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RUTHIN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                         ISSUE No 11 September 1987


It is difficult to envisage what road conditions were like one hundred years ago. By modern standards, roads were barely surfaced. In bad weather there were no gritting lorries, no specialised tyres or a telephone service by which to summon help. All these inadequacies were highlighted by the experience of a wagoner and his mate in the winter of 1895.

John Roberts, aged 65, and his mate David Thomas, aged 18, were the two men in question. They were the crew of a wagon from the Soda Waterworks and their purpose on a cold snowy Saturday in January 1895 was to make deliveries as far as Cerrig-y-Drudion and then return to Ruthin via Llanfihangel. By the time they reached Llanfihangel it was 1.30 p.m. The horses were tired after hauling the heavy dray through the snow so Roberts decided to rest them before starting the return journey to Ruthin. At about 4 p.m., Roberts decided to start the journey back.

By the time they reached Llanfihangel, the weather must have worsened for Roberts called at the 'Crown Inn' and asked for shelter; the proprietor at that time was H. Hughes and his wife spoke to the wagoner. What exactly transpired between the two will never be clear, Roberts claimed that he had asked for shelter for the night, for themselves and the horses. Mrs Hughes claimed that the men asked only about the weather which she thought was not particularly bad,
Whatever happened at the 'Crown', the two men continued on their journey to Ruthin, the horses by this time were getting very tired indeed. The snow was drifting across the road, and the dray became stuck, the men must have been half-frozen and, with hands numb with cold, they struggled to unhitch the team of horses. They must have been only dimly aware of their whereabouts for the darkness and the snow disorientated then. However, Thomas thought he knew where they were and, leading the horses, they sat off for a farm which they hoped was nearby. By this time, some of the snow drifts were chest deep. the physical effort was becoming too much for Roberts and he had to be supported by the younger man. Fortunately, Thomas had not been very far out in his estimation of where the farm lay and they found Tan-y-Bwlch; the farmer, Henry Edwards provided stabling for the horses and shelter for the men.

Whilst the men rested in this remote farm, there was anxiety in Ruthin. They had been due back at 9 p.m. at the latest and, when they had become overdue, volunteers were asked to search for the missing dray. Edward Thomas, a rural postman, who it was said was 'used to exposure' and William Thomas, a tailor, set out to search for the men. Perhaps it was a measure of the severity of the weather, but when the search party returned there were icicles hanging from their faces. It was 4 am. before the search party returned with no news of the missing men.

Roberts and Thomas stayed at the farm until Midday on the Sunday and then leading the horses, they set off to walk back to Ruthin. It was about 5 p.m. when they arrived at the depot.

The behaviour of the tenants of 'The Crown' was the subject of acrimonious correspondence in the columns of 'The Denbighshire Free Press', The landlord denied that the men asked for shelter and that they had spoken only of the weather conditions. He claimed that a cattle dealer with a horse and trap had left the inn an hour after the dray had left and this vehicle had come to no harm. In reply it was pointed out that there was a great deal of difference between a horse and trap and a heavy dray pulled by tired horses that had worked all day. Both Roberts and Thomas signed a letter stating that they had asked for shelter. Another correspondent raised the point that it was a condition of the licence that the landlord should give shelter to genuine stranded travellers.

However, perhaps as we travel the more exposed roads of Wales in the warmth of our cars, we might spare a thought for the hauliers of yesteryear.



Sources:'Denbighshire Free Press': 19th, 26th January; 2nd February, 1895.


The unexceptional name of 'John Jones of Ruthin' conceals an intriguing tale of a perhaps exceptional Ruthin family. John married Margaret, daughter of Jonathan Hughes 'the bard of Llangollen', mentioned by George Borrow, and in September, 1798, their first child was born, a son whom they christened John, after Dad. A second son, Joseph, was born in 1803.

Father is reputed to have been a clever, active man who enlisted in the Marines, leaving his wife Margaret with the responsibility of bringing up the young family. She gave them a careful and religious upbringing.

Young John was also talented and learned to play the Welsh harp, but decided to follow in father's footsteps and he too enlisted in the Marines, at the early age of 16. His natural talent for music was such that he became a bandsman and was drafted aboard a man-o-war.

John must have been a little different to the average Jack Tar of the period, for he also had a natural religious bent, taking every opportunity to read his Bible and finding a quiet part of the ship in which to pray. He served for nine years and was grateful never to have seen action.

Joseph was apprenticed to the printing trade in Wrexham at an early age and later was employed by Harvey and Dalton of London, well-known printers and members of the Society of Friends. He became acquainted with the famous philanthropist Peter Bedford of Spitalfields, under whose influence he was converted to the Quaker faith.

After a gap of ten years, the two brothers met at their home in Ruthin. John, already of religious inclinations, was impressed by his brother's convictions. He decided that war was quite incompatible with Christ's teachings and felt that his conscience could no longer allow him to bear arms. He therefore obtained his release from the Marines with great difficulty having to find £100 and 'two substitutes'.

In 1823, John returned home and set himself up as a grocer. and shortly afterwards married Ann and had seven children, John and two of his sons were received into the Society of Friends in 1827. He lived quietly and solidly, building-up for himself a reputation as a plain, consistent, conscientious Friend. He became well-known throughout North Wales as 'The Quaker'.

John's grocery store was located where Ethel Austin's shop is currently [now Choo Choo] and must have included a bakery for he seems to have earned for himself quite a reputation as a baker. The anonymous author of a series of reminiscences which appeared in the Denbighshire Free Press of 1910 refers to his hot rolls as delicacies. 'What a luxury it was on a sharp, frosty morning to have them brought to one's house at breakfast time. There was nothing  to do but to cut them into halves, put lumps of butter on and enjoy their demolition. Is there no-one enterprising enough to revive it?'

Joseph in the meantime took up residence in Ethelbert Street in Hereford, where his sister was living, and started up as a bookseller. He married and had nine children. After 47 years of marriage, he died at the age of 70 in 1873 and was buried at Hereford.

John threw himself with great zeal into the task of reviving Quakerism in the Vale of Clwyd, and not without a great deal of personal sacrifice. He gave-up music and destroyed his musical instruments. Often summoned for Jury service, he had to bear his testimony against the taking of oaths and for this his goods were frequently seized and sold in the Market Place.

He also refused to pay the church size, or rate. The only article of any value which the Ruthin Friends possessed was an old clock in the little meeting house. The clock was duly seized and put up for sale, purchased by admirers of John and his group, and duly returned to the Friends! This ritual was to be followed annually until the Friends gave-up their humble meeting house. Thereafter, John used his own home for the purpose there they were joined by one William Williams, a nailmaker from Denbigh, who had been accustomed to sit alone, but who now walked regularly to and from Denbigh to join this group.

John played a prominent part in providing a non-sectarian education for the poor and was a warm supporter of the Temperance movement. He formed a Reading Society to this end. He freely loaned his horse and carriage to fetch lecturers and others for any public occasion in the cause of temperance, He had also come to realise the necessity of teaching his disciples to read the Bible in Welsh and for this purpose he opened a Sunday School which, although it had proved itself to be a valuable asset, had to be discontinued. William, John's son, was to write: 'One would naturally have expected that his bretheren in the faith would have given my father every encouragement in his work, but such was not the case.' In fact, English Friends did not then regard the Sunday School movement as being consistent with the principles of their faith. In the face of such discouragements and even after encouraging initial successes, the strength of the group waned and they then gave-up the meeting house. By now, the group was comprised mainly of the family, but William Williams of Denbigh continued to attend faithfully.

William Jones was born in the year that the Quaker movement was initiated in Ruthin. He was to act as the Commissioner of the Friend's Relief Fund during the Franco-German war and became the successor of Henry Richard as Secretary of the Peace Movement.

Sadly, John's wife Ann died in 1857 and in 1858, he married Mary Hattersley of Liverpool. They moved to Chester to be nearer a Friend's Meeting, but on the death of his father in 1842,[see correction in next issue] he returned to Ruthin. In 1866, he and his wife moved to Great Ayton in Yorkshire; there they remained happily for some six years in the company of Friends and enjoyed regular attendance at Meetings. Then John suffered a stroke which left him partially paralysed. His family thought it in the best interests of his health to return to Ruthin and he did indeed benefit greatly, enjoying short daily walks. His sight and hearing remained unimpaired until his death on 27th June, 1874.

The day before his death, he received a message from another of his sons, Jonathan Hughes Jones, who had emigrated to Australia and who also lay dying: 'Tell father that before I died, I wished him to know that I was very thankful that I was brought up as a member of the Society of Friends, and that I considered his yielding to God in his youth had been greatly blessed both to him and his family. This is the last message from his affectionate son tho died in the full assurance of forgiveness, through the atonement made by Jesus Christ our Saviour.'

At a time when only the gentry merited an obituary notice, The Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald - before the birth of the Free Press - wrote on 11th July, 1874 :- 'Funeral of the late Mr John Jones of Park Road: The remains of this esteemed gentleman whose death occurred on 25th ult., were on Wednesday week interred in the burying ground attached to the Brynhyfryd Chapel of Ease, Rhos Street, in the presence of a large assembly of relatives and friends, Mr Jones was one of the old tradesmen of Ruthin, There his integrity, ability and kindly disposition won him numerous friends and great respect. He was a member of the Society of Friends. As the funeral passed through the town, the principal places of business along the road were closed.'

Sadly, the original place of burial no longer exists, and the mortal remains of John and his wife Ann were exhumed in the 1960s, when Rhos Street was widened, and re-interred in the burial ground at Llanrhudd. There is no stone to mark John Jones' final resting place.



This Chapel, formerly located near the top of Rhos Street, was something of an enigma, having had a chequered history. It was built c.1836/8, and was for many years owned by a Mr Edward Jones, a prominent solicitor in this town, who lived at that time at Brynhyfryd [Park]. Naturally, he was known as 'Jones Brynhyfryd'. It was initially an English Congregational Chapel, but William Davies, writing in 1856, in his 'Handbook to the Vale of Clwyd' commented that '…services, like angels visits, are few and far between…    

At about this time, the chapel was taken on by the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion. Lady Huntingdon [1707-1791] achieved some prominence following the death of her husband in the founding of this religious movement, originally within the Church of England. She was, however, profoundly influenced by the Wesley brothers and devoted her life to the spread of evangelical religion. With-the help of Howel Harris and others, she founded a college at Trefecca, Talgarth, for the training of young ministers. Under the Toleration Act, the movement was classed as dissenting.

This movement had a spell of prosperity in Ruthin for a time and there is a record of the names of three ministers of this Connexion.

The religious census of 1851 describes the Church as an English Independent Church with accommodation for 400. It was said to be used occasionally by different religious denominations gratuitously for religious services, and also for occasions of baptisms and funerals. It was duly registered for solemnising weddings, and Edward Jones was still the proprietor.

There were three graves within the grounds of the chapel. The first stone was inscribed:
Here lies Catherine, wife of Edward Jones Postmaster, Ruthin. Died May 9th, 1846, 'For Ever with the Lord'.

The second was inscribed:
'In memory of Ann, the wife of John Jones, Pen Dref, Ruthin, who died the 10th day of the 1st month, 1857. Aged 52,
Ir Ddaer fyddar fe aeth - Y ddiryn
 Ddaearol naturiaeth
Ar enaid or wahaniaeth
Yn llaw Duw, y mau Ile daeth.

Also in affectionate rembrance of John Jones who died on the 27th of the sixth month, 1871. Aged 75.
'Looking unto Jesus’

The third grave was inscribed to the memory of
‘William Henshaw, Brynmorfudd, Llahrhaiadr. Died, Marcb 27th, 1841. Aged 67.'

Rhos Street was improved by widening in the mid 1860s and land had to be taken from the chapel frontage to enable this work to be carried out. As a consequence, the two first named graves were removed, the remains exhumed and re-interred at Llanrhudd. Unfortunately, no stone marks the new graves as the originals were in too poor a condition to be transferred.

Quite recently, when the house-building began, it became necessary to remove the final grave - of Ellin Renshaw. The remains in this case too were transferred to Llanrhudd, but a portion of the original headstone with a still-clear inscription marks the new resting place.

By 1872, however, the success of the Huntingdon movement had waned and the chapel was sold to Rev, Bulkeley Owen Jones, Warden of Christ's College, Ruthin, for £600. It is located in the parish of Llanrhudd and the chapel was to serve as a Sunday School for that parish in particular. By the end of the 1930s, it had fallen out of use.

During the 1939-45 War, it was used as an emergency food store when, it was said, enormous stacks of tinned fruit were raised from floor to ceiling, This had the unfortunate effect of weakening the floor which subsequently had to be propped-up from below, This had originally been the living accommodation for the caretaker who was, for a time, 'Edwards the Bandmaster', and several members of that well-known family were born there.

After the war, and very much the worse for wear, attempts were made to find a good use for this building. Mr Bob Roberts, for example, ran a social club with a couple of billiard tables, but unfortunately the building was impossibly expensive to heat and there was no money to carry out essential repairs. Downstairs, the local branch of Urdd Gobaith Cymru met for several years. Eventually, however, the roof began to leak and the building quickly deteriorated to the point where it had to be abandoned. Because of its dangerous condition, the building was demolished to first floor level with some of the front facade remaining. The whole was eventually demolished to make way for a housing development.


Ruthin “Street-by-Street" series


The ‘Red Lion’, at NO 33, Clwyd Street, is traditionally said to have been built in the early sixteenth century. There are persistent legends that a tunnel linked with the Castle from the cellars of this building, but there is no evidence to confirm this. Indeed, by the early sixteenth century, the castle as such had fallen into decay although, of course, there could have been an earlier building on this site, The legend maintains, however, that provisions were supplied by means of this tunnel to the Castle when under siege during the Civil War.

In the last century, and until the licence lapsed in 1905, the ‘Red Lion’ was a popular and well-known hostelry patronised, among others, by the public hangman when visiting the nearby gaol on business. There is a story that in 1824, one John Connor was to be executed for highway robbery and a well-known executioner by the name of Sam Burrows was commissioned to do the necessary, A large number of Sam's fans decided to spend the previous evening with him at the Red Lion and, of course, over-indulged. themselves with home-brew. Sam was persuaded to give a demonstration of the ‘art' of hanging. One end of the infamous rope was tied to a hook in the kitchen ceiling and Sam stood on a stool beneath demonstrating the technique of placing the noose about the neck, using his own to illustrate, At this rather crucial juncture, one Henry Caddock kicked away the stool leaving Sam suspended by the neck. Thomas Humphreys was the hero of the hour having the presence of mind to cut the rope with the necessary speed. The record does not tell us of John Connor's reaction to his near reprieve.
After service as an Inn, the Red Lion did duty as a temperance hotel far a while.

Opposite is Clwyd Bank, NOs. 32/34 Clwyd Street, an interesting listed timber-framed building of c.16th/17th century, now divided into two.There is no record of this building having been an inn at any stage in its life, which must be fairly unusual for one of Ruthin's older buildings. Nevertheless, during the last century it was the home of one of Ruthin's more renowned citizens, vis., Joseph David Jones [b.1827], who founded the Clwyd Bank Academy here in 1865, a boarding school catering for the educational needs of the sons of well-to-do farmers and businessmen. The venture prospered, for in the second year, Jones extended the premises and appointed additional teaching staff. Sadly, Jones died of typhoid fever at the age of 43 in 1870, and was buried at the Baptist cemetery in Mwrog Street.

His reputation was not so much as a schoolmaster but rather as a musician, and as a composer he is best remembered for the considerable contribution he made to singing in harmony. His teaching career began in 1851 when he was appointed Head Master of the British School in Rhos Street, which had been built in 1848. He married in 1860 and he and his wife lived for a time in the school house.

His output, both literary and classical, was published by Isaac Clarke of Ruthin. Perhaps one of his best known works is the hymn tune ‘Gwalchmai', published in 1852.

After Jones' death, the school continued for a tine under the headship of one Rev. R.C. Ellis, M.C.P.

Of Jones's family of six sons, two died in infancy but the survivors all achieved prominence. Major Owen Daniel Jones became head of the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company; Sir Henry Haydn Jones was M.P. for Merioneth from 1910-1945; the Rev, Dr John Daniel Jones was an outstanding preacher at Richland Hill Chapel, Bournemouth for 40 years, and the Rev. Daniel Lincoln Jones, M.A., B,D., was Congregational Minister and Moderator of the West Midlands.
A commemorative plaque was belatedly affixed to the frontage of this building when the Royal National Eisteddfod visited was held in Ruthin in in 1973.
Another important function of Clwyd Bank was, until comparatively recently, that of a dairy farm, with some 43 acres of land to the rear on the banks of the Clwyd and across Park Road in 'The Parks'. Ironically, the schoolroom became a stable and the property was sold in 1913 at the time of the sale of the Castle estate.

NOs 35 and 37 are essentially one building again of ancient construction, but much renovated.

NOs. 39,41,43,45, and 47 are all listed. The first two buildings are thought to be 17th century, timber framed buildings with a 19th century exterior. Nos 43 and 45 are probably 18th century, but again much altered. NO, 47 is thought to be a 17th century timber framed building with a 19th century exterior,


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