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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                                  Issue No 33 March 1993

Part TWO - Location and Landscape
by Andre Berry

Archaeological Sites Management Officer, Clwyd Archaeology Service


In part one of this article we considered the evolution of the parks and forests of the Lordship of Ruthin and outlined their administration and function. But what of their appearance in the contemporary landscape? More importantly, what informa­tion is there to enable their location in the modern landscape?

In exploring the nature of the medieval parks and forest landscape one needs to be aware of the distinct nature of each and of the common misconceptions that abound. Parks were almost always enclosed, usually with a bank and ditch surmounted by a hedge or pale fence constructed of timber from the trees of the park itself. Primarily intended for the maintenance of fallow deer, such parks were traditionally well-wooded to provide covert and herb­age. The 17th and 18th century landscape parks which are so familiar were essentially of ornamental value and bear little resem­blance to the utilitarian function of the medieval park. The National Trust property of Dunham Massey near Altrincham is a pleasing exception to this rule. Although a landscape park, it captures the nature of wood-pasture that must have been the essence of the medieval park.

Forest today is taken to be an area of land under woodland, usually plantation, and often monoculture or at least dominated by conifers. The medieval forest, however, was no more than an area of land under forest law, rarely defined by other than topographical boundaries and having no distinct landscape or vegetation-type.

Usually established from the wastes of the Lordship, the vegetation was that characteristic of unmanaged and marginal land - scrub, woodland, moorland or marshland. But forests could and did encompass arable and pasture.

Documentary material relating to Bathafarn Park, although dating from 1592, gives an impression of the extent and nature of the Lordship of Ruthin's parks.

The park was enclosed by a "great high ditch" surmounted by a pale fence. "Half of it lay open to the mountain there but known by the said ditch from the mountain." This area undoubtedly supported moorland vegetation characteristic of the upland area of the Clwydian Range and dominated by Ling heather (Calluna vulgaris) and Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus).

"... the most part of the residue thereof overgrown with woods and thorns and some of it was marshground so that no cattle in winter time could pasture there without danger of drowning". Not all was waste, however. The park included twenty tenements and there were some quillets of arable and meadow although "not amounting in the whole above thirty acres whereof about three acres were meadow ground."

Access to the park was gained by [at least] two gates. The east gate is recorded as standing at Bwlch y Park (SJ 168 582), the "two great posts" of which still remained in the 1500's. The west gate stood at Porth y Park (or Hwylfa'r porth) on the line of the road to Pentrecelyn from Llanbedr. "Locked for most part of the year .... there was a little gate or wicket where a man with empty horse might pass."

Such a description undoubtedly applied to the majority of the Lordship's parks situated in the Vale itself with variations only in the relative proportions of waste and cultivated land. Oak woodland dominated the drier ground sometime at such a density as to be virtually impenetrable. Birch, blackthorn and hawthorn scrub were extensive as at Bathafarn and the marshground sup­ported alder and willow scrub. With increasing altitude, woodland gave way to heather moorland and a number of forests (e.g. Brounbannok forest, Court of Colyan) were situated so as to enable exploitation of this habitat-type and the characteristic species it supported such as red deer and red and black grouse.

With the passage of time, increasing population and the disparking/disafforestation of the parks and forests of the Lordship, the landscape was to change. Park boundaries fell into disrepair and land was brought into cultivation, as graphically described at Bathafarn Park: "John Thelwall .... bestowed great change in ditching and trenching the .... marsh ground and bogs whereby they converted the same to be arable and meadow whereas before it was barren and unprofitable and divided the same in sundry parcels by ditching and quicksetting of the said severall parcels ...."

Our landscape has and always will be dynamic. Whilst changes in the nature and emphasis of utilisation and exploitation (such as described at Bathafarn) sweep away much of the former landscape, fragments survive. The modem landscape forms, in effect, a palimpsest recording the actions of man over countless generations. So, what 'ghosts' remain to tell of the Lordship's era of parks and forests?

The names of the Lordship's parks, forests and areas of reserved woodland can be derived from a wide range of contempo­rary documentary sources. Reference to the modern Ordnance Survey maps reveals that many of these place names persist and those listed by Roberts appear in the Appendix below with grid references where known.

Most forests occupied or formed a township in extent, either with or without a settlement as their focus. As settlements coa­lesced, many minor hamlets shrank to a single farm unit and in areas of forest it is not surprising to find that the surviving farm bears the name of the former forest (e.g., Blorent Forest now 'The Blorant' farm).

Place name evidence may also reveal something of the extent of former parks and forests such as Coidmarchan, Bathafarn (e.g. Bwlch y Park) and Clocaenog (Parc Farm, Tre'r Parc). Sadly, however, it is rarely possible to trace the true extent of parks and forests. Forests, as stated earlier, were defined topographically for the most part and so leave little but place name evidence to enable their location. Parks, however, were physically enclosed and earthwork evidence often persists. But, as work at Bathafarn Park has shown, such remains are difficult to trace and at best fragmentary.    

At Bathafarn, although excellent documentary evidence enables the ex­tent of the park to be more or less accu­rately determined, fieldwork has ena­bled only some 700 metres of what is potentially the former boundary to be identified. It is clear that much work remains to be done. Many parks and forests have still to be located and there is a rich store of documentary material, as yet remaining to be catalogued and transcribed in the Public Record Office, London, which will un­doubtedly assist in this.

The remnants of the castle at Ruthin are, quite rightly, protected but they are but the focus of an extensive network of parks and forests which provisioned and supported the castle and Lordship at its zenith.

Fieldwork is certain to identify other sections of former park boundary. It is these that desperately need to be identi­fied so that landowners can be informed of their importance thereby enabling their conservation. Such park boundaries are the only material evidence that remains of a significant era in the utilisation and exploitation of the landscape of the Vale of Clwyd.

Whilst Clwyd County Council's Ar­chaeology Service is doing much to ex­pand our knowledge of the evolution of the landscape of Clwyd, local historians can do much to assist in this work thereby furthering our understanding of the nature of our landscape and of the role of man in its evolution.

Court of Dogveylin                                 

Reserved woodland -                               
Ruwe [?]                                  
Hirwin [`Hirwaen' SJ 138 613]

Baskerne [?]

Coruedwen [ `Cae'r Fedwen' (?) SJ 110 677]

Forest ‑ 

Nantwragh ['Coed Nant y Wrach' SJ 117 714]     


Court of Colyan
Reserved woodland -
Venigtid ['Efenechtyd' SJ 111 557] 

Forests -
Brounbannok [ 'Bron Bannog' SJ 032 528]
Bodecros ?
Derewen {‘Fforest’ (?) SJ 082 512

Parks –
Clok  [Clocaenog ‘Parc Farm’ SJ 077 562
Tre’r Parc SJ  071 567
Brenk/Brengkif [‘Hendre Bryn Kiffo’ SJ 067 460]

Court of Llannerch:
Reserved woodland
Nant Cloyt    [`Nant Clwyd' SJ 111 519]

Forests -
Veynole [?]
Kairuitlok (a doubtful reading) [?]
Leslanner    ['Llysfasi' SJ 148 525 <5>]

Lists Brenkif as also within this Court.


Court of Aberquilar     

Reserved Woodland -    

Lists Hirwyn as also within the this Court

Forests -

Lists Nantwragh as also within this Court.

Blorent [‘The Blorant’ SJ 118 733]         

Marghnant [?]
Cadenant [?

Parks –

Polpark [Pool Park SJ 096 555]

To this list can be added the following –
Coednevitham – reserved woodland [?]<7>.
The Byrches <7> - presumably synonymous with Le Bedowe <4> 
[‘Coed Bedw’ (?) (7) SJ 122 412 – reserved woodland
Hencoyt Wood – reserved woodland [?] [‘Coed yr Hengoed’  and associated place-names  SJ 093 587] <5 – Appendix A>
Garthlegfa – reserved woodland? [Galltegfa SJ 106 578  <8>
Coidmarchan – reserved woodland/park [‘Coed Marchan’ SJ 121 566] <9>

The Town Park – synonymous with Castle Park? (?) <7>
Thlunbrand – forest [‘Llwyn y Brain’ (?) Sj 079 501] <5>


<1>   RACKHAM, O (1986) The History of the Countryside (Dent, London)    . 
<2> PRATT, D (1990) ‘The Marcher Lordship of Chirk, 1329-30’,  Trans Denbs Hist Soc, 39, pp 5-41.
<3> (1973) Schedule of Bathafarn Park and Llanbedr Hall Deeds and Documents. Nat. Lib.Wales. 
<4> VINOGRADOFF, P,  and MORGAN, F, (Eds.) Survey of the Honour of Denbigh, 1334 (1914, British Academy, London).
<5> ROBERTS, R.A. (1893) Ruthin Court Rolls Temp. Ed 1. Cymmrodorion Record Series.
<6> RICHARDS, M. (1969) Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units, 147. 
<7> LEWIS, E.A. (Ed) Inventory of Early Chancery Proceedings Concerning Wales (Board of Celtic Studies, University of Wales, History and Law Series, No 3, 1937), p. 81.
<8> JACK, R.I. ‘The Medieval Charters of Ruthin Borough’, Trans Denbs Hist Soc, 18, 1969, p. 18.



During the nineteenth century, many of the market towns, the ancient boroughs and the rural parishes of North Wales were dominated by a single landowning family. These families control­led the economic, political and social life of the community. It was not until after the secret ballot Act of 1872 that their influence began to wane. In Denbigh, for example, Mainwaring had married into the ancient family of Salusbury and in Bala, the Price family of Rhiwlas had held the demesne for generations. Whilst in Ruthin. until the end of the eighteenth century, the lordship belonged to the Myddeltons cf Chirk Castle.

It was these families, or their nominees, who were Members of Parliament, Justices of the Peace, and the principal landowners in the area, thereby exercising their authority over extensive areas of the Principality. Perhaps the dominance of these families is best expressed by Robert Roberts ( "Y Sgolar Mawr"), headmaster of Borthyn School in the mid-1850s, who wrote in his autobiography: "Mr West, the owner of the castle had but to beckon and down went every knee at once, while as for Sir Watkin, the amount of prostra­tion which each Ruthinian would willingly have undergone for the sake of the demi-god is more than I can venture to describe."

The Wests gained the hegemony of Ruthin when Maria, the third daughter of Richard Myddelton inherited the Lordship of Ruthin. Frederick West, husband, of Maria, was the third son of Earl de la Warr. It was this family that played a significant role in the establishment of Bexhill as a salubrious holiday resort. Frederick's first wife, Charlotte Mitchell of Culham Court, had died in 1795 and in 1798 he married Maria. [Note. Harriet, the third daughter of Richard Myddelton inherited the lordship and, on her death, passed the lordship to Maria’s family who had already inherited the Dyffryn Ceiriog estate, This error is perpetuated throughout this article.]

The Chirk Castle estates were huge, comprising - 45,000 acres of land, 1,000 substantial houses, 400 cottages, mills and public houses. On the death of their father Richard in 1795, the estate was to be divided between his three daughters, Charlotte who had married Richard Biddulph of Cotton Hall, Denbigh, Harriet who was single, and Maria. An Act of Parliament of 1818/9 (59 George III, cap.4) was required to disentail the estate and to separate the lordships of Ruthin and Chirk.

Three men were appointed trustees with the unenviable task of dividing the estate equally into three viable units. These men were: the Rt. Hon. Lord Kenyon of Gredington, Sir William Pultney and William Lloyd of Plas Power. They were assisted by John Roberts of Ruthin, solicitor and agent. The final decision was that Maria [Note. Incorrect and should be Harriet] should inherit the lordship of Ruthin, with lands and property in Ruthin, Llanfwrog, Llanynys, Llanrhydd, Llanfair D.C., Llanarmon yn Ial, Derwen, Clocaenog and Denbigh, including the Bull Inn, Llansannan, Efenechtyd, Llanbedr, Llanrhaiadr, Llandyrnog, and Llangwyfan. The value of this estate was £216,494, a vast amount in those days, and it is almost futile to equate it to present day values. It is sufficient to say that it would be many hundreds of millions of pounds.

It is interesting to speculate how the division of the estate was eventually settled. There is an intriguing theory that the three sisters drew lots. Probably, the three trustees divided the estate into three parts of roughly equivalent value and the sisters drew lots for their share. Some credibility is given to this story by a letter from William Henniker Heaton to his nephew Wilfred. The letter is dated May 12, 1898, the year of William Heaton's death, probably some 90 years after the events under discussion took place. The letter is in the Plas Heaton papers (Clwyd Record Office Ref: DD/PH/72) and reads ‑ "Fred has referred your question about the Chirk story to me and I give it as my mother told it to me. There was some legal difficulty about the division of the Myddelton estates between the three daughters - Mrs Biddulph, Mrs West (1st wife of the present Mr West not his mother [this is incorrect. In 1898, William Corn­wallis West was living in the castle and it was his grandmother, Maria West who inherited the estate  Ed.]) and Miss Myddelton (who never married). Mrs Biddulph was grandmother to the present man. My father was at Chirk Castle but whether summoned for the purpose or a chance guest I forget, at any rate, he suggested that the three ladies should draw lots for choice, the estate being divided into three parts, -1. Chirk; 2. Ruthin; and 3. Foxhall. The ladies after some debate and consideration agreed and three papers were placed in my father's hat, which he held for them to draw from. Mrs Biddulph drew first and on looking at her paper, waved it over her head calling "I have got Chirk". Mrs West drew Ruthin and Foxhall (including the Lodge) fell to Miss Myddelton."(Again incorrect)

While this letter confirms the story, there must be some reservations. Firstly, it is only hearsay evidence, told by his mother and relayed some 90 years later. Secondly, it contains a major error of fact (regarding Mrs West) and, thirdly, William Heaton died in 1898 so he might not have been well when this letter was written. Nevertheless, the document gives some substance to what previously had been unsubstantiated rumour. 

In spite of this almost untold wealth, the Wests were almost always hard-pressed for cash as the value of the estate was tied-up in property and their life-style usually exceeded their cash-flow. Many of the Wests' gifts to Ruthin were in the form of land rather than cash.

Maria and Frederick decided to live in Ruthin. The castle had been a ruin since the civil war, but they had it converted into a country mansion. Frederick West ruled over Ruthin with benevo­lent paternalism until 1852. He was M.P. for the Boroughs of Denbigh, Ruthin and Holt from 1802-6. From 1806-12, the M.P. was his brother-in-law, R.M. Biddulph. Neither man contested the seat when the other was proposed.

However, the election of 1812 was a close fought contest when the Viscount Kirkwall contested the seat and won by the narrow margin of five votes. It may be recalled that the franchise was then strictly limited and only 205 people voted. What was strange in that election was that John Roberts of Ruthin, the solicitor and agent for the Chirk estates, supported Kirkwall and not R.M. Biddulph as one would have expected. Naturally, he paid the price for his mistaken political loyalty, and he was dismissed his post as secretary to the trustees and agent for the Chirk estate.

Maria West was a talented musician and composed a number of hymns and music for the psalms. In 1811, Frederick West gave St. Peter's Church an organ to ensure that his wife's music should be played. Maria died in 1843 and Frederick nine years later in 1852. Their son, Frederick Richard West, who was born in 1799, inherited the estate. He married twice. At the age of 21, he married his first wife, Lady Georgina Stanhope, but she died without issue four years later in 1824. His second marriage in 1827 was to Theresa John Cornwallis Whitby, daughter of Captain John Whitby, R.N. They had two sons, Frederick Myddelton and William Cornwallis, and three daughters. The family had developed a great affinity for Italy, and their three daughters were born in Florence. The family also had a home in fashionable Eaton Square, London. F.R. West had played an influential role in Ruthin's affairs. He was M.P. for the Boroughs from 1826-30 and again from 1847- 57. He instigated and underwrote the refurbishing of St. Peter’s Church. When the non-conformists objected to the renovations, he used his influence as a landlord to quell their dissatisfaction. This was his rationale for underwriting the expense himself. Further when there was anger over the church rate, which the non-conformists resented as they had to support their own chapels, he gave land to the church to eliminate the necessity of levying a Church rate on the townsfolk.

F.R. West was a sick man when he inherited the Lordship. It was for this reason that he resigned his seat in Parlia­ment in 1857. Sadly, he died in 1862 and his eldest son Frederick Myddelton West inherited the estate. His tenure, too, was short-lived - for barely six years, and he died in 1868. The estate then passed to his brother William who added his ma­ternal family name of Comwallis to West, hence the name "Cornwallis-West".

William was an active Liberal and unsuccessfully contested the seat for Lymington, Hampshire, a locality with which the de la Warrs were associated. They were high Tory and William was defeated. He tried again in Cheshire, but was defeated by landowning interests. The Denbigh Boroughs seat was held by the Liberal Charles J. Watkin Williams from 1868-80. Denbighshire had two Parliamentary seats {one for the county and one for the boroughs], which were held by Sir Watkin Williams Wynn for the Tories and George Osborne Morgan for the Liberals.

However, the Reform Act of 1884/5 split Denbigh county representation into two separate seats, East and West Denbighshire. In the election of 1885, George Osborn Morgan contested the seat for Denbigh (East) against the tradi­tional might of the Williams Wynn fam­ily and won. William Cornwallis West contested the seat for Denbigh (West) against the Tory, Mainwaring, and West too had a resounding victory.



Arnold J. James & John Thomas, Wales at West­minster, 1981; Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald; P.D. Randall, "The Pews of St. Peter's Church, Ruthin", Transactions of the Denbighshire His­torical Society, Vol.29, 1980, pp.161-175. D. Cannadine, Patricians, Power and Politics in Cl9th Towns, 1982.



Glan Hesbin is another of those houses which abound in this district which once accommodated our 'minor' gentry and which have since become working farm houses. This transition has not harmed Glan Hespin which remains redolent of its Cl 7th past. Details of its origins are not known but it bears two date panels - "CG 1641" (internal) and "MRS 1698" (external).

One can but speculate as to the significance of the dates, but the initials "CG" almost certainly refer to Charles Goodman, a grandson of Gawen Goodman. Charles became owner of the property in 1616 so it would not appear to have referred to that. It could refer to one of his two marriages, but the absence of a wife's initial seems to suggest otherwise. Maybe it was simply the date of a remodelling of the house. The file of the Royal Commission for Ancient Monuments records this plaque to be in the kitchen, but by now it is to be found in one of the principal bedrooms.    

Again, there is a strong element of speculation as to the second set of initials. The initial 'M' undoubtedly refers to Mostyn and the other letters to 'Roger' and his wife 'Susan', Charles' daughter by his second marriage. Susan and Roger married in 1679 so again the date may refer to a further remodelling.

Another interesting architectural feature is the "preacher's door", - another example of which may be found at Ffynnogion [RBS. Nth 12]. This may be described as of the stable door type, i.e., in two separate halves, with a shelf or lectern mounted on the lower half. It is a little puzzling in its present position as it seems to be facing the wrong way, and looking towards a room at a higher level. No doubt many changes have been made to the house over the years and the door may originally have been installed elsewhere. That at Ffynnogion is on the staircase.

There is also a splendid dog-leg staircase which Hubbard suggested may date from 1698.

Gentry liked to have pictures painted of their homes and estates, but there seem to be but few examples in this district. However, thanks to the well-known artists employed by Pennant, Moses Griffiths and John Ingleby, this deficiency has been rem­edied in certain instances, as in the case of Glan Hesbin. John Ingleby left a delightful water-colour of Glan Hesbin, but Pennant makes no reference to Glan Hesbin in his "Journey to Snowdon" [1794]. The caption to the picture states that Glan Hesbin was in the ownership of "... Maddocks, Esq."

However fascinating houses may be architecturally, it is perhaps their residents who determine the character and main interest. Glan Hespin seems to have formed part of the Plas Ucha estate then in the ownership of Thomas Goodman who settled Glan Hespin with lands at Llangwm and Dinmael upon Charles during his lifetime. Thomas had acquired his estate through his first marriage to the heiress, Lowry Morris. Thomas' eldest son Simon, by his first marriage, inherited Plas Ucha itself but Simon died unmarried and childless.

The Goodman family had enjoyed social prestige since the Cl6th when Edward, the first Goodman and a prosperous mercer, married Cicely Thelwall. His second son Gabriel became Dean of Westminster, while his grandson Godfrey became Bishop of Glouces­ter. Thomas, too, was clearly prosperous and his son Charles enjoyed similar prosperity to which he was able to add status for he became the first, and only, Goodman to become High Sheriff for the County of Denbigh in 1666. He was made a burgess of Ruthin in that year and three years later was described as `Under-Sheriff’.

Charles's daughter Susan by his second marriage married in 1665 a cousin, another Gabriel Goodman, a barrister of Ruthin, said to have been 'of Nantclwyd House'. The three children of this marriage died young and Susan married Roger Mostyn of Brymbo and Well Street in 1679 and the marriage settlement carried Glan Hespin and property in `Welsh' Street to Roger. Again, there were no children. There is a memorial to Roger Mostyn, who died aged 73 on 6th August, 1712, in St. Peter's Church where Susan was also buried on 19th March, 1728/9.

Some of Susan's property would probably have been entailed, - for example, Nantclwyd House, which could have passed to Gabriel's [the barrister] sister Jane. This would account for the ownership of Nantclwyd House by the Wynne family as Jane married Meredith Wynne of Plas Llannefydd and Coed Coch



Buildings of Wales - Clwyd; Edward Hubbard; Penguin/University of Wales Press; National Library of Wales; Chirk Castle Accounts, W.M. Myddleton, Manchester.

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