RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET Issue No 44 December 1995
The Rev. Elias Owen, M.A., Rector of Efenechtyd and author of Old Stone Crosses of the Vale of Clwyd recorded how Christmas was celebrated in this area. In its religious aspects, the central core of the festival was Plygain - the early Christmas morning service. According to the lexicographer Dr William Owen Pughe [1759-1835], the translation could be "The Return of the Light", which seems to be quite appropriate. Others have suggested that it translates as "the crowing of the cock", not as appropriate an ambience.
Plygain was announced by the prolonged ringing of the church bell from, say, five to six a.m., when the service started. In some parishes, Plygain started even earlier, e.g., at 4 a.m. The service took the form of appropriate readings from the Prayer Book with or without a brief admonitory address by the clergyman. Then followed the singing of carols. The form of the singing varied, with sometimes the whole congregation, sometimes by a group or sometimes by a solo voice. It was all very impromptu and spontaneous. This continued until the dawn of day when, after the Benediction had been pronounced, the congregation left for home.
One imagines that there was little or no heating and lighting must have been difficult. The churchwardens would partially light the church and members of the congregation would bring their own candles (home-made). The candles were wedged in lumps of clay provided at intervals on suitable ledges. There were generally no evening services, but another began at about 3 p.m.
There is little new in this world and it was found that these services, attractive if rather too early, were disrupted by the antics of drunks who had sat up all night drinking. This brought about the discontinuance of Plygain. Elias Owen described one such incident at Cilcain, where one young man was standing behind another who had a prolific mop of flaming red hair. The first youth thought it would be amusing to see if the red hair really was flaming and proceeded to test his thesis by applying a candle to the hair in question. Inevitably, there was a major conflagration, but we are not told of the victim's fate.
In another such incident, the preacher was the victim of a drunk who flung a rotten turnip at him from the singing gallery. After the service, and conveniently putting aside all notions of Christian forgiveness and the doctrine of 'the other cheek', the Minister locked the door of the church and made his way up to the singing gallery. There, he broke his walking stick on the back of his assailant!
Returning nearer home, the Rev. Elias Owen himself decided to resurrect the Plygain tradition at Efenechtyd one Christmas morning at 6 a.m. It had been so long since the last such service had been held, he told his congregation, that "those who last took part in a similar service were lying in the churchyard." It is not clear whether they were still drunk or whether they had passed to higher service. One visitor, a Maud Jones, after attending service at Efenechtvd. recorded "But the singing …The Welsh seem to sing as though they couldn’t help it; and Efenechtyd, with its natural untrained choir, possesses a treasure which many a town organist might envy." It is not difficult from this to conjure a Christmas card picture of a cold and frosty morning with Efenechtvd Church windows glowing orange in the dark with the sound of its "untrained natural choir" reaching out with the traditional Christmas message.
“FROM THE DAMP AND DIRTY TRENCHES”
by David Castledine, Archivist, Clwyd Record Office.
One of the names on Ruthin's war memorial [RLHB No: 40] is that of Private Harry Jones (1887-1915), 8481, 2nd Battalion, 'C' Company, Royal Welch Fusiliers. Clwyd Record Office recently received some twenty-seven postcards and letters written between October 1914, and February 1915, by Harry Jones to his wife Elizabeth.
Harry was one of ten children of Isaac and Mary Jones of 152, Mwrog Street. Previously, the bi-lingual family had lived at Yr Efail and at Bryn Bowlio, Llanfwrog. Isaac was a labourer, but a quarryman by 1910. Harry was born in March 1887, and baptised 'Henry' at Llanfwrog Church two months later. He became a pupil at Borthyn School in October 1890, later working as a labourer, probably for a Daniel Jones, a bricklayer in Mwrog Street.
On New Year’s Day 1910, at Llanfwrog Church he married Elizabeth, daughter of Isaac Williams. a joiner from Llanrhydd. They had four children. Mary Elizabeth (born October 1910), Isaac Henry (1911). Gladys (1913). and Mons (1914). In these four years, the family lived at 121 Mwrog Street, Bodyngharad Bungalow and finally, 104, Mwrog Street. All the children attended Borthyn School and probably Llanfwrog Sunday School.
Harry sailed to France in October 1914 as a member of the British Expeditionary Force. A postcard dated 14th October shows he had reached St. Nazaire. near Nantes. and in December, a postcard was sent from Bizet on the Franco-Belgian border (between Armentieres and Ypres). Some of the cards were printed field service postcards with short sentences such as "I am quite well," and "I have received your parcel/letter".
Sentences not required were erased or deleted. Other postcards are post marked 'army [field] post office' No: 19 or No: 44. and one has the Belgian flag and a double-headed eagle. possibly a local civic standard.
Several postcards and letters addressed to his wife, children and father, are much more detailed and give an insight of conditions in the trenches. His main themes were: (i) concern for the health and welfare of his family; (ii) gratitude for parcels received and (iii) the weather. On 19th December, he was glad his father had moved into [Ruthin] almshouses and, on 29th December, he agreed that 'Mons' was a good name for the new baby named after the battle [Belgium, September 1914]. On 22nd February, he was glad that their eldest child, Mary, had started school.
Soldiers at the front received food parcels from home. On 31st December, he was grateful to the Ruthin people for a parcel sent by the Mayor. A scarf from Mrs. Dowell [of Llanfwrog] was welcome because it would be very warm for his neck. On 17th December, he wished to be remembered to Thomas Pritchard, rector of Llanfwrog. He wanted the rector to send cakes and sweets and to know that he was going to sing Christmas carols in the trenches for the Germans. Harry received cigarettes and tobacco, but said he had plenty anyway. He preferred food parcels, especially tea and sugar, because he could brew up in the field canteen. His wife sent cigarettes with cake, chocolate and sweets. It took time before she found his correct address and his postcards home often state, 'I have received no letter from you lately.' He appreciated news from Ruthin because on 31st December, Ted Evans and he were the only two from Ruthin in his battalion. Ted used to work with Mr. Dowell, the grocer and baker in Mwrog Street.
Harry often mentioned the cold weather and the incessant rain and he hoped it would be over very soon. It was worse than carrying the hod [as a bricklayer] with little Dan [Jones].
The discoloured postcards show signs of having been written in the trenches. On 22-23 February 1915, he asked for a photograph of his wife and children. He asked that his father should cheer up - the war would be over very soon now, and he would see him again. On 1st March 1915. St. David's Day, Harry was killed on active service at the age of 27. The exact location is uncertain, but at that time the Royal Welch Fusiliers were involved in major engagements at Neuve Chapelle and Fauquissart, incurring heavy casualties. He was buried at Bailleul Communal Cemetery [Plot J, Grave 13]. His father, Isaac, died at Church Walks, Ruthin, on 2nd December of the same year.
(NB, "From the Damp and Dirty Trenches" is a quote from a poignant poem sent home by Lt. John Arthur Hughes of Ruthin, killed in action during WW I, quoted in Dr. Trevor Hughes' book Ruthin - A Town with a Past)
THOUGHTS ON 18Tth CENTURY RESTORATIONS TO ST. PETER'S, RUTHIN – PART 1
BY P.D. Randall and Allan Fletcher.
During the mid-1980s, a programme of major repairs was undertaken at Saint Peter's Church, Ruthin, the finance for which was contributed by local commerce, industrialists and the people of Ruthin through the SPACE (St. Peter's Against Centuries of Erosion) project, instigated by the late Rev. R.E. Smart, then Warden of Ruthin. The project is thus a lasting reminder in the long history of this church to his caring ministry as Warden from 1980 until his untimely death in 1986. Now that project SPACE is completed, it would appear appropriate to reflect on some of the earlier 18th century restoration works and repairs to the church.
By glancing through various Churchwardens Accounts, which for St. Peter's, commence from 1687, it is possible to glean some information on past major repairs, including the names of some of the craftsmen who carried out the works and the costs. Today, their costs may be considered small, but to past parishioners, the sums were vast.
During the year 1714, the Churchwardens obtained a Royal Brief to enable them to canvas other churches throughout the country to help undertake urgent repairs estimated to cost £3,128. How much was eventually obtained is not recorded, but churches throughout the country contributed: Clocaenog church donated 6s.-6d., a large sum from a small church; St. Juliana, Shrewsbury, gave 8s.-8½d., with the large sum of £3.-6s.-1d. from St. Michael's Church, Ingram, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland. However, it appears that the church was not repaired until later as, in 1720/2, the west end of the church was rebuilt at the expense of Richard Myddelton of Llysfasi and Chirk Castle, then Lord of the Castle and Manor of Ruthin, and the Williams Wynne family of Wynnstay, Ruabon. It was probably during this west-end restoration that the '...old and faire...' west window (fig. 1.), recorded in 1645 by Trooper Symonds, was destroyed.
From the Chirk Castle Accounts, it is known that Richard Myddelton paid £100 for his part of the work, but how much the Wynnstay family paid is unknown at the present time. However, it appears that each family may have undertaken the re-building of one west-end wall. On the outside of the west-end of the north nave can be seen a weathered yellow sandstone plaque on which was originally carved the following inscription:
"This West end being ruined was rebuilt at the expense of William Williams, Bart., Watkin Williams Wynne, Esq., his Son and heir by Dame Jane his wife, Daughter and heiress of Edward Thelwall of Plasyward, Esq. MDCCXXII.
References: Churchwardens' Accounts, Clwyd Record Office PD/90/1/3, PD/90/1/33; Chirk Castle Accounts, 1666-1753, W.M. Myddelton; Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1863; Journal of the Historical Society of the Church in Wales, Vol. VII, No: 12, 1957; British Museum, Department of Manuscripts and Documents; The William Salt Library.
HISTORIC HOUSES IN THE RUTHIN DISTRICT
The Vale of Clwyd enjoyed some renown as a place where many rather grand houses were to be found. Many of these sprang from 'new money' made by a rising tide of Welsh gentry-folk following the inception of the Tudor dynasty. In this Series, some 23 historically significant houses and their owners/occupiers in the immediate Ruthin district have been considered. Not all of these would be regarded today as 'grand houses'. Indeed, many have become working farmhouses with their original status and functions forgotten. Few town houses as such have appeared in the series although some were dealt with briefly in a previous series "Ruthin Street by Street".
This series as such is concluding with brief notes (to be continued) on certain houses, though it is not suggested that there were no other houses of historical significance. At some time in the future, therefore, occasional articles may appear on houses not so far considered. If readers have additional information about our heritage of historic houses, this would be gratefully received.
A Thelwall house built on the Bathafarn estate by Ambrose Thelwall, favourite son of John Thelwall, on land gifted by his father. Ambrose was also given rights to fell timber on his father's estate for the construction of his new home. Of the surviving buildings, much timber framing is still visible. On the failure of male issue, Cefn Coch passed to Catherine Thelwall who married  Peter Williams of Emral, Flintshire. Their daughter married Maurice Jones of Meirioneth and Cefn Coch remained in the ownership of this family for many years. A watercolour, painted by John Ingleby c. 1794 appeared in Pennant's Journey to Snowdon. There are dated timbers, one of 1643 bearing the initials "AT", with another in the cellar of 1678. The estate, which included Bacheirig, Sinet, Ty Mawr, etc., was up for sale by auction in June, 1822. Col. H.M.C. Jones-Mortimer, Hartsheath, Mold, was Ambrose Thelwall's descendant.
Clwyd Hall, Llanychan:
This is not an ancient house. (1867/9), but is of interest as it was designed by the well-known local firm of architects, Lloyd Williams and Underwood, for a wealthy London wine merchant, John Taber who became quite a local benefactor. Originally called 'Claremont', the name survives only in relation to a smaller house on the site. The house was finished to a high standard, with quality detailing, and the gardens were elaborate and fine. John Taber commissioned other architectural projects e.g., Plas Llanychan and also financed the restoration of Llanychan Church in 1877/8. Sir J. Crosland Graham [1866-1946] resided there and carried out certain alterations to the house, especially to the tower. He too was a generous local benefactor and took a great interest in Ruthin School, giving much practical support.
The present structure is thought not to be of ancient vintage - probably of the 1812-1814 era - although there may have been an earlier dwelling on the site. It was a Wynne possession from the C17th and remained so until the C l9th. Richard Miles Wynne [c.1747-1818] was Governor of Cape Coast Castle, West Africa. It passed to the Goodrich family of Glamorgan and became the residence of Mr. H. Jones-Bateman. The house was extensively re-modelled and enlarged for Mr. J. Lever Tillotson of Bolton, c. 1929. The frontage is enhanced by two pairs of Tuscan columns. He also commissioned a well-known rock garden by T.R. Hayes c.1933/4. There were further garden developments by C.H. Taudevin, c.1937/8 but the war years resulted in some deterioration. Happily. the gardens benefitted from improvement in the 1950s and are now registered by CADW as being of historic interest. Mrs. Tillotson remained in residence there until her death in September 1952.
Fachlwyd Hall, Gyffylliog:
The records reveal little about this Georgian house, which is located in the township of Treparc. At the beginning of the C 20th, it was owned by a Mrs. Owen of Gwyddelwern and occupied by a Mr. & Mrs. Elliot S. Currey until c. October, 1926. Mr. Currey was a retired civil engineer.
This is a timber-framed house of 1619, which of course, has undergone remodelling.
Acknowledgements: Hartsheath MSS; Newcombe; Chirk Castle Accounts; Edward Hubbard, Buildings of Clwyd; Clwyd Record Office, Ruthin; thesis "A Picture of the Social Life and Organisation of a Welsh Rural Parish at the Present Day [Gyffylliog, 1929] by Rev. H.W. Jones (DD/DM/961/1); Nicholas, Ruthin School Magazine, 1899; Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments, Aberystwyth; CLWYD - Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Historic Interest in Wales, CADW (1995).