RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET Issue No 50 June 1997
THE LLANBEDR STONE
by Kathleen Webb
The ruins of old St. Peter's Church in Llanbedr D.C. stand on an eminence about two hundred yards north of the present church. All that remains of this ancient building is the west gable, small enclosing walls and its original doorways. It is a grade II listed building. The site is believed to be of Celtic foundation, having a circular grave-yard. The parish of Llanbedr is recorded in the Lincoln Taxatio of 1252 A.D. The church closed in 1864 when the new church was dedicated, but burials in family graves continued until 1905. Neglect and decay led to the site becoming a wilderness of overgrown brambles, fallen-trees, and accumulated debris. By the mid 1970s, the sorry state of both the building and the graveyard gave cause for concern.
At that time, the Ruthin ECO Group, led by Mrs. Helen Tyrrell, was based mainly at Brynhyfryd School and a number of other volunteers joined. A decision was made to undertake a project to rescue the ancient site. A local committee, ‘The Friends of Old St. Peter's’ was formed to raise funds to pay for equipment and to cover on-going expenses likely to be incurred by the volunteers. It was a daunting task which took over four years of unremitting endeavour. Massive trees that had fallen across gravestones were removed, the stones re-erected, and all possible inscriptions recorded. The church walls were made safe and trees growing through the stonework removed. The east window, of Perpendicular design had collapsed and the fallen stonework needed to be cleared and the east wall made secure. It was during this part of the project in 1981 that an important discovery was made. Amongst the rubble and forming part of the wall beneath the east window there was revealed a large carved stone. It showed a man's face and he appeared to be blowing a musical instrument. Leaf shapes were carved above the head. Also depicted was a winged dragon biting its tail. The stone measured one foot ten inches in length by nine inches deep.
Expert opinion was sought as to its date of origin. It was identified as part of a large grave slab of light grey stone which had been cut up and used as building material. The piece is the dexter corner of a much larger slab as part of the original design is missing. A similar carved stone is preserved at Valle Crucis Abbey, but that one is the sinister bottom corner. It is believed that both stones came from the same carver and the same workshop, probably at Valle Crucis. The Llanbedr stone might have been removed from Valle Crucis at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. It is in a much better state of preservation than the one at Valle Crucis as it has not been exposed to the weather due to its position in the church wall.
Mr Colin Gresham, an authority on the subject, and author of the publication Medieval Carvings in North Wales, has confirmed its authenticity and dated it as of the early fourteenth century. He recorded its discovery in Archaeologia Cambrensis CXXXI, 1982, and designated it "the Llanbedr Stone".
The Committee ‘Friends of Old St. Peter's’ commissioned a special oak stand to be made to contain and display the stone. It is now placed in the present St. Peter's Church, Llanbedr, and is a tangible link between the two churches that are part of the recorded seven hundred years heritage of the Parish of Llanbedr Dyffryn Clwyd.
RUTHIN CASTLE RENT AUDIT DINNER 1869
One can easily imagine the scene, the grand dining room at the White Lion lit by gas light, the inadequacy of the lighting adding dramatically to the atmosphere. West had ensured the quality of the meal by supplying the game for the table. Gathered in the room were the influential figures in the life of Ruthin and the tenants of the estate. Cornwallis West, himself, chaired the dinner and amongst those present were: the Warden of Ruthin, Reverend Bulkeley Owen Jones, Dr. Thomas Jones, J. Evans, the Castle Agent, J. Rickman his bailiff, John Davies the Lodge, Denbigh, the largest tenant on the estate, W.T. Rouw, chemist and fire chief for Ruthin, and many more.
The purpose of this note is to review the speeches made at that dinner for they encapsulated many of the aspirations of the guests and the political problems of the period. The first speech was of course by the Chairman, Cornwallis West, suggesting that overtures had been made to the Prince of Wales, who was in Chester to extend his stay and visit the Vale. To this end, West had lobbied Lord and Lady Bagot and the Grosvenors to approach the Prince to determine whether the Prince's schedule would allow him to tour Denbigh, Ruthin, the Vale of Llangollen and thence back to Chester. This had been proved not to be feasible because of the prearranged Royal schedule. What is interesting to note that in 1869 Cornwallis West found it necessary to use intermediaries to approach the Prince. Within two decades the Prince was a visitor to Ruthin Castle. The Chairman then proposed the toast to the Clergy of the Town encompassing all denominations. Response to the toast was made by the Warden Reverend Bulkeley Owen Jones. His reply to the toast was in some ways strange. He made an impassioned plea for West and other members of the laity to support the case for a Welsh speaking Bishop for the see of St Asaph when it became vacant. West himself had a rather intolerant attitude towards the Welsh language as this extract from his evidence to the Royal Commission on Land in Wales shows. "The question of language does not affect us here in the Vale as it may do elsewhere, for nearly the whole of the population speak English. It is found so much to the advantage of language that parents are fully alive to the necessity of having their children thoroughly taught it, and so far as I can form an opinion from my own experience I think the bilingual inconvenience if it exists at all is very much exaggerated.”
West was an influential, wealthy member of the Warden’s flock. Jones must have known his views on the subject of language and yet he used West's dinner to air a contentious issue.
One of the Wests’ great friends and supporters was James Maurice of Plas Tirion. He had been a friend and confidante of the West family for many years. He helped Frederick West secure the support of the townsfolk for the restoration of the Church. He attempted to carry the Liberal banner for West against Mainwaring in the 1857 General Election and many other tasks from time to time. It was therefore only natural that at this dinner when his health was failing and he was unable to attend that West proposed his health. The toast to West was proposed by John Davies of the Lodge, Denbigh, the tenant of the largest estate. This really was a eulogy, which by twentieth century standards would be unacceptable in its fulsome praise. To quote only a small part:
“They do not know a gentleman in the country that was more willing to make his tenants prosperous and contented (cheers), whilst his kindness in coming amongst them and his noble hospitality on their rent audit days was also most gratifying (cheers).”
It is true West was no ogre. For example, there is no record of the Wests evicting for political reasons. They ruled Ruthin with benevolent paternity [paternalism] and had avoided strife during a century of confrontation. Nonetheless, John Davies’ toast rings false over the years. West’s reply perhaps underlines this viewpoint.
One of the deep-rooted grievances of Welsh farmers was the lack of secure tenure of their farms. The farms were let on a yearly basis and there was little compensation for any improvements made during their tenure. A farmer could be evicted for bad husbandry, not carrying out certain agreed tasks or in the extreme case for political reasons. This last case was not true on the Ruthin castle estate. Even here, pressure was put on tenants during the 1857 election for them to vote for Maurice (the Wests’ candidate). However, one of the principal grievances that motivated Tom Ellis, MP for Meirionethshire, to press Gladstone to create a Royal Commission on Land in Wales was the question of tenure. In their findings the Royal Commission showed that eviction cost the tenant about thirty per cent of his capital and little or no compensation was paid.
It was this contentious problem that West addressed in his reply to the toast. He denied there was insecurity of tenure whilst at the same time admitting that leases were not generally granted. This was because tenantry were not usually possessed of sufficient capital to guarantee the landlord the just and proper cultivation of land for long periods; but as far as he was concerned if any of them wanted long leases and would prove to him they had sufficient capital for the undertaking then he was ready to comply. This liberal attitude was nevertheless negated some twenty years later when his agent Probert, in giving evidence to the Royal Commission, admitted that there were no leases on the Ruthin Castle estate.
The question of leases is two sided, because of the insecurity of tenure, the tenant was not encouraged to nurture the ground, to invest in fertilisers. In fact it tempted the tenant to take a quick profit and in so doing impoverish the soil. On the other hand, it allowed the estate owner to rid himself of inefficient farmers. The problem of capital, raised by West, was a real one, for most of the holdings on an estate were relatively small ones of under fifty acres. This was approximately the smallest holding which was economically viable and required a great element of self sufficiency to survive. These small farms attracted farm labourers with little or no capital and so the cycle was self perpetuating. The larger farms on the estate were difficult to let because of the need of capital to stock them. In these cases the reverse applied; the tenant was reluctant to agree terms of a lease because it might tie him to an inconsiderate landlord. West covered many matters in his speech, one point which bore upon the above discussion was that he was planning a scheme for improving the land. He claimed that he had been unable to commence this due to the 'immense burdens on landowners'. He also advocated that an offence under the game laws should be heard by a county court judge because the magistrates were all landowners and therefore biased. On the other hand, the county court judge had greater powers of sentencing!
At the conclusion of this fascinating meeting Dr. Jones announced that from the first of the new year the White Lion would become known as the Castle Arms Hotel out of compliment to the worthy owner, Mr West. It is interesting that some of the major grievances of nineteenth century Wales were aired at that dinner in Ruthin.
References: Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, 1 January 1870; Wyn Jones, Thomas Edward Ellis (University of Wales Press, 1986); A. Fletcher. Social and Economic Change in the Vale of Clwyd during the Railway Era, (unpublished M. Phil. Thesis, University of Wales 1991); David W. Howell, Land and People in Nineteenth Century Wales.
BORTHYN’S SCHOOL’S BUDGET OF 1899
by Peter D. Randall
In the Denbighshire Archives in Clwyd Street, Ruthin, can be seen an account book for the former National School, now Borthyn School, the new Chairman of which was the Rev. Bulkeley Owen Jones, M.A., Warden of Ruthin. Included in this account book is a schedule of estimated expenditure for the year ending 31st March, 1899, completed and signed by the Warden, as Chairman. Some of the entries make interesting reading in the light of modern trends in education.
In 1890 the school was mixed, under a Headmaster, with total accommodation for 224 pupils, but at this time had only 193 on the registers. There were six staff, including the Headmaster, Mr. R. Lloyd (bardic title "Eos Clwyd", who was also Choirmaster at St. Peter's Church, and who was paid a salary of £120 p.a. (including a free house); his deputy was paid £50 p.a.; the remainder of the staff £12 p.a., £8 p.a., and two at £6 p.a. each.
In addition, there was an Infants class under a Headmistress with one teacher. This class had accommodation for 78 pupils, but had only 72 pupils at the time. The Head Mistress was Elen Lloyd, who was paid £35 p.a., and her assistant £6 p.a. The total salary bill for the whole year for the staff of eight teachers was £243!
References: Denbighshire Count Archives, Ruthin – ED/X/90.
FACHLWYD HALL, GYFFYLLIOG.
Fachlwyd Hall is located in what was once the township of Treganol, one of four in the mother parish of Llanynys, of which Gyffylliog was a part. Gyffylliog did not enjoy parish status in its own right until 1873. The origins of this house are comparatively obscure, but one thing that is certain is that the present house is of relatively recent construction. However, there is much more to it than that. In the first place, the name Fachlwyd is certainly of great age and seems to have been applied to the township itself in 1603, when a mortgage refers to lands "in the vill of Treganol otherwise Vachloyd". Another document of 1604 refers to a "...mansion house of the said Rice ap John ... a place called Llidiart Kay Sir Foulk." But that house has been lost sight of at least for the present. However, yet another document of 1610 quotes ... highway leading from the house of John Foulke called vach lwyd.", which could have a connection with that just mentioned bearing in mind the same surname used in both cases. Unfortunately, at this stage the identity of the house "vach lwyd" remains unknown but, of course, it could refer to an earlier property on the present site. There are references to 'Fachlwyd' in the eighteenth century, e.g., a deed of 1755 refers to Owen Jones "of Fachlwyd".
The Hall is some 650 ft. above sea level, and of modest size comprising just 5 bedrooms. Servants’ married quarters were in out-buildings, and included a garage for 2 cars, stabling for 3 horses, a coach house and the head gardener's office with tool shed. The house has changed hands on several occasions and a recent estate agents' brochure suggests that the house was built in 1829, perhaps because there is a plaque bearing that date on the exterior.
Gyffylliog Parish Church, dedicated to St. Mary, is of particular interest having been founded in the l5th century by Gruffydd Goch of Bachymbyd and Pentre Coch, as a Chapel of Ease for Llanynys. The present parish is overlooked by the vast Clocaenog Forest. Hidden within its conifers are signs of ancient communities, of burials, possibly of a Celtic prince or chieftain ("Bedd Emlyn"), and an ancient standing-stone with Ogham script which was transported to the front of Pool Park mansion, where it is to be seen today [no longer].
Pool Park mansion, actually in the parish of Llanfwrog, is a relatively 'modern' house but is on the site of a more ancient and less illustrious farmhouse, once termed "Parke Pisgodlyn otherwise Poole Parke." This house was favoured by one of the Salesbury family of Bachymbyd in whose possession it and much of the area, including Gyffylliog, once belonged. The Salesbury estate became Bagot property through marriage.
In the modern era, the only "gentleman's residence" within the actual parish was Fachlwyd Hall. There is an account in the Denbighshire Record Office at Ruthin, written in Welsh for a local eisteddfod and about Gyffylliog in the period 1830-1909, which states that Fachlwyd was built by the owner John Owen. The Owen family 'of Fachlwyd' has had associations with the village since at least the end of the eighteenth century. Ann Owen, a spinster and daughter of yeoman farmer John Owen, was baptised at Gyffylliog on 1st April 1777 and was buried there on 5th September 1851. John Owen the yeoman is by today a somewhat obscure figure and probably sprang from a quite ordinary background, suggesting that he became a "self-made man". Whether his prosperity arose from a good marriage or from his own industry is not known. There is plenty of evidence of this family to be found in the church in the form of wall memorials and, indeed, a small collection of prestigious 'pulpit' tombs surrounded by an iron fence in the churchyard.
Ann's nephew, the Rev. Edward John Owen, became Vicar of nearby Llanfair D.C. in 1848, after completing a period of service as Curate of Gyffylliog from 1830. On 11th February, 1870, he too was buried at Gyffylliog.
Ann was devoted to local charitable work and was responsible for establishing almshouses at Llanfair D.C. She also had an interest in Denbigh Infirmary, to which she gave four fields in 1870. Naturally, being a resident and having a nephew as perpetual Curate of Gyffylliog, she was also generous to Gyffylliog. In 1846, she gave a silver paten, a communion cloth and napkins to the church and in her Will gave instructions that a "decent cottage" be erected on her land on which stood a croft next to cottages called Penylan, and provided for the sum of £400 for that purpose. Her nephew was charged with the responsibility of letting this new cottage to "the officiating Minister of the parish of Gyffylliog." There had been a Rectory at Gyffylliog since 1829 and this was enlarged in 1860. It seems quite possible that the legacy was used for that rather than to build anew.
Mrs. Owen moved away to Gwyddelwern, Corwen, but retained ownership of the Hall which became the centre of the small English enclave. The Welsh essay mentioned earlier refers to subsequent occupants as a Mr. Norfolk from Yorkshire, a Mr. Edward Boxer, Mrs. Owen herself, and an Edward Mapplebeck of Birmingham. They were followed by Mr. and Mrs. Eliott S. Currey who came from Essex. In the 1920s, this small sub-set in the community consisted of 17 people, most of whom came with the families who lived at Fachlwyd, although Currey's chauffeur, two gardeners, and handyman were locals. Currey himself was a former civil engineer. Fachlwyd Hall, then comprised 10 acres worth £72 gross rent. The rateable values were, the agricultural land, £12; buildings, £64.15s.-0d., while the actual rate paid was £19.-8.-6d. The Curreys stayed until October, 1926.
The garden was of some 1½ acres and was excellently kept until Mr. & Mrs. Currey left, having presented the church with a handsome font in 1910. Their annual contribution to the church of £30 p.a. must have been sorely missed. While the Curreys had never really participated in the life of the parish, they had treated the chapel people with respect, even subscribing a generous £10 towards the renovation and enlargement of the chapel.
REFERENCES: Denbighshire Record Office, Ruthin: NTD/462; DD/DM/961/1, Thesis of Rev. H.W. Jones, MA, M.C.; The Clwyd Historian No. 13; Mr D. Gwynne Morris, “Eight Penno’th of News” and Mr Peter Randall, Font at Jesus Chapel, RLHB. No. 24; Mr P.D.Randall, the church guide.
The Rev. H.W. Jones, M.A., M.C, was appointed Rector of Gyffylliog in 1920 before accepting the Llanfwrog/Efenechtyd living in 1932. He served as Chaplain with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in the two conflicts of 1914-18 and 1939-45. During the former, he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery under fire. He died aged 74 on 28th May, 1962. His thesis was one of the sources for the Fachlwyd Hall article.