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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                         Issue No 76 December 2003




It was once the custom of the local press to review local shops a week or so prior to the big day. This must have been a useful service to shoppers and shop-owners, not to mention local historians of subsequent times. These were the days when High Street shopping was at its peak and now that out-of-town shopping is the vogue, it is of interest to compare notes. The North Wales Times of 17th December 1921 provides such an opportunity.

Grocers and other provision merchants offered some of the essential ingredients of a good Christmas. The first shop to be reviewed was that of Mr. Thomas Roberts of 3, Market Place, otherwise known as ‘The Golden Hart’. After bemoaning the lack of business which compelled its recent closure as one of the town's many pubs, the report commends Mr. Roberts' enterprise in catering for all the needs of a family for the Christmas and New Year festivities. Mr. Roberts' motto was "Choice and Cheap". Next was the shop of "Messrs J. & P. Williams" whose address is given as 'Llanelidan House', - which is presumably the now empty shop next door to The Feathers. The enterprise of the two brothers in opening this shop was extolled, especially their ‘Bara Brith' for which they were noted.

Many will remember ‘The Star Supply Stores’ in Castle Street, but in 1921 the address was in Clwyd Street without being more specific. They too published price lists which enabled shoppers to pick and choose. Also, in Clwyd Street were ‘The Eagle Stores’ owned by Mr. D. Evans, a wholesale and retail dealer. He had acquired the business only recently and had quickly become established. Mwrog Street featured the shop of "Messrs Francis Dowell and Son" which was said to be well packed with Christmas goodies, including homemade bread and fruit.

Butchers shops, it seems, were renowned for their Christmas displays. Local butchers obtained their meat from the local marts or directly from the farmer. Among the butchers, one of the longest established businesses was that of ‘Messrs A.M. and R.R. Williams’, founded in 1885. They had two shops, one in Well Street and the other at the foot of Upper Clwyd Street. The latter premises specialised in pork, brawn and, in particular, the ‘Tudor’ brand of sausage, along with prime cuts of meat. They had the advantage of having their own local ‘feeding’ farm, probably 'Pen-y-Bryn', Llanfwrog. They were also able to supply the finest turkeys, geese and ducks. The only other butcher reviewed was Mr. Edward Roberts of 21, Well Street, who had recently completed improvements to his premises. Mr. Roberts specialised in brawn and sausages.

Next was the well-known Mr. R. Harris Jones' old-established drapery shop, then located where the HSBC bank now operates. Mr Jones had on offer a wide selection of items to satisfy the most fastidious, specialising in ladies apparel.

Mr. William Roberts of 14, Well Street, supplied fruit, vegetables and fish in his father's tradition, viz., Councillor Robert Roberts. Mr Robert Hughes and Sons, Nurserymen, had a well-founded reputation as fruiterers, seedsmen and florists. Their shop was in Clwyd Street and much of their produce was grown on their own 10 acre nursery off Park Road, now the housing estate `Min-y'r-Afon'.

Another business, then recently established by Mr. R.F. Watkins, was also in Clwyd Street. Mr. Watkins, later a prominent County Councillor, was a licensed valuer, specialising in agriculture. Also, in conjunction with a Mr. Pont, he operated as a corn and produce merchant for the benefit of farmers and based at ‘The Corn Exchange’.

M.r Bonner Thomas, on St. Peter's Square, jeweller and watchmaker, offered a wide range of gifts. Next, rather strangely, came Mr. R. James Jones, the monumental mason who was based near the railway station. Mr. Jones, a well-known local councillor, may not have supplied conventional Christmas gifts, but at that time he had secured a government contract for the production of gravestones for some of those who had fallen on the battlefields of France and Belgium. He was also busily engaged in supplying war memorials, after successful competition, in Ruthin and elsewhere.

Tobacconists, newsagents and stationers were more likely to be able to offer acceptable Christmas gifts and Mr. Tom Hughes of Clwyd Street was one of these. Mr. Hughes' shop still operates the same line of business, though several changes of ownership have occurred since 1921. On offer was a wide variety of pipes, tobacco and other goods plus a speech on almost any conceivable subject as part of the bargain. Another tobacconist was Mr. H. Williams of 27, Well Street. He held much the same stock as Tommy Hughes with Christmas, New Year's cards, and cigars, being singled out for special mention.

Footwear and associated items also offered prospects as seasonal gifts which could be obtained from Williams and Son in Well Street, on the corner of the junction of Well Street at Wynnstay Road, the present site of a baker's shop. This business was later transferred to Clwyd Street and the premises are still used for the same purpose. Mr. Williams had opposition, almost directly opposite, from Messrs Dicks, a well-known firm of footwear requisites, especially as great reductions in price were on offer. All the goods had been produced at the firm's own factory and the shop was managed by a Miss Marsden Davies, a well-known family name of the time.

Musical entertainment at Christmas would have been a popular option and Mr. C.H. Williams of Clwyd Street, described as ‘a new tradesman, - young with plenty of enterprise and “go"’, offered gramophones and records, though his main line of business was motor and cycle appliances.

Tonsorial art was offered by Mr. Ellis Williams, hairdresser, at his newly refurbished premises at 5, Clwyd Street. Ellis Williams was an ex-serviceman, a prominent town councillor and, eventually, Mayor.

Mr. Bradwen Parry had evidently had life-long experience in the furniture trade but had only lately set up in business in Well Street on his own behalf. This is now the site of the gentleman's country clothes shop. Mr. Parry was offering all household needs in furniture and other household requisites.

The Cambrian Mineral Water Works was said to be thriving under the new ownership of a Mr. John Cropper. Great emphasis was placed on the purity of this firm's products, being based upon pure water from their own artesian well, one of those with which the town seems to have been blessed.

One of the largest shops in town, if not the largest, was that of Messrs R. Beech & Sons primely sited on St. Peter's Square. They claimed that theirs was the largest such business in North Wales with every conceivable ironmongery article being held in stock, from tiny tintacks to a threshing machine. There were Christmas presents galore. Quality and reliability were guaranteed with the lowest possible prices.

Only one of the town's hotels was reviewed, this being the Wynnstay under the ownership of Mrs. E.A. Mastin. Clearly, this was not a retailing outlet, but good accommodation, food and drink were available.

That was the extent of the review and it certainly brings out the many changes that have taken place in the 80 odd years that have elapsed. A few of these establishments have survived in the same capacity if not under the same management. A surprising aspect, perhaps, is the lack of a mention of some of the other businesses in town, including one of the largest - Ellis Mineral Water Works. The criteria used to select businesses for review are not known, - probably only those who used the advertisement columns of the North Wales Times. There were no out-of-town shopping marts, with everything available under one roof, but as far as locally produced food was concerned, one imagines that it would all have been 'organic' and tasty, as a matter of course but as far as locally produced food was concerned, one imagines that it would all have been 'organic' and tasty, as a matter of course



From 1839 to 1865 the headmaster at Ruthin School had been Reverend Edward Barnwell. A generous man, antiquarian, founder and editor of Archaeologia Cambrensis, a strict disciplinarian in an age when corporal punishment was the norm. He had been criticised by James Maurice for excessive use of the cane. Barnwell was a high Tory and no friend of the Wardens', - Reverend Buckley Owen Jones and prior to him Reverend Richard Newcombe. To cross the castle and the church when in public office in the nineteenth century was no way to success and so in 1865, he retired. Whether he was encouraged to retire or not will never be known but retire he did. Perhaps with his outside interests he had allowed his sense of priorities to become distorted but the school had become neglected. In 1865, the Reverend William Freeborn M.A. who had been a successful headmaster at Llanrwst School was recruited to replace Barnwell.

There was a growing interest during the 1860s in public schools to gain some information for the establishment of this sector of education. For there was a growing sense that some form of state education would in the end be inevitable. There were a number of enquiries launched including the Taunton Commission and on their behalf a Mr. Bompas visited Ruthin in 1865. His report is not unfavourable to the school, but he attributed its poor condition 'to the political feuds and the personal animosity between the late headmaster and the Warden.' Clearly, Freeborn and the Governors had a task on their hands. The physical structure of the school was in a sad state of repair and a school for 120 pupils was serving only thirty.

The cost of the repairs amounted to £1,600 and it may be recalled that the renovation of St. Peter's, which caused such a stir in the late 1850swas just over £3,000. Therefore, one can appreciate that the school was indeed in a poor state of repair. A subscription list was opened and a loan negotiated, but even these financial moves failed to raise sufficient money. A further appeal was made to past pupils to come to the aid of the school and this they must have done. The school being of an ancient foundation, funds over the years had eroded and therefore such an appeal became necessary.

It was on a wet Wednesday during October 1867 that the great and the good of Ruthin gathered in St. Peter's church to give thanks for the renovation of the school. The wind was driving the rain across the square as they hurried to seek shelter from the elements. Being October, it was time to celebrate the harvest home and appropriately the church was decorated with sheaves of corn and flowers. By eleven o'clock the pupils and masters of the school had taken their places as the large, rather wet, congregation joined with them in thanksgiving for the harvest and the completion of the renovation of the school. The service was conducted by the Reverend Canon Jones M. A. of Holywell present also, was the Bishop of St. Asaph, who was chairman of the Governors.

After the service there was a quick dash through the pouring rain to the school when the inevitable recitations were provided by the pupils for their guests. It reflects on the classical mode of education at the school that these performances were given not only in English, but also Greek and Latin. The Bishop was visibly impressed and commended Reverend Freeborn and the boys for their performance. He then proceeded to present the annual awards for the pupils distinguishing themselves in subjects varying from mathematics to French and the classics.

One might ask what was this renovation about? Prior to this the school room opened immediately on to the elements. The room therefore, was draughty and since the larger part of education took place in the winter, the room was not conducive to concentration by the scholars. To prevent this an external porch was built and a short lobby so eliminating the draught problem. The windows had been refurbished, the woodwork had deteriorated over the years this was repaired and renewed. The wooden sills were replaced by stone. The dormitories, which were in a particularly bad state, were ventilated, new ceilings constructed, and all the decayed wood removed. In addition, further dormitories were constructed over another portion of the house. A sick bay was created which could double as an isolation ward should the need arise. The amenities of the school were also improved by adding a boot house and additional lavatories. A cellar with an outside chute was excavated so that coal could be delivered without the coal man entering the school. This was a period when public health was just coming to the forefront. Not to be left behind the school had a new drainage system, water closets and the kitchen remodelled with larders and pantries added. A new office complex was built and the master's quarters too, were renovated.

The Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald was quite scathing about the old building when they say ‘...a good Gothic structure now appears where once was seen something little less than a shed.’ The architects were Messrs Lloyd Williams and Woodend while G. Clark's building company carried out this extensive alteration. If this was the condition of one of the more prestigious schools, one wonders what conditions were like in the British and National schools throughout the land.



REFERENCES: Keith M. Thompson, Ruthin School  The First Seven Centuries, (1974); Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald.




There was a Ruthin Union Choral Society in c.1895, but little documentary evidence seems to have survived. Two photographs in the Denbighshire Record Office are the only reminders of their existence.

Ruthin musicians did not neglect instrumental music, even if choral music enjoys a predominant reputation in Wales. An account of 1889 tells of ‘The Llanfwrog String Band’ under a Mr. S. Bryan, which played at the opening of the Llanfwrog Church Institute, but little other information about this assemblage has survived.

Borthyn School's musical experiences flourished under the guidance of head master [1873-1900] Mr. Robert Lloyd whose bardic name was "Eos Clwyd". There is at the Denbighshire Record Office a photograph of c.1900 of Mr. Lloyd and his small orchestra. His musical talents extended beyond the school's curtilage at least as far as St. Peter's church where he was organist and choirmaster for 40 years. Lloyd headed a distinguished musical family and his son W.A. Lloyd FGCM, A. Mus. TCL., of Market Street, attained musical distinction of a high order. Robert founded, produced and conducted the Ruthin and District Choral Society which later became a part of the larger Clwyd and Deeside Choir. Each Easter, his choir of some 150 voices would perform a major work. For some of these productions, a local orchestra would be supplemented by instrumentalists from the Halle, the Liverpool Philharmonic, or the Llandudno Pier Concert Orchestra, with soloists of the highest rank. His daughters Carol and Audrey followed in his footsteps. The Choral Society's 13th concert, in 1912, was under the baton of W.A. Lloyd when Gounod's Faust was performed with an 18-piece orchestra. Cornwallis-West, an admirer of Lloyd's, made strenuous efforts to attend and, because of a railway strike, was late in arriving.

Generally, the exploits of local instrumental musicians are somewhat shrouded and probably there were several individuals and groups of whom little or nothing has survived. The local press, then so keen to record the minutiae of local life, comes up with occasional references which, though scant, are the only memorials left to such groups, e.g., Ruthin Drum and Fife Band.

Mr. John Edwards [1871-1942], the Bandmaster, had a family of 20 children and was very active in the town's music life. Like his father [1844-1925], he was master of both the Town Band and the Volunteers' Band. His great grandfather, a native of Llanfair D.C. and buried at Llanfair Church, was a poet with a local bardic name of "Ioan o Lanfair".

John had been choirmaster at both Llanfwrog and St. Peter's Church and had taught instrumental music. He had 24 grandchildren, many of whom are still well-known today. His son, the late Oswald  Edwards, inherited his family's musical genes and became organist and choirmaster of St. Peter's and Llanfwrog at various times.

 Mr. Harris Jones was a local draper whose first shop was on the corner of Market Street and St. Peter's Square. On 5th April 1924, the Free Press reported that these premises were being refurbished for the Midland Bank, now the HSBC Bank. At the sale of the Ruthin Castle Estate in 1919, Mr. Harris Jones acquired Florence House, now Gayla House, formerly the residence of Mr. W.G. Hodgson, the Head Teacher of Borthyn School. He created a new shop on the ground floor and lived over the shop.

However, while drapery was Mr. Jones' day job, his heart and soul were in music. In 1888, he led ‘The Ruthin and District Male Voice Choir’ to success at the National Eisteddfod. He also conducted the ‘Clwydian Mixed Choir’, which was very successful at the Wrexham National Eisteddfod in 1888, where he was presented with a silver-mounted baton.

Mr. Jones and his choir were at Ruthin Castle on 4th May 1898, when the Cornwallis-Wests gave a reception to H.R.H. Edward, the then Prince of Wales. This royal occasion was very nearly marked by calamity. Members of the choir, particularly the soloists, had been selected with great care. One of the soloists was to have been a well-known Denbigh singer. The rehearsal that afternoon went well and the choir members dispersed with instructions to re-assemble at the castle in good time. When that came, the Denbigh soloist was missing. When he was eventually found, his vocal cords had been so well lubricated that a royal appearance for him was out of the question.

One Robert Jones, the Pentre, Llanbedr, deputised at short notice and he claimed never to have sung better, before or afterwards. Robert was a blacksmith and his neighbour was William Roberts, a wheelwright, and father of Llewelyn Roberts who became head of Borthyn School, Ruthin. Both Robert and William used to sing together at local concerts.

Again, at Wrexham, Harris Jones and his choir won second place in the National Eisteddfod of 1912. The choir sang ‘On Himalaya’ (Bantock), Bach's ‘Death I do not fear thee’ and ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’ (in Welsh). In February of that year, Harris Jones' choir co-existed with another choir ‘The Ruthin Male Voice Choir’, whose conductor was R.A. Jones, possibly the soloist who had rescued the royal occasion of May1898.

Harris Jones' prowess extended far beyond the end of his baton, for he was in great demand across the principality as an adjudicator. At home, he served in 1885 as precentor at the Rhos Street Chapel, a role he continued to fulfil on its transfer to the Tabernacle Chapel in Well Street. On 4th July 1925, the Free Press reported a suggestion that there should be a presentation fund to honour Harris Jones. This was adopted enthusiastically. Later that December an inscribed clock and a cheque were presented by Mr. W.R. Evans, Clerk of the Peace and of the County Council. A list of subscribers of £161.-0s.-3d. was subsequently published. So committed was Harris Jones to his music that, when he died at the age of 77 in 1932, he was on the eve of presenting ‘The Creation’ by his Ruthin Choir.

Just prior to the Great War of 1914-1918, Muriel Hughes, mezzo-soprano, a pupil of the great Plunkett Green, achieved prominence, performing at York Minster and at Barry and Mold National Eisteddfodau. At about this time, in the 1920's, Mr Glyn Dowel, a polished tenor, went to London.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Messrs Allan Fletcher and Alyn Lloyd, who have kindly read and commented on this paper, the latter supplying additional information about Mr. Furness Williams; Y Faner, 1864; ‘Johnny Williams, local tenor’; Free Press - February/April 1912, 11th July 1924, 6th June, 1925; Mrs. Kathleen Webb, Llanbedr; items from the scrapbooks of the late Oswald Edwards. 

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