RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET Issue No 46 June 1996
PRECOCITY AT POOL PARK, Part II
By Peter Howell Williams
The Bagots left for Rhuthun on Friday 8th June and passed through Ewloe, Northop, Mold, the Loggerheads and came down Agricola’s Pass (Bwlch Agricola) in order to reach Rhuthun. “The people of Ruthvin (sic) gave us a most gracious reception, and rung us in… We stopped at Fir Grove for a few minutes and then proceeded to Pool Park”. Fir Grove is still the name of the house on the west side of the Clawdd Newydd road, just beyond Llanfwrog and before the lodge to Pool Park. Eleanor, at that point in her diary explained that they were to stay at Fir Grove because of the alterations to Pool Park, but they were to dine each evening in the tent erected in the grounds of the mansion. After dinner, and before retiring to Fir Grove, Mr. Jones took them to see the Castle. Eleanor thought the alterations were in poor taste. This was the new house finished in 1826 for Frederick West, who married the Myddelton heiress [the property was restored for Harriet Myddleton, sister of his wife, Maria,].
Monday, 10th. "After breakfast we set off to see Papa's new plantations which are very fine, and afterwards travelled through Bontuchel, Clocaenog and back" in time for dinner. Throughout the evening a Welsh harpist played to them.
Wednesday, 13th. Everyone went to Rhyd-y-cilgwyn weir at Rhewl, where they had "a neat lunch at Williams', the farmer." They then visited Bachymbyd Fawr, "an old mansion" rebuilt in 1667. All these properties were part of Lord Bagot's estate, acquired through the Salesbury marriage.
On one of the following days, Eleanor accompanied her mother who called on Mrs. Newcombe, wife of the well-connected Warden of Rhuthun and Rector of Llanfwrog, the Rev. Richard Newcombe (17791857) who had been ordained by Bishop Bagot in 1800. Lewis Bagot (1740-1802) had been a good Bishop, but unfortunately he was obliged to live in London through ill health rather than at Llanelwy.
A decision was then made to take Eleanor on an excursion through Eryri. Accordingly, after making all necessary arrangements, it was agreed that they should go by Nant-y-Garth and Bwlch Rhiw Felin (Horseshoe Pass by a road other than that now used). Everything was 'beautifully picturesque'. They stayed overnight at Llangollen, and on the following morning "we breakfasted with Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby at Plas Newydd", which Eleanor, dutifully again, described in her diary as "pretty".
An introduction to the Ladies, without which the Ladies would not entertain a visitor, would have come from the Rev. Newcombe, who had been a friend of the Ladies for many years. In 1827, Lady Eleanor was 88 and both frail and less mentally alert than she once had been. Despite this, Prince Puckler-Muskau, a roué and lothario, called on the Ladies and was particularly cruel in his description of them. History may prefer to remember them as "the dear inseparable inimitables", a more endearing epithet used by Charles Matthews (1776-1835), the famous comedian, when they met at Wynnstay in 1820.
After breakfast, Eleanor described how they took their carriage onto the Great Irish Road, first to Corwen, and then to the inn called Cernioge Fawr, a favourite stop to bait [change] horses. The Bagots chose to rest them, and stayed the night. The trout in the llyn nearby were once thought some of the finest and the family dined well enough. Cernioge is still where it was. The small, handsome farmhouse stands on a bleak, treeless stretch of the A5. Just beyond, tourists first glimpse the mountains of Eryri.
At Bangor, they attended at the Cathedral, where Mr. Cotton, 'the excellent Dean', showed them all his improvements. Penrhyn Castle and Menai Bridge were visited and at dinner the famous blind harpist, Richard Roberts, played for them. Next day, a boat was taken along the Straits to Caernarvon where they went around the castle. They stayed overnight, and the next day were off to Beddgelert to stay at the Goat Inn where there was another blind harpist.
One could be forgiven for believing that some of these harpists were acting the part, but it is often forgotten that smallpox was rife and left many sufferers blind. They would face a bleak future for employment depended on sight and, in Wales, despite the malicious tittle-tattle of tourists, its people had too much pride to beg. Those who could master the harp would be encouraged to learn, for it cost an innkeeper nothing to allow a harpist to play and who could thereby hope to earn gratuities from tourists for whom the harp and Wales were synonymous.
Eleanor also recorded that it was whilst at Beddgelert that “the adults climbed Snowdon”, (once the rain stopped).
After a visit to Tan-y-Bwlch, near Maentwrog, they turned for home and reached Fir Grove that same evening. During the next week Eleanor mentioned in her diary the work that was being done at Pool Park by the workmen and that among other excursions was a visit to Efenechtyd, which they thought extremely pretty.
On 9th July, Eleanor with some excitement described how during the evening her Papa "gave a dinner to eighty-one of the workmen. The Table was spread before the house.... They all looked so happy……. a more pleasing sight I never saw. They had several toasts and they sang several Welsh songs which sounded very delightful. The gardener's boy sang an English song remarkably well." Afterwards, the family took the pony trap to Fir Grove, "overtaking some of the men on the way who hurrah'd us and called out 'Lord Bagot for ever'. Only the pony seemed a little alarmed at the noise." It brought the diary to a close, for the only remaining comment made by Eleanor was on the following day which she described it "as usual". It is therefore strange that the stone tablet on an outbuilding at Pool Park refers to it being laid by Lord Bagot on the 6th July when all the festivities took place on the 5th, or did they? But if Eleanor did get mixed up, let her age be her excuse.
SOURCES: NLW. MSS Bagot Collection; Griffith Pedigrees (1987 facsimile); A.N. Palmer, History of the Town of Wrexham (1893); E. Mayor, Life with the Ladies of Llangollen (1984); Thomas de Quincey, Confessions (numerous editions from 1820); C.J. Apperley, My Life and Times (1927); Puckler-Muskau, Tour in England….. by a German Prince (1832 in translation) Vols. I - IV.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – Mrs J. Rogers, word processor.
Rural Life during the nineteenth century in Britain has often been portrayed as idyllic. This imaginary and romantic image of country life has been portrayed by such artists as Francis Wheatley and George Stubbs and has been accepted as the norm. These images are, however, far from the truth. The family of the agricultural labourer lived on the verge of poverty. For example, they rarely ate meat, unless perhaps a rabbit illegally taken at great risk to the labourer's freedom. Ruthin as a market town and a centre of agricultural production did not escape the grinding poverty of the period. Poverty resulted in standards of hygiene that certainly would not be tolerated today. An examination of the bye-laws gives some idea of the problems which confronted the community.
Within the last two years, parliament had passed The Dangerous Dogs Act. This decreed that certain breeds of dogs which were considered dangerous were to be muzzled when out on the streets. In 1854, the Town Council passed a bye-law that dogs not muzzled and at large, wandering the streets without their owner, were to be taken and destroyed. The removal of dung, both animal and human, presented a problem. There was no piped water and earth privies had to be emptied from time to time. In the town, they could not be filled in and a fresh one dug, an option that was available to the farmer with plenty of space. Muck had to be removed between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and, if undertaken outside these hours then the fine was between and 5s and £2. If the fine was not paid, the alternative was imprisonment. From 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. from late Autumn to early spring were hours of darkness and should anyone slop the effluent and not clear up the mess, then the fine was 2s.6d to 10s. These penalties were very severe. Converting these amounts to present day values is full of inaccuracies, but suffice it to say that an agricultural worker at that time earned about 9s. to 10s. a week. Thus, if a labourer slopped the effluent, he could be fined a week’s pay.
At a time when fertilisers were almost unknown, manure was a valuable commodity. The more wealthy households, those in Castle Street for example, would keep at least one horse and the poorer households might have had a pig. These animals all created manure which had to be removed. A manure heap was a common sight and if they became too big, then the Inspector of Nuisances (a perk for the local Sergeant of Police) asked for them to be removed. If they were not, then the Council cleared them and the owner forfeited their value.
It was forbidden to sell produce in the streets, except on fair days, when one had to pay a toll. The fine for street trading was again between 5s and £2, and the goods offered for sale confiscated. It was also decreed that if water dripped from a roof, then the tenant was given a week's notice to prevent the drip and then a fine of between 5s and £2 was imposed if remedial action had not been taken.
The fear of fire was constantly with the towns folk and this apprehension is reflected in the fine for deliberately firing a chimney. The fine was again between 5s and £2. Sometimes chimneys were fired to clear soot and thereby avoid the necessity of hiring the chimney sweep. If the chimney caught fire through neglect, perhaps because the fire was banked too high in the fireplace, or because the chimney had not been swept to avoid the cost of the chimney sweep, there was then a lesser fine of between 5s and £1.
The cramped conditions in many of the houses is illustrated by the need of a bye-law forbidding bathing in the street.
The heaviest fine, between £2 and £5, was reserved for a shopkeeper having more than 5 lbs. of gunpowder on his premises. Gunpowder would have had many uses, for example, in blasting rock with which to build another shippon. In addition to the fine, in all cases the guilty party had to pay costs and further goods might have been seized up to the value of the fine and costs.
The bye-laws give a picture, not only of Ruthin, but of many market towns throughout the land, as dirty, unhygienic places; of a time when poorer members of the community would on a warm summer's evening wash themselves in the street. The stench from middens, unemptied privies and the animals must have been almost intolerable. When it rained, the water would have washed the muck heaps and the resulting slurry would perhaps have washed down Well Street and Clwyd Street, making a journey on foot hazardous, to say the very least. This was one of the reasons why the more affluent would have used their carriages for even the shortest journey.
References: The English Rural Community ed. Brian Short, C.U.P., 1992; Ruthin Record Office BD/83
PLAS ASHPOOL, Llandyrnog, Denbigh.
A small notebook in the Galltfaenan MSS recently espied at the Ruthin Record Office contains rough sketches and notes on several local houses of historic interest. This has added significantly to the scant information hitherto available about this particular house and family, now extinct. Its location in Llandyrnog may seem at first sight to exclude it from our remit, but it is in fact located within the original area of the Ruthin Lordship.
The first Ashpool who came to this area, possibly from Chelmsford, Essex, was named Adam de Ashpool, then spelt Alspel, the "de" prefix suggesting a Norman-French origin. He was brought here by Reginald de Grey in 1273/4, [1283/84?] who granted him land by charter. This was some ten years before the grant of the Ruthin Lordship to the de Greys, if the date is accurate. Ashpool may have been responsible for the administration of that area of the Lordship known as Penbedw.
References are to be found in deeds and documents to several Ashpools. For example; a Simon Aspull (sic) witnessed a deed involving John Croote, Prior of the Convent Church of St. Peter, Ruthin, on 4th January, 1426/7, another deed in December, 1439 and again in July, 1441. Thomas Ashpool was similarly involved in 1519, and Henry in 1568. Several of these documents involve "the House and Church of St. Peter, Ruthin". A more recent document was a settlement dated 11th July 1660, involving John Ashpool.
Simon Ashpool married (c.1500) Jane Thelwall, daughter of David Thelwall of Plas-y-Ward. Their son, John Wyn Ashpool, married Alice, a descendant of Gruffydd Goch. Their son Harry married another Thelwall, Janet, daughter of Richard, also of Plas-y-Ward. They had at least two sons, one of whom (Simon) married the daughter of Piers Moyle of Ruthin, while the other (Thomas) married Dorothy Turbridge. There is a record of a Dorothy Ashpool, widow, buried at Abergele in 1639, who may well have been Thomas's widow.
Thomas and Dorothy had a son and daughter, and their son John married Lucy Conway of Pentre Llech, Llanrhaiadr. Some sources maintain that John and Lucy had no children, but those quoted by Powys Fadog state that they had a 'son John who married Ellen of Fron Yw sometime before 1706. The notebook records that at about this time there were four Ashpools, - John, David, William and Alfred and that either David or Alfred was a Chamberlain at Queen Ann's Court. The initials "DA" on the overmantel might have been those of David Ashpool and the reference to Queen Ann's Court is consistent with. the date of 1704 or 1709, which also appears, following Ann's accession to the throne in 1702. Powys Fadog does not identify these four sons.
This John, whether of his father's first or second marriage, seems to have been the last of the male line, again according to Powys Fadog, and his daughter Dorothy married Nathaniel Edwards of Ruthin c.1724. There are references to two Nathaniel Edwards's of Ruthin, father and son. The first Nathaniel died in July, 1704 and was a prominent mercer of the Market Square, burgess of the town, and Alderman for 1684-5 and again in 1691-1. He bequeathed his property, including a share in a lead works in Llanarmon-yn-Ial, to secure the education of his children. His son Nathaniel was heir to his mother's estate which included her family home of Plas-yn-Llan, Cilcain. Young Nathaniel was churchwarden at St. Peter's, 1725-27.
Dorothy was described as "of a sweet and amiable disposition", and on 22nd October, 1740 was described as 'widow, and relict of Nathaniel Edwards'. Three years later, another document described her husband as a grocer. Her nephew Samuel Jones had made his way to Liverpool and became a merchant.
Pennant believed that the last heiress was Jane, described mysteriously as "an amiable young lady in deep decay". He went on to say that she married an Irishman of the name of Uniack and that she died shortly afterwards. The Galltfaenan notebook also claims that the heiress was named Jane who married twice, for the second time to John Mainwaring-Uniacke. Uniacke's mother was said to have been a Mainwaring. Jane died childless and was buried at Llandyrnog on 9th April 1749.
John, Lucy's husband, married twice. According to another source, Lucy died at about the age of 28 on 29th September 1681, without bearing a child. It was from Lucy's Pentre Llech branch of the Conway family that the Conways of Efenechtyd sprang. John Ashpool had acquired land at Llech from this marriage, for the Bagot papers refer to his desire to sell the Llech land in favour of other land nearer Plas Ashpool.
John married a second time, to Frances Parry of Pwllhalog and Combe. Frances died in 1719 [1687?], having given him a son in 1685, whom they christened John.
There is confusion over the deaths of the several John Ashpools of about this time. One is reported to have died at the age of 68 on 11th September; 1716. Another, to whom a memorial exists in Llandyrnog Church, and who was married to Jane, daughter of John Morris of Ystrad, died in 1719.
Another memorial records the death of John Ashpool who died aged 36 on 19th August, 1722. According to the Galltfaenan notebook, this John was the last male descendant, and his laudatory memorial in Llandyrnog Church described him as "a courageously honest, yet humble, man. Not conforming to the character of the age, not given to corruption. But unshakenly constant: Deservedly to be admired for his peculiar modest and unshakeable resolve. Whilst among the people of Ruthin, he toiled for his salvation. Early death tore him away, and he took with him that ancient name so widely spread abroad in time past. He died 19th August in the year of Salvation, 1722, aged 36."
The account in Powys Fadog of the last of the Ashpools differs from Pennant's, claiming that the last was John's daughter, Dorothy, described as "of a. sweet and amiable disposition". This also states that she married a Nathaniel Edwards of Ruthin in 1724.
Prior to the restoration of Llandyrnog Church, the family pew had "carried on 'the door the arms of the AlsbelsAshpools".
Plas Ashpool was sold to Richard Powel Clough of Plas Clough.
The notebook also refers to a tradition that there was a tragedy at "Yr Hen Plas" and said to be referred to in "Spector Memoriam", the original MSS being at St Stephen's, Westminster, - "Verily in this there be truths to which the bricks in the Chimneys of my Father's Home and Bloodstains in the Flores thereof beareth silent witness."
The house was probably built in the early 18th century. There are also stables and other buildings of a similar construction and one has four crucks and beams which may date to the 16th century. The Galltfaenan notebook contains a rough sketch of the house and is dated 20th January 1896, and shows a front of two gables and four bays of a brick-built house with groins of freestone. There is also a sketch of an interesting Jacobean chimney piece in the wainscotted parlour, beautifully carved in oak, bearing the date, 1704 or 1709. There are three Griffin heads and another showing three boars’ heads, representing the Thelwall family, with the initials "D.A." (David Ashpool ?). This mantel also displayed the crest of Edward the Black Prince to whom homage was done at Chester Castle by virtue of lands held by Alsbel, Thelwall and a goodly number of other Retainers of Reginald de Grey said to be too numerous to mention. The framework is adorned with carved foliage, hearts, other devices.
Apart from the agricultural value of his property, it would seem that a Mr. Henry Ashpool (date not known) held two smelting forges and a smyth's (sic) hearth. It seems likely that these would have been located in the nearby Bodfari area where there was a brisk trade in iron mining and smelting for several years.
Powys Fadog, Vol. III, pp.346, 351; Chirk Castle Accounts 1666-1753, p.275, n.1521; Pennant Tour in Wales; Nicholas, Annals and Antiquities of the Counties & County Families of Wales, Vol. I, p.397; Edward Hubbard, Buildings of Clwyd ; Denbigh and Its Past, 1990, No: 5, p.16 - 'Llandyrnog' - E.P.Williams; Ruthin Record Office, Galltfaenan MSS; also Wynnstay MSS. and Peter Roberts of Penybont Mss; Ivor Edwards, "The Charcoal Iron Industry of Denbighshire", Denbighshire Historical Society Transactions, Vol. 10, p. 54.