top of page

RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                Issue No 68 December 2001

We are indebted to the late P. D. Randall for bringing to our attention the journals of Richard Symonds, who was a trooper in the Royalist Lifeguards. Not only that, he was in the first troop of the Lifeguards manned entirely by gentlemen and commanded by Lord Bernard Stuart the King's cousin and younger brother of the Duke of Richmond. The second troop, consisted of their servants and was under the command of Sir William Killigrew. There were eighty men in the first troop and the sum of their annual income was estimated at £100,000. If this was the case then Symonds was at the poorer end of the scale, his income being £100 p.a. It was an extremely prestigious role, for the first troop were responsible for the monarch's safety and usually preserved from the hurly-burly of battle. Where the King went so did the first troop. 


Who was Richard Symonds? He was a squire of a small estate in Essex, a staunch Royalist in a Parliamentary area. A devoted member of the relatively new Church of England. It is claimed he was imprisoned by the Parliamentarian, Miles Corbett, in March 1643, but escaped in the October. His estate was sequestrated and so he had no option but to head north and join the King’s forces. He was fortunate to be appointed a trooper in the first troop of the Lifeguards. This was easily the equivalent of a commission in a Regiment of the Line. He was scholarly, a trained Chancery civil servant, and recorded what he saw and heard. Passionately interested in ancient buildings he described their appearance and condition before sacrilegious atrocities were committed by the Parliamentarians.

These were the subject matter of a four-volume journal which contain a great deal more than antiquarian impressions. They often gave detailed military information of the enemy, giving the impression that Symonds was perhaps a little more than a trooper in a distinguished company. Perhaps at times his eye for detail was used for scouting purposes by the High Command.
Why then should he be considered in the Broadsheet? Newcome in his Castle and the Town of Ruthin gives a detailed account of the Lordship of Ruthin during the war and the destruction of the castle afterwards. This, unlike many Victorian histories, is based on primary sources and is therefore a reliable document. However, Symonds was with the King in North Wales and events after the King left Denbigh are of particular interest.

Before moving to Symonds description of events in North Wales, an event in the West Country is of particular interest. The date in the journal was Wednesday 7th August 1644 and to quote:

Wednesday his Majestie with his army went to Brodock Downe or Heath, the place where the Lord of Ruthin Grey [Grey de Ruthyn] was beate in Cornwall: this was within three myles of Essex his headquarters, being at Liskerd, where wee watch on horseback...

It is perhaps a little odd that a century after the de Greys had lost the Lordship of Ruthin they were still associating themselves with the town. It may be of course, that in the event of a Royalist victory they hoped for the restoration of the Lordship,
The battle of Naseby is considered by many to be the focal point of the Civil War when finally the Parliamentary forces defeated the King. After this he and his retinue wandered through the Welsh Marches without any particular strategy. However, Norman Tucker suggested that the final blow to the King was the Battle of Rowton Moor, just outside the walls of Chester. Symonds troop was involved in this battle, which by the ineptitude of the Generals, resulted in a severe defeat. Symonds reports that twenty of the King's Own troop were taken prisoner. The King then marched westwards to Hawarden castle where he stayed the night. He marched on to Denbigh where he met Col. William Salesbury 'Old Blue Stockings,' as he was affectionately named. Salesbury held the castle until 26th October 1646. Then, he was permitted by the King to surrender and left the castle with full military honours. After marching out of Denbigh castle with a great deal of panache he stayed in fairly humble isolation in Betws Gwerfyl Goch until times again became sympathetic to the Royalist cause.

Now reverting to Symonds, he stated that after the visit to Denbigh they rendezvoused at Gyffylliog. It is difficult to imagine the King in this tiny and remote hamlet. This was on the Saturday, 27th September 1645. Here he had to realise the effects of the defeat of Rowton Moor. Twenty of his personal bodyguard had been lost and nine hundred prisoners taken to Nantwich. On the next day he went to the garrison church of St. Hilary. After the sermon they marched through Ruthin en route for Chirk. It was here that Princes Maurice and Rupert met them with six to seven hundred horses.

Symond's journals are a miscellany of information, sometimes a straightforward diary of events at others interspersed with military and architectural data. And so, with Ruthin. The question arises whether he stopped for a while in Ruthin. This is very doubtful. It was more probable that he visited St. Peter's Ruthin when under command of Sir William Vaughan. In October at Newark the King made Sir William Vaughan 'General of the Horse' for the counties of Salop, Wigorn (sic), Stafford, Hereford, North and South Wales. Clearly, the King left his escort at Chirk for Sir William came to Chirk and marched them to Llanynys where he stayed in Mr. Thelwall's house. Symonds writes of this:
'In the chamber window-old
Gules a spoonbill argent, legged sable.
Argent, a bugle-horn sable, stringed.
Gules on a chevron between three boar's heads couped argent, as many trefoils sable "THELWALL."




The commemorative plaque located on the frontage of Siop Nain has been replaced with a tablet of Welsh slate provided and engraved by Mr. D.R. Vallance of Clwyd Street. The plaque marks the first publication of the Welsh national anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in 1860.

The project was initiated and partly financed by The Ruthin Local History Group with substantial assistance from Mr. Colin Davies, proprietor of Siop Nain and from The Coelion Trust, publishers of this and other local history papers.

RUTHIN GRAMMAR SCHOOL and the Schools Inquiry Commission
The Wrexham Guardian reported at the beginning of April, 1870 that special reports on endowed schools in north Wales had been presented to parliament. These provide an interesting picture of some of the oldest and more important schools in north Wales.

Of these, Ruthin Grammar School was one of the more prominent. The assistant commissioner seems to have been reasonably well impressed and expressed the view that this school should continue as a classical grammar, as indicated in the original letters patent granted by Elizabeth I, - which have survived to this day. These statutes provided for the payment of certain fees except for those born in the parish of Llanelidan. Gabriel Goodman, Dean of Westminster, and local benefactor was instrumental in securing this important charter. The total number of boys was limited to 120. The rules for the management of the school had been brought up to date by Act of Parliament in 1863.

At the time of the visit, there were only 30 pupils and this was thought to be attributable to the fact that local parents wished their boys to have a more commercial education, even though some trades people and professionals had seen the advantages of a classical education for their sons. The second reason mooted was that the school had been the subject of a great deal of feuding on the political scene and also as a result of bad feeling between the Warden of Christ's Hospital, Ruthin at that time, Rev J. Buckley Jones, and a former headmaster, probably the Rev. Edward Barnwell. It was said that the late headmaster had refused to take boarders. It was these disputes that probably inspired the assistant commissioner's comments on the appointment and dismissal of a headmaster and his assistant staff. However, the school governors were then making new regulations with regard to staff matters, though this was to remain in the hands of the head, subject to their consent.
The school was very fortunate to have exhibitions to the value of £173 to award to pupils gaining university places. This was derived from mines on trust property, probably in Llanberis, although these were not yet being worked, and so it was anticipated that future royalties would boost their value.

The school premises were adversely criticized, but the Inspector was optimistic as to future education standards, following the appointment of the new headmaster. It is interesting to note that the original Goodman statutes stipulated that no Welsh should be spoken at the school and that all boys should be able on admission to speak at least some English. There were nearly five months of holiday in the year, but only two half-day holidays each week.


One of the largest employers in Ruthin for several years was the mineral water manufacturers known as Ellis's, in Mwrog Street. It is sad that this family business has disappeared almost without trace and the Ellis family, if it survives at all, has lost its connection with the town. It is a matter of profound regret that no collection of papers or records relating to the business whatsoever has survived.

Soft drinks first became popular in the seventeenth century and were then simply a mixture of water, lemon juice and honey. Joseph Priestly introduced carbonation in 1772 and the first carbonated water is believed to have been produced in Manchester by a Thomas Henry. Jacob Schweppe, a jeweller of Geneva, developed and sold carbonated soft drinks, first in Geneva and then in London. By about 1820, the industry had developed and a wider range of products became available, with Coca Cola being invented in 1886. 

                                                                             View of Works in 1837, taken from Ruthin Guide, 1909












Thus, Mr. Robert Ellis of Ruthin, in founding his business in 1825 can be regarded as one of the pioneers. He made his first appearance in a local trade directory in 1828/9 where he was described as a druggist in the Market Place. He next appeared in 1840 as a manufacturing chemist and soda water manufacturer of Mwrog Street and then as a soda water manufacturer in Slater's directory of 1850.
It would appear that Robert's son, Richard Gregson Ellis [1825-1879], was responsible for enlarging the business on the sound foundations laid by his father. He is credited with having erected the main buildings, with their two entrances, on the site

Richard G. Ellis followed his father's example in serving the local community. Robert, the founder, was Ruthin's Mayor in 1855 and Richard became Mayor of the Borough for four terms. He laid the foundation stone of the present town hall in 1863. It was on Richard's initiative, as Captain R.G. Ellis of the Volunteers, with the support of his brother Lieutenant Saxon G. Ellis, that the Drill Hall in Borthyn was built in 1885. He also witnessed the opening Of the Ruthin-Corwen section of the Vale railway. Politically, Richard was a staunch conservative, chairing the local committee formed to promote the election of the Hon. G.T. Kenyon as representative of the Denbighshire Boroughs in parliament.


View of works, 1907 showing building with arches which has survived in modified form. Taken from “Borough” Guide, 1909


Clearly, the family had arrived and was enjoying social and commercial success, not to mention prosperity.The firm distributed its products 'world-wide' and was patronised by royalty. Indeed, while on one of his visits to Ruthin Castle, the Prince of Wales was presented with a copy of The History of Table Waters, in which, one imagines, the family firm would have featured prominently. The family home was at Plas Newydd [RLHB No: 3] and there were four sons, Charles James Gregson, Richard George, Saxon Gregson, and William. Charles became a barrister at Lincoln's Inn while the other sons remained in the family business.                         

New premises were opened on 19th July 1866 with a great deal of pomp and circumstance, and with the band of the Ruthin Volunteers. The occasion was marked by a commemorative Caen stone plaque which carried the firm's goat trade mark encircled by the garter and the motto "Cymru am Byth". The architect was a Mr. David Walker of Liverpool and the work had been carried out by a direct labour force under the supervision of James MacDowell, clerk of works. John Jenkins, the Mayor, was handed a silver trowel for presentation to Master Richard George Ellis who, with the assistance of his brothers Charles and William, ceremonially placed the commemorative stone.

The main building was surmounted by an octagonal pigeon tower on top of which was a decorative weather vane. On the ground floor were offices and accommodation for their import and export trade. Hampers were made on the first floor, and Ellis's grew their own willow for the purpose. This floor, and the floor above, was also used for storage. There was accommodation for bottle washing and an adjoining room held 'engines' for the filling of the cleaned bottles. This room seems to have been known as 'the syrup kitchen', the scrupulous cleanliness of which, together with the virtues of Ruthin's waters, were extolled. A wider range of products then included carbonated soda, potass, lithia, Seltzer Water, and champagne lemonade.

Less than twelve months later, in May 1867, the Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald reported the opening of further extensions with some emphasis given to the newly acquired Royal warrant. The firm invested heavily in equipment and scientific skills and machinery played an increasingly important part in production. For example, the bottling machine was operated by a treadle. A tap would be turned to fill the bottle, a cork inserted, and a lever pulled to push the cork into place. Originally, the cork was inserted by hand, then struck with a mallet and finally secured with wire. It was claimed that an expert could deal with two thousand five hundred bottles each day. However, in view of the high pressures involved, the procedure was not without risk even though the bottles were between ¼" or ½" thick. Many new bottles were required annually.

The 'carbonic gas', a vital ingredient, was manufactured in situ. This was done by mixing chalk with water to the consistency of a thick cream which was then poured into a large leaden retort. A large leaden bottle containing sulphuric acid was attached and the acid was added to the chalk. The resultant gas was then piped to a large gasholder ready for use.

Bottle washing involved twelve steam brushes which completed 1,100 revolutions per minute. The machinery room housed four 'beautiful' machines. The first prepared sparkling champagne lemonade and ginger beer. Other products emerged from the other machines, one of which had two highly polished reservoirs of bell metal for the production of a superior soda water.

The motive force behind the machinery was, of course, steam and a new horizontal engine, by Hayward, Tyler & Co. of London, and a separate boiler had been installed. There was also a supplementary beam engine. The tall chimney was a prominent local landmark. The Chambers Journal reported that this was the most extensive manufactory (presumably of mineral water—ed.) in the kingdom. Production was said to be in the region of many thousand gross of beverages per year. These were not one-off investments and the press from time to time carried reports of further modernisation and mechanisation.

Some 100 people were employed under the supervision of Isaac Jones. The labour force was said to enjoy security and good wages and, indeed, it does seem that there was a paternalistic interest in the employees, who were given an 'Annual Holiday'. There is a press report of 1901 that all employees had the day off with their day's wages plus another unspecified 'substantial sum'. Special trains took them to Liverpool, Manchester or Rhyl. Again, in 1902, Isaac Jones was presented with 'a handsome piece of plate' on his completion of 50 years service. In October, 1919, The Free Press reported on the amicable relations that existed between staff and management in times of industrial unrest elsewhere. There was then an eight-hour day with a monthly distribution of profits and a week's paid annual holiday.

Mr Saxon Gregson Ellis, J.P., managing director of the firm, lived at Plas Clough, Denbigh. His son, Lt. Philip, attained his majority in August, 1919 and the workforce subscribed towards a presentation gold wrist watch. Reciprocally, the works were closed for the day and the staff given the day off.

The firm survived the first world war but it eventually succumbed to twentieth century commercial pressures and was eventually taken over by Jewsbury and Brown of Manchester [c.1930] and, subsequently, by other concerns too. None of these survived for very long and eventually most of the buildings on the site were cleared [c.1980] to make way for housing. Only one of the original structures with quite fine arches has remained to be adapted as housing accommodation. The site of the all-important artesian well not only survives but has been attractively identified and preserved for posterity.   



SOURCES: Encyclopaedia Britannica; Ruthin Illustrated Magazine; Caernarvon & Denbigh Herald; Denbighshire Free Press; "Notes & Transcripts", Denbighshire Record Office; Pigot's Trade Directories.

See also postscript in Edition 70

See also on this website: Ruthin's Mineral Water Industry



bottom of page