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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                Issue No 67 September 2001










                                                                                                     RE-OPENING OF ST. PETER'S CHURCH, RUTHIN.
                                                                                            contemporary newspaper cutting, ack: National Library of Wales

The cultural objection was to the replacing of the box pews with the open pine ones which we see today. Box pews represented a great deal more than a seat in church. They were above all a status symbol. The position, size and quality of the pew were all important. For example, the pew for the Myddelton family was next to the altar. One may recall that the Myddeltons owned the Lordship of Ruthin until the nineteenth century. In theory then, after the restoration had been completed there were to be no privileged pews.  One cannot overestimate the importance of box pew allocation.  This could, and did on occasions, involve not only the Warden but the Bishop, church wardens and solicitors.

These two streams of objections, one mainly consisting of dissenters, the other the middle class of Ruthin banded together in an element of discontent that was conveyed to West [Frederick Richard West of Ruthin Castle and the largest property owner in the town and district] at his Eaton Square home in London. The most influential man in Ruthin after West was his agent, F.W. Smith. West was dismayed and annoyed at the discord in the town. In a letter to Smith, he conveyed his annoyance in no uncertain terms. Smith's whole status in the town depended upon his relationship with the Castle and when faced with West's displeasure he had no option but to quell the discontent. A public meeting was called and this was chaired by West's friend and confident, James Maurice. Smith allowed the great and the good of the town to harangue about the proposed changes. Barnwell, headmaster of the Grammar School, spoke against the proposed alterations. Barnwell was influential in the town, wealthy in his own right, and in addition there was the trade the Grammar School brought to the town. Still Smith waited. Maurice who must have known of West's displeasure would have been wondering what tactics Smith had in mind. At last Smith nodded and Maurice called upon him. With all the pomposity of a Victorian manager he read out the pertinent points of West's letter. To reassure the dissidents, West had pledged to underwrite the cost of renovations and by implication there would be no rise in the church rate. He also stated in the letter that he and other Anglicans did not interfere with the affairs in the dissenting chapels, and he expected them not to interfere with church matters. This was a veiled threat, for the West family were tolerantly generous to many nonconformist pleas for financial assistance. As for the pews, Ruthin must move with the times.

One imagines that one could have heard a pin drop. The Castle, the mainstay of the economy of the town, the major landowner for miles around, had issued an edict. For an instance there was silence, then one after another they stood up and agreed with Smith and proposed a vote of thanks to Mr. West. Although West disclaimed any privileged seating, it might be noted that two pews in the south nave have his initials carved upon them.

The physical changes to the church were quite breathtaking. Prior to the restoration, the church was dark and gloomy. Daylight had difficulty in penetrating the nave, being blocked by the galleries and the high box pews. The contentious pine pews gave an ambience of light and space. The organ, built by Henry Bolton of 47 Lord Street, Edgehill, Liverpool had been painted in Albert blue and gold. For the occasion of the opening of the church after restoration it had been especially tuned. It was a nice touch, that amongst all the pomp of the opening service the organist was W.J. Roberts, a talented pupil teacher at Borthyn School.

On a cold, stormy, wet Tuesday in November 1859 the church was reopened with all the usual display of pomp that one associates with the Victorians. With the rain being driven by a strong wind, undeterred, the Mayor and Corporation assembled at the County Hall to go in procession to the church. They were followed by the Almsmen from Dean Goodman's houses. They had all been provided with new gowns for the occasion. Following them were the church choir and then came twelve members of the clergy including two Bishops. Finally bringing up the rear were the vergers. As they entered the restored church, Roberts commenced playing the 63rd Psalm. The second verse of which reads: 'So have I looked upon thee in the sanctuary, To see thy power and thy glory.' The service rumbled on. One shudders at the concept of three sermons, but our forebears must have been made of grim determination.

Long after the opening, the controversy dragged on, the spire being the subject of much criticism. However, the contentious issue of the pews was not raised again. To eliminate the ill feeling of the church rate the Wests later gave a field to the church. The income from this was to compensate for the income from the rates. Those attending the church would provide additional funds on a voluntary basis.

Although authoritarian, the Wests managed to rule [and] govern Ruthin during the bitterly divided nineteenth century with a great deal of paternal wisdom.





Owen Owens [RLHB No: 50], curate of LLANFAIR D.C., lodged at a farmhouse and presided over a parish that was ill at ease. Even so, about two hundred and fifty had participated in the Easter communion service, although the usual Sunday number was only about twenty. He knew of no papists or dissenters, although there were about three or four Methodists whose teacher was Joseph Jones. There was also a Chapel of Ease, JESUS CHAPEL, at Llanbenwch, between Llanfair D.C. and Llysfasi, which had been consecrated in about 1600, but there was to be no singing, marrying or christening within it. The master was to keep the chapel and the house in repair, to keep school, to read prayers twice a week, and to teach twelve children. (Davies, Vale of Clwyd) The house and land was valued at ten pounds per annum and there was a charge of £6.13.4d. on the Eyarth Ucha [RLHB No: 41] estate, which was paid annually to the master. Owen Owens reported "One John Price, a layman, has read some time in it but was excommunicated for contempt of court when presented for so doing. I have been appointed a curate of it by its trustees, but the doors are nailed up and I have been denied admittance."

The rector of LLANELIDAN, Robert Conway, originally of Plas-yn-Llan, Efenechtyd [RLHB No: 29], reported that he did not reside in the "small, little cottage" belonging to the living. He lived at the rather grand Llwyn Ynn in Llanfair. He could ride home to dinner after morning service, he said, on the shortest day in winter, and get back by early afternoon. There was no school. Conway estimated that as many as three hundred and fifty had attended his Easter communion service. He had neither papists nor dissenters of any description.

DERWEN was in the curacy of David Ellis who enjoyed preaching every Sunday and in catechising the children in the afternoons. There were usually about fifty communicants at his monthly sacraments but some two hundred and sixty had attended at Easter. There were no papists or dissenters of any kind in his parish.

Nearby EFENECHTYD was not nearly so fortunate being then ill-served by a William Parry, a schoolmaster who lived at Denbigh. There was little preaching, no catechising and no school. Parry reported that his usual attendance for the administration of the holy sacrament was about fifty to sixty and this was also the number of those who had attended his Easter services. There were no papists or dissenters, but Robert Parry and his wife, who had taken a farm in this parish a few years previously, generally go on Sunday evenings to hear itinerant preachers at Pont Uchel 'where there is a Methodist chapel lately erected.'

D.R. Thomas, in his History of the St. Asaph Diocese, does not, generally, list curates, and makes no reference to Parry. He lists Edward Williams as the incumbent at the time of the 1776 visitation. Williams' successor is noted as being John Pierce from 1778, so presumably Robert Parry covered an inter-regnum between Williams and Pierce. Both of these gentlemen were 2nd masters at Ruthin Grammar School and illustrate what seems to have been a fairly close relationship between this little church and the grammar school.

Similarly, William Sutton who lived in Ruthin was supposed to serve CLOCAENOG but in fact seems to have done little or nothing for his parish. He did report to the Bishop, however, that about thirty or forty attended his usual Sunday services and that there had been as many as one hundred and sixty at Easter. He knew of no papists or dissenters and, surprisingly, reported that there were very few Methodists 'and no teacher at all'. It is very surprising indeed that Sutton makes no reference to the simmering of Methodism in his adjoining parish and this seems to reinforce the implication that he may have lacked commitment to his task.

LLANRHAIADR enjoyed the services of a resident curate, Hugh Williams, who reported an average attendance of about sixty communicants each month. However, at Easter, over six hundred had attended. He had no papists or dissenters in his parish, though there were a few "so-called Methodists" all of whom attended church.

This parish too had almshouses for four old men and four old women. This had been founded by a Mrs. Jones of Llanrhaiadr Hall with Sir William Bagot and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn as trustees. Llanrhaiadr was therefore relatively well served for there was also a voluntary school, not very well kept, by one Rice Lloyd, who sought to teach boys and girls to read both English and Welsh.

Comment was made about the Vale's agricultural richness. Here, it was said, land was let for £3 per acre and the rich soil effortlessly produced sixteen times more than was required to feed the inhabitants. As for Ruthin itself, controversial comments were made, which indicate how far progress has been made in the intervening two plus centuries. On the Square, it was said, was located "a black and disagreeable town hall ... (which) disgusted the eye of the traveller." The castle was said to be a heap of ruins nearly level with the ground, a statement which tends to lend doubt to the credibility of its author. Even today parts of the ruins of the original thirteenth century structure stand tall.

There was said to be no school in the whole of the Ruthin district, except for one kept by an old man or woman unfit for anything else. The author went on to say that Ruthin people were indolent, fond of fairs and gatherings, illiterate and superstitious, but not unhappy. Further evidence, it must be said, of that author's total lack of judgement. Throughout the Vale, church bells tolled at nine every morning and again at three for evening prayer. He went on to state that the comfortable Anglican routine was enlivened only occasionally by a stray Methodist preacher. He would attract a few who would wend their way to the place where he took his stand to preach only to be rewarded by a cascade of rotten eggs.



ADDITIONAL SOURCES: Dictionary of Welsh Biography.

DERWEN and Graiglelo, Gwyddelwern

It is always difficult to reconcile the present with one's perception of the past, particularly in the case of a small community, where few monuments and little other evidence have survived. Derwen is a case in point. There are no vast estates owned by prestigious families and thus no estate records or muniments. But there are clues and ancient documents, many genealogical, which authors of such works as A History of Powys Fadog have presented. Again, there are place names of ancient origin, but how far can one read into these?

The control of Derwen's destiny passed through the hands of several magnates in the pre-Norman and post-conquest periods. The fact that administrative boundaries did not change significantly following Edward’s conquest helps to trace this community’s fortunes.  It fell within the commote of Coelion within the Maerdref, and subsequent Lordship, of Ruthin.  The Maerdref fell within the diocese of Bangor probably because the Bishops of Bangor held land there, though mainly in the adjoining commote of Llannerch. The feudal owners of Derwen and its townships would seem to have been the Lords of Dyffryn Clwyd, whose interests sometimes extended into Maelor, Tegeingl, and even Ial although their dominance over these might be said to have been 'fluid'.

One of Derwen's most significant lords was Eunydd, Lord of Dyffryn Clwyd. Eunydd married Eva, descendant of Llewelyn Aurdarchog [fl. 1135], Lord of Ial.  Dyffryn Clwyd and its seven manors, including Derwen Anial, passed to his second son Heilyn. He and his descendants had their residences and sepulchres at Llandderfel - another of his seven manors. These included Gwyddelwern and Y Saeth Marchog, also in Coelion.  Some six generations later, there appeared one 'Llolo' of Plas Llolo.  Plas Llolo has disappeared from the map, but could this have been transmuted into 'Plas Lelo' which has survived? Another six generations later, one 'Hugh' gave his son the surname 'Hughes of Dyffryn Clwyd'. Subsequent descendants, many of whom seem to have become people of rank and importance, settled far and wide and their pedigree appears in J. E. Griffiths as "The Hughes of East Bergholt, Suffolk."

The very name Derwen yn Ial, or Derwen Anial as it later came to be known, reflects the Ial connection. D.R. Thomas suggests that 'Anial' is the Welsh word for 'desolate' or 'wild' but it might be more feasible to suggest that the name originated with Llewelyn Aurdarchog [fl. 1135], Lord of Ial, especially as its derivation can be tracked through the written record.

One of the earliest fragments from the Celtic era is perhaps the continued existence of what is purported to have been the main north-south Wales route.  It was used both by the usual travellers and was also popular with pilgrims making their way to and from St. David’s, Bardsey and St. Winfred’s at Holywell.  This early highway threaded its way through the parish of Derwen, from the parish of Efenechtyd, to Clawddnewydd, onto Bettws Gwerfyl Goch and on through Bala.  This section of the route is a narrow, unclassified road still in use today and is flanked by a Celtic survival – a Holy Well, viz., Ffynnon Sarah, rescued from desolation some twenty-five years ago by Rev. Percy Cooke.  The name 'Sarah' is thought to have emerged from 'Saeran' the Celtic saint reputed to have brought Christianity to the southern Vale of Clwyd.  Nearby is a farm Pyllau Perl with remains of an ancient building said once to have formed part of a now lost Church.

While Derwen did not feature prominently in the internecine struggles of the Welsh princes, nevertheless it fell within the territories under contention. It witnessed the comings and goings of princes and chiefs. Tradition has it that Henry II, during his disastrous campaign of 1165, led his armies, battered firstly at the Battle of Crogen in Edeyrnion and then by appalling winter weather, through Derwen en route to Rhuddlan where he spent Christmas.

From its lofty position on the northern slopes of the valley, Derwen overlooks Bryn Saith Marchog ['Hill of the Seven Knights'] where Reginald de Grey, Lord of Dyffryn Clwyd, was reputedly captured and held to ransom.

Derwen Church, dedicated to St. Mary, is another clue. It is possessed of many valuable features suggestive of a certain pedigree for the area, and its age takes us back to the middle distance of human experience.  Perhaps to the Cl6th, perhaps earlier. Likewise, there are some houses of ancient origin, of cruck construction (e.g. Coed Foel), or bearing a 'Plas' label, e.g., Plas Lelo of uncertain age.

Plas Lelo gives rise to speculation that it once belonged to Jesus College, Oxford. The Thelwalls of Plas-y-Ward [Rhewl, near Ruthin] came into possession of land at Derwen, including Plas Lelo, through marriage and Eubule Thelwall was Principal and benefactor of Jesus College, Oxford, from 1621-1630.  Then follows a period of unchronicled history and much later, in the Cl9th. and perhaps earlier, a natural resource was discovered and exploited. This was good quality stone, more than just limestone for agricultural purposes but of a quality sufficiently fine to attract widespread interest. This would probably have been Graiglelo.

The stone was much prized for sharpening surgical and other instruments, the cutting edge of the technology of the time. Such was its quality, it was sometimes described as 'marble', and used as such.

A major development occurred in 1922, as reported in the Denbighshire Free Press of 29th April of that year and large scale production began. The Graiglelo Quarry Co., Ltd., had just been registered at Graiglelo Farm in the parish of Gwyddelwern. Negotiations had begun in the previous June, by E.J. Harber of Birmingham. Graiglelo Farm was then in the ownership of a Mr.  Gomer Richards and comprised 100 acres with several other properties. The name `Graiglelo' suggests that the farm may have formed part of Plas Lelo, to the east of Derwen.

A major advantage was the adjoining Ruthin-Corwen railway [The London and North Western Railway], to which the new company had 600 yards of frontage.  There was space enough for sidings to accommodate some 50 wagons.
Production of crushed stone was the mainstay and plant with a capacity of 300 tons per day was installed. Some stone was made into tarmacadam and it was planned to manufacture concrete products, - paving flagstones, reinforced concrete sewer tubes, etc.

The new company was very much Birmingham based. Both the company secretary and solicitor were Birmingham men and their registered offices were there too. The Manager and Managing Director was Mr. C.D. Pochin, formerly assistant manager of the Croft Granite Quarries in Leicestershire. Mr. Pochin became well-known in the area and it is understood that he claimed credit for the invention of 'catseyes', that aid to road users at night or in fog. There were other claimants for this invention and there was litigation at the time.

The quarry was a most welcome development in view of the incidence of high unemployment. Already, it was joyfully reported, a large number of men had been taken on for preliminary development work and there was great optimism for the creation of still more employment as development progressed.

By now, however, quarrying has ceased, the railway has disappeared, but the site still provides bases for several small industrial concerns. Quarrying inevitably left scars, but nature is now blending them into the landscape



SOURCES: Powys Fadog, Vols IV, VI; ‘Derwen’ - an unpublished school project by Tudor Jones; Edward Hubbard, Buildings of Clwyd, Penguin/University of Wales Press, 1986; D.R. Thomas, History of the Diocese of St. Asaph; Griffith's Pedigrees; William Davies, Handbook for the Vale of Clwyd, , ed. Clwyd County Council, 1988; RCAHM.





It is difficult to appreciate the tension and anger the plans to renovate St. Peter's church caused during the 1850s and beyond. The two main points of contention were cultural and financial. The latter is simple to explain. In the countryside the Church was funded by tithes, while in the towns the money was not raised by voluntary collections as is the custom today, but as a Church rate on each property. This was a roughly equitable method during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the vast majority of the townsfolk worshipped in the Anglican church. By the nineteenth century however, the pendulum of religious belief in Wales had swung and the majority of the inhabitants of Ruthin were nonconformists, albeit the largest percentage of the rates was paid by the Anglicans. This was simply because they represented the wealthier section of the population. Nevertheless, the fear, the perception, many held, was that the renovations would increase the resented church rate.

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