RUTHIN - AN INDUSTRIAL CENTRE?


For centuries Ruthin has been portrayed as a market town, a place where outlying farmers traded their produce. However, its roots and prosperity came partly from the leather industry, the making of boots and shoes, with its allied industry of tanning and nail making. There was another industry which has often been neglected in the history of the town, - woollen textiles.
It may be recalled during the middle ages the lordship of Ruthin was a Marcher Lordship comprising of four entities or commotes: firstly the ‘town and liberties of Rhuthun; secondly the commote of Dogfeiling an area to the east of the Clwyd stretching from Llanrhudd along the Clwydian range north to Aberchwiler; thirdly, Llannerch, comprising the parishes of Llanfair and Llanelidan and lastly Coelion an area west of the Clwyd from Derwen in the south to beyond Llanynys in the north.
There were four stages in the conversion of a fleece to cloth. Carding aligned the fibres, spinning converted the fibres into yarn, then weaving and finally, fulling. In the early middle ages, fulling was carried out by placing the cloth in a long trough where men walked upon it, stamping earth into it to remove the oil. This shrank the cloth and removed the prominent pattern of the warp thread. Men who carried out this work were known as 'walkers' derived from the old method of fulling, a North of England expression. As technology developed this process was mechanised using waterpower in a similar manner to the corn mill. The power was used to cause two wooden hammers to beat the cloth. The `walker' or 'fuller' now became a mill owner or an employee of the mill.


Fulling mills required a fast-moving stream and the slopes of the Clwydian hills provided such a source. In the lordship there were five fulling mills and in the 1460s they were doing good business. There was one at Clocaenog in the commote of Coelion, one in Llannerch - `Melin Kelar' and in Dogfeiling there were three, one at Llanrhudd, one at Maes Mynan in the north and a third `Morw Mill'. In Ruthin itself there were two mills but their use is not specified in surviving documents.


This industry was important to the Lord of the Manor of Ruthin. Edmund Grey the 1st Earl of Kent, was empowered with all the authority of a Marcher lord. Mills paid three eighths of the Lordship's revenue. By creating a guild, Edmund Grey concentrated the industry on Ruthin. He changed it from a casual rural activity into a centralised trade under the Ordinances of the Guilds of Weavers and Fullers on 19 December 1447 (or on the Tuesday before the Feast of Thomas the Apostle of Judea, 26 Henry VI). The opening paragraph uses the phrase `weyvers and walkers', .


One of the commitments of the newly created guild was to 'maintain a lyghte with worship and dwe reverence to oure lady'. This does not specify where the candle shall be maintained but presumably it would have been at St. Peter's. However, the important issue in the Ordinances was the fact that the payment of lot and scot by each guildsman indicated that the gild members were probably all free burgesses of Ruthin town. The conditions of the guild applied to all workers, in what might be termed wool textiles, within the franchise of Ruthin. The Ordinances were not drawn up in one of the commote courts, but the town court. The rents and tariffs were paid to the steward, Thomas Salisbury.


The creation of the guild leads one to the assumption that the fulling mills in the commotes were owned by some of the townspeople of Ruthin. They were forced out into the countryside for their requirement of fast flowing water. However, the Earl of Kent decided to tap into their affluence by creating the Guild. On their side, the fullers and weavers had in fact created a 'closed shop', so protecting their trading position. Nowhere else in North Wales was there such an organisation. There were four other trades, but not for weavers and fullers. The number of fast flowing streams and the proximity of the English market made it ideal for the trade. Its prosperity was short lived for Shrewsbury had taken over the hegemony by the early decades of the sixteenth century.


REFERENCES: Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society Vols 11,12 and 14.


FREEMEN OF RUTHIN - III.


Parts I and II of this article looked at the origins of this rarely bestowed honour and some of the recipients during the 'modern' era, beginning in 1921. This, the last article in the series, continues in the same vein.

After another long gap of thirteen years including World War II, Sir WILLIAM JONES, C.B.E., J.P., was granted this honour on 22nd September 1949. [Ezra Roberts was honoured in 1946]Sir William was the son of Hugh and Mary Jones of Nant-y-Glyn Isa, Llanrwst and later of Gellifor. He was educated at Llanddoget Church School, and at the Llanrwst and Denbigh Grammar Schools. On leaving school in 1905, he came to Ruthin as office boy for Messrs W.R. Evans and Jones, solicitors, in the Well Street premises now occupied by the Adam family. W.R. Evans was also Clerk of the Peace and Clerk of the County Council and lived at Heulfre. The County Offices were then located in Castle Street. There were two further very small offices on either side of the entrance to the County Hall, now the County Library, in Record Street. Sir William may not have been born with the proverbial silver spoon, but he evidently carried the civilian equivalent of a Field Marshal's baton in his brief case.


By 1912, Mr. Jones had been given charge of the county's legal work and acted as Deputy Clerk. In 1913, he became Collector and Assessor of Income Tax for the Ruthin district. During the war, William served with the Army Service Corps at Lark Hill. In 1919, he was demobilised as a sergeant.

Following demobilisation, he was appointed Crier to the Court of Denbighshire Quarter Sessions and also as Chief Clerk in the Clerk's Department at the County Offices. In 1920, he took articles with W.R. Evans and qualified in 1922. He continued to assist W.R. Evans as Clerk of the Peace and simultaneously started his own legal practice in Ruthin. In 1924, he was prosecuting solicitor for the police in respect of the Ruthin, Denbigh and Uwchaled divisions.


Amongst the cases he was involved with, two are of particular interest, the first being the transfer of Llysfaen from Caernarvonshire to Denbighshire. Then he was involved on behalf of both Denbighshire and Flintshire in the purchase of the Voryd Bridge over the mouth of the Clwyd. This was in private ownership and the asking price was £25,000, but it was secured for just £3,000.


In 1926, W.R. Evans retired, and William Jones was appointed Deputy Clerk of the Peace for Quarter Session purposes and, shortly afterwards, solicitor to the County Council. During the illness of the Clerk, Mr. Jones acted in his stead. Twenty-five years after his arrival in Ruthin, in October 1930, Sir William – then plain `Mr.' – was appointed Clerk of the Peace.

For many, that in itself would have been `mission accomplished' but even greater calls were to be made of him. Awareness of Sir William's skills as an administrator had spread beyond the old Denbighshire borders and during World War II he was `called-up' for wider service. He had achieved prominence as Secretary to the Council of Welsh Councils which discussed the Welsh Church Commissioners' report. Thereafter, in 1942, he became a member of the Advisory Council for Post-War Reconstruction in Wales and Monmouthshire. He was seconded as `Coal Controller' in South Wales at a time when coal was a vital national resource. In peacetime, he became a part-time director of the Wales Gas Board and of the South-western Regional Coal Board. These appointments – and there were others – are sufficient to indicate the eminence which Sir William had gained.


His contribution to Ruthin's prosperity was crucial. He had witnessed the growth of Denbighshire County Council from its original `mini' proportions to the point at which it became the major employer in Ruthin, even in the rest of the county. He remembered, and had probably been involved in, the massive voluntary fund-raising efforts, and the 'Grand Bazaar', which culminated in the purchase of the Bull Croft, the present site of the County Offices off Market Street and Wynnstay Road. This was gifted, an adroit enticement, to the County Council who were in danger of making some other place the centre of County administration.

Similarly, at a time when these offices were backed by green fields, Sir William made available a substantial portion of that area as the site of the War Agricultural Executive [the `War Ag'], another important component in the town's prosperity. It was also suggested that it was he who ensured that the Assize Courts continued to be held at the County Hall in Ruthin.


In addition to his public duties, Mr. Jones had private business interests, some of which probably arose from his private practice. He was a director of and solicitor to the Ruthin Gas Company, the Ruthin Water Company and the Ruthin Cinema; solicitor to the Ruthin Farmers' Auction Company, the Ruthin Electric Supply Company, and the then newly formed Cambrian Table Water Co., Ltd. It is perhaps not surprising that his private practice grew to being one of the largest in North Wales, and still survives as Messrs William Jones and Talog Davies [now part of Gamlins law firm].

Sir William's impact on the area included work in the voluntary sector and he played a significant role in the organisation of the Denbigh National Eisteddfod of 1939. He was a great supporter of the Ruthin Flower Show held on the last Thursday of August. All the County staff at the Ruthin offices were given a half-day's holiday to help steward this event.

The grant of the `Freedom' was popularly acclaimed and the town council spared no effort and little expense to mark the event on an ambitious scale. Sir William had retired just prior to the ceremony and the town was bedecked with bunting in honour of this ‘...great son of Wales’. The Square, Town Hall, County Offices and the Anchor Corner were all illuminated. There was to have been community singing and dancing on the Square but, unfortunately, the weather drove these activities into the less salubrious accommodation of the spartan Market Hall. Tea had previously been served there to 500 schoolchildren and to 100 pensioners, followed by a free film show at the cinema. The austerity of the war years had overflowed into the immediate aftermath, and commonwealth food parcels were distributed to the pensioners.

The ceremony was the occasion of much speechmaking, in which generous tributes were paid to Sir William. He was presented with a solid silver casket, lined with cedar wood and satin on an ebony base, and was embellished with an enamelled representation of the Borough Arms. The casket contained the Script of Admission. Sir William himself responded with a speech of both nostalgia and foresight. He expressed strong support for the Welsh language and foresaw a great future for Ruthin as a centre of the agricultural industry and as a major centre of local government. He spoke, too, of the residential and tourism potential of the town and area.

The day was rounded-off with a dinner at the Castle Hotel for 70 guests which included many prominent people. One of these was Robert Richards, [1884-1954] M.P. for Wrexham, historian and politician of stature. During World War II, Richards was head of the civil defence service for North Wales and, had there been an invasion, he would in effect have governed the area. He had offices in Well Street and was regarded as one of the great administrators of the country.

The Free Press reported on 8th January 1955 that Sir William had presented to the Council a watercolour painting of 'Old Myddelton Arms' by Fred Walmsley [1891], Governor of Ruthin Gaol. This painting, including others by Walmsley, forms part of the collection of pictures of `old Ruthin' now decorating the corridors of Ruthin Town Hall.

The last grant of 'Freedoms' was at another double ceremony in honour of Councillor/Alderman R. JAMES JONES, and Alderman/Councillor OSWALD THOMAS, at a public meeting held on 8th December 1955. This was another occasion of festivity which, once again, was upset by the weather, although the Borough Band had managed to play selections on the illuminated St. Peter's Square.

Councillor James Jones was a well-known local character, a stonemason who lived at Cynlas, School Lane and whose yard and workshop adjoined. Originally, his workshop had been located on the corner of Market Street/Wynnstay Road now occupied by the entrance to the then County Offices. It was he who, while Mayor of the Borough, erected the town's Wynnstay Road War Memorial, made in Aberdeen. Mr. Jones had been a councillor for 50 years, Deputy Mayor for 6 years and Mayor from 1923-1926. For a period of 21 years, he had never missed a meeting. During the Second World War, 1939-45, he had been a member of several Tribunals and served as a Special Police Constable in both world wars. He thus had rendered public service virtually throughout the first half of the 20th century. He took a special interest in footpaths and housing and as Chairman of the Housing Committee was credited with initiating the Haulfryn Council estate off Rhos Street. During the ceremony, it was pointed out that in 1945 there were only 126 council houses in the borough but this number had grown to 364 in 1955.

Councillor Oswald Thomas must have arrived in Ruthin just twelve months or so prior to Sir William. He came to fill a clerical position on the staff of the Education Office and ended his career as Secretary to the Education Committee, succeeding Mr J.C. Davies. He became a town councillor in 1919, but had retired from that position in 1938 owing to ill-health. However, he returned as councillor in 1941. Councillor Thomas was highly esteemed on the local education scene and his reputation reverberated for many subsequent years through the corridors of power. He served as a manager of the Rhos Street primary school, as chairman of the County School Governors and was co-opted as a member of the Denbighshire Education Committee. A keen Baptist, he was an Elder of the Ruthin Baptist Chapel.

On this occasion, the new Freemen did not receive solid silver caskets but Perspex cylinders with silver ends and with the Borough `badge'. Inside the cylinders were the Scripts of Admission which had been prepared by the late C.B. Wharton, a very talented artist. Sir William, as the only surviving `Freeman', was present at the celebratory dinner that followed the ceremony at which he proposed a toast to the two new Freemen.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Dictionary of Welsh Biography, 1941-1970, Hon. Society of Cymmrodorion, [2001]; Denbighshire Free Press, 25th October 1930, September, 1949, January & December, 1955; Mr. D. Gwynne Morris. DW

THE GAME LAWS AND RUTHIN.

For centuries, the economy of Ruthin depended entirely upon the affluence of the surrounding agricultural industry. During the decades in the latter half of the nineteenth century farmers were harassed by shooting syndicates from the industrial midlands and the north. The landed gentry used their land for sporting purposes, albeit they had rented the land for farming. With the advent of the railways many, if not all, seized the opportunity to rent the sporting rights to syndicates which had precedence over the farmer. Farmers were in uproar over the behaviour of these `incomers' to such an extent that in 1880 Gladstone's government passed the Ground Game Act.

However, this Act did little or nothing to mitigate the hardship of the farmers in the Vale of Clwyd. Firstly, most of the farms were on an annual rental renewed by verbal agreement. By custom and practice a tenant's contract prohibited his taking of ground game over the period of his tenancy. If the tenancy became vacant, then the new tenant would have to waive his rights under the Act or someone else would get the farm. As Professor David Howell's said 'there was a hunger for land in Wales'. Secondly, the syndicates did not only shoot ground game, rabbits and hares, but pheasants too. The game books of Powys Castle showed that the number of pheasants shot in 1870-75 had increased sevenfold by 1900-95.

In 1895 Godfrey Roberts of Ty'n Llan, Llanferres, a farm on the Rug estate, complained to the Royal Commission on Land in Wales:
"
In two or three years the trespass from rabbits became very serious and at the end of six or seven years there were thousands of rabbits devouring the crops over fourteen acres... The pheasants also became like hens in some fields near the woods, tamely following the plough. From one field of six acres only one wagon load of corn was carried and this was all that was left thereon and we had to spread it out in the yard and use it up as manure it being totally unfit for anything else."

Support for Roberts' viewpoint came from an unexpected source, Owen J. Williams, county councillor and Chairman of the Ruthin Board of Guardians. He was the fourth son of Sir Hugh Williams of Bodelwyddan, educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Cambridge, Master of the Flint and Denbigh Hounds. In his evidence to the same Commission he said:
"The Ground Game Act is seldom properly used; in most cases the tenants dare not do so, they are too much afraid of the consequences. It estranges the relationship between landlord and tenant. In several instances the game is let to a second or third party. The farmer has to pay the first rent and also provide the grass etc. for the rabbits. They are preserved by keepers belonging to the second tenant."

The tenant farmers resented the letting of sporting rights to strangers. Thomas Morgan of Tan LIan Farm, Cwm, St. Asaph, stated that he did not know where the sporting tenants lived: 'it was either Manchester or Liverpool'. He said that 14 of them had galloped through a field of corn by two different routes. Further, he did not believe that his own landlord would be so inconsiderate. Gomer Roberts agreed with Morgan. He had never had trouble with gamekeepers employed by his landlady, Mrs. Naylor Leyland, but did when they were employed by the sporting tenant. Sporting tenants stood in the corn with their dogs and ignored damage they had created.

J. Probert, agent for the Wests, stated that unless there was adequate preservation of game in Wales fewer men of wealth would reside in it.' This was reaffirmed by Lt. Col. Hughes of Ystrad, principal agent of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, who asserted that if the tenant did not foster a 'moderate' head of game for his landlord and friends it might foster absenteeism. The economy of rural Wales was fragile and denying it the spending power of the large houses would have led to disaster for many local tradesmen.

With the law on their side, why did farmers not insist upon their rights? Firstly, there was the huge fear of eviction. Sir Watkin Williams Wynn and Price of Rhiwlas had demonstrated after the 1859 election that they were not averse to evicting tenants who flouted their wishes. However, eviction was a two-sided weapon. For the tenant, it meant a substantial loss of capital and the problem of obtaining another tenancy. This was not a simple proposition in the relatively small world of North Wales. Most land was in the hands of a few large estate owners and if you offended one, you offended all. On the other hand, the landowners did not want farms vacant, particularly large ones. Large farms required substantial capital and tenants were hard to find. Therefore, agents were reluctant to resort to eviction. Nevertheless, it remained the ultimate sanction and a source of intimidation. If a farmer had tried to bring a case of wrongful eviction there would be the catchall excuse of his being a bad farmer. And, of course, the person hearing the case would be one of the landed elites. Not surprisingly, there is no evidence of evictions for attempting to implement the Game Law.

The second method, and the one generally used, was petty tyranny through the gamekeepers. They were not local men, but recruited from fairly distant locations, e.g., - Scotland. Thomas Hughes of Hafod-dre, Pentrefoelas, asserted in his evidence that he was well aware that he was entitled to kill hares and rabbits, but he was too apprehensive of the consequences. He dared not carry a gun to shoot crows even though they were stealing his potatoes. A dog owned by Hughes had been taken and shot for catching a hare. This confiscating, poisoning or killing of dogs was a recurrent theme in the evidence to the Commission. These minor harassments ensured that the tenant was always aware of the authority of the landowner.

Not all was bad for the tenant farmer. Sporting rights enabled the landowners to maintain relatively low rents. While the sporting fraternity did create economic activity, it is doubtful whether the farmer appreciated either of these advantages when they surveyed their damaged crops. In fact, they had to wait until the disintegration of the great estates in the early twentieth century before they could assert their authority over the land they tilled.


SOURCES: D. W. Howell, “Land and People in Nineteenth Century Wales” (Routledge & Kegan) 1977; A. Fletcher, ‘Game Laws and the tenant farmers of North Wales’, Clwyd Historian, Vol. 26 No. 5, 142-154. AF
 

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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                            Issue No 74 June 2003