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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                          Issue No 37 March 1994


The title has been chosen with some care for Professor Shrewsbury writing in 1970 suggests the term 'Black Death' is a silly nickname [sic] for a disease that resulted in no greater discoloration than any other microbial disease of man. Nevertheless, the dead body of the victim may have exhibited some purplish discoloration. The term 'Black Death' was introduced into historiography some five hundred years after the tragic events of the mid fourteenth century by Mrs Penrose (Markham) in 1873 and into medical literature by Babington's translation of Hecker's Der Schwarze Tod in 1833.

The source of the infection of bubonic plague was traced in the 1890s to the flea of the black rat. The flea, feeding on the blood of a host black rat which was heavily infected by the plague bacillus, ingests bacilli which may multiply to such an extent that they completely block a valve-like organ at the entrance to the stomach of the flea. When such a flea deserts the host rat and transfers to a human, it then attempts to take a meal of human blood. Because the route to the flea's stomach is blocked, it regurgitates the meal under the skin carrying with it the plague bacilli. The bacilli multiplied and caused the bubonic plague. It was therefore necessary to have a large enough population of the black rat in Britain to cause the devastation of the Great Plague between the years 1345-50.

North Wales along with the rest of Britain suffered from the pestilence and Ruthin was no exception. Records of the middle ages, such as they were, were kept not by the parish but the secular area of local government, the commotes. It may be recalled that the Lordship of Ruthin had four, Ruthin town, and three others: Dogfeiling, Coelion and Llannerch. To relate these to the present parishes or villages, Dogfeiling spanned Aberwheeler, Llandyrnog, Llangwyfan, Llangynhafal, Llanychan, Llanbedr D.C. and Llanrhydd. Llannerch contained the parishes of Llanfair D.C., Llanelidan and Derwen, whilst Coelion spanned those parishes to the west and south of Ruthin, viz., Llanynys, Llanfwrog, Efenechtyd, Derwen, Clocaenog and Gyffylliog.
Deaths due to Pestilence in the Lordship of Ruthin, 1349. [Note Llanfair is probably Llanerch]

An intriguing question is the evaluation of the fatality rate during the plague. Shrewsbury claimed that it has been greatly exaggerated and he suggests that it might have been as low as five per cent of the population. However, if this were true in the case of Ruthin, it would suggest that the medieval population of the town was almost comparable to that of the present-day town.

On the other hand, others have claimed that the mortality rate lay between twenty-five and fifty per cent. This from the above table would give Ruthin an estimated population of between 600 and 300 which is probably nearer the mark.

Professor Jack has shown that there were 72 tenants occupying burgages or part burgages in Ruthin during 1324. If one assumes a household of six, the extended family, grandparents, parents, children and serfs, which would give a reasonable, conservative estimate of the multiplier, one estimates that the population would have been about 450. This would perhaps confirm that between a quarter and a third of the population of the town died during that awful summer of 1349.

To put the disaster in modern numbers, it would imply over a thousand people dying in the town during a Summer. Although in the figures given there is no record of age or sex, it is asserted that the majority of the cases were between the ages of ten and thirty five years. The very young and the very old were spared the disease. This, of course, would help to account for the fact that it took almost until the seventeenth century for the population figures to recover. The breeding stock had been almost wiped out and therefore the recovery was so much slower than if the mortality rate had been spread evenly across the whole of the population.

The population of England and Wales prior to the pestilence was approximately 4.75 million and by Tudor times it had only just reached four million. It may be recalled that these figures are estimates, for this was long before any national census was taken. Death rates have been estimated from monastic and manorial records and extrapolated to national totals.

The seasonal pattern of deaths in the lordship followed the classical pattern - a steady build-up of deaths until the late summer. Then, as the weather cooled, the rate of infection diminished. There is some disagreement between the experts in this field for whilst the fleas may not have been active in cold weather, they may have survived in the microclimate of a rat's nest.

However, there is little agreement on the explanation of the cyclical nature of the plague, how it raged for a year or two, then died away and again became prevalent years later. What is clear is that the deaths of five hundred active people in the prime of life must have been a devastating blow to the economy and the social structure of the area. The only modern comparison that can perhaps be made is that of Hiroshima with a population of about 800,000 when the atomic bomb fell resulting in casualties of about 150,000. The medieval inhabitants must have felt the same fear and wonderment and questioned their chances of survival.


REFERENCES: Local Population Studies, The Plague Reconsidered. 1977. J.F.D. Shrewsbury, The History of the Bubonic Plague in the British Isles C.U.P., 1970. W. Rees. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, Vol. XVI pp.27-45. 
I. Jack, ‘Records of Denbighshire Lordships’, Denbighshire Historical Society Transactions, Vol. 17. pp. 7-54. Asa  Briggs, A Social History of England. 1983. J.L. Bolton, “The Black Death”, The Historian, No: 39, Autumn 1993.


Professor A.H. Dodd in his book, The Industrial Revolution in North Wales, quotes an advertisement which appeared in the Manchester Mercury on 6th February 1787, viz.,
'The manufacturer may be supplied with plenty of hands at low wages as there are a great number of grown women, boys and girls in the town of Ruthin that are out of employ, no manufacturing whatever being carried on at the present and the wages paid out to women in the hay harvest do not exceed eightpence a day upon their own meat.'

It would appear that the advertisement failed to attract industrialists. However, the Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald of 10th November 1866, drew disturbing comparisons with the "Black Country", -
'Those interested in the development of the mineral resources of North Cambria will be glad to learn that considerable quantities of red hematite iron ore are being weekly sent off from this locality. The mine is situated some 2.5 miles from the Eyarth Station on the Denbigh and Corwen railway and we hear that the supply is abundant and the quality good; but, owing to the expense of cartage, the operations so far have been on a limited scale. There is, however, a prospect for this drawback being remedied by the construction of a tramway which will greatly facilitate the removal of the ore and be a boon to the district by providing the labouring population with additional employment. If the superficial aspect of the country is an index of its geological formation, we should say the upper part of the vale is rich in minerals for the surface bears a very striking resemblance to the district known as the "Black Country".

Landowners in the vale as elsewhere were ever hopeful of finding significant mineral resources on their estates and prospected accordingly, though with little success. The site of the above excavations is not known with certainty, but there is at the Clwyd Record Office, Ruthin, a lease granted by Frederick Richard West to William Charles Hussey Jones of Celyn, co. Denbigh, described as "coal and iron master" in respect of iron ore under land at Ty'n Llwyn and Llysfasi farms. This lease was dated 30th March 1858. Coed Marchan is also littered with shafts and tunnels, relics of past exploration and, indeed, small scale mining. Various minerals, and some coal, have been found elsewhere in the vale though not on a scale to warrant mining, though Bodfari did once have an iron smelter.


The recent publicity given to possible visits of William Shakespeare to John Salusbury of Llewenni evokes tantalizing speculations as to whether Shakespeare also visited Ruthin. Did he carouse at any of our local hostelries? Was he inspired by any Falstaffian or Portia-like Ruthinites?

Alternatively, readers may have seen the HTV programme broadcast on St. David's Day in which the Rev. Aelwyn Roberts of Llandegai postulated his theory that the Rev. John Williams, Archbishop of York, buried at Llandegai, wrote some of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. Should this have been the case, then Ruthin School may claim some of the credit, for John Williams was educated there prior to his admission to St. John's, Cambridge.

"…To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;"     Hamlet III, 1. 56  


An artefact that came to light in the course of the recent refurbishment of the town hall reminds us of one of the several roles which the building fulfilled. The object in question was a substantial brass bell, thought to have been the fire alarm bell which hung outside the town hall tower to summon the Fire Brigade.

By a happy co-incidence, a report in the Denbighshire Free Press of 2nd January 1904, has come to light. This described the presentation of a new fire alarm bell by a Mr and Mrs W.E. Poulson of Crosby, Liverpool. The bell was fixed under a small verandah which protruded out of the Town Hall tower facing up Market Street. The alarm was sounded by means of a handle enclosed in a wooden box to which access was gained by breaking a glass panel, thereby revealing a key. The presentation was attended with due pomp and ceremony. The Poulsons processed with the Mayor and other civic dignatories from the Castle Hotel to the Town Hall escorted by the Fire Brigade in full dress uniform under the command of Captain E. Tegid Owen (of the Castle Hotel) and Lieut. H.E. Joyce. The assembled multitude was numerously addressed and the bell was given an inaugural ring. During the course of the concluding speeches, the crowds were scattered by the arrival of a pony at full gallop. The rider leapt off his panting steed, broke the glass and pulled the bell rope while desperately crying "Fire! Fire!" The Brigade duly turned out, and played their hoses on the Market Hall. A put-up job!

The occasion was rounded off that evening by a splendid dinner, at the Castle Hotel, of course. However, within the course of only a few weeks, the bell-rope broke. The Free Press reported on 19th November 1904, that repairs and improvements had been carried out. An ingenious box had been installed which fell apart on the breaking of the glass, to reveal the bell-pull, ready for use.

The Future of Clwyd’s Record Service

Students of local and family history, amongst many other interested parties, will doubtless be pleased to learn of an initiative to form a "Friends of Clwyd Archives" organisation. This will enable users to plough back some of the goodwill which the Clwyd Record Office has earned.

The advent of yet another local government reorganisation in Wales raises questions as to the future of Clwyd's archival services. At present, the office at Hawarden covers the area of the original Flintshire while that at Ruthin covers the former Denbighshire area. If proposals currently before parliament are enacted, then the four new unitary and smaller local government areas will bear little geographical resemblance to any of their predecessors.

The government's White Paper on reorganisation said little regarding the archival services and their future is a matter of speculation. This will become clear after the legislation is enacted and the new authorities are elected in some twelve months time.

The new authorities will produce plans for these services for approval by the Secretary of State, who will have reserve powers in case any authority's proposals are not satisfactory. In addition, the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts and the Public Records Office will keep benevolent eyes on developments.

The consensus of opinion is that the present collections of records should not be dispersed and in any event it seems unlikely that their owners [most collections being 'on loan'] would agree to their dispersal to fit the new areas, even if that were feasible.

As with all public services, resource problems beset the records service. Reductions in public expenditure have made a significant impact even on major services like education, housing, social services, etc. In the case of the records services, with a comparatively small budget, the effect has been drastic.

Of a budget of £319,000 in 1994/95, £287,000 is taken-up by staffing, leaving little room for ancillary activities, e.g., microfilming, conservation/repairs, listing, publications, book purchases, etc. Yet annual cuts have become a way of life and can be met only by staff reductions. The County Archivist, Mr Geoffrey Vaisey, will not be replaced following his retirement in July. If this process continues, the existence of the service may be in jeopardy.

Again, there are acute storage problems, particularly at Hawarden, where the acceptance of large collections is no longer possible.

It is against this somewhat fraught background that "The Friends of Clwyd Archives" is being launched. A very well attended meeting at St. Asaph last November, under the chairmanship of Sir William Gladstone, the Lord Lieutenant, appointed a panel to pave the way for this body. A further public meeting is to be held at the Deans Library, St. Asaph, on 21st April, at 7.30 p.m. to which you are invited. If you are unable to attend, please get in touch with Mr Allan Fletcher, Cefn Ceirch, Bettws G.G., Corwen [tel: 049 081 388], who will keep you informed. You will have an opportunity to join thereby lending your support to this important service.

The new organisation will replace the former Clwyd Association for Local History which has published "The Clwyd Historian" and organised Day Schools and Local History Fairs. It is hoped that the new association will continue these or similar activities with others that will be supportive of the Clwyd archives service, hopefully enhancing facilities for all its many users.

                                Myddletons of Garthgynan                                           
                                Powys Fadog Vol IV                                                      

When viewed today from the Llanbedr - Graigfechan road, the original Ruthin-Wrexham turnpike, Garthgynan with its distinctive chimneys and walled garden, makes an impressive picture.

The late Edward Hubbard, the architectural historian, thought that the three-bay entrance front of the house may have been of the late C18th or even early C19th as a result of alterations made to an earlier facade. Behind that facade is what he described as a C17th double piled house possibly of 1658 - consistent with a date found within the farm buildings. Impressive though that may be, there can be little doubt that 'Garthgynan' has an even longer history, and we may confidently look back to the pre-conquest era. The History of Powys Fadog without giving dates, associates Garthgynan with Jenkin Goch ab Cynwrig ab Madog ab Gruffydd. The names "Goch" and "Cynwrig" have interesting possible associations. Was Jenkin Goch an ancestor of Gruffydd Goch who founded Gyffylliog Church, who besieged the Thclwalls in Ruthin Castle, and whose territory was in Llanynys parish but may also have included Pentre Goch (Goch's village)? Similarly, the name 'Cynwrig' is associated with nearby Bacheirig [RLHB No: 36].

As in the case of Bacheirig, Garthgynan was the name of one of the five townships in the parish of Llanfair D.C. The Ruthin Lordship rental of 1324, only forty years after the Edwardian conquest, lists 'Welsh' and 'English' tenants by commote, not by township, although it is possible to identify references to 'Carcanan' and similar variations. A third category listed five 'Customary tenants'.

A later rental of 1465 refers to Garthgynan township, its tenants falling into two main categories with one 'Free Welshman' holding five plots, and twenty-eight 'English' tenants holding fifteen plots in two townships. It must be said, however, that many oldie 'English' tenants bear remarkably Welsh-sounding names, e.g., Qwyllym Goch, Jeuan Goch, Blethyn, Voghan.

The Myddelton family had an early involvement with Garthgynan. Thomas Myddelton, a merchant of Chester and one-time Mayor and Alderman of that city, seems to have been the first. While Chester was clearly Myddelton's power base, he was described as "afterwards of Garthgynan". While it is not clear how Garthgynan came into his possession, the Court Roll of Llannerch commote records that on 5th May 1508, Thomas claimed from Reginald de Grey and Margaret his wife a messuage, mill and lands in Garthgynan. It would appear that Myddelton's action succeeded. He would also seem to have formed some attachment for Llanfair D.C. as he bequeathed 40/- for “…. the new steple and belles and the church works of Llanvayre Diffrin Cloyd." This Thomas was, however, buried at Chester.

His son, another Thomas, described as "of Garthgynan" and aged 21 on Christmas day 1542, married a Llanfair girl. Thomas's burial was at Llanfair D.C. at the age of 72 on 15th September 1594.

Humphrey Myddelton was also "of Garthgynan" and died at about the age of 65 in 1620/1, having married Ellen Turbridge of Llanrhudd, daughter of Robert Turbridge. This is but one example of a good marriage made by the Turbridge family, the records showing marriages with the Thelwalls, the Wynns of Ffynnogion, etc.

Another Thomas Myddelton and his son Thomas, mortgaged Garthgynan on 1st October 1632, to William Wynne, fifth son of Sir John Wynne of Gwydir, to whom the property was eventually sold [c.1638]. William Wynn took up residence at Garthgynan and it may have been he who improved the house.

William pursued a distinguished career, being Protonotary of Wales. He was High Sheriff of Denbighshire in 1606 and was one of the addressees of a memorandum sent by Prince Rupert on 16th April 1644, ordering the destruction of Ruthin castle. He later purchased Branas, Merioneth and his son Richard became High Sheriff for that county in 1667. Richard's sister Sidney married Edward Thelwall of Plas-y-Ward. Sidney inherited the Garthgynan and Branas estates which thus became part of the Thelwall empire. Sidney was buried at Ruthin on 15th June 1683. Edward and Sidney had three surviving daughters, the eldest of whom, Jane, married Sir William Williams of Llanforda, bart., son of William Williams, Glascoed, and Speaker of the House of Commons, ancestor of the Watkin Williams-Wynn family of Wynnstay. The marriage settlement was dated 2nd April 1684 under which Sir William's father agreed to pay £4,100 to settle the debts of Jane's late parents and their trustees.

A further agreement of October 1684, conveyed Garthgynan, all demesne lands and the mill to Sir William and Jane in consideration of the payment of £3,000 to settle debts and £2,000 as a marriage portion for Jane. Another agreement of a few days later, a post nuptial settlement, conveyed Branas Ucha and messuages in Merionethshire and Llanfair D.C. in consideration of the marriage.

Sir William of Llanforda added the Thelwall estates to his own possessions which then extended over Merioneth, Caernarvon, Salop and Denbighshire.

The History of Powys Fadog also refers to the Joneses of Garthgynan and it would seem that of this family, descended from the Lords of Dinmael. Edward and his brother Robert came to the Vale of Clwyd to settle. Edward lived at Garthgynan and, it would appear, assumed the surname 'Jones', while his brother Robert settled at Y Berth, Llanbedr, and assumed the surname Lloyd.
It has not been possible to identify the date when the Joneses severed their connection with Garthgynan. Matthew Jones of Garthgynan, gent., was sworn a Burgess of Ruthin on 25th March 1679. It must be presumed that Garthgynan was not the principal residence of Sir William Williams and that Garthgynan had been let to the Joneses.

A good indication of Garthgynan's past status may be found in Edward Lhwyd's 'Parochiala' of 1700 when he placed Garthgynan as second in a list of 'houses of note' in the parish.

William Powell, a local historian of the 1930's, reported that the oldest corn mill in the parish, mentioned in the Ruthin Court Rolls of 1295, was at Garthgynan [presumably the township as opposed to the house] and that this bore the dates 1658, 1698, and 1702, with the initials "WW" of the owner, -William Wynne or William Williams?

"Stanley Weyman, the historical novelist of Plas Llanrhudd, featured Garthgynan in one of his novels, "Ovington's Bank" [1922], his only novel with a local setting. When serialised on BBC television in the early 1970's as "The Heiress of Garth", Garth was in fact Garthgynan. The bank in question was located in the town of Aldersbury in 1824, the town being based on Denbigh."
The estate, with the exception of the house Garthgynan and Tyntwll farm was sold in 1911.

REFERENCES: Clwyd Record Office, Ruthin, DD/WY/333; 6366; 6475; 6479; 6481; 6497; 6924. Denbighshire Historical Society Transactions, Vol.9 p.79; Vo1,10 p.37. Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1869, p.113; 1946, p.46. "History of Powys Fadog", Vol IV, pp.49, 311, 179; Vol.VI, pp.48, 374. Chirk Castle Accounts 1 & 2. William Powell, Denbighshire Free Press, 1930. John Williams, unpublished lecture to the Denbighshire Historical Society, March, 1994.


 Jones of Garthgynan

  Powys Fadog Vol IV

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