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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                          Issue No 40 December 1994




by D Gwynne Morris

The Great War ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Sixteen days later on the 27th November, a letter was read to the Ruthin Town Council from Mrs. Cornwallis West of Ruthin Castle offering to erect at her own expense a shrine to the memory of Ruthin's fallen soldiers. The Council gratefully accepted and thanked Mrs. West for her generous offer. but no subsequent mention of this ever appeared. The movement thus initiated took seven years to bring to fruition.

Ruthin Town Council met on 8th January 1919, with the Mayor (Councillor W.G. Lecomber) presiding, concerning redecorating and heating the town hall. Councillor W.H. Williams said that he raised the question of building a new town hall some years previously but nothing had been done. Since then, expenditure had continued on offices for the town clerk and surveyor, altering the stairs, etc. He wanted to investigate a new building as a Memorial Hall. The existing building was far too small, holding only about 400 people, whereas neighbouring towns possessed halls seating 1500.

Councillor James Jones advocated the purchase of a field known as "The Bull Croft" to be laid out ornamentally. This was behind the then County Offices in Market Street. He envisaged this as an attraction to visitors, with bowling greens, croquet and tennis courts. He estimated that this might cost £1,500 financed by means of a loan spread over 40 years. The suggestion was well received and the Council appointed a committee to consider whether to provide a memorial and the form it should take.
A poorly attended public meeting was held on 6th February 1919. Mr. J.C. Davies, then Director of Education, wanted a memorial to promote the health of the people. There was evidence of deterioration in peoples’ condition, doubtless due to the war and he supported the Mayor’s suggestion that swimming baths should be provided.  

Councillor James Jones pointed out that they could be provided on The Bull Croft. Councillor W. H. Williams felt that as Ruthin was not industrialised, baths were not needed. A new town hall with a museum and reading room would be better. Mrs Springman pointed out that the hospital, which belonged to the Ruthin Union and which had been used by the Red Cross during the war, was about to be closed. This should be purchased and made into a Free hospital under the management of the three local doctors. Col. Saxon Gregson Ellis submitted that the memorial should be directed to the men's dependants.

Stanley Weyman [RLHB No: 38] proposed that these suggestions should be referred to a committee and eighteen local worthies, including a discharged soldier, were elected.

Mr. Ellis Williams, a hairdresser who had himself served in the war and was now a councillor, emerged as a spokesman for the ex-servicemen. Many felt that a memorial should be erected on the Square behind the Peers memorial clock tower where it would serve as a constant reminder. Another suggestion was that a tree for every soldier should be planted in the streets. Also, surviving soldiers should be granted the Freedom of the Borough. Others suggested the restoration of Moel Fammau tower and the renovation of the Llanrhydd Almshouses [now long since demolished].

No progress had been made two years later, in March 1921, when a petition was received by the Council expressing the concern of the townspeople. The Council urged the Committee to hasten matters but it was not until April 1922 that another public meeting was convened. Mr. Harold Hughes, the Bangor Diocesan architect, an authority on Celtic Crosses, had prepared plans which were displayed at the meeting. This monument was to be erected in 'New Street' [Wynnstay Road] which would be viewed against the Clwvdian range as a backdrop.

Many approved, but the majority wanted it on the Square, a choice strongly advocated by Councillor Ellis Williams and the ex-servicemen. The main reasons against were that it would be dwarfed by St. Peter's Church spire and the Peers clock, which would have to be removed. The traditional fairs and markets would not be appropriate neighbours, whereas the quiet dignity of Wynnstay Road would be ideal. The meeting adjourned for a week.

Meiric Roberts. a local tailor, tradesman, councillor and ex-serviceman, proposed a compromise at the resumed meeting advocating a modified version of Mr James Jones' idea that part of the Bull Croft should be purchased. fronting Market Street, where the memorial could be surrounded by grass, shrubs and a bench or two. Unfortunately, Mrs Williams, Crown House, the owner, had declined to sell. Reservations were expressed about the Wynnstay Road site because it seemed possible that the beautiful background would be lost if the offices were extended. The meeting decided in favour of the Bull Croft site, and a deputation was appointed to interview Mrs Williams, the owner. Meanwhile, other parts of the Square were considered, e.g. in front of the "Old Court House" but the bank would not agree.

In September 1922, the Council ruled against the Square. Another two years elapsed when, in April 1924, Councillor Ellis Williams proposed that, as public meetings had been unsuccessful, the Council should now assume responsibility. The Wynnstay site was agreed and subscribers were informed that the estimated cost of Mr. Harold Hughes' design was between £600 and £700. Tenders were invited and funds trickled in. There were very few private subscribers and even on completion, £250 remained outstanding.

The memorial was unveiled by Lord Kenyon, the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Denbigh, on 5th December 1925 when it was also handed over to the Council on behalf of the town. The granite cross is nine feet high, the column being fourteen feet high overall. Its circular head contains an equal armed cross and in the space intervening between the arms is a full triquetra knot. St. Michael represents the triumph of good over evil, with the slain dragon at his feet beneath which is also the ancient sword of Trehandel and Guillons. On the shaft of the cross are the words: "To the Glory of God and in memory of the men of this Borough who lost their lives in the Great War, 1914-1918". On the south side is another inscription: "Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed" ('They gave their blood for freedom'.)    



Lewis Jones ("Rhuddenfab") in 1884 published "A Handbook to Ruthin" which gives a fascinating description of the town. The advertisements make it a commentary on the social history of the period, what Professor Marwick would call "unwitting testimony".

Lewis Jones had his large emporium near the Peers Memorial. Here one could purchase beds, bedsteads, chests of drawers, chairs, looking glasses, sofas, tables and cupboards, all at "exceedingly low prices". There was a range of wallpapers from 3½d a roll, - printing, bookbinding, picture framing and views of the neighbourhood at 6d., 1s., and 1s.6d. Stationery, books, fancy goods were available in great variety. Magazines were delivered monthly and periodicals weekly. There was a wide selection of Christmas cards from ½d upwards.

J. Royles was a shoemaker in the Old Court House. He made and retailed fashionable boots and shoes, cricket, lawn tennis and overshoes. He sold button hooks - a metal hook with a handle used for pulling buttons through button holes in shoes or leggings. Also on offer were leggings, shoehorns, cork and flecy [sic] soles for the inside of shoes, laces and bows.
"The Boar's Head Inn" was owned by A. Parry, with apartments having every convenience for families. Dining and refreshment rooms were open "for the casual visitor." On sale were spirits, Burton Ale, London Porter and cigars.

John Jones, a general draper and gentlemen's outfitter, had a shop on the Square. The range of goods advertised is interesting: silks, mantles (ladies coats), gloves, ribbons, blankets, dresses, millinery, hosiery, linens, carpets and woollens. A grave note added "Mourning Orders" receive special attention.

Another draper was William Williams at 'The Bee Hive', also on the Square, but not with as extensive a range as Jones', but interesting nevertheless. He stocked drapery selected from the latest fashions. Another branch of the business could clean, dye, or alter millinery or bonnets. Surprisingly, he was also a grocer and tea dealer.

Just off the Square at No: 1 Castle Street, Messrs Roberts and Magin had their drapery shop. Here, hats and dresses could be made on the premises where there was also a large stock of ready-made garments. Again, funeral orders would receive priority. They also offered agency services for the dying of garments and, surprisingly, sold sewing machines.
W. Williams was a grocer, a provision dealer. a corn and flour merchant on St. Peter's Square. He was also a baker and stocked several teas and coffees. Another grocer and seed merchant was Edward Hughes who appeared to specialise in farmers' requirements offering, besides groceries and provisions, pheasant food oilcake, cotton cake and cattle spices.
The Castle Hotel was owned by Messrs Byford and Green and besides being a hotel, it was also an office of the Inland Revenue, a posting establishment and the headquarters of the Cyclist Touring Club. The bicycle was reputed to have been first invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan of Dumfriesshire in 1840, so by 1884 it was a relatively common mode of transport, though the pneumatic tyre was not introduced until 1888.

One of Ruthin's watchmakers, also on the Square, was Mr W.C. Joyce, who kept a large stock of watches and jewellery. He repaired watches and wound clocks on a yearly contract. Behind his shop was a furniture store, which had recently been reroofed, where one could also buy secondhand furniture.

Still on St. Peter's Square, there was an apartment house run by C. Hughes. This catered for 'morning coffee and afternoon tea'. Visitors were assured that the beds were well aired.

Regent House, Castle Street, was occupied by Evans and Simons, family drapers and silk merchants. They too undertook dressmaking, while John Simons specialised in tweeds. He proclaimed his skill in making liveries and riding habits. Here one could purchase the finest gentleman's hat, silk or felt. By 1884, the railways were bringing goods from all over Britain to Ruthin, and Simons could advertise hats made by Christy's, and Lincoln and Bennet.

Robert G. Joyce was a watchmaker, jeweller and optician in Well Street, next to the then Post Office. His spectacles ('to suit all sights') ranged from 1s. to £1. Like his cousin on the Square, he would contract to wind clocks for the year. Watches were his speciality, producing under his own name an English lever watch in hall-marked silver for £4.

"The Spread Eagle Inn" was owned by Joseph Morris who brewed his own ale. One could buy a 36-gallon cask of the strongest ale (XXXX) for £2.10s., i.e. 2d. per pint. The single X cost £1.12s. for 36 gallons or just over 1¼d per pint. That is in old money where the present 1p is approximately equal to 2d. However, besides home brewed beer, there was Guinness Dublin stout in casks and bottles.

At the railway station yard, John Morris had his stone mason's business providing headstones and vaults in granite, lime and Yorkshire stone. Lime-stone from Graigwyllt could be supplied for building along with bricks, tiles, sinkstones, grind-stones, drain pipes, chimney tops, Bangor and Corwen slate, lime burn and flagging.

William Williams of 34, Clwyd Street, was the plumber, glazier and gas fitter.

There were three banks. viz., 'The North and South Wales Bank', later to be taken over by the Midland, at 12, Castle Street; 'The London and Provincial Bank', now 'The National Westminster Bank', then at 5, Upper Clwyd Street. There was also a Savings Bank at 38, Well Street. which opened only on Monday's from 11 until noon.

Vast changes have occurred during the past one hundred and ten years. There was a much greater self-reliance, - dressmaking, brewing of ale, watch-making, while the range of goods and services within one shop was quite staggering. Jones on the Square, for example, offered a range of goods now only to be found in a hypermarket. Grocery and drapery were juxtaposed. The monumental mason provided a builder's merchant service, and so on. Two decades after the arrival of the railway in Ruthin, the range of goods in the shops must have been quite pleasing to the townsfolk.



RHYDONEN, Llanynys

This delightful house, in the parish of Llanynys, has a conspicuous chimney typical of 'the Denbighshire fashion' - tall and square. The history of the house is rather obscured because it was the centre of a township of that name. While it would have been the principal house in that township, there are many references to people "of Rhydonen" - the township.

The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Buildings at Aberystwyth report that the house has a long history beginning at the 16th century or even earlier. The older section, originally half-timbered, has had some of the timbers replaced or concealed by brickwork. Half-timbering is. however, still visible on the south gable of the north wing. It probably stands on the site of a late medieval hall-house of which nothing now remains, except possibly one beam.

'Rhydonen' was probably built early in the 17th century and about one hundred years later, the original hall-house was demolished and replaced by a timbered, storeyed house. Further alterations took place in the early 18th century and the parlour walls were panelled. The internal arrangements were changed again in the 19th century when a new staircase was installed.
Initially, only one room in the storeyed house was heated but later a fireplace was formed in the same chimney in the room over, while cross-corner fireplaces were also installed in two other rooms. The architectural history is supplemented by documentary evidence quoted in The History of Powis Fadog [Vols. II and IV], regarding the people of Rhydonen. Earliest references are to David ab Henry of Rhydonen [f1.1424]. By c.1515, Rhydonen was in the possession of an heiress, Gwenhwyfa who married Howel.

At about this time, the ancient Welsh families of Caer Fallwch and Rhydonen were joined by the marriage c.1520 of Richard ab Thomas of Caer Fallwch to Lowry, heiress of Simon ab Robyn of Rhydonen. Caer Fallwch was in Northop, Flintshire. and John, son of Richard and Lowry, married Harry Conwy of Sychdyn, Northop, a branch of the Conway family of Bodrhyddan.
It must be assumed that only one of these two families, more likely perhaps Howel and Gwenhwfa, possessed the house we now know as Rhydonen. Their descendants continued to be referred to as "of Rhydonen" for another six generations or so until 1658 when the house fell to another heiress, Mary Edwards, the family having assumed the surname 'Edwards'.

Mary married into a Ruthin family, Richard Platt, son of William of Pantglas, Ruthin and his wife who was the daughter and heiress of Richard ap John of Rhuddin. Thus, the houses of Pantglas and Rhydonen merged, and William Platt, son of Richard and Mary, married Mary Hughes of Ruabon in 1693. William and Mary's daughter Sarah became another heiress and was married at Llanynys on 20th December 1723, to Rhys Llwyd of Clochfaen, another major Welsh family. Sarah died at the age of 85 and was buried at Llangurig, Montgomeryshire.

The Clochfaen family and estate were merged by marriage into an even larger unit incorporating the Plas Madoc estate, Ruabon. Again, the family estates passed to an heiress, Sarah Lloyd, born on 19th February 1746. She married twice and had no children from her first marriage and, in 1773, she married the Rev. Thomas Youde [1728-1806] of Brasenose College Oxford and of Rowley's Mansion. Shrewsbury. This Thomas Youde was the eldest son of another Thomas Youde - of the Galchog, Llanfwrog, Ruthin. Thomas Youde of the Galchog was the eldest son of the first Thomas Youde, a Frenchman, who [RLHB No: 39, 'Plas Towerbridge'] settled in this country in 1711, having married Mary Hill of Rowley's Mansion, Shrewsbury.

Thomas Youde of the Galchog had married Dorothy, daughter of John Jones of the Galchog and Mary his wife, sister of Eubule Thelwall, Principal of Jesus College, Oxford, and of the Bathafarn family [RLHB No: 28]. Mary married John Jones in 1707 and left much of her land in trust to Peter Jones, her son-in-law, for the benefit of her grandson, Thomas Youde. Her will was proved on 19th October, 1764. John Jones already had properties in several parishes surrounding Ruthin, so Thomas Youde became landlord of extensive lands in several parts of old Denbighshire and Montgomeryshire.

The Ruthin estates spread over Efenechtyd, Gyffylliog, Clocaenog, Llanrhudd, Llanfwrog and Llanfair D.C. were sold by the trustees of the Rev. Thomas Youde following his death in April, 1806.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The History of  Powis Fadog; Lloyd, Vols. II - p 183; IV - pp 326/7. Clwyd Records Office, Ruthin: DD/PP/32 I; DD/WY/ 1992, 2001; Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, Vols. 11, - p. 114; 15, - pp. 15, 17, - 20, 26.

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