RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET Issue No 30 June 1992
THE JOSEPH PEERS MEMORIAL by D Gwynne Morris
“eyes have they but they see not” Psalm 115 v.5
Every time we walk across St. Peter's Square, I am sure we glance at the Town Clock, or more correctly "The Peers Memorial" but how many of us have ever taken a second, closer look? Careful perusal will show that the clock tower, erected in 1883, near the southernmost corner of the old Town Hall, which had been demolished in 1863, does not seem to have been placed squarely with any line that can be drawn with any one of the surrounding buildings.
The Denbighshire Free Press of Saturday, 6th January, 1883, carried an item bearing the headline 'The Veteran Clerk of the Peace' which informed its readers that "it is a fact worthy of being recorded that the able and popular Clerk of the Peace this day (Friday, 5th January) attended the Quarter Sessions in his official capacity for the two hundredth time, having held office for half a century". It is no wonder that the headline referred to him being a 'veteran' as at that date he was eighty-three years old, having been born on 30th November 1800, and still in office. In an age when the expectation of life was lower than that of today, it was quite an achievement not only to be still alive but to be still at work. In those days, when there were no post-retirement benefits, a man depended on either inherited wealth or wealth earned to see him through old age.
After such a lifetime of service, it is little wonder that the Free Press just over a month later (Saturday, 17th February, 1883) stated that "In commemoration of the fiftieth year of Mr Peers fulfilling the office of Clerk of the Peace for the county of Denbigh, an ornamental clock tower is to be erected in the square of Ruthin at a cost of £400, voluntarily subscribed. Mr Douglas of Chester, is the architect, and the contract has been taken by Mr Joseph Williams of Rhyl. The freestone work will be executed by Mr Charles Thomas of Llys Cadw Quarry, Gwespyr, Llanasa." Two weeks later (Saturday, 3rd March) it was reported that the work of erection had begun. It is presumed that the stone was brought from the Llys Cadw quarry. Rhuddenfab in 1884 stated that the actual cost of the memorial was £397. 6s; while the clock, value £40 was the gift of Joseph Peers himself.
John Douglas was in practice as an architect in Chester from either 1855 or 1860 until the time of his death in 1911 at the age of 81. He was responsible for much work in Chester and the North Wales area. Locally, he designed Coetmor, Bryn Goodman, in 1866 for Col. Cornwallis West. This may well have been the reason why Col. Comwallis West, as Chairman of the committee who decided on the clock's design, chose him as architect for this project. Dedwyddfa, on the opposite side of Bryn Goodman, has also been attributed to him due to the similarity of design. Edward Hubbard's The Work of John Douglas, published by the Victorian Society in 1991, shows Douglas' drawing of the proposed clock in the journal British Architecture of 1883. Initially, he had proposed a circular animal drinking trough around the whole of the base of the tower with, on ground level, a smaller one for dogs. As we know, this part of the design was not followed. Two memorial tablets have been erected to Douglas' memory on the wall of Barclays Bank in St Werburgh Street, Chester.
In describing the Peers memorial, the writer can do little better than quote the account given in the Free Press of Saturday, 15th September 1883, when it was nearing completion. "The beautiful memorial to Mr Joseph Peers, the able and much beloved Clerk of the Peace, is now finished and only needs formally handing over to the borough. Placed in a most prominent part of St. Peter's Square, it forms a conspicuous ornament and one of which the inhabitants and subscribers may feel proud. It is in the form of a tower, with appropriate space for a public clock, lamps, a representation of the patron saint of Wales, and having attached a drinking fountain. In addition, there are suitable stone seats for the use of the public, whilst access to the clock, the gas, and water apparatus, are obtained by a door, over which are the borough arms, the letter 'P' and the inscription "Erected A.D. 1883 by his many friends to commemorate the private worth and public service of Joseph Peers, an honoured inhabitant of this town, who has for the last fifty years filled the office of Clerk of the Peace for the county of Denbigh." The various parts are nicely ornamental, and the tower is completed with a plain dome. Over the cattle trough is a dolphin, from which the water flows. Above this appear the county arms and the letter R'. Below the clock face is the motto "Ex Hoe Momento, Pendant AE ternitas". Mr R.G. Joyce has received the order for the supply of the clock, which we understand is being prepared at the well-known establishment of "Joyces of Whitchurch", relatives of the contractor. When completed, it will be one of the most pleasing, useful and interesting memorials in North Wales."
Readers would do well to compare the above description with the clock of today. It can be seen that not only is there a representation of St. David but also of St. George. The letters `P' and 'R' can no longer be seen, probably due to weathering. The account does not mention that a space was left for a representation of Mr Joseph Peers himself to be placed just below that of the clock face itself on the north side of the monument. By 20th October, this had been placed. A report states that it had been sculptured by Mr Griffiths of Chester and that "...it is an excellent likeness". The position of the original gas lamps on the eastern and western sides of the tower can still be seen as the bolts are still there. Postcards in the writer's possession from the early part of this century show that the gas lamps were removed from the clock and placed as lamp standards a few feet away.
Ill health crept up on Joseph Peers and reports show that he was able to attend only part of the sittings, if at all, of the Quarter Sessions. By October 1883, he had to retire and was unable to attend the official handing-over ceremony. However, it seems that he was well enough to send a letter of appreciation together with a photograph of himself to each of the subscribers.
Unfortunately, after a long, hard working life, Joseph Peers had not long to live. He died at the residence of Mrs Price Jones of Water Street, Rhyl, a near relative, on 20th January, 1884, and was buried at Llanfwrog the following Thursday. His Rector, the Rev. J.F. Reece, led a memorial service to his memory on Sunday, 27th January, when he preached a sermon based on Acts xi. 24, "He was a goodman". Joseph Peers was highly respected by both the old and young of the town and it is reputed that he gave away most if not all his wealth to the poor and needy. Reports of the sermon state that "His life was not what the world may call a asuccessful one. But God measures success in a different way from what people generally do. The world counts amongst its successful men those who manage to heap up riches together. But in connection with our departed friend's life there is no accumulation of wealth."
Problems were soon to arise from the overflow water from the trough. A Town Council in March discussed the question of town sewage and it was agreed "that the sewage be let to Major West for the sum of £10 annually, on the understanding that the overflow water from the Peers Memorial fountain be allowed to pass into the sewers." Major West was not willing to allow this, and it was agreed that the Mayor should have an interview with him. It would be interesting to know the outcome.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: this article is based on several issues of the Free Press of 1883 and 1884, stored on microfilm which the staff of the County Archives allowed me to study; Mr David Williams' article on St. Peter's Square in Issue 16 of 'The Broadsheet', and Edward Hubbard's book on The Work of John Douglas.
FROM PUMP TO PIPE Part IV
Part III introduced a new character, Wakeford Attree and considered his contribution to the scheme, the promotion of a Private Bill before Parliament.
On 13th July 1868, the Bill gained the Royal Assent, but for Ruthin the troubles were not yet over. Attree died almost immediately and his widow wanted his investment in the project returned. Furthermore, she did not want payment in the form of shares in the company. Various factions in Ruthin were combining to buy out the widow's interest, but Marcus Louis stole a march on everyone by buying out Mrs Attree. He then came to terms with the Directors, agreeing that he would be the company lawyer. He rented a room in his offices to the company for use as a Board Room and on the window of this room was painted the name of the new company. A prospectus was issued proclaiming the company. Clearly, not only was Louis regaining some of the prestige he had lost over this matter, but was also making a lucrative investment. Further, he replaced his old adversary Llewelyn Adams as company lawyer. Interestingly enough, his name does not appear on the share register.
The shares were not taken up with any alacrity. Of the 600 shares available, only 103 were sold in the town. Sir Watkin Williams Wynn bought five, the Wests none. Robert T. Ball in the Isle of Man bought 21. Yet another engineer was to come to the rescue of the beleaguered company, John Thomas Trotter Pilkington of Chevet Hey, Wrexham. Chevet Hey was a large house and parkland to the north-east of the old station. He bought 453 shares and therefore had a controlling interest in the Company. He was, naturally, awarded the contract for the construction work. The company was under-capitalised and the contract always short of money. They were forced to make economies and to trim the contract to match the funds available. It would appear that the company breached the Act by not building a reservoir of twelve million gallons and so exacerbated the problems associated with gravity feed. However, the water reached the Square which was the highest point that had to be gravity fed, but Clwyd Street was frequently short of water.
In spite of the hopes for a water supply to the town, because of the problems outlined earlier in the summer of 1870, the townsfolk were buying water by the bucketful. Cornwallis West, who had steadfastly refused to invest in the company now entered this controversial area. He doubted the competence of Pilkington, and in a particularly acrimonious letter to the Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald, asked the rhetorical question, "Are we to have our streets dug up to put pipes in our homes without any guarantee of water?" By 1871, John Henry Jones had become Secretary to the Water Company and in a further unpleasant letter to the Herald claimed that West was disappointed that his nominees had not been awarded the contract for the drainage system. This contract had been awarded to Martin Smith. It amounted to £900.
Dissatisfaction over the water company dragged on for years, the root cause being under-capitalisation. In 1876, a decade after the controversy started, the Council agreed with the company that capital should be raised for an additional reservoir and main pipes in full compliance with the Act of 1868. Preference shares were issued and although Cornwallis West did not buy any, on this occasion many townspeople did. It appeared to be a much more successful issue than the one in 1868. This concludes a story which by today's standards of sanitation is almost incredible. The emphasis upon the financial implications instead of the benefits to health is an interesting study. AF.
PLAS Y WARD
Thelwall of Plas y Ward
The architectural history of this well-known house, in the Parish of Llanynys, near Rhewl, is somewhat obscure and even Mr Edward Hubbard does not refer to it in his The Buildings of Wales - Clwyd. Mr Peter Smith, in his monumental, Houses of the Welsh Countryside, reports that the house is probably of the late C17th or early C18th. An external viewing reveals a style very familiar to this area.
`Plas-y-Ward' has historical associations which predate the present structure, so that the presumption must be that the present house is perhaps the most recent of a series of dwellings on that site. Its associations are of such significance that it is not an exaggeration to suggest that its importance and status in the Vale was once second only to the Salisbury residence of Llewenni.
The name 'Ward' is plainly not Welsh. On translation as "The House of Ward", the question arises as to the identity of 'Ward'. Essentially, the question has to remain virtually unanswered. The only surviving clue refers to Walter Cook, alias 'Ward', of Plas-y-Ward whose daughter and heiress Felice married John Thelwall or`Thelwall Hen'. Thus, the Ward estate passed [c.1380] into Thelwall ownership and became the family base.
If the house is unremarkable in architectural terms, the same cannot be said of the Thelwall family and their significance merits more attention than can now be devoted to it. The family origins are found in Thelwall, near Warrington, Lancashire, and they were brought to Dyffryn Clwyd as manorial officials by the de Grey family in the 13th century.
Their position at that time was one of overlordship. On behalf of the absentee de Greys, the Thelwalls exercised full sway over the locality not only in terms of day-to-day management, but also for law and order, and the collection of rents and tolls.
With the passage of time, their role softened from the overlordship of a conquered territory to one more akin to that of landlord's agent. The lordship changed hands from time to time, but the Thelwalls remained as a thread of continuity, though with modified roles. Over the course of some four centuries, the Thelwall family acquired much land and, therefore, power and influence. The extent of their territory has been said to cover much of the south-eastern portion of the Vale, from Llangynhafal to the borders of Ial.
Strategic marriages with the local gentry also helped ensure they integrated in the local community and their own best interests. They also became influential on the national scene. Simon Thelwall [1526-1586] became Member of Parliament. Over the years, several members of the family held local office as, for example, High Sheriff and Simon was Vice Justice of Chester. He tried and sentenced Richard Gwyn, the Roman Catholic martyr. A later Simon also became an M.P. and by this time the family had become ardent Protestants, indeed, puritans. This placed them very firmly in the parliamentary party and therefore opponents of King Charles I.
By the outbreak of the civil war, the family had outgrown Plas y Ward, and the branch of the family which had settled at Bathafarn [see RBS 28] acquired even greater political and social status in the service of James I and Charles I. Tragically, as in so many other instances, the family was divided down the middle on the outbreak of hostilities.
Mention is made of Plas y Ward in accounts of local activities during the civil war, which seems to have been used as a local base by both sides. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the contemporary house may well have suffered damage as a consequence of skirmishing. A possible rebuilding following the restoration might account for Mr Smith's dating of the late C 17th.
From here on, the Plas y Ward Thelwalls declined in power and influence until, in 1683, there was no male heir and Simon Thelwall's eldest daughter, Jane, carried the estate to Sir William Williams of Glascoed and Llanforda on their marriage. Their son Watkin succeeded to the Wynnstay estates, Ruabon, in 1718 when he took the additional name of Wynn. Thus, for a while, Plas y Ward became a small part of the extremely large estate of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, known as 'The Prince in Wales'.
Thomas Pennant, unfortunately, gives no account of any visit to Plas y Ward while passing through the Vale of Clwyd, but his artist, Moses Griffiths, has left a delightful water-colour of the house as it was in 1790, now to be seen at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: W.M. Myddelton, Chirk Castle Accounts; W.R. Williams, The History of the Great Sessions in Wales 1542-1830, 1899; R. Newcome, Lives of Bishop & Dean Goodman , 1825.