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RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                         Issue No 78 June 2004



GUARDIANS OF THE POOR II. The Building of the Workhouse.







RUTHIN WORKHOUSE. Ack: Denbighshire Record Office

When the great and the good of Ruthin and its environs met for the first time with the combined responsibility for managing the problems of the poor by means of confining the persistent paupers to a workhouse, their first problem was to locate a site for such a structure.

This turned out to be far from easy. The major landowner, not only in the area but in Wales, was Sir Watkin Williams Wynn. It was only natural that they approached him first to ascertain if he would sell them approximately 1.5 acres. A site north of Llanfwrog was selected and the clerk was asked to write to the agent of the Wynn's estates asking if they might buy the land.
The year was 1837 and municipal drainage had not yet been enforced. The workhouse was envisaged to hold some 200 souls. The effluent from such an establishment posed quite a problem. Further, of course, there was a need for water. 

Close by the proposed site was Galchog Dingle with its stream. A pond (at least the minutes of the Board suggested a pond), but probably a dam, could be created on Lord Bagot's land. If in the summer the supply ran dry then the water supply could be supplemented from a well in a garden owned by a John Jones. Almost as soon as the site had been identified objections were raised. The tanneries lower downstream would be affected by the discharge of effluence and as tenants of Sir Watkin no doubt they objected strongly to his agent. The amount of money involved in the purchase of the site was about £500 and for this amount of capital there was little point in upsetting the rental income of valued and trusted tenants. Although Sir Watkin had named his price for the land, he withdrew his offer to sell.

Then another site was identified. This was owned by Miss Harriet Myddelton, half sister-in-law to Frederick West. The site was the bottom of Prior Street next to a timber yard. However, she declined to sell. Time was moving on; the Ruthin Union was some three years late in being created and here they were without a site for a workhouse never mind having one built. Naturally, the minutes of the Board do not overtly state their anxiety over the issue, but reading them nearly two centuries later one does sense a degree of urgency or even panic over the matter. One feels almost certain that it was thought the site in Llanfwrog, if not ideal, would meet their requirements, now the close family of the local landowner, the Wests, had turned them down.
By the end of April someone (it is not recorded who) suggested John Price of Shrewsbury had land near Telpyn Bridge at Rhewl, tenanted by a David Davies, and that he might be willing to sell a plot of land near Felin y Wern. A letter was sent to Price and he agreed. Immediately, in haste one feels, the Board wrote to the Poor Law Commissioners in London for their agreement for them to purchase this land and commence building. The Commissioners must have sensed the anxiety that the Board felt, for the next step in this saga was a letter to the Chairman from Assistant Poor Law Commissioner R. D. Neave, who had responsibility for the Ruthin Union. He stressed that the Board required the ideal site and to feel no obligation to purchase the Price land.

In spite of this, there was no stopping the Ruthin Guardians. Penson was asked to survey the land and if favourable to prepare plans for the Poor Law Commissioners’ approval. There must have been some standardised plans for a workhouse for the plans and the results of the survey were sent to London and returned within the month. London taking a more cautious approach asked for estimated costs of the site and the construction. What they were probably anxious about was additional transportation costs. Telpyn Bridge is approximately three miles from Ruthin and when the main system of moving goods was by packhorse or wagon along tracks which were often almost impassable through the mud and snow, one had to be very cautious of the costs involved.

An almost petulant motion by George Adams and seconded by John Williams proposed that the Price land be purchased. This was after a letter was read to the Board offering a site in Well Street owned by Sir Robert Vaughan. Penson was asked to meet with the request from London as soon as possible and Mr. Price to supply an abstract of title. The site must have been fairly densely wooded for Price was in addition asking for the cost of the timber.

One can imagine the frustration of the Board when their own medical officers reported that the site was unhealthy. The minutes only report that the medical officers were 'questioned severely on the salubrity of the site'. Then testily Messrs Bickerton and Evans reminded the Board that they had agreed to the proposal of Williams and Adams that the Price land be purchased. This however, was not the end of the matter by a very long way. Penson had been asked to stake out the site, which he did, and to his horror found the area required was dissected by two footpaths. Of course, these days this might not have presented too much trouble. A diversion could be made with the organisations representing the rambling interests. We are now talking about 1837 when these ancient track-ways were essential for man and beast to move from one community to another. Price was asked to clarify the position.

The Board was furious, the reply from Price was clearly unacceptable. Six months had been lost, but however Price procrastinated, the land was unsuitable for the purpose. The Board insisted that he paid for the surveying costs. Nevertheless, one wonders in retrospect why on earth Penson, the surveyor, had not seen this difficulty in the first place. Nowhere in the minutes can be found any trace of criticism of the survey.

The following six months were concerned with the extraction by the Board from any commitment with the Telpyn arrangement. The Board now had to start looking again for a site. Sir Robert Vaughan was not interested in selling his Well Street property, having been spurned by the Board months earlier. Frederick West was approached to sell a piece of land in Rhos Street, but he too rejected the Board's offer. Finally, in January 1838 the Board purchased the croft belonging to The Anchor for £550. How this site came to the notice of the Board is not recorded. Probably members of the Ruthin community who were well represented on the Board had privately suggested that the Board were in need of a site and the financial benefits to the town's economy, which would stem from the workhouse being in the town. One might think of similar arguments being made today over the benefits of the County Offices being in the town. The site chosen was between Llanrhydd and Rhos Streets.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Denbighshire Record Office, GD/B/8a/1&2.



Our Victorian forebears were nothing if not resourceful. For leisure pursuits, they often relied upon their own creativity. There was no TV, no cinemas, not even radio, though pubs were in plentiful supply. Perhaps, though, pubs were not always the best idea as they did cause certain problems. Little has changed. In fact, such were the problems that some good folk sought to provide alternatives. Something that not only averted the kind of trouble that 'merry-making' at the local sometimes provoked, rather something worthy and improving. This article looks at one response to that particular problem. The next, to appear in our September issue, will show how one of the local gentry families and their friends sought to enjoy themselves.

The Denbighshire Free Press of January 1910 published extracts from the minute book of the Ruthin Young Men's Society. This was formed on 5th July 1844 at a public meeting held at the Town Hall, - the old one located on The Square, -and was chaired by the Venerable Archdeacon Richard Newcome. There was a good attendance, mostly professional and trades people including, for example - Nathan Maddocks, a Bank Manager; the Town Clerk, - William Cole, - and John Jones, the Quaker Baker [RLHB, Nos: 11 & 12]. It was decided to form a society whose full name would be The Ruthin Young Men's Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Ordinary members would pay a joining fee of one shilling plus four pence per month, while honorary members would pay the same joining fee plus one shilling per month. Meetings were to be held twice weekly and were to finish precisely at 10 p.m. Controversial religious or political discussions were to be avoided.

The instigator was Henry Parry, a draper of Well Street Later, at a subsequent meeting a committee and officers were appointed, with William Cole as secretary. Newcome, the Warden, became President and was warmly thanked for his support. Meetings were to be held at the Town Hall, courtesy of the Mayor, Mr. C.H. Chapman. Another kindness, doubtless well-meant, was a gift of 39 books from Edward Jones, shoemaker, of 'Upper' Well Street. These had been the property of The Ruthin Society for the Diffusion of Religious and Useful Knowledge formerly known as `The Reading Society'. The subject matter of these tomes is not mentioned, but they would hardly have been Victorian equivalents of the Mills and Boon variety.

Earnest debate was another aspect of the society's activities, on such abstruse subjects as ‘How Far a Man's Happiness Depends Upon Himself in a Temporal Point of View.’ or ‘Which is the Greatest Virtue in a Man, Moderation in Prosperity or Patience in Adversity?’ Unsurprisingly, these debates got nowhere. Lectures were another diversion and the Rev. E.L. Barnwell, Head Master of the Grammar School, spoke on architecture.

Initial enthusiasm quickly waned. There were discussions as to how attendances might be increased. It was suggested that the meetings should be made more interesting and that ladies should be invited to attend. This latter suggestion was considered on a number of occasions without resolution, which is not really surprising for a Young Men's Society. Readings and recitings were other suggestions. More books were gratefully received from the Rev. Mr. Cleaver of St. Asaph. These were inspected and approved, except for Tomlins' Calvinism.

Possibly the most radical suggestion as to how attendances might be improved came from tradesmen members. It was thought that while young men and apprentices in the town had shown great interest in the society it was implied that they could not attend because of their duties. These tradesmen therefore agreed to close their establishments at 7 p.m. in the period 131h November to the end of February, excepting Market and Fair Days. In fact, this arrangement appealed to such an extent that all tradesmen in Well Street and Clwyd Street were canvassed to this end and, by and large, most if not all had agreed. 500 copies of a notice of these closures were printed and distributed. In November, the Vice-chairman reported on a meeting held at Hereford regarding the early closing of shops.

Instruction in grammar was another of this society's activities, but all sorts of difficulties were beginning to arise. Members were defaulting on the payment of their dues and some members were making sarcastic comments in public about the efforts of their fellow-members. A resolution was passed, which sought to levy a fine of two shillings and six pence upon those guilty of such transgressions.

Another gift of books was received from a Miss Bishop of Clwyd Street, but details of their titles were not recorded. As the year progressed inexorably to its natural end, so apparently did the society. It was decided to send out visitors to discover the reasons for non-attendance. Too late, ladies were to be allowed to join. And there the record ends, as presumably did the society. It went the way of so many other good intentions. However, this was not the end of the struggle for ‘Mutual Improvement’ – but that's another story.




RUTHIN has benefited from many charitable gifts from the well-to-do. Good examples of this philanthropy are two buildings, still prominent in the town and still fulfilling useful purposes if not those that the original benefactors had in mind, viz., the old Grammar School and the Naylor-Leyland Institute. The first is of course located in that serene, almost hallowed, area in the shadow of St. Peter's Church, generically known as 'the cloisters', an area that must have been as conducive to study as the tranquil precincts of any Oxford or Cambridge college. The other is in the rather more brash Well Street. They have what is probably a less than obvious connection.

The OLD GRAMMAR SCHOOL was founded or re-founded by Gabriel Goodman in 1574, but the actual building no longer exists in its original form. It had been extensively improved and renovated, if not replaced, in 1700, and again enlarged in 1742, with an adjoining Head Master's house. This had been paid for by public subscription. By the end of the nineteenth century, the school's success, not to mention political pressures, had been such that a move to another larger site with more modern facilities and playing fields, was necessary if this ancient and worthy foundation was to survive. In 1892, it removed to new buildings. Its future had been in the balance during the debate around the Intermediate and Higher Education for Wales Act of 1889. Its transfer to the Local Education Authority was only narrowly averted in the House of Lords in 1894.

Whether the new circumstances, favourable though they may have been in many ways, better fulfilled Goodman's original intentions is perhaps a moot point, but the school flourishes still, catering for a multinational catchment area while the neighbouring Brynhyfryd School caters so admirably, and differently, for local needs.

The original building was purchased from the school governors ‘by the late Mrs. Naylor Leyland’, wife of Colonel Tom, of Nantclwyd Hall, shortly before her death at her London home in June 1902. A Trust relating to these premises was completed in June 1903 with three ex-officio trustees viz., the Mayor, the Warden and the head master of the Grammar School, who at that time was Rev. W.P. Whittington. Mrs. Naylor-Leyland intended that a portion be used for technical education purposes while the remainder, probably the head master's house, was to be a Clergy House.

‘Technical education’, while not generally available, was coming into vogue at that time. The Education Act of 1902 encouraged and enabled local education authorities to introduce this as a new strand to their education services.

The trustees experienced some difficulty in progressing their trust. They had no funds with which even to insure or maintain the premises, so they sought to let the premises to the Town Council or to the local education authority. The Town Council would have nothing to do with this. Technical education was not their function. The trustees suspected that the L.E.A. wanted full and unfettered control of the building. They also doubted Ruthin's need for technical education provision on such a scale as the premises would offer, - a large hall and several good-sized classrooms. It was known that Ruthin's County School for Girls lacked adequate facilities for cookery and associated lessons, but the trustees felt that remedying that extended beyond their remit.

In view of the apparent lack of success in involving the two local authorities, they themselves considered whether they could make the necessary arrangements for technical education. They thought that the 'excess' accommodation might be used as a public library and as a local museum. They wanted to know whether these services could be delegated to a co-opted committee who would be responsible for their management.

To resolve these questions, their clerk, R. Vincent Johnson, a local solicitor, prepared a draft case for the Opinion of Counsel in which these questions were posed. Unfortunately, there is no record as to whether such a submission was actually made or what Counsel's opinion might have been.

Thus, the old grammar school was apparently unloved and at risk at this time. Its condition had deteriorated somewhat. Indeed, until about 1911, the old school remained unoccupied - excepting a small part, presumably that allocated to the church.

Eventually, the trustees were authorised by the Charity Commission to sell the redundant buildings for not less than £350. The Education Committee of the Denbighshire County Council offered to purchase, subject to a full survey by the County Architect and an assessment made as to its suitability for the intended purpose. The trustees declined so the L.E.A. offered to take a seven-year lease but at the same time wanted to know why the trustees refused to sell. The trustees agreed to a lease on the basis, at least initially, of an annual tenancy, provided that the County Council renovated the building, bore the cost of insurance, etc. There was no enthusiasm for that arrangement and a stalemate ensued.

Eventually, the Town Council whose Mayor was a trustee, proposed a joint meeting with the L.E.A. in an attempt to make progress. The Town Council proposed that the building should be sold for not less than £500 to be used in making the intended provision in other premises.

In June 1910, the L.E.A. appointed local representatives to meet the Ruthin District School Managers and the Town Council to explore the possibility of acquiring the premises for Technical Education. By the following December, the Town Council were pressing the Education Committee to reach a decision as the sale of the old school seemed imminent.

Thus, the Technical Education objective seemed at risk of being thwarted and the old school buildings seemed destined for sale to some other party and for some other purpose. It transpired that ‘the other party’ was Miss Ellinor Roberts, or members of her family, who had offered £520 for their purchase. It is evident that this sale proceeded for towards the end of 1911, the Free Press reported on a Grand Bazaar and Pleasure Fair, organised to raise £800 to meet renovation costs.

In the meantime, the Charity Commissioners had agreed that the sale proceeds could indeed be used to purchase or erect other premises for Technical Instruction in the Borough. This manifestly seemed the better option.

The proceeds of £520 approximated to an amount promised by the late Miss ‘Gabriel’ Roberts. It would appear that Miss Roberts was better known, not surprisingly, as Miss Ellinor Roberts, of 11, Record Street, although by now her identity is somewhat enigmatic. St. Peter's guide book throws a little more light when it records that the brass eagle lectern was presented in 1904 in memory of Gabriel and Margaret Roberts of Plas Gwyn by their daughter Ellinor.

In May, 1913 the Free Press announced that the premises were to be opened with due ceremony and aplomb as "The Ellinor Roberts Memorial Buildings" on 3" July. The opening was performed by a Mrs. Preston of Llwyn Ynn, Llanfair D.C., whose family had purchased and donated the building to St. Peter's church as Ellinor's memorial. The involvement of the Preston family arose from James Franklin Preston's second marriage to Anne Elizabeth Roberts, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Gabriel Roberts. Gabriel Roberts, born in Llandyrnog [1786], became a J.P. for Denbighshire and whose addresses are quoted as being Cefn Coch, Plas Gwyn, Llanychan, and Record Street. There were three children, Gabriel Lloyd Roberts, Anne Elizabeth and Ellinor.

A brass tablet was unveiled by Miss Constance Preston citing Franklin, Guy, Constance and Eveline Preston of Plas Gwyn, Ellinor's nephews and nieces.

Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Weyman of Plas Llanrhydd had already donated a library and in apologising for their absence from the ceremony sent a further gift of £100 for the use of the Library Committee.

These arrangements provided a satisfactory medium-term solution to the future of the old grammar school building, but the intention of Mrs. Naylor-Leyland's bequest remained unfulfilled. Would the sum of £520 be sufficient to provide alternative premises? How could it be achieved? The next step in fulfilling Mrs. Naylor Leyland's benefaction was already in hand and the process will be described in our next issue.



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