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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                             Issue No 69 March 2002


RUTHIN CASTLE has fulfilled several roles over eight centuries, from dominant fortress to picturesque ruin and gentleman's desirable residence. More recently, it was enlarged and injected with a new lease of life as the rather exclusive Duff House Clinic. The very name 'Duff House' may strike an unfamiliar note in local Welsh ears but it does in fact have a Celtic ethos.


Duff House Clinic has Scottish origins and came into being in 1913 at Banff, on the coast north of Aberdeen. Ruthin and Banff have a long history with some common ground. Edward I, infamous as 'Hammer of the Scots' (not to mention Wales) stayed at the royal castle at Banff after the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. Some centuries later, a local family, Duff, became powerful and wealthy. William Duff, first Earl of Fife, built Duff House near to the old castle, at a cost of £70,000. A descendant, in 1906, presented the house and 140 acres to the burghs of Banff and Macduff. A little later, in 1913, the house became a private hospital which built-up a sound reputation. However, there were problems at Banff. Firstly, its financial base was not sufficiently strong being located so far from any major centre of population. It was also felt that the old house would not adapt as an ideal hospital even if difficulties of securing a long lease could have been overcome. 

Thus, in 1923, the clinic moved to Ruthin as "The Duff Sanatorium", which later became "Ruthin Castle Clinic, Ltd.". The West's former mansion provided accommodation for reception, consultation, administration, with pathology and other laboratories and about twelve rooms for patients. Two new wings, designed on the basis of experience gleaned at Banff, provided 45 en-suite rooms for patients, with kitchens, X-ray and other facilities. Their advertising made much of the natural splendours of the local environment, - the castle grounds, the scenery, the air, and the opportunities for walks, - all were extolled.


The octagonal flag tower at the castle is an interesting feature and it was here that the laboratories and a dispensary were located – at a price. The Free Press of 1918 carried a report about the room that became the dispensary. This was said to be thirty ft. in diameter and approached by a spiral staircase. The walls, 1,350 sq. ft. in extent, from floor to ceiling, had been painted in oils by a Mr. W.H. Buxton of St. Asaph, with forest scenery, landscapes, pools and rocks. The entrance door had been disguised as a ruined sandstone archway overgrown with ivy. This work had been commissioned to provide a backcloth to a poetic legend given by Mrs. George Cornwallis West as a recitation. Unfortunately, this striking feature was lost when the walls were covered by cupboards.

It was also said that a golf course was under construction, though both local clubs were already in existence at that time. It would appear, however, that Duff House had closer links with the Pwllglas course. Several members of staff became key members of that club and, indeed, one grateful patient funded the original portion of the present club house in 1935. Another wealthy patient funded the construction of Scott House in the castle grounds in 1931 to provide accommodation for the many nurses.

Dr Edmund Spriggs, knighted (awarded KCVO) in 1935, was Senior Physician at Duff House, Banff, in 1923 and later at Ruthin Castle, earning for himself a distinguished reputation. Born in Leicestershire in 1871, and educated at Market Harborough Grammar School, he graduated with honours in 1896 at Guy's Medical School. On leaving school he had intended to become a dentist. He undertook research at Heidelberg and later took up a post as Physician at St. George's Hospital, becoming Dean of its Medical School. He did a great deal of writing and lecturing, both here and in the USA.

He was unfortunate in his personal life. He first married in 1905, and he suffered prolonged ill-health in 1910/11 and in 1930. There were four children from this marriage, the two eldest being daughters. In 1919, both daughters, aged 13 and 11, were involved in a bathing tragedy at Banff and drowned. His wife died in 1932.

His second marriage took place in 1936 and by this time his two sons had themselves become doctors. By then, Sir Edmund was well-known and his advice much sought by royalty and leading personalities of the day. He contributed, however, to a much wider arena than the medical and made important contributions to diverse aspects of local life. He was High Sheriff for Denbighshire in 1945 and 1946, was a magistrate in both Banff and Ruthin, keenly supported the Boy Scouts movement, was a governor of Ruthin School, and contributed greatly to local cultural activities. He was keen on all manner of sports and especially keen on the country sports of shooting and fishing. Quite remarkably, he learned to speak Welsh fluently and was able to address a distinguished gathering in that language.

Sir Edmund retired in 1945 and took up residence at the ancient dwelling Coed Marchon, which he had rescued from its roofless, ruinous state. He died on 4th February 1949, having been pre-deceased by his second wife a little earlier on the same day. There was a private funeral service and interment at Llanrhydd for both Sir Edmund and Lady Spriggs. Later, there was a memorial service at St. Peter's Church, attended by the great and the good from many walks of life.

His successor as Senior Physician was Dr S.W. Patterson, but the clinic's remit did not change. Infectious diseases or mental illnesses were not treated, the focus being on stomach complaints, emaciation, heart and arterial diseases, the nervous system, lung disease (though not tuberculosis) and anaemia.

There is no doubt that the quality of the medical treatment, and pioneering research work arising from it, was of the best and its reputation attracted famous people of the day. Some evidence of the medical research may still be seen on the book shelves in the castle. Fees presumably varied with the nature and extent of the treatment, but the charge for patients' rooms ranged from 15 to 30 guineas per week.

The arrival of such an important development was bound to have an important impact on Ruthin town and its inhabitants. Many people came down with the clinic from Scotland to live in Ruthin and many of their descendants are still here, although some have returned to their native hearths. These new arrivals required housing and shopping. Another important boost for the local economy were the additional employment opportunities at a time when many other communities were suffering from the ravages of high unemployment. Local businesses also benefited directly in meeting the domestic needs of the castle, its patients, their visitors and staff.

Sadly, the clinic survived for only forty years or so. Presumably, the war of 1939-45 had a severely adverse effect. Maybe the clinic was still too distant from large centres of population.  The Liverpool Daily Post reported that efforts to continue as a viable commercial enterprise had been abandoned c. 1959, and a charitable trust had been set up to offer private hospital facilities for business executives. A constant stream of thirty-five to forty patients was required for viability, but an average of only twenty-five patients materialised. This attempt, too, failed and 70 employees, - specialists, doctors, gardeners and domestic staff, were given generous notice terminating on 31st December 1962, when the establishment closed.

The castle again found itself on the market in July 1963 and sold to its present owners as an hotel. The old Denbighshire County Council seriously considered its acquisition as a new H.Q., but the threat of local government re-organisation was even then looming on the horizon, though it did not actually materialise until 1974. However, it was thought that in the circumstances the necessary loan consents would not be forthcoming, even though the purchase price was only £35,000. The total cost-plus adaptation was estimated to be £100,000.

Other surviving parts of the estate were also sold off and one happy consequence was that an important part of Cae Ddol is now in the ownership of the new Denbighshire County Council for public enjoyment. Once again, this ancient site acquired another lease of life and the town a boost to its economy.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Denbighshire Record Office, Denbighshire Free Press" 1918, 1923, 1924, 1949; Duff House brochure, 1924, and illustrations courtesy National Galleries of Scotland; letter from Mr. Anthony Warburton, General Manager, Ruthin Castle Hotel.



See also Postscript in Broadsheet Issue 72.


IT WAS A TYPICAL DARK February evening in 1866 when the great and the good (a euphemism for the middle class) of Ruthin met in the school room of the Grammar School to make a presentation to the retiring headmaster of the school. the Reverend E. L. Barnwell. The principal gift was a silver table centre piece of a stag intertwined with vines which could serve as candle sticks or flower stands. This was engraved with his coat of arms and the family motto ‘Loyal au morte’. In addition, there was a large inkstand, two richly cut glasses, wafer stand and candlestick. This was from 205 of the poor of Ruthin. During his tenure in office fifty per cent of the boys were free (non fee paying), which may have been the result of the scholarship system or his own benevolence.

Barnwell was a contentious figure, a Whig of the right-wing persuasion, supporting Townsend Mainwaring against the Liberal James Maurice in the parliamentary election for the Denbigh Boroughs constituency in 1859. He used the purchasing power of the school to influence tradesmen to vote for Mainwaring. One sued him in court, but he claimed that the goods were not up to standard and the case was lost. He fought West over the refurbishment of St. Peters, but this time the Castle was too powerful.
His mother was the daughter of John Lowry first cousin to Armagh, Earl of Tyrone. On his father's side was a long line of clerics. After attending school in Bath he went up to Oxford where in the Easter term of 1834 he was awarded a first in mathematics. In 1836 he was elected to a scholarship at Jesus College, was ordained priest by Bishop Carr of Worcester and then came to Ruthin in 1837. Whilst at Oxford he became interested in the Heraldic Society and this interest in antiquities continued all his life.



During his time in Ruthin, he became deeply involved with Archaeologia Cambrensis. He assisted in funding the first four volumes. Then as the society developed he became secretary for Denbighshire, and then the General Secretary of the Society, remaining in this office for 21 years. After nine years at Ruthin he married Matilda, the younger daughter of the Reverend C. J. Chapman of Norwich, whose brother was the Master of Caius. The marriage was blessed by two children, the eldest a boy Charles and a daughter Mary Elizabeth.

Returning now to the winter evening of 1866, perhaps the absentees from this function were more interesting than the attendees. There were no representatives from the Castle, no Wests, their agent, nor James Maurice, nor Watkin Williams. This was probably indicative of his political activities and the manner in which he conducted them. The second master of the school, Reverend Reginald Hughes took the chair and paid compliments to Barnwell for twenty-five years of a happy working relationship. He stressed the work Barnwell had done in supporting the National School. He then called upon Reverend D. R. Thomas to make the presentation to his old head master. The speech contained all the superlatives for which the Victorians are renowned. However, one section deserves special mention when he commented upon the fact that the silver plate was purchased from subscriptions willingly given from old boys who had felt the weight of his rod. This tendency to use corporal punishment was referred to by Maurice when addressing the British School when he spoke of the 'vicious beatings in a nearby place'.

Mr. Isaac Williams, master of the Ruthin Union Workhouse, made the presentation on behalf of the poor, stressing that the subscriptions had been made in halfpence, pence, and sixpences and also larger amounts from men who had benefited from Barnwell's dedication to the educational structure of the town. Jane Lloyd, described as a poor woman, then said a few words. She claimed there was never a better friend of the poor than Barnwell. She described how she had an ailing daughter and how Mr. and Mrs. Barnwell sent food and comforts for her and what a loss they would be to the poor of Ruthin.

Barnwell replied modestly to the glowing praise he had received and continued by saying 'Had it been gold or jewels or brass or copper that would not have made the least difference to him ... that it was not the gifts but the givers he prized.' So ended a historic connection with Ruthin. If Rugby had Thomas Arnold then Ruthin had Barnwell. The old boy who made the presentation became Archdeacon D. R. Thomas, famous (at least locally) for his three volume History of the Diocese of St. Asaph. Already mentioned were Barnwell's services to Archaeologia Cambrensis. It is trite to infer that without his early commitment the journal and society would not have prospered. However, his affluence and scholarship more than assisted in its early development.

He retired to Melksham, Wiltshire, a widespread parish where he lived on its boundary. Whilst he and his wife had no trouble in going to church by carriage the less fortunate had a long walk and for the infirm it was an impossible task. Realising their plight, he funded a church to be built and paid half the cost of an attached school room. He offered to pay for a curate. The incumbent requested the endowment of a curate to be incorporated as a contribution to the general endowment fund. This would ensure that the incumbent had control of the curacy. One may still visit Barnwell's church.

Barnwell was an interesting character. A brilliant mind, generous to those he perceived who were in need. Certainly, bigoted in politics, and one might even add ruthless. He changed the fortunes of Ruthin Grammar School, by re-organising the Governing Body and adding a laboratory and library. These improved the status of the school that he developed ensured the continuance of an establishment going back until at least Elizabethan times.




WEEKLY MARKETS must have been held in the time of the Princes when stalls were erected in 'the great street', i.e., probably St. Peter's Square. By 1284 there were 3 annual fairs viz., Pentecost between 9th May and 12th June; on 20th September, and on 31st October, and a market twice a week.

In December, 1295, Lord Grey ordered the building of a market near to the pillory on the Square. Thereafter, anyone erecting a stall in the street was fined. There was a designated meat market for nine butchers, twelve bakers, cloth makers, gold-smiths, blacksmiths, tailors and shoe makers. There were all classes of leather makers, including the cordwainers who made the better quality shoes, and cobblers who repaired worn shoes. Burgesses enjoyed the privilege of buying and selling goods free of toll.
Prof. Ian Jack has said "that Ruthin housed not only the fairs at which local cloth was retailed but also the privileged association which organised the whole business of manufacture". The cloth industry gave Ruthin its economic success, lasting until c.1508 when Shrewsbury assumed a monopoly of the finishing and marketing of North Wales cloth.

The Council Minute book of 1646 referred to the "August Fair [called 'Sampson Epis'] in Ruthin. The Beaste Fayre always to be kept on 28th July, the Whites Fayre ever the 29th July being the next day".

The dedication of the beast fair was to Sampson Epis - 'Bishop Sampson'. There are no records of such a Bishop, but there was a Celtic Saint 'Sampson' suggesting the antiquity of the fair. As to the 'Whites Fayre', - possibly an allusion to St. White or Witts, a Saxon patron saint of cheese makers. This may then have been a cheese or dairy products fair. Alternatively, the name might have derived from the White Friars or Carmelites brought to Ruthin by de Grey on his founding of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter's {there is no evidence for this}. Attributions to Celtic saints was quite common and another example is found in the naming of "Crispin's Yard", now a car park and entrance to Cae Ddol. St. Crispin was the patron saint of cordwainers or shoemakers, and shoemakers lived and worked in this area. There were tanneries over the river at Penybont, behind what is now Park Place, and in Llanfwrog.

On 26th November 1692, the Aldermen and Councillors decided that the 'Pease, Beans, Fetches, and Frensh wheate Markett removed henceforward between the Shire Hall (i.e. the old Town Hall on the Square) and the church.'

On 30th October, 1793, the Aldermen and councillors enacted a bye-law for regulating the market of the town, viz., each Monday 'and on the respective fair days in the year' the market for butter fowls, geese, turkies, ducks and eggs shall begin at 10 o'clock ... and shall continue until 7 o'clock. Certain categories of people, like peddlars, are prohibited from trading within these hours and on these days.'

A bye-law of 20th October, 1793, prohibiting 'Higlers' and others from purchasing butter and poultry to sell again in the market before one o'clock, was rescinded on 24th November, 1821. Thereafter, the corn market commenced at 12 noon on Mondays.
R. J. Edwards in the Free Press of 1910 stated that a portion of the 'new' town hall had been intended as a Corn Exchange - hence the carvings of harvesting activities which appear near the main entrance. Another part, which eventually became the Town Clerk's office (now part of the Council Chamber), was intended as a butchers' market. Previously, the butchers occupied the site of the charity shop which was redeveloped by the Castle c. 1875 {ie top south side of Clwyd Street}. The area between that and the lane connecting Upper Clwyd Street and Clwyd Street was the Llandegla Market where butchers 'in a small way' sold mutton, etc.

In the second half of the Cl9th., markets {fairs?} were a two-day event, the first of which was for the transaction of business but the second was "an absolutely unadulterated, out-and-out Pleasure Fair". It was The Day of the whole year and was held in the field known as 'Ddoltwr', the meadow on the banks of the River Clwyd, now a little park behind the gaol. There were also stalls, etc., on the Square. The 'Hobby Horse' was a great favourite!

The Fairs Act, 1871 gave local authorities power to alter dates of fairs. It was therefore decided that fairs thereafter would be held only on first Tuesdays.

"Un Hen" ('An Old 'Un') reminiscing in the Free Press in 1944, dealt with a period beginning c.1875. He recalled that markets and fairs were held in the streets as follows: from the old gaol to Upper Clwyd Street, - horse sales, the horses being put through their paces along this stretch of road; in Well Street, from "The Hand" ('Army/Navy Stores') to the top of the hill, cows were sold; again in Well Street, from 'The Wynn-stay' to the former railway bridge was for the sale of pigs; in Dog Lane and Record Street, penned sheep were on offer; butchers were to be found in the Market Hall.



Sources: Denbs. Hist. Socy. Transactions, Vol.s. 12., pp. 8-25; 18., pp. 23-49; 19., pp. 8-23. RLHB., No: 15.

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