2014
  16. ^ John Newman, The Buildings of Wales: Gwent/Monmouthshire, 2000, ISBN 0-14-071053-1, pp.584-596
  17. ^ Morris-Jones, John (1921). "Adam Usk's Epitaph". Y Cymmrodor. Vol. 31. London: Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion. pp. 112–134.
  18. ^ Monastic Wales: Remnants of Usk Priory
  19. ^ HMP USK Prison Regime Information
  20. ^ Usk Rural Life Museum
  21. ^ Usk Natural Burial Meadow
  22. ^ "Net cemetery", South Wales Argus, 31 May 2007. Retrieved 2 July 2016
  23. ^ ICCM
  24. ^ "Climate Normals 1981–2010". Met Office. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  25. ^ Usk Town Council, Usk wins Wales in Bloom for the 27th time in a row
  26. ^ Usk in Bloom
  27. ^ Usk Brass Band. Retrieved 22 June 2021
  28. ^ The County of Monmouthshire (Electoral Changes) Order 2002. legislation.gov.uk. Statutory Instruments. 6 December 2002. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  29. ^ Roberts, Alun (2002). Welsh National Heroes. Y Lolfa. p. 40. ISBN 9780862436100. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  30. ^ "Usk business owner given town's highest honour". Monmouthshire Beacon. 24 May 2017.

External links[edit]