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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                           Issue No 65 March 2020



Of Ruthin's illustrious sons and daughters, Sir Thomas is one of the most enigmatic. An article by the Reverend Lewis H Y Price MA, which appeared in the 1919 edition of the Journal, Archaeologia Cambrensis, does much to unveil the mysteries of his life. This paper is culled from that article with additional material from other sources.

Fig 1 – Sir Thomas Exmewe.
Lord Mayor of London.

London has been fortunate to have had two of its Lord Mayors from this area, both having had Ruthin connections. The first of these was Sir Thomas Exmewe in 1517 and the second, Sir Thomas Myddelton, in 1613. 



As the `Exmewe' name is not redolent of Welshness, it might be supposed that the family came with the de Greys, either as officials or as purchasers of one or more burgages. They first appear in the records in 1378 when John and his wife Marjory acquired tenements in Murrock township [Llanfwrog] from John le Smythe and his family.

The Exmewe pedigree published by Rev Lewis Pryce shows that Sir Thomas was of the fourth generation of Exmewes to have lived in Ruthin. Sir Thomas's wife, who predeceased him, was Elizabeth and they appear to have had but one daughter, Elizabeth, a nun. There were but few relatives of Exmewe blood and latterly even these were female so that the name died out quite quickly.

Sir Thomas severed his connections with the town in 1518/19, when he sold his estate, which must have been quite considerable, to Edward Goodman, head of another well-known Ruthin family. It has been suggested that this sale was prompted by the need for Exmewe to realise assets as a result of his doubtless considerable expenses as Lord Mayor of London. More probably, he had perhaps decided that his future lay in London.

The emergence of the Goodman name at this stage brings to light a further enigma as there may have been a close link between the two families. Precisely what that connection may have been has not been established with any certainty and his will made no provision for any of the Goodman family.

Little is known of Sir Thomas himself. He was certainly a goldsmith, and on the face of it, a very successful one. One suspects that Sir Thomas spent little time in Ruthin, which is not mentioned in his will, not even a charitable bequest. There are, however, records of his London-based activities as a goldsmith in 1487 and, subsequently, as Lord Mayor. These indicate that he was first an Alderman of London, a position he could not have attained except as an Englishman. This also establishes him as a wealthy man in that Aldermen were required to have assets of at least £1,000. In 1514, and again in 1520, he became Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths' Company.

Thomas was knighted in 1518 at the palace of the Bishop of Durham, near Westminster, during his year of office. The occasion was marked by a great feast given by the Bishop to the King, the Lord Cardinal and other prominent men. Sir Thomas had a water conduit laid near Moregate from `Fynesbury' at his own cost. Later, Hugh Myddelton rather capped that in c.1613 by providing London with a new river as a pure and adequate water supply.

The portrait of Sir Thomas reproduced here [fig. 1], had on its reverse, in white paint, "Sir Thomas Exmew son-in-law to Edw'd Goodman ... " and the date '1517' in chalk. The Goodman pedigree, uncertain though it may be, deals with Edward Goodman's progeny from his marriage to Cicely Thelwall of Plas-y-Ward, in 1525. If Sir Thomas was Edward's son-in-law, then Edward [13:1476] must have had an earlier marriage and even then the dates make that relationship somewhat implausible. Sir Thomas in his will refers to both "Dame Elizabeth, my late wife" and to "Dame Elizabeth Exmewe, Nonne at Dertford." Dame Elizabeth's marriage to Sir Thomas was her second.

A hypothesis advanced by Lewis Pryce was that the term 'son-in-law' would be more correctly interpreted as 'stepson'. Even then, there is no evidence that Exmewe ever was Edward Goodman's son-in-law and, again, the dates seem to render it unlikely.

Sir Thomas' portrait is as intriguing as the subject. Who painted it? How did it come to be in the Goodman's possession? How did it get into Mrs. Brodrick's hands? Lewis Pryce suggested the picture to have been by Holbein, but it is now attributed to the lesser known but very talented John Bettes. The painting is in oils, on oak board and measures just 21" x 17". It is the earliest portrait of a Lord Mayor in the possession of the Corporation.

It is well established that the Exmewe portrait was for many years a Goodman possession and on display at Nantclwyd House, but how this came about is not known. A family relationship, if it existed, would seem to have been a plausible explanation. It could have been acquired by purchase. Whatever the explanation, it seems to have been prized by the Goodmans and Gawen specifically referred to it in his will on bequeathing it with family portraits to his son Edward.

Edward died in 1699 and his daughter Jane was co-heir. Jane married Meredith Wynn of Coed Coch. Nantclwyd House and its contents, including this, other paintings and Goodman memorabilia, passed to the Coed Coch family. Mrs. Laurence Brodrick [née Hughes of Kinmel] married E.W. Lloyd Wynn of Coed Coch in 1892. On the sale of Nantclwyd House in 1925, the pictures with other items were transferred to Coed Coch. Mrs Brodrick [d: c.1929] presented Sir Thomas' picture to the Corporation of London in 1919 and bequeathed the Coed Coch estate and family papers to the National Library of Wales.

A feature of Sir Thomas' portrait, which may throw some light on his life-story, is the armorial painted in the top left of the picture and reproduced as fig. 2. Sir Thomas was the first of his family to bear arms, which were probably granted on his elevation as Lord Mayor of London. The arms feature a 'cheeky' chevron between three escallops, while the border is charged with four leopards' faces and 8 bezants [gold coins or disks]. Heraldic devices are usually symbolic with a particular relevance to the person concerned. Lewis Pryce suggested that the Bezants, and possibly the leopards faces, are a reference to his business as a goldsmith. The significance of the escallops is more elusive. They usually featured in the arms of those who had undertaken long sea journeys, or of crusaders. The Exmewes could not have been crusaders but maybe Sir Thomas traded overseas. He might have undertaken a long, overseas pilgrimage, - perhaps to Santiago de Compostella in Spain where scallop shells were regarded as pilgrims' tokens, or even to the Holy Land.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Denbighshire County Archivist and his staff; the Curator, Guildhall Art Gallery, Corporation of London; Siddons, Development of Welsh Heraldry, Vol. II, p.151; Fox-Davies, Heraldry.


THE SHORT-LIVED magazine, Wales, of the late nineteenth century produced a Heinz-like variety of material, which is not without interest at the present time. Articles which appeared in 1894/5/7 provide glimpses of life in the Vale of Clwyd in the late eighteenth century, a time when great changes were afoot. The first, ‘The Vale of Clwyd A Hundred Years Ago’, was based on material just then published by Hon. Society of Cymmrodorion and throws interesting light on church and school life. The second, ‘The Diocese of Bangor in the Eighteenth Century’, is based upon answers given in response to questions posed for an episcopal visitation in 1776, and complements the first. The Deanery of Dyffryn Clwyd was then, of course, within the diocese of Bangor.


The dissenters had not then made a significant impact on the southern Vale of Clwyd, though its "sleepy parsons" would have heard of Daniel Rowland. Rowland [1713-1790] was an ordained priest who had not then broken with the established church. He was greatly influenced by Griffith Jones of Llanddowror, and became a very influential itinerant preacher. He and Howell Harris worked together to advance the great Methodist Revival but they quarrelled and their ways parted. He was a great and much sought-after preacher and was his son's curate at Llangeitho, - the Mecca of Welsh Methodists, where thousands would attend to hear him preach.


There were a few schools founded by generous benefactors and these, with the occasional sermon, and a little catechising in Lent, provided the only opportunities for education that most ever had.Thus, parish by parish, the following pictures emerge:The curate of LLANDYRNOG, Peter Jones, though he lived at Foxhall five miles away from his parish, was assiduous in pursuing his duties. Curate Jones conscientiously recorded births, deaths and marriages in a book that was already a hundred years old and he had prepared a terrier of church lands. He held two services every Sunday in Welsh, when he preached a sermon, except on sacramental Sundays each month. He catechised the children, in English and in Welsh, in Lent and supplemented this by 'making observations suitable to their capacities'. There was no school of any kind in his parish.


He was keenly aware of Daniel Rowland, 'who travels in a chaise from one farmer's house to another', and was one of the few in this area at least who perceived him as a potential threat. He dreaded his arrival in Llandyrnog. Methodism had, however, already established a foothold as Jones had a Methodist neighbour whom he held in high regard. This was Robert Lloyd of Plas Ashpoole [RLHB. No: 46], owned by Richard Elouet of Glan-y-Wern [RLHB. No: 60]. Other preachers were strangers, mainly from South Wales.Jones reported that he had about two hundred communicants in his parish with no 'papists'.

There were no dissenters either - except possibly for about a dozen Methodists who generally still attended church services. He was vaguely aware of a meeting house in a remote corner of his parish, but had not been able to discover who paid for it. He was rather puzzled by this as most Methodists could scarcely afford to pay the parish rates.

LLANGWYFAN was in the care of Robert Morris, curate, who reported that he had about seventy communicants with only eight to ten Methodists taught by itinerant strangers. He had not detected any increase or decrease in their numbers.

Nearby LLANYCHAN was in the care of the Rector, David Foulkes, who took divine service twice every Sunday in Welsh, and also on holidays when there was a congregation "which happens but seldom". He estimated that there were about thirty five to forty communicants out of a total parish population of only ninety. There were thought to be no dissenters or papists. He administered the sacrament four times every year and he too catechised during Lent in both Welsh and English. Here again there was no school -and no collection was taken in church, as seems to have been the general practice, finance being derived from the church rate.

A curate, Robert Morris, took two services in Welsh each Sunday, and at festivals, at LLANGIVY FAN (presumably when the Rector was not available). He too followed the catechising practice of his colleagues. He was also curate for LLANGYNHAFAL and performed the same services there. There was a congregation of about one hundred at the Easter service but usually only about thirty or forty. Morris knew of no papists or dissenters, but there were six or seven Methodists, taught by itinerants, but he anticipated no increase in their numbers.

Llangynhafal boasted a school of a kind: "There is a small legacy of five pounds a year left this parish by Mrs Williams Wynne of Plas yn Llan, towards teaching twenty poor children to read the Welsh and English languages. It is paid by Mrs Wynne of Ffos. The school does not flourish at present, the mistress of it being old and decrepid [sic]. Her name is Jane Williams."

The vicar of LLANYNYS was Thomas Roberts who lived in his own house about three miles from his church. Here, the registers went as far back as 1626. His Easter congregation amounted to seven or eight score. He knew of no papists or dissenters, though there were a few Methodists whose numbers, he thought, would decrease. Some money had been left for the poor of the parish and this was managed by the vicar and church wardens. There was a small school, supported by voluntary subscriptions under the charge of a mistress named Rutter, where the children were taught English.


To be continued.

PLASDOLBEN Llangynhafal

PLAS DOLBEN, someone has said, was not in the gentry house category. On the other hand, the quality of what remained of the once fashionable interior decoration, and what is known of its early owners, would suggest otherwise. The earliest Plas had 'A' framed trusses. As with so many ancient houses, it evolved over time and it was remodelled probably in the eighteenth century. It was certainly replaced in the 1960s and demolished c.1986. The illustration suggests how it had been extended.


The house, which had not been listed, was demolished before being seen by inspectors of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. Thus, the dates of the construction of either the original or of the 'improvements' are not known for sure.

Wall paintings were discovered during the demolition. There was a 400 years old painted wall-panel hidden behind plaster in a living room. The posts were painted with 'barley twists' with scrolls on the panels themselves. These panels became unfashionable during the C l7th so they were probably covered then.

Two paintings upstairs were of the late 18th century. The first was over a fireplace, - a seascape depicting a man in naval uniform and a man-of-war with three gun decks. The second was also over a fireplace and depicted two seated figures. Unfortunately, it was destroyed, but neither was in good condition and probably not of high artistic quality.

The Dolben, or Doulben, family has long been associated with the Vale of Clwyd. The family arrived in 1503 when Henry VII granted an extensive estate based on Segrwyd, Llanrhaiadr Y.C., to Robert Dolben for his services against the Cornish rebels [Perkin Warbeck] at Blackheath in 1497. Robert is also said to have supported Henry VII at Bosworth in 1485.

The first Dolben associated with Plas Dolben was `Hugh Dolben of Llangynhafal', son of William. Hugh was probably a younger son and, though not heir to the family wealth, he may have been well set-up in making his own way through life as a country gentleman. His position in the Dolben genealogy and his dates, are uncertain. Hugh was Llangynhafal churchwarden in 1667 and his signature appears in the church accounts.

He was a member of Denbighshire's Quarter Sessions in the late Cl7th for he, with Price of Faenol, were guarantors for the whole cost of £30 for the building of Pont Llanychan, 1673/1675.

Hugh's son David [c.1686-c.1749] was educated at Ruthin, as were several Dolbens, then at Magdalene [College, Oxford?]. He became Vicar of Hackney, then a fashionable London suburb, and died as Bishop of Bangor. His memorial is still to be seen at St. John's Church, Hackney.

Plas Dolben was still a Dolben possession in the mid Cl8th. David Dolben's son is quoted in the context of 'a capital messuage lately occupied by David Dolben, clerk, deceased, father of John'. Then four years later, John Dolben of Llangynhafal is mortgaging his property. In 1760, there was a post nuptial settlement in respect of John, possibly David's son.

There is an intriguing note relating to John and Elizabeth Hughes of Plas Draw in the 1760s. A post nuptial settlement of 1760 could relate to the marriage of John of Plas Draw. At about this time, John and Elizabeth's daughter, Judith, married Thomas Davies of Bonnington and Plas Dolben was sold, with other property, in 1792 to Thomas Davies of Plas Draw [RLHB No: 47]. Land tax records of 1797 suggest that Thomas Davies "of Plas Draw, gent." was the owner and a William Evans the occupier. The same records for 1829 reveal that Thomas Davies was still proprietor with an Edward Williams in occupation. The census of 1851 show that an Edward Williams, J.P., was resident with a quite substantial household of five servants. There is a record of a Robert Davies of Plas Dolben who died on the 24th February 1869 and of a Sarah Ann Davies, spinster, of Plas Dolben, who died 4th March 1890. John Davies was granted probate in 1895.

"Country Quest" of December 1987 published an account of the adventures of a remarkable owner of Plas Dolben of 1910. Edward Jones of Sinet Farm, Llanfair D.C., left for the Klondyke, Alaska in 1904. After surviving gruelling hardships, Edward made some money and returned home, then at Lletty Farm, Llangynhafal - with every intention of returning to Alaska. He was prevailed upon to stay and Plas Dolben was purchased with the proceeds of his gold mining.


SOURCES: Denbighshire Record Office: Galltfaenan MSS., Wynnstay MSS., John Lloyd MSS; Dictionary of Welsh Biography; Dictionary of National Biography; Denbighshire Free Press; Chirk Castle Accounts; J.E. Griffiths, Pedigrees..., [1914]; " Iona Pierce & E.G. Fowler, Llangynhafal - A Parish and its Past", (1983); Williams, Powys Fadog; Ancient & Modern Denbigh, 1856; David Mander, "St. John of Hackney -The Story of a Church",; Reports of Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments, Aberystwyth; Keith Thompson, Ruthin School; David Hooson,  "Segrwyd Hall and Estate; Denbigh & Its Past, 1988/9; thanks also to Miss Maude Jones 0.B E., Mr. Gwilym Lloyd, former residents of Plas Dolben, and to Mrs Iona Pierce, Plas Dolben for their assistance.


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