Pembridge Castle External Photo courtesy of www.castlewales.comRecusancy was the term used to describe the failure or refusal to attend church in accordance with the Act of Uniformity which was passed during early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. This term was used mainly about Roman Catholics. The Monnow Valley was an area known for its large numbers of Roman Catholics and there was a reward of £5 for the head of any Catholic priest.

During the 17th century there were long lists of Recusants for all the parishes in the Monnow Valley. It was illegal not to attend church and persistent recusants were fined and could have their property confiscated. Recusants who refused to take the Oath of Allegiance could be sent to prison. They could not send their children abroad to be educated. An Act was enforced against Jesuits and priests and anyone who helped them was condemned to death. This Act had particular significance in Garway and the immediate area as there was a Jesuit College called St Xaviers at the Cwm in Llanrothal (now a Georgian house built in 1830) just a mile from the parish boundary of Garway. This college was founded about 1595 and its mission continued through the next century until 1678 when it was raided by the order of the Bishop of Hereford.

Pembridge Castle Courtyard Photo Brian ThomasLiving in Pembridge Castle (see drawing and photo) at this time was George Kemble (see photo of his family's house) and his family and included his brother John who was a Catholic priest. From his base at Pembridge Castle he administered to the Catholic families in the Monnow Valley for fifty years. In 1678, at the time of Titus Oates and the Popish Plot, the government ordered the Bishop of Hereford to collect evidence against any Roman Catholics in the area, especially Father John Kemble. At this time John was an old man of almost eighty. He was taken to London to be examined and then brought back to Hereford and put on trial where he was found guilty of treason and hanged on Widemarsh Common in Hereford on 22nd August 1679. His body was taken back to Welsh Newton churchyard for burial where the grave of this Catholic martyr can still be seen there. In 1970 the Blessed John Kemble was canonized.

One of the most persistent recusants in Garway was William Baskerville, gent and his wife who lived at Cwmaddoc, a large farm of over 300 acres with a rather grand farmhouse of 7 hearths. Eventually the government confiscated two thirds of his estate. Another recusant family was named Loope. There were three generations of this family in Garway. George Loope was a chirurgion (an old form of surgeon). His son Edmund was sent to Flanders for his education (an illegal and punishable offence) and returned to his native county of Herefordshire as a priest. Local magistrate, John Scudamore instigated a search for Edmund and he had some narrow escapes before he fled to London in disguise. He eventually became English Vicar Provincial and held this office for at least 12 years.

John Kembles Birth PlaceIn 1716, the Garway Churchwardens records show that there were 10 poor Catholic families living in Garway. It was not until 1828 that the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed and a Roman Catholic Church was built at Skenfrith.

For a full and detailed history of this period see THE RIVER RUNNING BY An Historical Journey Through the Monnow Valley by Joan Fleming-Yates.