Monday, 26 August 2013

Where is the Cwm?

The Cwm has often been casually referred to in this project blog, and I realised (to my horror) that I had never geographically located the premises, nor indeed the other two farms of the Upper Cwm and Llangunville that made up the headquarters of the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier, or the Welsh District of the English Province. 

Upon the creation of the English Province of the Society of Jesus in 1622, it was decided that the best way to manage this newly created province would be to divide England and Wales into districts, each described as you can see here as residences or colleges:

From Maurice Whitehead 'To provide for the edifice of learning': researching 450 years of Jesuit education and cultural history with particular reference to the British Jesuits, History of Education, 36 (2007), p.123. 

The terms 'college' or 'residence' denote financial position and ability to secure funds - a 'college' indicates a secure annual income, whereas a 'residence' relied on donations and was therefore less secure. Each district roughly equates to a geographical county, as you can see on the map, and it was felt this would enable efficient administration whilst still allowing operations to remain relatively undetected. 

The Cwm farms were headquarters of the largest district - the Welsh mission, which initially encompassed area 4 and area 11 - all of Wales, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset. By 1670, the area had been reduced to a more manageable size (area 4), the Residence of St Winefride had been created in North Wales (area 11), and the College of St Francis Xavier was now the South Wales, Hereford, Gloucester and Somerset district. 

The Cwm itself is indicated by the little black dot just above the River Severn: a tripartite settlement of the Cwm, the Upper Cwm and Llangunville farms in the Monnow Valley on the borders of Wales and England, as well as near the three county borders of Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire. The area had developed rapidly as a Catholic stronghold in the post-reformation period. 

A closer look at the area shows the proximity of the farms to the better known locations of Monmouth and Hereford, as well as to Raglan:

Map courtesy of Professor Maurice Whitehead, Swansea University

A zoomed in map gives a better idea of the locations of the three farms in relation to each other, as well as the surrounding terrain, and it is worth noting that you cannot see either of the other properties from any one farm:

Grid Reference: SO 4890 1763
Although none of the original farmhouses survive today, it is still possible to get an idea of the way it would have looked when occupied by the Jesuits. Many of the barns and other farm buildings on all three sites are the original 17th century buildings, and the cellars of both The Cwm and the Upper Cwm are also from the same period. The area is still difficult to access, even with modern vehicles, and it is very easy to understand the Jesuits choice of location in this beautiful and secluded valley.