Call for volunteers and for stories at launch of Gunter pop-up exhibition

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The project to restore Abergavenny’s historic Gunter Mansion took a significant step last Friday with the opening of a pop-up exhibition.

Friends of Gunter Mansion restoration gathered to celebrate the opening of a pop-up
exhibition on the ground floor of the building. The Mayor and Mayoress attended, along with
Andre Beckett of the Welsh Georgian Trust that, following a successful appeal, secured the
mansion for the town in 2016.

Wine glasses were filled and the room was a-buzz with chatter among members of the town’s
community, pretty much as it would have been back in the 17 th century when Thomas Gunter
lived here.

Visitors back then would have entered via the main door at what is now considered the back of
the building and they would have been entertained in the first floor reception area which
houses a fine, largely intact, ornate plaster ceiling.

On Friday, visitors entered via the Cross Street entrance and gathered in what were likely to
have been the offices of its 17 th century owner, the lawyer Thomas Gunter.

The pop-up space – which now sports a “Gunter Project” shop-front sign – charts the
fascinating history of the building in photographs and information boards. Another exhibition
celebrates the 40 th anniversary of the Abergavenny Local History Society.

“We’ve been trying to get something done about preserving this mansion since 2007,” said Gill
Wakley, Chair of the society. “It was the intervention of the Welsh Georgian Trust that saved it
and this pop-up exhibition will make the story of the mansion accessible to everyone in the
town.”

The Grade II listed Gunter Mansion is historically important because its owners were practising
Catholics when this was illegal. They built a chapel in the attic where Catholics worshipped in
secret.

The exhibition is open Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10.30 – 4pm and as Amanda
Peters, Chair of the Friends group, emphasised, it is reliant on volunteers for its success.
Amanda made a shout-out for volunteers to help with the 10.30 till 1pm and 1pm to 4pm shifts:
“It’s an opportunity for people to get involved in a community project that will become a major
attraction for townspeople and tourists.”

Visitors will be invited to sign up for the Gunter Project newsletter and follow it on Facebook
(The Gunter Mansion Project, Abergavenny) and Twitter (@thomas_gunter).

Part of the pop-up space is available for other exhibitions about Abergavenny and plans are
afoot for podcasts and digital stories about people’s memories of the town.

The group is keen to hear ideas for other exhibitions in the pop-up area and is urging young
people to help in the gathering of stories.

“During the summer holidays, grand-parents will be helping with childcare and it’ll be a great
opportunity for young people to interview them about their early memories of Abergavenny,”  said Amanda Peters. “They can start by posting them on Facebook or emailing them to us at
history@thegunterproject.org.uk”

David Simcock, Abergavenny’s mayor, said that the historical focus provided by the restoration
of the building would be very positive, especially for the Cross Street area of town.

“The centre of town has shifted and has left this bit behind so it will help regenerate this part of
Abergavenny.” he added. Mr Simcock and his wife, Penny, wished the group luck with its
application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for funds to restore the building.

The building’s historical significance was discovered in 1907 when its owners at the time, the
Fosters, discovered an altarpiece depicting the Adoration of the Magi.

92-year old Ken Key, who attended on Friday, clearly remembers this mural being transported
from the mansion in a wheelbarrow to the town’s museum in 1963. It had been rediscovered in
what is now the ‘Pot and Pineapple’ part of the building.

“We got wind of it and thought that this had to be rescued. So we took it to the museum,” said
Mr Key. A painter-decorator turned self-taught antiquarian called Alan Probert had brought a
van along to transport it, “but because he couldn’t park very close to the museum it was easier
to take it in the wheelbarrow,” he added.

Monmouthshire society in the late 1600s was riven by conflict between Catholic and Protestant
supporters. Catholic worship was forbidden under Charles II because of paranoia about a plot
involving the French and Spanish to murder the King and replace him with a Catholic
monarch.

The exhibition tells how the owner of Llanfihangel Court, John Arnold, denounced the two
Catholic priests who held secret mass at the Gunter mansion, leading to their arrest and
execution at Usk. One of them, Fr David Lewis, was made a saint and was Wales’ last
Catholic martyr.

Another aspect of the Gunter family history will be broadcast on BBC2 on Wednesday 26 th
July. “The Sweet Makers”, episode 2, reveals how significant this family became in the
manufacture and retail of confectionery. James Gunter, who was born in 1745, went into
business in London with his uncle-in- law, Domenico Negri. Their first London shop was called
The Pot and Pineapple, and when Amanda Peters opened an old-fashioned sweetshop in
Abergavenny’s Gunter building in 2012 she gave it the same name. The London shop was
later renamed Gunter’s and was renowned in the trade.

Anyone interested in volunteering a few hours a month at the pop-up exhibition can either call
in during opening hours or email Ann at: volunteer@gunterproject.org.uk
Duties will include opening/locking up, providing information and looking after visitors. No prior
knowledge of the project is necessary because volunteers will have a 30-40 minute induction.
They just need a pleasant manner and will work in pairs.

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About Author

Founder of Abergavenny Now and History graduate from Bath Spa University. I was born in Abergavenny and have lived there for most of my life.

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