RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET Issue No 22 June 1990
THE FLYING STONES by Bill Fowler
I don't know whether you have walked across the mountain from Llangynhafal to Cilcain. Its a lovely walk in the summer with an excellent pub at either end - a prerequisite, in my view, of all good walks.
Should you do this walk you may notice, almost on the crest of the hill as you ascend, an abandoned quarry: and if you leave the path and go towards it, you will come across some odd squares of concrete set deep in the bracken. You will in fact have uncovered a piece of industrial archaeology.
Up until 1924, the old Ruthin Rural District Council got all its stone for road work from a quarry at Llangwyfan, with some additional supplies from Llangynhafal. How long the latter had been worked, I do not know, but an old photograph in the Record Office at Ruthin is dated 1906 and shows 12 men working there. So it must have been quite a thriving enterprise.
But, in 1924 Llangwyfan was judged to be worked out, leaving the R.D.C. entirely dependant on Llangynhafal. But the approach to it was steep, rough and very narrow, and about three quarters of a mile from the nearest metalled road. The wagons employed were, I believe, steamers, possibly old Fodens or Sentinels and village boys often begged rides up the mountains in these puffing billies. The Engineer to the Council reported that "one single trip to Llangynhafal was very heavy work and possibly depreciated the engines as much in one journey as three days of work in the Vale." Breakdowns became much more frequent and when these occurred, there was no way by which another vehicle could pass on the narrow track and consequently all work came to a standstill.
In the light of this, the Engineer made a striking proposal, namely that a series of gantries should be erected from the quarry to the road and buckets would be suspended on an endless steel wire. The beauty of this idea was that once erected, there would be virtually no running costs as the loaded buckets would be carried downhill by the force of gravity, whilst the empty ones on the endless rope would be returned for refilling. The Engineer estimated that it could be done for £1,800 and that the operation could be worked by only four men - two to load the buckets, one to feed the crusher, and an engineer - a considerable saving in manpower.
The Council was delighted and authorised the Engineer to put the scheme to tender. A firm known as Aerial Ropeways, Ltd., offered to do the whole job for only £1,070. After negotiation with the quarry owners, The Duff House Co., agreement was reached for a royalty of 3d. per ton on the first 1,000 tons and 2d. per ton thereafter, and land was rented near the Cyffion for a landing stage near the road. A mess room was built at the quarry for £13. All seemed set to go.
Then arose a snag. At the foot of the mountain was a smallholding known as Fron Haul, consisting of a cottage, stables and a few acres of land. The owner of this cottage suddenly woke up to the fact that the line of ropeway passed directly over his cottage, opening the possibility that if anything fell from the buckets, it would pass right through his roof and quite possibly flatten him in his living room. Not surprisingly, he objected. He had, moreover, a means of enforcing his objection.
To allow the erection of the gantries, it was necessary to obtain a wayleave over his fields and this he refused to grant. The Council offered to make a slight diversion of the route, but the owner did not seem to think that the possibility of being struck by stones in his own fields was any better than suffering the same fate in his house - and continued his refusal. An impasse having been reached, the Council offered to buy the smallholding. The owner then asked for £450 which the Engineer considered "quite outrageous". Finally, after much haggling, the sum of £350 was agreed with £3.30 for his expenses, whatever they were.
The Council then realised that it was now their property which was at risk and that it would be very unlikely that it could be let to a tenant. Accordingly, they agreed a much longer diversion, carrying the line across the field for a distance of just under a mile to emerge at a little glen known as Hwylfa Llwyn. The change cost them £250, 25% more than the original cost. However, this was accepted and on 27th June, 1925, erection began.
After all the alarms and excursions, it proved an outstanding success. Within a year it was producing 525 tons per month and was estimated to have saved the ratepayers £470 in the first 14 months of operation, covering the capital cost in just over two years.
Whilst it operated, children were warned not to play underneath it and I knew one quarryman (now dead) who rode all the way down in one of the buckets to his cottage which lay only a short distance from the landing stage, surprising his wife by his early arrival home.
I don't know how long it remained in operation, but the installation was in situ long after the end of World War II. No doubt improvements in transport and more modern quarries made it no longer economic, and it was finally demolished some time in the 1950s. Only the concrete slabs on the mountain and the big concrete landing stage remain to remind us of a remarkable enterprise.
The Wardenship of Christ's Hospital, Ruthin, in the nineteenth century was remarkable in that this office was occupied by only two men, Archdeacon Newcome [1804-1851; RBS. N0:20] and Bulkeley Owen Jones who held the office until 1909, a period of 59 years. Jones was born in 1824 [d: 25th January, 1914], the younger son of Rev. Hugh Jones, D.D., F.S.A, Rector of Beaumaris and his wife who was descended from the Owens of Pencraig, one of the Fifteen Tribes of Wales. Bulkeley attended Beaumaris Grammar School, Rugby School and Brasenose College, Oxford.
This short paper is primarily concerned with an aspect of his life at Rugby, when under the mastership of Dr. Arnold, viz., the famous fight in "Tom Brown's Schooldays". It is distilled from Jones' obituary notice and from a subsequent article "The Fight in Tom Brown's Schooldays"' which appeared in Denbighshire The Free Press of 31st January, and 7th March, 1914, respectively.
The obituary describes Rugby at the time of Bulkeley O. Jones in the "Thirties" and "Forties" as "a rough and tumble sort of place". The games of football were positively ferocious. The only place for the day-time ablution of hands and face was a pump in the quadrangle. Failure to ablute [?] before early school was penalised by the offender being placed under the pump with vigorous assistance in the washing of the back of the neck. One Welsh boy of the name 'Williams', sadly overlooked this basic necessity at a period of severe winter weather. The coldness was such that his circulation well-nigh ceased. This was therefore no place for the mollycoddled, but rather a tough training ground for pugillistic encounters which were not uncommon, and the harsher realities of the wider world. The combatants fought as did soldiers before the invention of firearms, - until one succumbed.
The fight scene in the book, Tom Brown's Schooldays, was based on one which had actually taken place between Augustus Orlebar, who became vicar of Willington, Bidford, and Bulkeley Owen Jones, with J.G. Holloway and Tom Hughes as their 'seconds'. The truth behind the fiction was for some time obscured, as neither party, nor their friends, wanted to be associated with the bully character in the book, "Slogger Williams" Jones' daughter was interviewed after her father's death in an attempt to ascertain the truth, and an enterprising correspondent of the Free Press wrote to Mr A.S. Orlebar of Tetworth Hall, Sandy, son of the late vicar who had then recently died. As an aside, both protagonists died just a few weeks short of their 90th birthdays, though Jones was a little older.
It seems to have been recognised by their contemporaries that Tom Brown was associated with Orlebar, as the smaller of the two. Orlebar's reply indicated that Chancellor Jones was in fact the prototype of Slogger Williams. Both were big, strong lads. Orlebar had been playing fives and on his return he passed through School House Hall where Jones was leaning over a table reading a paper. To quote, viz., he was "presenting a tight and rounded surface which was too tempting for my father who smote it with his fives bat." Naturally, such a painful greeting, even from a friend, and such an affront to dignity clearly required honourable satisfaction.
The fight took place instantly in School House Hall, not in the usual place designated for such happenings. There was said to be no ill-blood between the two, nor did the circumstances in which it arose bear any relation to those described in the book. Nor is there reason to cast either boy in the role of bully.
The fight was interrupted before its natural conclusion by the timely arrival of Dr Arnold himself, in whose House both boys were. Both were "so much knocked about that he did not for the moment recognise either."
References: Chapters from The History of Rugby School; Col. Selfe, quoting [p.115] letter from Mrs Tom Hughes. Tom Brown's Schooldays; Judge Hughes; Sidgwick and Jackson, 1913, quoting notes [p.xxv] by Mr F. Sidgwick.
RUTHIN STREET-BY-STREET SERIES
ST. PETER'S SQUARE, Part 7.
The final part of our perambulation around The Square and, indeed, Ruthin's medieval streets, brings us to the block accommodating the estate agent's office and Barclay's Bank. The former was for many years known as "The Beehive" and the latter for some centuries as "Exmewe House".
An advertisement for "The Beehive", when it served as a general drapery and millinery shop some 75 years ago, claimed that this was the only surviving portion of a building constructed some year before 1397. There can be no doubt that this is a survivor of a very old building, and there are still remains of timber framing filled with wattle and daub. The main section of the building, as we shall see, was demolished to make way for the bank.
This section is on the corner of Upper Clwyd Street and St Peter's Square and has clearly served many purposes over many years, and survived many adaptations and `modernisations'. It can still be seen that there was a frontage and access from Upper Clwyd street to a separate shop at the turn of the century.
"The Beehive" itself, however, was in the occupation of a Mr Edwards of Pentre, Clocaenog, in about the 1860s, and it passed from him to a Mr William Williams and his wife in the 1890s and remained with the widowed Mrs Williams for very many years. Indeed, it was eventually Mrs Williams' proud claim that she had been in business in the one location for longer than anyone else. The property was sold as part of the Castle estate in 1913 to Mr Lecomber, for £550.
"Exmewe House" is said variously to have been a fourteenth or a sixteenth century building. The 14th century school of thought suggest that it was damaged by fire at the time of Glyndwr's sacking of 1400 and subsequently repaired. Whatever the age of Exmewe House itself, there can be no doubt that such a prominent and important site would have provided the location for one structure or another since at least the thirteenth century.
The Ruthin Court Rolls refer to "a tenement in Ruthin" and to a house "in the high street". The Rolls record that in 1397 this "tenement" was surrendered on St. Barnabus Day by one Howell de Rowell "to the use of John Sergeant". Virtually nothing is known of the 'Le Sergeant' family, but the name clearly implies a Norman French origin and hence, possibly, a retainer of Edward I or Reginald de Grey. John le Sergeant in turn surrendered the tenement on 24th February, 1402, to his daughter Sibilla. Another view is that the building was constructed in 1500 by Thomas Exmewe, who maybe replaced a previous structure.
The property passed to the Exmewe family by the marriage of Sibilla le Sergeant to Richard Exmewe, and was passed down to their grandson, Sir Thomas Exmewe who was Lord Mayor of London in 1517. Up until this time, the Exmewe family were successful mercers, probably retailing general merchandise. They seem not merely to have been successful, but also very prosperous, and their base at this prestigious building is but one token of this.
Little is known of the Exmewe family, but Thomas evidently moved to London in search of richer fields to plough and such was his success, he was made Lord Mayor in 1517. Whether at this time Sir Thomas's family associations with Ruthin had died away, or whether he was simply in need of extra funds to see him through his expensive Mayoral year, he decided to sell his Ruthin estate, which was considerable.
He found a ready purchaser in Edward Goodman, the first of that name, and already a prosperous mercer himself. He was doubtless delighted to acquire such a prime site as a reflection of his prowing prosperity and his emergence on the social scene following his marriage to Cicely Thelwall of Plas-y-Ward in about 1508. There is very little documentation concerning this family, and consquently much doubt about their involvement here and in Nantclwyd House [RBS. NO: 7] so that it is not possible to verify assertions that Exmewe House was Gabriel Goodman's place of birth, or whether this was at Nantclwyd House. Either is possible, but it is thought that Edward continued to live there until 1560. [later research confirms no connectiom with Nantclwyd y Dre]
Be that as it may, Gabriel, the second son of Edward, did not remain in Ruthin for long although he never severed his close connections with the Borough of his birth. His older brother, Gawen, seems to have remained at home and it seems likely that he carried on the family business following his father's death.
Particulars of the building's history over the next two hundred years are somewhat sketchy, but, perhaps almost inevitably in Ruthin, it became "The King's Arms" in the occupation of one John Price who died c.1693/4. During Queen Anne's reign [1702-1714], it became known as "The Queen's Arms" and was eventually purchased for £300 on 5th November, 1718 by Robert Myddelton of Chirk from Thomas Price of Ruthin, a joiner and brother of John Price, the innkeeper.
The building had quite clearly continued for some time as a "shop" and was described as "those messuages, shops and cellars in Clwyd Street, theretofore in the several tenures of Ellis Wynne, Basill Wood, [RBS. NO: 19] Elizabeth verch Rhees, Richard Thomas, Llewelyn Jones, Thomas Jones, Robert Beanes, Elizabeth Walter, Robert ap Robert, and Barbara Simon". The deeds gave a further interesting description, viz., "facing the market place and Cross leading downwards in the middle row toward Porth-y-Dwr in Clwyd Street as far as a new barn lately built by Edmund Jones (d'cd)."
During the early part of the 19th century the property was occupied by a chemist, R.W. Evans, who died at the early age of 35 in 1853. His son, Dr R.W.J. Evans, became Medical Officer of Health for Wrexham. Possibly immediately after Evans' [Snr.] death, or certainly shortly afterwards, the tenancy was taken by William Theodore Rouw, also a chemist. Mr Rouw retired from his flourishing business c.1886 to Dedwyddfa in Wernfechan, a splendid Victorian Villa designed by Douglas and Fordham [Edward Hubbard: Buildings of Clwyd; Penguin, 1986.]. Rouw died in 1913, but his daughter continued to live at Exmewe until 1922, when she was described as "now of Eyarth Hall". [Slight confusion here. Theodore John Rouw, his son, took over the business and died in 1913]
The Rouw family made a remarkable contribution to the town, particularly, perhaps, Theodore John Rouw who took over the family business, working ceaselessly for its welfare and improvment. He was for nine years Captain of Ruthin Fire Brigade [RBS. NO: 7], which became one of the most efficient in the north-west. Through his initiative and enterprise, Denbighshire County Council built their offices in Market Street as the site had been purchased by public subscription and presented to that Council in 1906
Edward VII was staying at Ruthin Castle and was being escorted informally about the town by Mrs Cornwallis West. She, being friendly with Mr Rouw, escorted Edward VII into Rouw's shop and suddenly found she required a bottle of lavender water, which the king gallantly purchased for her. Thereafter, Mr Rouw proudly displayed the Royal Arms "By Appointment to King Edward VII"
The property was sold at the time of the break-up of the Castle estate in 1913 for £1,275. Mr Lecomber in turn sold it to Barclays Bank, then housed at NO: 5, Upper Clwyd Street, who sadly demolished Exmewe Hall and built the present structure in its image.
Acknowledgements Denbighshire Free Press: Borough Pocket Guides - Ruthin'; Chick Castle Accounts, W.M. Myddelton (1931)
GLIMPSES OF BYGONE RUTHIN by John Fisher
John Fisher [1862-1930] was an eminent Welsh scholar and an ordained priest, having held the curacy of Ruthin. His only incumbency was the rectory of Cefn Meriadog which he accepted in 1901. In that year he also accepted the Librarianship of the cathedral library at St. Asaph. He was made Canon in 1916 and Chancellor in 1927. He was also elected F S A. in 1918, and wrote many learned papers, edited scholarly works [including `The Cefn Coch Manuscripts' ], was joint author with Barring Gould of "The Lives of the British Saints" [4 vols.] and did much work for Archaeologia Cambrensis . The following is an edited excerpt from a paper he delivered to Ruthin 'Young People's Mutual Improvement Society' in March, 1899.
I should like to see satisfactorily identified "Pant Meugan" in the parish of Llanrhydd. It is given as the name of one of the seven manors in Dyffryn Clwyd, sometime about the 12th century, when its lord was Rhys ab Marchan, of the line of one of the 15 Tribes of Gwynedd, after whose father Coed Marchan takes its name. Llanrhydd parish, which is situate in the commote of Colian or Coleigion, is now divided into the two townships, Llanrhydd Ucha' and Isa' - the Isa' being that portion of the parish wherein a part of Ruthin lies. It is probable that Pant Meugan is the same as Llanrhydd Isa' and the township spelt in De Grey's Charter "Rhoslemeryer", which I take to be a blunder of the Anglo-Norman scribe's for "Rhos(le)Meugan". The name is probably continued in "Stryt y Rhos" and Penrhos.
There is very little to choose between "Pant" and "Rhos". In any case Pant Meugan introduces us to the Patron Saint of Llanrhydd Church who lived about the 6th century, and while his name is not perpetuated in that of this Church, there are Churches bearing his name in Anglesey, Brecknockshire, Monmouthshire and Cornwall.
The Ruthin Wakes fell upon the Festival of St. Peter, 29th June, and the Festival of St. Meugan fell on 25th September. These festivals, or `Gwyl Mabsant', were probably the most important and joyous in any Welsh parish and lasted the best part of a week. Young and old who had left their parish paid their annual visit to "the folks back home". Edward Pugh [1761-1813], a Ruthin artist who was exhibited at the Royal Academy, described in his book, Cambria Depicta, a burlesque court which was held in connection with the Llanrhudd wake.
Although the Festival Day was 25th September, the festivities began on the first Sunday in August. The 'court' was held on the road to Llanrhydd at a spot near Glasfryn. The court was called "Court Beans", named after Richard Beans, the founder. It was said to have been modelled on the Court of the King's Bench and the Court of Piepowder. Two judges were appointed annually, and there was a prescribed penal code replete with ludicrous punishments. The judges would be apparelled in the habits of their different trades, shoemakers, tailors, etc., but with long musty white wigs, battered gowns and soiled bands which had seen better days when dignifying the heads and backs of more venerable judges.
The decisions of this court were as whimsical as the appearance of the members of the court, but first it was the custom, as practiced in the real world, for the court to process to church. The Court of Beans, as a matter of decency, went no further than the gates. After this, the work of the court began in earnest.
One 'crime' in this penal code was that if a man were to be found guilty of having been beaten by his wife, he would be carried about the town in a chair fixed to two poles carried on the shoulder of four men and exposed to the ridicule and scorn of all citizens. Mr Isaac Foulkes, in Y Ddau Efell , described the activities of this 'court' in its dying days.