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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                      Issue No 59 September 1999


 The cost of all this work was £1,300 and this sum had not been completely raised. The Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald wrote 'What might have been called a few months ago, a poor dilapidated, uncared-for edifice, now presents a cheerful, comfortable and most attractive appearance, and we have no hesitation in congratulating the parishioners on possessing one of the prettiest village churches in these parts.'It was a testing time for the Bishop, not only was he opening the renovated church, but he was also preaching his first sermon in Welsh. His articulation we are told was excellent. He was preaching not only to a fashionable congregation, but also to the senior clergy of the diocese, amongst them Reverend D.R. Thomas, the warden of Ruthin, J.C. Davies and others. He clearly used the occasion to make overtures to the dissenting Welsh preachers, adopting an evangelical theme. It was a difficult time for the Church of England for the Gladstone government had passed the Act enabling the disestablishment of the Irish Church and there were rumblings for similar treatment for Wales.

The service took place at eleven, followed by communion and then most of the congregation adjourned to a marquee erected in the garden of Plas Newydd where E.G. Ellis entertained the Bishop, clergy and laity to a buffet lunch. The Victorians were always apt to mark these occasions with extensive speeches and this was no exception. The Bishop expressed his gratitude for the manner his sermon had been received, taking the opportunity to stress the point that the Church of England had a role to play in Wales. He went on 'they would more and more regard the Church in Wales as what they were accustomed to call her, namely Y Fam Eglwys - 'the Mother Church'. emphasising the point made earlier regarding the uncertainty of the Anglican Church at that time. The hosts were profusely thanked and the Rector and his wife were toasted with all best wishes for the future of the renovated Church.

The festivities were not the end of the events of the day. There was an English service at half-past three in the afternoon and finally at seven in the evening Reverend E. Smart, Rector of Henllan, preached the sermon. The collection for the day amounted to £31 which went toward the restoration fund.


Source: Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald 21 May 1870.


Whether or not the agriculture of Wales suffered during the depression of the last two decades of the nineteenth century has been the subject of debate between economists for many years. Roughly the two sides of the argument may be summarised in that the fall in prices of farm products was confined to arable crops. Wales, principally, was a protein producing rural economy and meat prices remained relatively stable. The Vale economy was, of course, a subset of this economy and it is hoped to show that although there was a perception of recession, there were certainly opportunities to maintain the farm revenue. On the other hand the unjust letting of shooting rights, which landowners rented to syndicates, certainly damaged grassland and fences so adding to the costs of the tenant farmer.

There is evidence that the small farms in Wales did pay a premium rent, the larger farms which required more capital were generally let relatively more cheaply, i.e., lower rent per acre. The reason for this has been attributed by Howell to what he termed 'land hunger'. Taking a small farm required little capital and was the first stepping stone of a farm labourer up the social ladder. Financially he was little better off, but he was his own master and self-sufficiency on the farm had the potential of his family being better fed. The differential in rents between small and large farm was confirmed by the evidence given by the agent for Ruthin Castle to the Royal Commission on Land. On the Ruthin estate farms varied in size from 15 acres to 350 acres, Denbigh estate of the Wests from 34 to 365 acres and at Llanarmon from 18 to 1,670 acres. From these figures one can grasp the extent of the estate of Ruthin Castle. Of the 5,685 farms in Denbighshire in 1875, 4,016 were less than 50 acres and only 42 were over 300 acres. That is to say, over seventy per cent of farms were barely viable.

One of the products of these small units was butter, but the price of butter fell during this period. The larger units in Denmark and distribution through the rail network reduced the price. Further the 'creamy' taste of the imported variety superseded the taste of strongly salted Welsh butter. According to the evidence of Cornwallis West to the Royal Commission the price fell by twenty-five per cent between 1876 to 1894. This was a blow to the small farmer, although the price of beef and lamb rose by some twelve per cent over the same period. However, on the small units the number of cattle available for sale was very limited.

This rise in the price of meat was due entirely to rising prosperity in the industrial areas. Additionally, there was an increasing population, from twenty-three million in 1871 to twenty-nine million in 1891, a twenty-five percent increase in two decades. The imports of meat, with the advent of refrigerated ships, rose astronomically over this period but even this phenomenon could not keep up with the increasing demand for meat from the home market. The demand for meat, according to J.P. Huttman, increased per capita by twenty-seven per cent over this period and of course the population increased by a further twenty-five percent. It has been estimated that although imports of meat increased by 400 percent there was still an increase in the demand for home produced meat. These are figures for the whole of England and Wales and the question arises whether Denbighshire was taking the opportunity that the market offered. One estimate is that cattle production increased by sixty-eight per cent and sheep by forty-three per cent. Despite the increase in flock and herd sizes, the price of both cattle and sheep increased according to Cornwallis West. Confirming this, there was a slight upward trend in prices at Wrexham market, which was analysed by D.G. Davies.

The question arises why, if the demand for the principal product from the farmers in the Vale remained robust, was there this perception that there was a recession in the agricultural market? There are probably two principal reasons. The first was the marginal nature of farming. Gomer Roberts, a tenant farmer at Cefn-y-Griolen on the Nantclwyd estate farming some 130 acres, a sizeable farm at that time, stated to the Commission hearing that he could only pay his rent and live from the farm, there was no surplus. During the perceived recession, rents rose in Wales by roughly five per cent whilst in England they were reduced by twenty-one per cent. Rent was the largest annual cash outgoing that a farmer had. Many landowners did make concessions on the rent, others did not. Everett Jones a tenant farmer from Newmarket produced figures for the Royal Commission that after paying his rent of £54 on a twenty-six acre farm, he only had £1.- 4s surplus. He asked the agent for a reduction in rent, but was told if he could not make it pay to vacate the farm there were many others willing to take on the tenancy. This is the point made earlier, that the demand for small farms was almost insatiable. Jones produced between 15 to 18 lb. of butter per week for twelve weeks a year which would amount to an income of about £10 but butter prices dropped by 25% over this period and with that reduction went Jones's surplus. Jones claimed he sold two heifers and one cow per year for £16. But according to the evidence on prices given by Cornwallis West, the increase in meat prices should have compensated Jones for the loss of income on butter.

Farm size was one problem, but the other was the law concerning game. Its proximity to Manchester and Liverpool made the Vale particularly attractive for business men from these two cities in particular, to rent shooting rights. The railways had made access easy. Many had little or no appreciation of the country code nor wished to know. D Howell on this subject wrote: Despite the Ground Game Act of 1880 which granted tenants the right to destroy rabbits and hare on their farms the Game Laws down to the close of the century and beyond did more than anything else to poison the relations between landlords on the one hand and tenants and rural labourers on the other. The practice from the third quarter of the century of landlords letting some of their property to tenants who arrogantly disregarded the tenants fences and crops added further sting to the game grievance.
Thomas Morgan of Tan Llan Farm, Cwm, told how the shooting rights were let to a Mr. Reynolds of Liverpool or Manchester, 'he did not know which'. This in itself is indicative of the lack of communication between the estate and tenant farmer. Morgan went on to explain to the Commissioners how the gamekeeper killed his dog and he was refused compensation. On another occasion, fourteen huntsmen damaged his fences in two separate places. Gomer Roberts, mentioned earlier, recounted how one of the sporting tenants stood with his dog in a field of corn, ignoring the damage to the crop. The insensitivity of sporting tenants was denied by Probert, West's agent. He said in his evidence to the Commission: I believe if game was not preserved in Wales fewer men of wealth would reside in it. Many shootings are let to gentlemen from large manufacturing towns who spend a good deal of money in the neighbourhood and thus benefit local tradesmen and other people dependent on them.

Owen Williams, county councillor and Chairman of the Ruthin Board of Guardians said to the Royal Commission on Land in 1896: The Ground Game Act is seldom properly used; in most cases the tenants dare not do so, they are too afraid of the consequences... It estranges the relationship between landlord and tenant. In several instances the game is let to a third party. The farmer has to pay first the rent and also the grass etc. for the rabbits. They are preserved by the keepers belonging to the second tenant.

Williams was speaking of the conditions on Cornwallis West's estate in Llanrhaeadr. The Act that Williams was referring to was the Ground Game Act of 1880. This was of little protection for farmers in the Vale for the farms generally were let on annual rental agreements and the application of the Act required the existing tenancy agreement to have expired before the benefits of the Act could be enjoyed. However, when renewing the annual agreement the agent naturally required the tenant to waive his rights under the Act. Sporting rights were a double edged weapon, without the income from the second letting the landowner would probably have been forced to increase the rents. Yet the sportsmen and their quarry damaged the farms. 

Another reason to suspect that the depression did not affect Wales as severely as England was the price of horses. From West's evidence the price of some horses doubled over this period. The arrival of the railways heralded  an unmitigated demand for horses. This might sound incongruous but the movement of people and goods increased many fold after the advent of the railways and all had to be moved from the railhead to their destination. Until the advent of the internal combustion engine this had to be done by horse drawn transport. Wrigley has estimated that in 1811 there were 1.29 million horses in Britain and by 1901 there were 3.28 million. The percentage used on farms fell from 62 per cent to 46 per cent in 1901indicating the use of horses for haulage purposes.

Perhaps this note relies heavily upon West's evidence to the Royal Commission, but he was Lord Lieutenant of the County and although many of his opinions were reactionary on matters of fact it is probable that he was objective. The Royal Commission was set up by the Gladstonian Government. Sadly, it reported to a Conservative Government and its findings were shelved in 1896. However, in the early decades of the twentieth century many large estates were auctioned in small lots and market forces created the farms we know today.


REFERENCES: Royal Commission on Land in Wales and Monmouthshire 1894-6 Vol. IV (1895), Conclusions (1896); 43 and 44 Victoria cap XLVII, Ground Game Act; Davies D.G., Welsh Agriculture During the Great Depression 1873-1896. (unpublished M. Sc. (Econ) thesis, University of Wales, 1973); Fletcher: A Social and Economic Changes in the Vale of Clwyd during the Railway Era. (unpublished M.Phil. thesis University of Wales, 1991); Anderson M. (Ed), British Population History (C. U. P. 1996); Wrigley E.A., Continuity Chance and change, (C U P 1988); Huttman J.P., ‘British Meat Imports in the Free Trade Era’, Agricultural History, Vol 52 (1978).


RUTHIN is fortunate to have at least some property owners who care for the town's heritage and are prepared to invest heavily in it. For example, Denbighshire County Council is to embark on a major project at the Old Gaol, while townsfolk have already admired the restoration work undertaken by Mr. Gareth Lynch at No: 26 Clwyd Street. Fortunately, thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit and civic consciousness of another local businessman, Mr. Eifion W. Hughes, Crown Cottage in Well Street has been sensitively restored and is now occupied. Mr. Hughes has now purchased Rose Cottage, opposite the Rhos Street primary schools, with a view to restoration.

The present status of both these properties is implied by the label 'Cottage', as opposed to `Plas', for example. While it seems unlikely that either formed the hub of a large estate, yet they were good, sound buildings doubtless occupied by people of some middle status.

Well Street forms part of the core of this ancient town and, happily, some of its oldest houses remain to grace it. One suspects that Crown House, Crown Cottage and Nos: 21 and 23, are among the older properties of Ruthin. Of this group, Crown Cottage seems to be the earliest. Certainly, expert opinion relating to the original Crown Cottage attributes its construction to c.1500. In the late Cl6th or early Cl7th, a first floor and attic rooms were added. Internal evidence of this is plainly visible. The original fenestration was quite different to the present which originated in the Cl9th, but the original windows have survived. The cottage's continued survival, as with most older buildings, can be attributed to its ability to meet continually changing requirements. In the postwar period alone, it has experienced change from residence to office and now back to residence.
It has been suggested that Nos 21 & 23, Well Street were once farm buildings, even though they are now plainly within an urban setting. Clwyd Bank, Clwyd Street, is a parallel example. Likewise, Rose Cottage was for most of its existence in a rural setting and it too may have served an agricultural purpose. Preliminary examination of Rose Cottage has been undertaken by the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, but a more detailed assessment can take place only when work commences on the renovations. Even so, much interesting information has already emerged.

Rose Cottage is described as a late medieval cruck-framed hall house. Even the more prestigious Nantclwyd House began as such. Rose Cottage is a rare and significant example of the few remaining properties of this period surviving in an urban setting. The architectural description of the house states that it was of three bays, a single bay hall and a two-tier rectangular framed wattle and daub walls. It has smoke blackened roof timbers and an early C17th timber framed, wattle and daub fireplace hood. There are three pairs of cruck blades, an original ridge-piece and a complete length of wall-framing. Many internal changes were made in the Cl8th and Cl9th and the thatch roof remains beneath a cladding of corrugated iron sheeting.
An interesting and more recent detail from the late Cl8th or early Cl9th is a section of painted plaster. Not a lot of this has survived, but there appears to have been a floral, hand-painted design with a border consisting of a series of lozenges, dots and a triangular edging. This border is in charcoal on a whitish-grey background, while the floral decoration is in charcoal and red ochre.

The house embodies many characteristics of the medieval period and it is interesting to note that structural similarities were found in the former 'Old Ship Inn' which was demolished in 1967. While the old 'Ship' was apparently a somewhat grander building of higher status, their originally close proximity and similar construction may mean that they were built in roughly the same period. A similar house, in Radnorshire, has been more closely examined and has been dated to 1550. Whether Rose Cottage is quite so early remains to be seen.

Little of the social history of either of these buildings is known at this time. If one may speculate, it seems quite feasible to suppose that Crown Cottage might have formed part of the Thomas Exmewe estate, which was later acquired by Edward Goodman (c.1517). It is quite possible that documents will eventually emerge to throw more light on these ancient properties, and who knows what further architectural examination of Rose Cottage will reveal? In the meantime, it is highly satisfactory that both 'cottages' are in the hands of one who cares passionately about our heritage. Restoration work on Rose Cottage will not commence for a little while yet, but its eventual completion is an exciting prospect. There is plenty of scope for more of this to be done in Ruthin



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS - The Trustees are grateful to Mr Eifion Hughes for his co-operation and production of information about these two important houses in Ruthin.


For more on Rose Cottage see Broadsheet No. 63





This parish church is currently undergoing ‘restoration’ and it is appropriate to publish this account of an earlier restoration – in 1870.

 It was an important day for the parishioners of Llanfwrog when, on Sunday the 24th April 1870, the Bishop of St Asaph reopened their church after it had been closed for extensive restoration. The old box pews had been removed and replaced by those we know today. The oak roof of the nave and chancel had been restored and raised by some eighteen inches. The north aisle was entirely rebuilt, new windows were made and the roof repaired. A new screen was designed and installed. The chancel floor was re-laid with stone and coloured tiles. The church had been in a sad state of dilapidation when the restoration was planned. The architect in charge of the renovation was John Sedding of Park Street, Bristol and the contract to implement his plans was awarded to Clark of Wrexham. Although the Bishop was opening the church all the work to be undertaken had not been completed, - the tower had to be refaced and three new windows had to be made. The tower required capping and a moulded stone parapet built. The lych gates were to be replaced.

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