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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                          Issue No 48 December 1996



In the early nineteenth century, the interior of Africa was an unmarked white patch on the maps, though explorers were active in the area in searching for the source of the Nile. Also, the continental powers were waking up to the potential of the area. The Arabians had long been familiar with the interior as a result of their slave-trading expeditions. Life there was [believed to be] primitive and anarchical, a place where tribe fought tribe and cruelty prevailed.

Abyssinia was just such a place and Theodore had gained ascendancy over other tribes in the country where he styled himself 'Emperor of Ethiopia'. Theodore had gained this position having waged war and inflicted great cruelty not only upon his opponents but even upon his own supporters, especially if they failed to please during one of his many drunken bouts. His was a complex character and he could exhibit charm, kindness and great energy while at his best. He even showed great remorse over his own acts of cruelty but within minutes he was equally capable of throwing an associate over a 2,000 ft precipice.

By the 1860s, basic contacts with the outside world were being forged and a British Consul was located at the then capital, Magdala. There were also German missionaries, men and women, and other nationals. However, even though in his better moments Theodore amply demonstrated his friendship and appreciation of the work they were doing, he held most of them captive and many, including the British Consul, were fettered and caged.

Word of this reached England and popular pressure demanded a rescue operation. This Gladstone resisted, but after some four and a half years, he relented. General Robert Cornelis Napier (1810-1890), a very capable and popular soldier stationed in India, was put in charge and a force of 32,000 men was dispatched from India and the U.K. in some 280 ships. There were also 55,000 mules, horses and Indian elephants. They took with them their own train and twelve miles of railway line to transport men and supplies over the coastal plain. Eight bridges were constructed over ravines in addition to cuttings and embankments. There was no ready-made port with suitable facilities so two long piers were built at a remote place on the Red Sea called Zoula (Zula). Reservoirs were also made to hold 1 million gallons of water brought from Aden and the several tons of water that were condensed daily from the sea.

All was ready on 2nd January, 1868 and the force moved off into the interior on 25th January with the prospect of a 420 mile trek over very difficult terrain and a gradual climb of some 7,400 ft. Magdala was reached on 10th April and the first battle was joined. The Abyssinians lost 700 dead and some 1,200 wounded at a cost of 20 British casualties, two of whom later died. Theodore released the hostages who were in relatively good health. A second battle was fought on 13th April at an encampment where Theodore himself was then located. The inevitable success was achieved at a cost of 15 British wounded. Theodore committed suicide, using one of a pair of pistols which Queen Victoria had thoughtfully sent earlier as a gift.

The last of the British forces left Zoula for home on 18th June and Napier and his men were treated as conquering heroes. Napier was promoted, given a peerage and he and his heir were granted a pension. Napier toured Britain like a Roman General in triumph and was everywhere lauded and feted. He was at Welshpool on 8th August, the home of his second wife Mary Cecilia Scott whose father, General Scott lived at Trelydan Hall.

On 26th September, Lord and Lady Napier alighted at Rhewl station and proceeded to The Berth, Llanbedr to visit Mrs. Lloyd who was described as 'a relative'. This gave Ruthin a glorious opportunity for a display of civic gratitude and hospitality. 158 men of the Yeomanry Cavalry from Ruthin, Denbigh, Llangollen and Gresford, and the Volunteers were paraded and formed a procession outside The White Lion (now The Castle Hotel) on the Square. This included two merged bands, the Mayor and Corporation, and the carriages of the nobility and gentry. That year, the National Eisteddfod had been held at Ruthin and members of the Ruthin Fine Arts Exhibition (which was still open) Committee also joined in. The whole processed up Rhos Street and awaited outside Brynhyfryd, then the residence of Marcus Louis.

Following the arrival of Lord and Lady Napier, the whole procession made its way under ceremonial arches and along streets brightly dressed overall with flags, bunting and garlands, many of which were installed by a contractor brought in from Shrewsbury. Their first ceremonial arch was a footbridge which spanned Rhos Street alongside Brynhyfryd and this was splendidly decorated. Rhos Street British School displayed not only decorations but also a motto ‘Learning is wealth to the poor, honour to the rich.’ Further down, an arch crossed the road from The White Bear to The Machine and was inscribed ‘Long Live the Hero of Magdala.’ 

There was another arch outside Plas Tirion, the home of James Maurice, while the entrances to the gas works and the railway station were also graced with arches. Even the railway engines which brought in several excursions were dressed with garlands and mottoes. Castle Street was especially well decorated with yet another arch and yet more flags. All these arches had been erected by Mr. Rickman, a builder, whose family had come to the town with the Wests and whose descendants, Mrs. Margaret Roberts and family, still live here.

Probably the grandest arch (and a photograph exists at the Ruthin Record Office) of all was over Market Street outside the new Town Hall. This bore the portrait of Lord Napier with, on either side, a picture of a captive in prayer having just been released from his fetters, and another of Theodore falling to the ground mortally wounded. These pictures had been painted by Mr. Dowling, R.A., a Ruthin citizen.

At the Town Hall, the Town Clerk read an Address written by James Maurice and beautifully illuminated on vellum, which was then presented to Lord Napier who duly responded with becoming modesty. He paid generous tributes to his men, especially the wounded. The formalities thus completed, the party retired to Ruthin Castle to be entertained by the Wests with a splendid banquet to which the cream of county and local society had been invited.

The next day, the Art Exhibition was due to be ceremoniously closed. Napier was invited to participate in those proceedings, which he agreed to do. In the event, he was "called away" earlier that morning. This series of events was rounded off on 28th September with a Grand Ball at the Comity Hall, Ruthin. Dancing commenced at 10 p.m. and continued, after a break for a champagne supper, "with renewed vigour and spirit'' until four the following morning



Acknowledgements; Dictionary of National Biography; Denbs. Record Office, Ruthin; The Caern. and Denbigh Herald; Alan Moorehead, The Blue Nile, Penguin Books Ltd, 1983.


Considerable historiographical effort has been expended on the injustice of the rural tithes. This was a tax the farmers paid, generally to the Rector, but not necessarily, for the upkeep of the Anglican church. The injustice lay in the fact that by the nineteenth century most of the tenant farmers were nonconformists. Little attention has been given to the church rate in the towns and the injustice this inflicted upon the townsfolk. If the Religious Census of 1851 is to be believed, and there are many reservations about this work, only twenty-eight per cent of the population in the parishes of Ruthin, Llanfwrog and Llanrhydd were Anglican. Nevertheless, the remaining seventy-two per cent had to pay the church rate. This was either incorporated into the rent or, if you were a ratepayer, directly to the church. Perhaps some measure of the resentment over this matter is gained from the following anecdotal evidence from 1843.

In June of that year, the police arrived at the shop of John James, grocer and confectioner in the Market Place and confiscated goods to cover the debt of 8s.6d. which he owed to the church. James had refused to pay the Church rate. The police confiscated a ham and a cheese. The debt had now risen to £1.5s. to cover the cost of the police action. At a public auction of the goods, the amount raised was £1.4s.2d. Whether there was a deliberate abstention of bidding is not recorded.

This certainly happened later when farm animals were confiscated and auctioned to cover the costs of the tithe. However, the shortfall of tenpence in James' case was a matter of great concern between the police and the church. The church suggested that they both should accept a loss of five pence, but this was not acceptable to the force who insisted upon their pound of flesh. Nothing is recorded to say how the matter was finally resolved.
Some ten years later, when feelings over the church rate were again running high, F.R. West of Ruthin Castle gave a field to the church to eliminate the necessity for a church rate in the town. Nationally, the church rate was abolished by the Gladstonian government of 1868. They made a once-off payment to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of a quarter of a million pounds. The payment was to remove a source of great discontent in the growing towns of Britain although it did nothing to alleviate the grievance in the rural areas of the tithes.



References: Caernarvon & Denbigh Herald, 17 June 1843; Ieuan Gwynedd Jones, The Religious Census of 1851, UWP; A. Fletcher, ‘Ruthin 1851-61’, Denbs. Historical Society Transactions, Vol.32, 1983.



Our article of twelve months ago on Plygain services reminded Miss Molly Clubbe of Liverpool of such services held at Llanfwrog not so long ago. The custom was to rouse the parishioners at 5.40 a.m. on Christmas morning with a thorough pealing of the bells, calling the faithful to bilingual worship at 6 a.m. Its popularity was such that, in spite of the hour, the church would be packed. It was, of course, essentially a carol service with Christmas music played on the organ by Mr W. Lloyd, headmaster of Borthyn School, who was succeeded by his daughter the late Miss Audrey Lloyd. The singing was led by the church choir and at a certain point in the service, a small group of angelic (at least in appearance) choir boys appeared bearing candle lanterns mounted on staffs. They assembled around the altar and enthralled the congregation with their sweet voices. After this atmospheric beginning to the day, the congregation returned to their homes to no doubt indulge themselves in Christmas fare!


This Elizabethan house is another in the Ruthin Lordship which is relatively youthful in terms of its historical associations. One of the earliest people to be associated with Llysfasi was Gruffydd ap Madoc [died c.1320], Prince of Powys and Lord of Dinas Bran. He succeeded in c.1236 and was in turn followed by Madog Fychan, or Madog ap Gruffydd in 1270. Llywelyn ap Ynyr [fl.1256] of Iâl, Lord of Gelli Gynan, descended from Gruffydd, and was ancestor of the Lloyds of Bod Idris from whom Lord Mostyn's family descended. Llywelyn ap Ynyr was given Gelligynan township by Gruffydd ap Madoc for his services at the Battle of Corwen [c.1256].

It is said that 'Llysfasi' derives from Llys Massey. The term 'Llys' ('Court') hints at Royal connections, though it would appear that, later, the word is used in the context of the administration of justice. The term was originally applied to the bases of the original Welsh royals and their courts who customarily travelled from one Llys to another. There, justice was administered, "dues in kind" collected, and in this way they generally "beat the bounds" of their territory. The Welsh economy was not monetary but was based on barter, so that these dues were in fact taxes in kind.

Whether or not Llysfasi enjoyed royal status is impossible to say, but it may have been the centre of a 'tref' or township. This was the smallest unit of local government since time immemorial through the medieval period. It was Edward l's policy, within limits, to adapt or follow local customs/practices. The principal house of each tref, many named after the house, would have served not only as the residence of the official but also as his administrative/judicial base. In this later period, it is not likely that Llysfasi served the whole of the commote 'Llannerch', only the township. Ruthin itself would have fulfilled the wider purpose, at least in matters of importance. It must be said, however, that Llysfasi was not one of the townships of the ecclesiastic parish of Llanfair D.C.

Following the thirteenth century conquest, Llysfasi remained part of the Ruthin Lordship under the de Greys. At that point the name 'Massey' appears. It is not entirely clear who Massey was, although his name appears several times in thirteenth and fourteenth centuries records. However, these references seem to be relatively trivial - the name does not appear with the Wards, Thelwalls, Langfords, Ashpools, Moyles or any of the others who were brought into the area by the de Greys as Lordship officials. However, just as the Ward/Thelwall interests devolved upon the northeastern area with Plas-y-Ward as its centre, or the Ashpool's in the Llandyrnog/Bodfari area, Massey could have been in some way responsible for a township centered upon Llysfasi . The name also appears frequently in the context of Cheshire/ Flintshire/Ruthin lordship affairs, all within the de Grey sphere of influence.

The name Massey has other associations, but it is conjectural as to whether these references are to the same family. For example, John Massey was Constable of Conway Castle in 1328/9. Richard de Mascy was in 1330 the earliest known Sheriff of Flintshire. Richard Massey was appointed Constable of Harlech Castle by Edward, the 'Black Prince' of Wales in 1393. He was Constable at the time of Glyndwr's rebellion, followed by Dyccon Massey in 1403/5.

More locally, and somewhat later, there were Masseys in Maesmynan, Bodfari. Robert Massey of Maesmynan was Sheriff of Denbighshire in 1554, and Member of Parliament for co. Flint, when his estate was purchased by the Mostyn family. It is said then that the family was already of long standing in county Chester.

A document describing the Ruthin lordship in 1635 refers to a Katherine Massey of Maesmynan. The name William Massey recurs in the eighteenth century in connection with land transactions over a wide area of Denbighshire and Merionethshire. Some of these refer to "William Massey of Chester" and others to "William Massey of Mostyn Hall, co. Chester [sic] ".

Llysfasi was leased at the beginning of the sixteenth century and this may have marked the termination of the Massey involvement. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, it became part of the larger estate of Gelligynan in the parish of Llanarmon yn Iâl and in the ownership of Edward Lloyd in 1613. Powys Fadog indicates that Llysfasi passed with the marriage of "Gwenhwyfar, daughter and heiress of Tudor of Llysfasi, son of Elissau ab Gruffydd of Allt Llwyn Dragon now called Plas yn Iâl" to Edward Lloyd of Gelligynan. It remained in the Lloyd family for seven generations which suggests, taking the date of the sale to Sir Thomas as a base-line, that the Lloyds acquired Llysfasi c.1423.

On 10th April, 1633, Edward Lloyd sold the estate to Sir Thomas Myddelton for £650. At this time, Sir Thomas was making strong but unsuccessful bids to acquire the whole lordship and by 1632 he had already purchased Ruthin castle from Charles I. Eventually, in 1660, Sir Thomas settled Llysfasi on one of his sons, another Thomas, on his marriage.

The estate remained with the Myddelton family, although it was not always used as a principal Myddelton residence. By the end of the seventeenth century, the property had passed to Richard Myddelton, a merchant of London, who retired not to Llysfasi but to Shrewsbury where he died in 1700.

Richard's son inherited, but died unmarried in 1718 and the estate passed to Robert, then to John, then to another Richard who was M.P. for the Denbigh Boroughs [1746-86]. His son, another Richard, was also M.P. from 1786 until his death, unmarried, in 1796. His estate passed to his three sisters, Charlotte who married Robert Biddulph of Ledbury, Harriet, and Maria who married the Hon. F.R. West, brother of Lord Delamere. The Biddulphs assumed the name 'Myddelton' and their share of the estate included Chirk Castle. Ruthin Lordship, including Llysfasi, passed to the Wests c.1819. Llysfasi remained in their ownership until its sale by public auction on 7th September 1909. It was eventually purchased by Denbighshire County Council in November 1919 for use as a Farm Institute. The present house, of the Elizabethan period, has been subjected to much change. Major work was undertaken in 1911. There is some nice plasterwork, of arms and floral designs, of the seventeenth century and the initials 'E.L.' with the quartered arms of Lloyd and Thelwall. The initials undoubtedly refer to Edward Lloyd of Gellygynan who married Jane Thelwall of Plas-y-Ward.

Llysfasi became in 1992 a self-governing body independent of local authority control known as 'Coleg Llysfasi' and is a flourishing "substantial, multi-disciplinary rural college". Its history has been well chronicled by a former principal, Mr O.S. Edwards, while its more recent history has been ably recorded by Mr. Gwynne Morris who was born in its shadow.



Acknowledgements: Michael Powell Siddons, The Development of Welsh Heraldry, NLW, 1993; a series of articles by "E. Powell" which appeared in the Denbighshire Free Press, 1914; W.M. Myddelton, Chirk Castle Accounts, AD 1605 - 1666, 1908; W.M. Myddelton, Chirk Castle Accounts, AD 1666 - 1753, Manchester University Press, 1931; D.S. Edwards, A History of Llysfasi, 1282-1920, privately published in 1981; D. Gwynne Morris, Llysfasi, 1921 - 1996, published by the College in 1996; Edward Hubbard, The Buildings of Wales, Clwyd, Penguin Books & University of Wales Press, 1986; Powys Fadog, Vols. 2, 3, 4, 5; Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1846, 1847, 1862, 1864, 1869; H.M.C. Jones-Mortimer, High Sheriffs of the County of Denbigh, 1541-1970, privately printed in 1971; Schedule of Hartsheath MSS., Denbighshire Record Office; Melville Richards, Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units, U.W.P., Cardiff 1961.


Following the appearance of our article in the last issue, Mr. David Rickman has discovered a Duty Roster for members of the local fire brigade to attend cinema performances at the Town Hall. Usually, groups of four men attended these performances a month at a time. In those days, the risks of fire were greater as safety film had not then been invented.
Thanks to Mr. David Rickman.


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