RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                        Issue No 71 September 2002

ELIZABETHAN RUTHIN

It is difficult to estimate the population of Ruthin during Elizabeth's reign, but the population of Wales is estimated to have grown roughly sevenfold since Elizabethan times. The greater proportion of population growth has been in the industrial areas and along the coast. Therefore, probably, Ruthin's population was a quarter or a fifth of the present number, say 800 to 1,000 souls. This was only slightly larger than some of today's outlying villages. However, it was considerably busier than these villages. The movement of goods was, relatively, extremely costly and the packhorse train was almost the only means of moving goods. Roads were in no condition to facilitate wagon traffic so the town had to be mainly self-sufficient.


Bakeries, shops, tanneries, butchers, milliners and many other trades flourished. There was a considerable leather industry, which for generations had, with the supporting trade of nailers, been a major source of revenue to the town. Every week, outlying farmers would bring cheese, butter, eggs, chickens, pigs, horses and cattle into the market. Four times a year there were important fair days. Labourers would be hired, drovers would buy cattle and hire men for the drive to London. All this besides the tinkers selling their wares.


Operating and controlling the leather industry in Ruthin was the Guild of Shoemakers. This amounted to today's 'closed shop'. The Lord of Ruthin was the Earl of Kent and he had agreed, for a sum of twenty shillings and an annual payment of four shillings, that members of the Guild would have the sole right to sell shoes in the town. Anyone breaking this ban would be fined £5. This arrangement eroded over time and hawkers came selling shoes, avoiding the draconian fine. However, the Guild approached the Lord of Ruthin again to reassert the old arrangement. This time however, payments to the Lordship were considerably greater. The initial payment was £5 and the annual due was increased to twenty-five shillings but intruders were more rigorously excluded.


The Guild was equally strict with its own members. Attendance at monthly meetings, or `quarterledge', was compulsory. Absence without good reason incurred the monstrous fine of two shillings (one should not try to equate these values to contemporary values. Theirs was a relatively early cash economy). If a member reneged, the treatment was indeed harsh. Officers of the Guild might enter his house or shop and distrain footwear, goods, or tools until such as time the fine was paid. The ultimate sanction of expulsion from the guild was reserved for the master or journeyman not conforming to the standards of workmanship demanded by the Guild. However, by the middle of Elizabeth's reign abuses were creeping in and new rules were agreed. The first was that no journeyman was allowed to have shoes made by him or his family in his own home. Clearly, it may be postulated that journeymen were making (in today's terminology) 'foreigners'. There was another rule agreed concerning apprenticeships, ensuring that they served the full seven years.


Underlying this economic activity was religious apprehension. The Protestant Church had been established by Elizabeth's father some fifty years earlier. Her brother had reinforced the creed only for his eldest sister to attempt the re-establishment of Roman Catholicism. Of course, Elizabeth was staunchly Protestant and was determined that the whole of Britain also, would conform to her belief. It was little wonder then, that when it came to the subject of religion there was considerable unease.
Ruthin was an industrious town, busy enough to attract not only legitimate traders but also thieves and vagabonds, one of whom was Launcelot Browne. He was probably born in Yorkshire of fairly affluent parents. He had enjoyed six years schooling, and it is thought he was then apprenticed to a Welsh haberdasher in Cornhill, London. He was employed as a squire of a Lincolnshire knight and it was probably there that he learnt the art of counterfeiting from his master's brother. When charged, Browne fled to Ireland where he was again counterfeiting for an impecunious aristocrat. Moving to Wales he joined the household of Edward Lloyd of Llysfasi.


Again, Roger Symonds lived the prosperous life of a successful artisan. He employed a journeyman and servants so his trade as a hatter was clearly a profitable one. Unfortunately for him, Lloyd of Llysfasi required a modification to one of his hats and sent Browne into town with the offending hat to have it repaired by Symonds. It is unaccountable how the chemistry of friendship is created. In no time at all, Browne was bringing Symonds game whose wife was an excellent cook and shared the game pies she made with their benefactor. Browne was having dinner with them one night (it must have been a good meal with ample supply of wine) when Browne indiscreetly offered to make Symonds richer by fifty pounds a year. This of course was riches beyond Symonds' wildest dreams and he must have laughed or mocked their guest, for then Browne produced a counterfeit coin.
Counterfeiting the Queen's currency was a heinous crime punishable by death. That, and treason, were the only crimes that could not be tried by a Marcher Lord. Perhaps it was the audacity of Browne in showing his friend the coin or the awful fear of retribution by the state, but in the moment's silence that followed the production of the coin, Symonds crossed himself. Browne was a plausible rogue and asked the stunned Symonds to recite the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments. He then pointed out that in neither was there an interdiction on the unauthorised transformation of metal into coin. The laws so restricting this practice were man made and had no divine basis. Whether it was greed, or whether the religious philosophical argument swayed Symonds, one will never know, but he threw in his lot with Browne.


The decision had devastating implications for the Symonds household. The happily married couple almost separated over the issue. Roger Symonds’ wife was particularly unhappy when the servants and the journeyman were dismissed. However, after threatening that if things went wrong, he would leave her and go to Ireland, she relented and joined in the conspiracy. Symonds sold his stock and using the capital went to Chester to buy moulds, tin, copper, chalk and a pair of bellows. An outhouse was used for the actual production of the coins and this was securely bolted and padlocked. Eventually the trio had accumulated twenty shillings of counterfeit sixpenny pieces.


It was Symonds and his wife's task now to circulate the money. They decided to travel to the many fairs around North Wales. Symonds set off for the fair at Llannerch-y-medd on Anglesey. En route, he called at an alehouse at Porthaethwy and paid for his refreshment with a counterfeit coin. This was rejected by the landlord and Symonds immediately paid for his meal with genuine coins. Sadly, Symonds had a slow learning curve for he did not realise his counterfeit money was not a good enough replica of the minted coin. Instead he proceeded to Llannerch-y-medd where again the counterfeit money was recognised for what it was. Here he was arrested and placed in Caernarfon Castle. His wife fared no better when she attempted to buy a cheese with false money at Nefyn fair. She too, was arrested and when searched was found to have a supply of false coinage in her skirts. She was imprisoned at Beaumaris castle.


Browne, who stayed behind to protect the Symonds house, was seized and failed to convince the authorities about the legitimate use of the moulds and ladles they discovered. He was then arrested and held in Ruthin gaol. Symonds and Browne were tried and sentenced to death. As mentioned earlier these were difficult religious times, and the authorities were under great pressure to find and prosecute recusant Catholics. The two rogues seized their opportunity and both turned Queen's evidence against recusants in North Wales. They were taken to Ludlow to give their evidence to the Council of Wales and their lives were spared.


Sources: John Williams, Digest of Welsh Historical Statistics, (U.W.P.) 1985; G. Dyfnallt Owen, Elizabethan Wales, (U.W.P) 1986.

 


THE TABLE OF THE THREE LORDS

The late Frank Price Jones wrote: - "This ancient boundary stone marks the meeting point of four parishes and of the Lordships of Ruthin, Glyndyfrdwy and Yale."


The four parishes are Gwyddelwern, Llanelidan, Bryneglwys and Llansantffraid Glyndyfrdwy, The Earl {lord?} of Ruthin was Reginald de Grey who held the Lordship of Dyffryn Clwyd; Yale was part of the Lordship of Chirkland in the hands of the Earl of Richmond. Both were Marcher Lordships. The Lordship of Glyndyfrdwy was held by Owen Glyndwr direct from the Crown. A fact that during the reign of Richard II gave Glyndwr an advantage, but after Richard was overthrown in 1399 by Henry of Lancaster, having been treacherously ambushed while travelling from Conway to Flint, this protection was removed.
The field in which the 'stone table' was located was known as "Y GROESAU". [The Crossroads] and originally belonged to Glyndwr who farmed sheep on it. De Grey of Ruthin disputed Glyndwr's territorial rights, sent a company of armed soldiers to evict the shepherds. This action led to protests to the King, who supported de Grey and resulted in the Glyndwr rising which started on 15th September 1400.


"The Crossroads" is believed to have been where the road from Carrog to Llanelidan was crossed by a minor road that passes Caerwg and Highgate and goes on past Maestruan towards Cefn-y-bidwell. The southwestern sector at the junction roughly follows the borders of the three lordships and this disputed land of Glyndwr's formed a salient into the property of the two Marcher lords. An alternate location for the "table" has been described as "between two minor peaks known as Moel Morfydd and Moel Gamelin." The whole of this area is within the parish of Llantysilio and the Lordship of Chirkland. This makes the involvement of de Grey and the direction of Glyndwr's subsequent military effort somewhat contradictory and difficult to understand.


  ESS [?]

 


LLANFWROG CHURCH INSTITUTE

The Rector of Llanfwrog Church in the period 1882-1907 was the Rev. J. F. Reece, described as a hard-working, able person, though perhaps a little autocratic. Memories of his time at Llanfwrog linger into the present. That he had a mind of his own is quite evident from his clash with the bishop over the contentious matter of his home which resulted in a formal inquiry in 1894. There was then no Rectory in Llanfwrog and Rectors had found their own places of residence, - but within the parish. Reece chose to reside at Nantclwyd House in Castle Street, clearly not within his parish. This resulted in much adverse publicity and doubtless caused his bishop a certain amount of stress.


However, a more positive note was struck on 22nd June 1889, when the new Bishop of St. Asaph, Dr. Alfred George Edwards (consecrated 25th March, 1889), first encountered the Rector on what was to be a pleasant, peaceful and progressive occasion - the opening of a new Church Institute in Mwrog Street. The press report painted a vivid picture not merely of the function itself but also of prevailing social attitudes. Some contentious issues of the day also emerged, as did sycophancy and the contemporary style of reporting. Even the Denbighshire Free Press of those halcyon days sought to keep to its allotted place in the scheme of things.


The Rector and leading parishioners had decided that an institute was needed for the welfare of the working man. The co-operation of the whole community, church and chapel, had been sought and, with certain unspecified exceptions, readily given. The Rector had obtained a 99-year lease of "tumbledown huts" (66-72, Mwrog Street) from a Dr. Robert William Jonathan Evans, Medical Officer of Health for Wrexham in 1881, for an annual rent of £10. Evans had Ruthin roots and his father, though born in Caernarvon, ran a chemist's shop on St. Peter's Square, probably at Exmewe House prior to Rouw. Robert's father had married Mary, the daughter of John Williams, tanner, of Mwrog Street, but both died young in 1853. All three are buried in Llanfwrog churchyard.


The dilapidated cottages were demolished and a new institute was erected on their foundations, using material already on site. This resulted in a considerable saving over the £500 it would otherwise have cost, leaving a sum of £300 to be raised.  By the opening, £160 had already been collected. Mrs. Bremner of The Woodlands was a generous donor and had also promised an annual subscription. The local squire, Col. William Cornwallis West, M.P., also made a generous gift. Needless to say, there was a collection plate by the door for the convenience of those attending the ceremony! Parishioners were informed that there would be a bazaar or sale of work in August and doubtless other fund-raising events.
The accommodation provided at the institute naturally reflected the activities to be pursued. There was a large upstairs meeting room where the ceremony took place and downstairs a room for bible classes with cocoa and reading rooms. Attached was a caretaker's house comprising two kitchens and two bedrooms. None of the accommodation at the time of the ceremony was furnished and there was no reading matter in the reading room. However, Colonel Cornwallis West very generously offered to place his library at the disposal of the institute. He hoped that others in the district would do the same. West explained that, he had a library full of books which were hardly ever read. He offered to lend the Rector six to eight books at a time on condition that they were returned to him "in a fairly good state". Generous though this offer undoubtedly was, one wonders how many working men had the ability to read even a newspaper, still less the edifying works that West was likely to have possessed.
The Rector paid a warm tribute to an unnamed architect from Llanfwrog, described as a genius, and also to the builder, again unnamed. It was hoped that the institute would transform the moral surroundings of Llanfwrog.

 

The moral surroundings were not described but doubtless this rather patronising expression was intended to suggest that at least the appearance of Mwrog Street would be improved by the removal of an eyesore. On the other hand, the declared objectives which it was hoped the institute would meet seem to have been based upon a desire to combat the evil demon, drink. The institute was to be "the social elevator" of the parish, a means of diminishing intemperance. It was to be a public house without alcohol. It would be interesting to know what the several public houses in the parish felt about that, but perhaps that is best left to the imagination.


On the platform, in support of these high ideals, were the great and good of the locality. Col. William Cornwallis West was there in three capacities, as Lord-lieutenant, Member of Parliament for Denbighshire West and Mayor. Then came the new Bishop, Dr Edwards and his wife. Dean Lyster was described as "a good neighbour", as was Mr. E.O.V. Lloyd of Berth and ultimately Rhug {Rhaggad?}, together with Rev. James Davies of Liverpool. West pronounced the building open, which he did with gusto and cheers. He then spoke at some length on the worthy functions of this new facility which were, firstly, to form the nucleus of all parish work. Then came the high ideal of improving the parishioners' love of literature through the medium of books, newspapers and magazines.


Then Cornwallis West the pragmatist, ever mindful of the need for votes, introduced a political note into the proceedings - which did not pass unnoticed - and he spoke of the "the lowest of the masses" who were now in possession of the vote. They should be instructed to use that vote with discrimination and judgement by developing a love of literature and a love of wholesome and healthy reading. Another issue, as fresh today as it was then, was that of the Welsh language, though then from a different perspective. Cornwallis West acknowledged the love of the Welsh people for their language, but his was the commonly held view that any Welshman ignorant of English was considerably handicapped. He wanted to maintain interest in and love of the Welsh language, but it was necessary to instil into the minds of the lower classes the necessity of learning English.  Men of different positions and thinking should be brought together to minimise misunderstandings. Cornwallis West hoped that the Institute would help to achieve these objectives.    


Dean Lyster spoke in a similar vein but perhaps with more realism, hoping that men would gather there to gossip about the Squire, the parson and the parson's wife. Here they could criticize the parson's sermon and talk about the crops, politics, etc., for men as well as women loved to gossip.    


The Bishop reminded his audience of the role played by the church as educator of the nation. This was simply part of a traditional function of the church. He picked-up the point made by West that greater interest was now being taken in the working man, - especially since he had gained the vote. He felt this was true to a greater or lesser extent, but to the amusement of his audience, the church had always considered the working man as an object of great interest!


Edwards, as a Welsh speaker, supported West in his comments about the language issue and then introduced a novel option – sport.  He greatly supported the parson who headed a football or cricket team on a Saturday before entering his pulpit on Sunday.  There was a great need to bring the classes together.  At the same time, there were agitators to contend with, but if the working man learned the truth, there was nothing to fear.


E.O.V. Lloyd contributed to this theme.  People, he said, did not want to know that the church was a thousand years old.  They wanted to see it justify itself, to see whether there was a continuing need for it.  Only he used the word “socialism” and said that he believed that in Christian Socialism they could all be equal.  He quoted an eminent statesman who had said that no government should take office without intending to do good and making it easy to do right and more difficult to do wrong.
The last speaker, the Rev James Davies of Liverpool, endorsed the sporting sentiment previously expressed and also conceded that a public house had its attractions.  Therefore, he said, the Institute should also be attractive and comfortable if it was going to succeed.


The concluding event of the afternoon was tea, served at the attractively decorated Drill Hall in Borthyn. It was taken to the accompaniment of music played by a Mr. S. Bryan, himself a skilful musician, and his "Llanfwrog String Band." The names and addresses of the ladies presiding over the tables were quoted, many of these having a familiar ring even today, e.g. Mrs. Rickman. Thus, a doubtless edifying afternoon drew to a close.  The great and the good had made wise and ambitious pronouncements in a spirit of optimism and self-improvement.


The church acquired the freehold in 1919 for £500.  Today, the Institute requires renovation and modernization [since then sold for housing, but a nearby building has been converted into a new Institute].  Whether its physical deterioration can be attributed to overwork in pursuit of its initial lofty ideals is perhaps doubtful.  Undeniably, it has played a useful part in the life and work of the parish for over a century.  Sadly, it seems now to be surplus to requirements and may soon be sold.

Snippets from the Press –

“IRON ORE in the Vale of Clwyd.


Those interested in the development of the mineral resources of North Cambria will be glad to learn that considerable quantities of red haematite iron ore are being weekly sent off from this locality. The mine is situated about 2.5 miles from the Eyarth station on the Denbigh and Corwen railway and we hear that the supply is abundant and the quality good; but, owing to the expense of cartage, the operations so far have been on a limited scale. There is, however, a prospect of this drawback being remedied by the construction of a tramway which will greatly facilitate the removal of the ore and be a boon to the district by providing the labouring population with additional employment. If the superficial aspect of the country is an index of its geological formation, we should say the upper part of the vale is rich in minerals for the surface bears a very striking resemblance to the district known as the "Black Country ".


Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald, 10th November 1866


BUILDING DEVELOPMENTS:


A new grammar school; two new chapels, English and Welsh; rows of villas in Mount Street; Mr. Rouw's villa, Bryn Goodman; Mr. Bancroft's [formerly Glasfryn, Stanley Road, site now redeveloped] new residence; two new villas in Market Street - plans by a Mr. Garner.


Denbighshire Free Press, 29th June, 1895