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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET 70                                                                          Issue No 70 June 2002


On the 20 June 1837, Queen Victoria came to the throne and so almost to the day, certainly to the month, 115 years ago she celebrated her golden jubilee as our present monarch does this month. There are certain similarities in the background to the celebrations. There were political questions being raised over the established church. In and around Ruthin the tithe riots were in full swing. In spite of all this the monarch was reaching her zenith of popularity, through that master of 'spin', Disraeli. It was important to the establishment that her jubilee was celebrated with great acclaim.

Britain in 1887 was gradually becoming a democracy, the powers of the Justices in the administration of the county had not yet been delegated to the County Councils but that was now in the foreseeable future. It was important therefore the central figure in the establishment was duly venerated at the jubilee. 

Image From the Free Press,25th June, 1887.


Ruthin certainly was determined not to be outshone in its demonstration of patriotism. Cornwallis West was the mayor that year, but perhaps, rather naturally, preferred to be at his London home. This is where one could be seen as a member of the social 'set'. Nevertheless, he sent a profuse letter of apology, hoping all would bear witness to their loyalty to their beloved Queen and join in the singing of 'God save our gracious Queen'. Six decades were to pass before Wales had its own unique anthem [it was published in Ruthin in 1860].

London might have had a twenty-one-gun salute in honour of the occasion, but Ruthin had the volunteers! They assembled at their Borthyn headquarters at 9.30 a.m. From thence they marched smartly to the Castle grounds and raising their rifles they fired a salute in honour of the Queen. After this the parade was stood at ease whilst their padre, Reverend J. F. Reece of Llanfwrog, spoke to them extolling the virtues of the Queen. They then marched back to their headquarters, where the officers had provided the spirits for them to drink the loyal toast. After which they were dismissed and were free to participate in the various activities in the town.

The town was bedecked with flags large and small, even the poorest dwelling seemed to sport either a picture of the Royal family or a flag of some description. There were floral arches across Clwyd Street and the Golden Lion, Well Street, provided another. These formed an excellent backdrop for the principal celebration, a huge parade around the town, after which the participants fragmented into small groups to continue the festivities. The members of the Forester's Club had postponed their annual parade of the town to ensure that there was no distraction from the Jubilee event. The ex-mayor, J. Jones, acted on behalf of Cornwallis West and led the parade. The route was almost a marathon. from the Square via Castle Street, Record Street, Well Street, Clwyd Street, to Llanfwrog and back again to St Peter's Square. There they assembled around the Peers monument to hear the inevitable speeches. The singing of the national anthem was led by Eos Clwyd (Mr. Lloyd of the National School). According to the report there were close on one thousand children taking part in the parade. They must have slept soundly that night!

The Town Clerk read out a loyal address, which had been sent by the council to the Queen expressing the loyalty of the town. He then read a message from the Hon. G. T. Kenyon the Conservative MP for the Denbighshire Boroughs, which in many ways was a reiteration of Cornwallis West's letter of apology. Osborne Morgan was the Liberal MP for the county seat but he too was absent. The Reverend Buckley Owen Jones then said a few brief words and the many factions in the parade dispersed to their particular activities.

The children had parties at the National School in Borthyn and the Board School in Rhos Street. The Grammar School boys were entertained to a lavish spread by Marcus Louis at his home in Brynhyfryd. The Town Clerk funded a dinner for the police at the Castle Hotel. The Assembly Rooms were crowded with the old folk, (one cannot use the term 'pensioners' because this was prior to the Lloyd George magic), who were entertained to a festive tea by the courtesy of the Ladies Social Committee. The Corporation, clergy, ministers and the Jubilee committee had their meal in the Council Chambers.

The 'Black Horse' was crowded with members of the Foresters Club to which a great many townspeople belonged. On some special occasions there is always someone who mars the event by some personal protest.   

The Jubilee dinner was such an occasion. Jones, of Wernfechan, held up the proceedings to complain that nobody had visited when he was ill two weeks previously. He was howled down in derision and the meal and speeches proceeded without any further interruptions. It was important that the meal and the toasts were completed to enable members to go into the streets and see the fireworks and the bonfires on Moel Fammau and Coed Marchon.

The bonfires were the climax of the celebration. There were two, the first on Moel Fammau, organised and directed by T. J. Rouw, the chemist and captain of the Ruthin fire brigade. The second was on Coed Marchon hill, by permission of the Wests and this was organised and supervised by their agent, J. Probert. At the appointed time Rouw signalled a rocket to be launched and almost simultaneously both fires were lit. Supplementing the huge bonfires were spectacular firework displays, which were admired and applauded by the crowd which had gathered in St. Peter's Square. It was in such a happy and memorable mood that a glorious day was brought to a close.



POSTSCRIPTS – “ANYONE FOR TENNIS?” (from edition 66) and “ELLIS’S” (edition 68)

Following the appearance of the article by Mr. Elwyn S. Jones, Mrs. Esther Thomas, a subscriber, has kindly contributed her own recollections of the Tennis Club that functioned just off the Denbigh Road, where the Maes Dolwen housing estate is now located. "Clwydside", now 'Annedd-Wen', had been built c.1926 for the Thomas family by Mr. Clifford Jones, a highly reputable builder who constructed many of the houses along the Denbigh Road at that time. There was a large piece of land to the rear of the house and Esther's husband, the late Ronald Thomas - a keen sportsman - set about creating a tennis court. Two of Ronald's sisters, Flo and Pat, were nursing at Ruthin Castle and perhaps not surprisingly 'Clwydside' became very popular with friends and colleagues at the Castle. The photo  is of Pat and her tennis friends.


The English Presbyterian Church of Wynnstay Road was invited to form a club and this happened. The association was short-lived as in 1929, the Club in an attempt to raise funds organised a raffle which contravened Presbyterian principles. Thus, the Club became "The Clwydian Tennis Club" which continued until the outbreak of war in 1939.

Ronald had been employed from 1919 - 1930 as a junior clerk at Ellis's, gaining an introduction to accountancy. At that time, the ostensibly rather dour, heavily moustached Colonel Saxon Gregson Ellis, who lived at Plas Clough, Denbigh, was very much in charge. He often cycled from home to work, clad in a long black cape. On arrival, he would be met by the handyman, Richard Maddocks, who hauled the bicycle by means of pulleys up to the first floor where he would clean and polish it.

At 3.30 pm each day, Saxon Ellis summoned his Chief Accountant, Mr. Higginson, by one ring of a bell. Higginson brought in the day's cheques for approval and for signature. The ringing of two bells summoned Ronald Thomas, who would be instructed to tell Maddocks to prepare the by then highly polished bicycle for departure. In the meantime, back at the office, Ronald would be standing rigidly to attention as the chief signed each cheque with a great flourish and handed them to Ronald for blotting. The cheques were elaborately designed, and grandly embellished with a royal seal indicating "Suppliers of Mineral waters to the King of Spain".

Two of Ellis's employees are still living in Ruthin, Mrs Molly Jones and Mrs Ella Williams. In spite of their reputation as good employers, working conditions left something to be desired, at least by today's standards. In an attempt to keep their feet dry, Molly and Ella wore wooden clogs and wrapped their legs in makeshift rubber sheeting salvaged from aprons and secured with string. The apparently dour colonel was in fact a kindly, humane person. Whenever an employee, or even a member of his/her family required hospital treatment, the colonel would cover the cost with strict instructions that this was not to be publicised.

Two of the Thomas brothers, including Ronald, emigrated to Australia in 1935.



The North Wales Times of 25th June 1921 carries an interesting and rather puzzling story about the opening of a new Bowling Green at the Wynnstay Hotel. This was said to have been added to the hotel premises in a picturesque spot surrounded by beautiful scenery in the heart of the town. If we think of today's Wynnstay Hotel, it is difficult to visualise any part of the present premises complying with this description. True, the Wynnstay's original garden was located where Wynnstay Road now joins Well Street, but that was lost when the road was made in 1880. Could it have been on the other side of the hotel, off Dog Lane? – perhaps where the car park is now situated? 1921 is quite a long time ago, but it is perhaps possible that one of today's nonagenarians or centenarians might remember this?

The press report gives a very fulsome account of this event as this was the first green to be laid in the Borough that was not private or belonging to one of the clubs. The owner of the hotel, a Mrs. Mastin, had invested quite heavily in this venture. The green was not small as it could accommodate several sets of players at any one time.

For maximum publicity, Mrs. Mastin organised a high profile opening ceremony, which was performed by the Mayor, Alderman W.G. Lecomber, with many guests, including enthusiastic bowlers. The Llanbedr Bowling Club was represented by its chairman, Mr. Leathes. There was also a former Lancashire player, a Mr. Alfred Hough, who may have been recruited to act as mentor to novices.

The opening ceremony was performed by the unlocking of a door, a feature of the proceedings that heightens the mystery. The Mayor, of course, made a speech in which he alluded to the granting of the Borough's first Charter in 1282 and, naturally, to Sir Francis Drake's epoch-making, legendary game prior to his defeat of the Spanish Armada. Mr. Lecomber himself was obviously an enthusiast, who felt that the game was open to young and old, one that required considerable skill, and one that taught anger management. He commended Mrs. Mastin for her enterprise and benevolence, expressing the hope that players, or potential players, not wishing to join an existing club [Liberal or Conservative] would thereafter indulge in the game to their hearts' content. It was said that it was the intention to open a non-aligned club based on this green.

His Worship then presented Mrs. Mastin with a cased pair of woods and a Jack all made in 1877. Mrs. Mastin threw the Jack, followed by Lecomber bowling the first wood to within an inch of the Jack. An auspicious opening! The Mayor also presented two copper kettles, suitably engraved, as trophies for a Handicap which was then opened, attracting many entries. Substantial money prizes were also to be offered. The proceedings closed with a group photograph.

This is a record redolent of a more leisurely, gentle age when people were doubtless seeking to mask the horrors of the Great War in an attempted return to the halcyon spirit of former times. It also contrasts vividly with the rather more boisterous attractions of so many public houses of today. Again, one wonders whether the trophies or any copies of the group photograph survived.





On the 9th November, 1859, for the third year in succession, James Maurice, friend and confidant of the Wests, was unanimously elected mayor of the town. The event was not unexpected for in the evening there was a substantial civic reception given for him at the Wynnstay Arms, Well Street. Those attending represented the senior hierarchy of the clergy, judiciary, administration and society of the area. The proprietors of the establishment, Mr. and Mrs. Smart, left nothing to chance and the meal was both large and sumptuous. The wines were of the best in their cellar. 

  Picture:Wynnstay Arms,  Well Street, by John Berbiers from the Free Press  16th February 1983.


The speeches in response to the innumerable toasts reflected in many ways the values and standards of society at that time. For example, in proposing the toast to the clergy, Maurice said that he trusted that they could continue to work in harmony with the corporation. The corporation could pass the bylaws but they had the responsibility 'to seek out abodes of sin, wretchedness and misery with a mightier sword than the magistrates...' He continued in this vein stressing the importance of the role of the clergy in setting the moral code of the town. The Warden, on behalf of all the clergy, thanked the mayor for his confidence in both Anglican and Nonconformist clergy and assuring him and the bench that they would indeed attend to the moral needs of their congregations.

There was of course, a toast to the Wests of the castle. This was replied to on their behalf by F. W. Smith, their agent. It was, as one might expect, a sycophantic little speech ending 'no man is [more] desirous of benefiting the town than Mr. West and he hoped he might long be spared.' The toasts went on. A surprising one was by Maurice, who gave the health of Mainwaring the M.P. for the Boroughs. He had only just defeated Maurice in the election of that year in particularly acrimonious circumstances.

This was the time of the restoration, - 'renovation' is perhaps more apt, - of St Peter's and there had been a huge outcry against the removal of the box pews. It was perhaps the nearest thing to civil unrest Ruthin experienced during the troubled nineteenth century. This was the background to Maurice's reply to the Warden's congratulatory toast. After reiterating his call for moral rectitude, he went on to praise the redesigned church and then addressed the controversial matter of the pews:
"...for we have broken on [ ??] old associations; and who has not cherished remembrances of the pews of their boyhood where awakening tastes first dawned on youthful minds. But I speak for myself, and I am satisfied that I speak for my brother churchwardens when I say it is our desire, as it will be our duty to consult the wishes and the feelings of all, both parishioners and non-parishioners (cheers) as far as we can but it is impossible to do so unless we are met with concessions on their part and mutual forbearance one with another."

Maurice had no necessity to raise this contentious issue at what was after all, a dinner in his honour, the culmination of three years hard work. He had chaired the meeting which quelled the overt opposition to the removal of the box pews, and he enjoyed the trust of the Wests to such an extent they supported him in an attempt to gain the Borough seat for Parliament. There was however a growing repugnance to the High Church services conducted by the Warden, Reverend Buckley Owen Jones. Here again Maurice attempted to pour oil on troubled waters. This did however, require the intervention of West, who even the egotistic Warden dare not defy.

After dealing with these ecclesiastical issues, his discourse turned to another matter with which he was deeply concerned - the living conditions of the poor. He suggested that if healthy living conditions could be provided the lives of ordinary folk could be extended to eighty years of age. He was looking forward 150 years! Nevertheless, he was a man of his time, pointing out that ill health created poverty and this increased the Poor Rate. Amongst his many civic duties he was chairman of the Ruthin Board of Guardians. He used the concept of minimising the poor rate as his introduction to the announcement of a water and drainage system for the town. As justification for this venture he quoted the surveyors as saying that conditions in some parts of Ruthin were worse than the slums of London. Perhaps they were over-stating the case, but it gives one a picture of what conditions were like in the town 150 years ago. He went on to describe in highly emotional terms the depredation of the poor concluding 'We stopped not to inquire whether public neglect or private avarice had done the horrible wrong but may say God forgive us all...'

R.G. Ellis, the mineral water manufacturer, proposed the toast of the Warden. In his reply the Warden returned yet again to the contentious subject of the pews saying:
"I did not imagine that it would conduce to my personal popularity. On the contrary, it was really to be foreseen that there would be some ill feeling and contention. But that is passed I trust; and we should now all rejoice (as I quite believe we do) in the completion of the work."

In the two extracts from the Warden and Maurice's speeches we get a glimpse of the strength of feeling in the town over the removal of the old box pews.

Maurice was a liberal man, not only in his politics but in his attitude to the less fortunate. He was Chairman of the Ruthin Guardians for many years and the Ruthin poor rate was particularly high, indicating a more than average generosity to the poor. Such was the case that the guardians were reprimanded on one occasion from the central body in London for their largesse. There was no evidence that Ruthin was less fortunate than other areas and clearly from his speech one gathers evidence of this concern.



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