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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                         Issue No 77 March 2004













WEDNESDAY, 3RD JUNE 1896, was a red- letter day for Llanfwrog, particularly for Mwrog Street and even more especially for Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, for that was the day when the memorial stones of Capel Bethania were laid. The North Wales Times of that week gave a comprehensive account of the ceremony and perhaps of even greater interest, an outline of the movement's early history as given by one of the chapel's Elders, Mr. John Davies of Eagles House.

The building in question is the present chapel, which lies alongside the original structure now utilised as Sunday school premises and for other church meetings. Nowadays, a new building is usually celebrated at its opening, but then it was customary to celebrate by the laying of foundation stones. Thus, it was at Bethania. Crowds attended to witness the proceedings, as our photograph is thought to show. Part of the original chapel, Sebuel, is to the right.

The new chapel, built of stone, was to accommodate 450 people and it was clearly intended that it would not be spartan in appearance. The best pitch pine and mahogany, polished and varnished, was to be used. The ceiling would be coved, finished with tongue and grooved pitch pine mouldings and ornamental plaster of Paris centres. Central heating was also to be installed. The stone for the new building came from Cornwallis- West’s quarry. Which quarry is not clear. It could have been either at Eyarth or Graig Ewart on the Denbigh Road, or even both, This stone was supplied at a very low price and West also subscribed generously towards the cost of the building. Plans had been drawn by Mr. Thomas Parry of Colwyn Bay, the work supervised by a Mr. J.T. Roberts also of Colwyn Bay, with Mr. John Morris of Ruthin acting as Clerk of the Works. The cost was estimated to be £1,600 of which £500 had already been promised.

The Minister of the Chapel, the Rev. E. Stephens, chaired the proceedings. There were four foundation stones. The first was to have been laid by Mr William Cornwallis-West, but he had been called rather urgently to his sister's sick bed so that Mrs. Cornwallis West performed the ceremony in his place. One might wonder how the Lord of the Manor and main figure of the local establishment, came to be involved in the affairs of a nonconformist chapel at a time when relations between the two churches were not always sweetness and light. By this time there was a movement away from these antagonisms and Cornwallis-West was always anxious to support his local community as a whole.

The second stone was laid by His Worship the Mayor, Mr. Ezra Roberts, later a Freeman of the Borough [RLHB, No: 74]. Mr. Roberts speculated that he had been invited to participate by virtue of two offices which he then held, that of Mayor of the Borough, and as an Elder of the Tabernacle Chapel in Well Street. He eloquently pointed out that Bethania was daughter of the Tabernacle Chapel, which had started life in Rhos Street 107 years previously. Eight new chapels had since branched from it, having about 1,000 members, some 1,600 adherents and approximately 1,300 Sunday School members.

The third stone was laid by Major Saxon Gregson Ellis, who confessed that he had been astonished to be invited to do so. He had come to realise that this was because of his father's close association with the neighbourhood [e.g., Ellis' Mineral Water Works] and his deep interest in the well-being of the residents. He too was equally interested in and concerned for this neighbourhood, where he had lived for most of his life.

The final stone was laid by the Town Clerk, Mr. William Lloyd, who was presented with the trowel by Miss Edith Williams, daughter of Thomas Williams of Crown House. Lloyd too was an Anglican but his forebears had been prominent Calvinistic Methodists. He spoke of the work of Thomas Charles of Bala, the great promoter of Sunday Schools in Wales.

An interesting feature of the proceedings was an account given by Mr. Davies of Eagles House of the history of the cause at Llanfwrog. It began with a Sunday School in 1820, twenty years before Mr. Davies' birth. The first meetings were held at Ty Gwyn, a little beyond Llanfwrog Church, and soon had to be transferred to the church itself, with the permission of the Rector, Rev Richard Newcome, who was also Warden of St. Peter's Church. Mr. Davies said that the meetings ‘were held on the floor of the church’, though tradition has it that they were in the bell tower from which the group were given the name "Ysgol y Clochdy" (`School of the Belfry').

Still later, the meetings were transferred to Ty Isaf, near Plas Efenechtyd, just off the Cerrig road. It had then transferred to Rhiw, Pwllglas, where it remained and flourished. However, Llanfwrog must have lost out until 1859 when the school was restarted. Mr. Davies was able to cite several names of those responsible for that development, e.g., David Jones, Pen-y-Bont, Enoch Evans, Cooper, John Williams, Barker (tanner), etc. The meetings were held in three rooms in another house below the church and the accommodation soon became inadequate.

At this point, Mr. Davies invited anyone present to indicate whether they remembered these meetings and five responded. He then went on to paint a vivid picture of conditions in Llanfwrog at that time. Most attending were wholly illiterate and conduct was so unruly that it was impossible to prevent fights breaking out during the meetings. The moral and religious condition of the people was such that a policeman would not venture there. Fifty years later, however, things had changed to the extent that the services of a `bluecoat' were seldom required.

On completion of the formal proceedings, a large number took tea in 'the park', presumably Cae Ddol.




IT IS TOO EASY to envisage the plight of the poor in the Dickensian terms of Oliver Twist. The story of the relief of poverty goes back to the reign of Elizabeth. However, after the Napoleonic wars the strain on the system grew to such an extent that in 1832 the government was forced to consider a reform of the system. The system in place was parish based, and the relief one received depended upon where one lived. To use modern phraseology, it was post code dependant. Parish relief was managed through the vestry by an appointed officer, the overseer of the poor. The parish vestry was controlled by the incumbent and the wealthier members of the parish. As they were funding the relief then it depended upon their generosity how the less fortunate were treated. Some parishes had poor houses, some did not, others had almshouses, others had neither. With the flood of man power from the wars, parishes particularly in southern and western England could not cope with the demand. Again, for generations, farm labourers laid off in the winter months were paid relief. By default, the whole parish was, in a manner of speaking, subsidising farmers by ensuring there was always a pool of labour ready for the labour-intensive work.

Over the period 1750-1818, poor law administration had risen over tenfold and clearly this could not go on indefinitely. There was a committee appointed in 1817 to consider the question but they procrastinated and nothing was done. In 1830 there were many rural disturbances across southern England, haystacks were burnt and machinery destroyed. Nineteen men were executed and five hundred transported to Australia for their part in riots, which occurred in counties from East Anglia to Wiltshire. Clearly, in the government's mind were the events leading to the French Revolution and the destruction of a nation's establishment. They decided to appoint a Commission. This was chaired by the Bishop of London, Reverend Dr. Bloomfield. The assistant commissioners were determined to show that the existing system was entirely bad, their reports told the establishment exactly what they wanted. In 1834 they reported to Parliament and within six months the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed. There were to be three commissioners with a secretariat to administer the Act. They would be responsible for grouping parishes into Poor Law Unions. The Guardians of these Unions would be responsible to the Poor Law Commissioners in London. This was one of the few occasions until that date that central government had intervened in local administration. In retrospect it was unfortunate that heading the secretariat serving the Poor Law Commissioners in London was Edwin Chadwick, although he had a brilliant mind, he was tactless and arrogant, qualities that were not required. The appointment required liasing with J.P.s and the landed gentry felt that some of their powers had been diminished. These new Unions were to build workhouses and administer poor relief. The first priority for the implementation of the Act was southern England where disruption had occurred. It was therefore 1837 before implementation of the Act began in Ruthin.

The first meeting of the Ruthin Board of Guardians was held on 2 March 1837. The Board was to serve twenty parishes [twenty-one – Llanynys left out]: Aberwheeler, Clocaenog, Derwen, Efenechtyd, Gyffylliog, Llanarmon yn Ial, Llanelidan, Llanbedr, Llandyrnog, Llanfair D.C. Llanferres, Llanfwrog, Llangernyw, Llangynhafal, Llanrhaeadr Llanrhydd, Llanychan, Nantglyn, Ruthin, Llandegla. The meeting was attended by the JPs within the Union and representatives from the parishes also the Assistant Poor Law Commissioner, Richard Digby Neave Esq. The parish representatives were elected by the ratepayers only, but that also included any women who happened to fall into that category. It was clear from reading between the lines of the minutes of the Board their role was going to be difficult, at least during the implementation period. The clash of interest between the embryonic Board and the Parishes rumbled on for months.

Joseph Ablett of Llanbedr was elected Chairman and Richard M. Wynne of Eyarth Hall as Vice-Chai man. Both were landed gentry and J.Ps. For example, Ablett was sixty-one years of age and lived with his wife Anne at Llanbedr Hall. They lived in a style that befitted a gentleman. According to the 1841 Census, they had four female and one male servant living at the Hall. Living on the estate, in his immediate employment was a groom and coachman and their families.

After the Chairman and his deputy, they elected a secretary. This appointment went to William Cole, attorney of Well St., Ruthin. This was a part-time appointment but nevertheless it carried a salary of £60 p.a., - no small amount for those days. The Relieving Officers were to receive £80 p.a., this was moved by George Adams of Ruthin and the Warden of Ruthin. It may be recalled that the Assistant Poor Law Commissioner was present at this meeting and so in fact was authorising these salaries. The positions were to be advertised and the conditions of employment were as follows: they were to reside in the district, testimonials as to character and competence were required and finally security of £100 was required. This final condition must have deterred many for it was a substantial sum. Advertisements were to be placed in the Chester Chronicle and the Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald. There was also the threat of nepotism in making of such influential appointments.

It was the intention of the Act that before anyone could justify relief it was not sufficient to be poor, one had to be destitute and the only relief was the workhouse. The regime within that institution was to be harsh to the extent it deterred people applying for relief. The intention was that there should be no outdoor relief However it is hoped to show that this last condition did not apply to the Ruthin Union and this was not unique to this area.

The clerk was to prepare estimates and orders for the parishes of the Union that the churchwardens paid to the treasurer on or before the 24 April 1837 ten per cent of the declared parish expenditure. This was to fund future relief and defraying the general expenses of the Union. Here then was the first bone of contention. The surrender of parish funds to a central body, which became a subject of much objection over the coming months. Without dwelling too much on the statistics of the annual parish expenditure, intuitively one might have expected that Ruthin would have been the largest. This was not the case, - Llanrhaeadr expended £1,665 whilst Ruthin's was half that amount. However, today we think of the town as including the parishes of Llanfwrog and Llanrhydd, but even with these the town fell short of Llanrhaeadr.

The next task was to appoint Medical Officers. Their salaries were to include every kind of attention, assistance, labour, medicine and appliances (except trusses, i.e., artificial limbs). The requirements of applicants were as follows: knowledge of the Welsh language, fully qualified, able to produce certificates for the foregoing and testimonials. It is interesting, the qualifications required for the relieving officers, knowledge of Welsh was not specified. Whether this was assumed in an appointment that had no professional qualifications, bilingual skill was self-evident, or just an oversight, is a matter of conjecture. The salary was not advertised but it was agreed that in the Denbigh District it would be £50 p.a. and in the two Ruthin districts £60. For medical purposes the Union was divided as follows: Denbigh [Llanrhaeadr, Denbigh was part of the St. Asaph Union]- Aberwheeler, Llandyrnog, Llangwyfan, Llanrhaeadr, Nant Glyn; Ruthin No. 1. District - Llanrhydd, Llanbedr, Llanferres, Llandegla, Llanarmon. Llanfair D. C. Derwen, Llanelidan, Ruthin. Ruthin No. 2 District - Llangynhafal, Llanychan, [Llanynys] Clocaenog, Gyffylliog, Efenechtyd, Llanfwrog. Later there were minor alterations to these allocations.

The clerk was instructed to write to the Commissioners in London for estimates and plans for a workhouse to house 200-250 paupers. This was an interesting request, for the workhouse as eventually built housed just over 100. It was Chadwick's plan that there should be no outdoor relief but that was never achieved. To the contrary, for decades in the Ruthin Union the larger number of paupers were relieved outside the workhouse until internal migration, aided by the railway system, mitigated rural poverty.

It may be recalled the Board of Guardians had two elements the J. Ps. and the elected members from each parish. Clearly, some of these men, for there were no women members, [there would be one by the end of the century, representing Llanferres] had no concept of committee procedure for there in the minutes are the rules of committee procedure. Briefly these were:
1.    That every Guardian when he has the desire to speak shall stand up and address the chairman and at all other times observe strict silence and attend to matters under discussion.
2.    If two members or more stand up to speak at the same time the chairman shall decide to whom belongs the priority to speak.
3.    All motions shall be submitted to the Board by the mover and if seconded shall be discussed and be determined by open vote.
4.    No guardian except the mover shall speak more than once on any business or question unless in explanation of what has previously fallen from him if misconstrued or in answer to a personal call and in that case confine himself strictly to the requisite explanation.
5.    The mover shall in all cases be entitled to speak once on any matter introduced by him and once in final reply.
The above speaks volumes of the early nineteenth century formality and yet perhaps if a little of this was to be maintained today many committee meetings would be considerably shorter! AF.

REFERENCES: Denbighshire Record Office GD/B/8a/I; Anne Digby; The Poor Law in the Nineteenth-Century England and Wales (Historical Association Pamphlet 1982).; K.D.M. Snell, Annals of the Labouring Poor (C U. P.1985).; Sir Llewellyn Woodward, The Age of Reform (O.U.P. 1964).

Mr. FURNESS WILLIAMS was a tenor who achieved a certain celebrity in the world of opera. A brief biographical account appeared in this Broadsheet N° 18. In short, he was born into a family of 14 or even, according to one account, of 21. His parents are thought to have lived at one time, probably early in their marriage, at Half Way House on the western flank of Moel Fenlli. Later, they lived in a cottage, now demolished, the site of which is now a garage on the eastern side of Llanfair Road, and later still they removed to what is now a three storey block on the Llanfair Road/Well Street corner. Locally, Furness enjoyed a reputation bordering on stardom. He began by singing at St. Peter's church and was given great support and encouragement by the Wests of Ruthin Castle. He was often invited to sing at parties and soirees held at the castle. Another of Furness's local supporters was Mr. W.T.A. Jones, the Manager of Barclays' Bank, when it was located in Upper Clwyd Street. Jones arranged a loan to enable Furness to embark on his singing career after training at Swiss Cottage and at Milan.
In the 1914 and 1915 seasons, Furness was engaged at the Royal Opera Company, Covent Garden on a Chorus and Small Parts Contract. In 1914, he went out to perform in Australia and while travelling saw plenty of warlike action. Thereafter, he joined the Artists Rifles prior to taking up a commission with a Welsh Regiment. He already had six brothers in the forces. He was going to kill Germans by singing to them in Welsh!

Recent research into his 1915 Italian Opera South American excursion and performances suggests that accounts of his association with Caruso may have been somewhat exaggerated. Press reviews of performances given by the company of which Furness was a member were, at best, abysmal. The Manager absconded, leaving the troupe penniless and far from home.
The Free Press of 7th February 1925 reported that he was principal tenor of the Carl Rosa Opera Company and that he had also appeared as a principal at Covent Garden. He certainly sang for those companies and with the OHarrison Frewin Opera Co., the D’Oyly Carte, Phillips, Beecham, Denhof, and O'Mara companies. The Free Press again reported on 15th November 1930 – Mr. Furness Williams, the well-known Ruthin tenor contributed with powerful and dramatic renderings of various arias with a voice that Madame Melba once termed "genuine tenor", and Madame Galli Curci also complimented him most highly when he sang at Buenos Aires’.

Furness's local reputation never wavered. He often returned home, to other parts of Wales, and to Merseyside giving performances that were highly acclaimed. When not touring, he lived at London, but latterly moved to Liverpool to tutor at the Crane Buildings Academy of Music. Towards the end of his life, Furness returned to Ruthin and died, aged 79, in the local hospital on 23rd June 1957. His obituary made no mention of his Danish wife or of the son which she bore him.
Furness' local friends included vocalists of repute, including Johnny Williams of Clwyd Street, who like Furness Williams, had been supported and encouraged by the Wests. Johnny Williams, tenor soloist, had been especially successful in local eisteddfodau, winning at Bala in 1903, and three times between 1906 and 1914 at Corwen. His day job was running a florist's/greengrocery shop in Clwyd Street, for which he cultivated much of his own produce. He also gained a reputation as a prize winner at local flower shows.

Mr. Charles Moorhouse, baritone, of Llanbedr, was another such friend and was himself a professional singer. Moorhouse too had been a principal at the Carl Rosa Opera Company, the Harrison Frewin Opera Company, and Moody Manners Opera Company. Moorhouse lived until 31st August 1972 having attained the age of 91 years and was buried at Llanbedr churchyard with his wife.

The second World War did not stop the Ruthin Choral Society in its tracks, although there must have been formidable difficulties. Mr. Morgan Nicholas, a prominent musician of Oswestry, managed to travel to Ruthin to train and conduct this choir, producing many of the standard classics. One of the greatest local successes of the post-war era must be ascribed to Miss Joan Carlyle, who ranked amongst the world's leading sopranos often seen and heard on radio and television, not to mention many prestigious stages.

Contributions to Ruthin's musical heritage have been made by so many other people of talent who never gained national limelight, who nevertheless made important contributions to the musical life of the town and wider district. Doubtless, many will have been forgotten, viz., W.S. Davies, Roland Griffiths, Tom Williams the plumber, R.O. Jones. More recently, a succession of numerous talented individuals and groups have given and are still giving their audiences tremendous pleasure. Also, among the virtually unknown is another who made a vitally important contribution. Isaac Clarke, printer, of No: 6, Well Street, made music available to all by printing and publishing music, including ‘Hen Wlad fy Nhadau’, which became our national anthem.

Ruthin would not claim to be Wales' foremost source of musical talent and inspiration, but music has enriched its past. It is interesting to note the partnership of school, Church or Chapel with these activities. To these partnerships must be added local, national and international eisteddfodau, which have contributed and enabled so much. Happily, these traditions continue to thrive, thereby nourishing local talent of which there is aplenty. Long may it continue.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Messrs Allan Fletcher and Alyn Lloyd, who have kindly read and commented on this paper, the latter supplying additional information about Mr. Furness Williams; Y Faner, 1864; ‘Johnny Williams, local tenor.’; Free Press – 11th July 1924, 6th June 1925; Mrs. Kathleen Webb, Llanbedr; items from the scrapbooks of the late Oswald Edwards.

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