top of page

RUTHIN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                       ISSUE No 12 December 1987

FFYNOGION, EYARTH by John Williams

The origin of the name "Ffynogion" is uncertain, Rather surprisingly, perhaps, this spacious farmhouse which dates from around 1500, comes within the jurisdiction of the Ruthin Town Council, although it must be at least 1.5 miles from the town centre. It is a listed building, and under the headline "Famous Vale of Clwyd House", the North Wales Times dated 19th June, 1954, shows a photograph of the beautiful timbered frontage, which was revealed when all the plaster was temporarily removed. One can only conjecture that this fine timberwork may have been covered with plaster during the "Hungry Forties" of the last century and that the cost of restoration and repair must have been even more prohibitive in 1954. The accompanying article informed us that it was the home of the famous Price family of Ffynogion, who are commemorated with a genealogical monument in the Parish Church at Llanfair D.C., which traces the family's ancestry from Sion ap Rhys Wyn who lived around 1600.

Mr Tecwyn Lloyd, M.A., of Maerdy near Corwen, has been able to trace the ancestry of the Price (or ap Rhys) family all the way back to Iarddur o Benrhyn (in the Parish of Llandegai in Arfon), who lived in the second half of the fourteenth century and who married Angharad, the heiress of Maredydd ap Madog of the Lordship of Ceri in Maldwyn. A key figure in this fascinating family tree is Rhys Wyn, the second son of Gruffydd ap Madog of Garth Medd in the Parish of Abergele, who arrived at Ffynogion in the second half of the sixteenth century.

The house is in the form of a letter "T" and we can only assume that it was Rhys Wyn who added the thick stem at the rear of the house because he had a very large family, having no fewer than 11 daughters and one son. The names of the eleven daughters were: Elen, Gwenllian, Elizabeth, Gwenllian (2), Annest, Margaret, Lowri, Janet, Marsh, Catrin, Margaret (2). The only son, Sion ap Rhys Wyn, married Mallt of Hafod Unos, near Abergele, and their son, Edward Pryse, married Mary Thelwall of Plas-y-Ward, Ruthin. We know that Edward Pryse died in 1642.

Incidentally, Mary Thelwall's grandfather was Simon Thelwall, the Patron of Simwnt Fychan (1530 - 1606) of Ty Brith near Pentrecelyn, who compiled a Hardie Grammar and who was prominent in the Caerwys Eisteddfod of 1568.

The most notable of the owners of Ffynnogion in more recent times was Sir John Puleston (1829 - 1908). He is described in the Dictionary of National Biography as "Banker and M.P.", but this does scant justice to a colourful and varied career which is fully documented in "A Patchwork of Pulestons", written by Mrs Sunter Harrison and published by her in Wrexham in 1977. He was brought up at Plas Newydd, Llanfair D.C., and educated at Ruthin School and at King's College, London. He then studied medicine and became a House Surgeon at the Royal Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital, but poor health forced him to give up his studies and, on his return from a cruise to Australia, he set out to seek his fortune in America.

He had a pleasing personality and became well-known in both political and business circles. Between 1856 and 1860, he was editor of at least two newspapers in the U.S.A. He became a friend of Abraham Lincoln, who appointed him an Honorary Colonel during the civil war. We know that after the war he practised as a lawyer in Washington before becoming a successful banker in New York. He returned to London in 1870 and purchased Ffynogion in 1872. I have been unable to discover how long he lived at Ffynogion but he remained the owner of the farm until his death in 1908. He was elected M.P. for Devonport in 1874 and held the seat for 18 years. In 1873, he founded the National Safe Deposit Co., in Queen Victoria Street, close to the Mansion House, and later founded his own banking house under the name of Puleston and Brown at 2, Bank Buildings, Princes Street, London.

He was generous to a fault. During his lifetime, he gave the beautiful east window to the Church at Llanfair D.C. in memory of his parents. Mr Randall tells me that the cost was £350, which is some £23,000 in today's money. He was knighted in 1887 for his services to Wales and the Welsh. he took a keen interest in Welsh education and was treasurer of the National Eisteddfod Association from 1880 to 1907. He was the first chairman of the London Welsh Club which flourishes still.

In 1892, he stood unsuccessfully as a conservative candidate for the Caernarfon Boroughs against Lloyd George, losing by only 196 votes. He did not stand for parliament again. In 1889, Queen Victoria appointed him Constable of Caernarfon Castle and he spent lavishly of his own money on restoration work there. Another honour which came his way was that of being made Lord Lieutenant of the City of London. He was a staunch conservative, a leading churchman, an ardent Welshman and also a Deputy Lieutenant and a J.P. in the County of Denbigh.

Sadly, the early years of this century were difficult times for the smaller banks of Britain, and on the 5th December, 1908, (six weeks after his death) a Receiving Order was made against his estate. His liabilities were £13,000, excluding a daughter's marriage settlement of £18,500. His assets were £15,200 in Long Island. He also had interests in railways in Spain and the colonies but he was adjudged bankrupt. The deeds of Ffynogion show that when Mr H.H. Springman of Bryn Mair bought the farm in 1909, from the estate of the late Sir John, the proceeds of the sale had to be paid into court. My own grandfather, John Williams, had moved to Ffynogion from Graig Lwyd. Prion, Denbigh, in 1898 as a tenant of Sir John Puleston and was able to buy the farm from Mr Springman as a sitting tenant in 1910.


Recent reports that the modernisation of Borthyn School is to commence shortly, makes one reflect on the first school on the site.

The seat of learning for Ruthin always centred around Ruthin School, which was refounded by Gabriel Goodman in 1574. However, in the 18th century, Borthyn School started life as a charity school for poor children, which was organised and financed by the church under the chairmanship of the Warden of Ruthin, supported by the churchwardens.

In records of St. Peter's Church, now in the Clwyd Record Office, the following can be seen: 

‘At a Vestry meeting of the parishioners of the parish of Ruthin held in the parish church of Ruthin aforesaid on Thursday the twentieth day of July in the year of our Lord 1738     
It is ordered by the said Vestry that Thomas Wynne, Corvisor, shall be master of the charity school during such time as the parishioners think proper and that 1d. shall be paid for every scholar that learns to read by ye, Quat. @ 1s. 6d, for reading and writing and 6d. entrance, all which money is to be paid out of the rents arising from the barns and lands in Borthyn by the churchwardens.'

The school referred to was apparently held in one of the barns in Borthyn as stated in the 1847 Report into "The State of Education in Wales":                                                                              ‘The school-room is a long barn, which has been sent aside for the purpose, the floor is of earth and in bad condition; the walls and fixtures, which are of the rudest description, are very dirty.’

The church school at this time had 121 boys and 87 girls who paid ld. per week. The master was an Englishman and understands nothing of Welsh ..." although he had been trained for eight months at Westminster.
The inspector also noted "... neither master or scholars appeared to have any idea of manners or discipline...”
The Inspector's final remarks could have given no encouragement or hope for the teacher, "... The superintendence of 208 undisciplined children are too much for a third rate master, who has no natural disposition or fitness for the task of teaching."

The report of 1847 had results as the existing school building was erected between 1849-50. How times in education and teaching have changed.

NOEL ‘63

The Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald gave a graphic account of changing Ruthin as it appeared on Christmas Eve, 1863. This was largely for the benefit of Ruthinites dispersed through the kingdom, those who might have been "shouldering rifles for the Federals or Confederates, or searching for gold in Australia."
The railway had only just reached Ruthin from Denbigh in 1862, but had not yet reached Corwen. Park. Road, Station Road, Market Street had also opened in that year, but Wynnstay Road was not to be formed until 1888.

The old Town Hall on the Square had just been demolished and quite evidently the townspeople were still enjoying the novelty: " that the Old Hall has taken its departure, is a fine open space showing to advantage the handsome shops and splendid views of mountain and vale". And again: "Since the removal of the old hall, the quaint and singular appearance of the ‘Castle Arms’, from Clwyd Street, strikes the spectators and reminds them of the pictures of old-fashioned houses in Germany. It is said the old house is to come down, to be rebuilt and added to the Lion Hotel." The ‘Castle Arms’, later known as the ‘Myddelton Arms’, was fortunately not demolished as so many properties were at this time, but was extensively renovated in the 1880s. It was added to the [White]‘Lion Hotel’ (the Castle Hotel today), only recently resuming an independent existence again.

It was reported that N0:4 Well Street had been renovated and occupied by Mr Robert G. Joyce, watch and clockmaker. At about this time, "James Joyce and Son" were also operating as watch and clockmakers in Clwyd Street, while John Joyce was a butcher and dealer in game in the part of the Boar's Head, Clwyd Street, nearest the Square.

The next shop in Well Street,  NO:6, was occupied by Mr Isaac Clarke, publisher and bookseller, with a Mr D.E. Davies at Liverpool House affording "a tempting display of fruit". We are told that "One of the windows in Upper Liverpool House being well filled with large rotund specimens of that noble fruit which Cheshire and the Vale of Clwyd and some other parts produce twice a day."

Of the premises now occupied by BOOTS the Chemists, it was said " the shop of Mr Maude, we must notice first the marked improvement in the appearance of the front since the alterations. Both windows looked charmingly, and many ardent glances were cast at the good things they contained; the counters, shelves, and all, available parts of the shop were set forth with every delicacy in the confectionery line that could please the eye or tempt the palate. The refreshment rooms are a great accommodation."

The meat market, sometimes known as "Llandegla Market", was then located behind Exmewe House (now Barclays Bank) and extended as far as the narrow lane connecting Upper Clwyd Street to Clwyd Street. That Christmas, the eleven butchers having stalls there had a magnificent display of meat.

The account concluded with a description of further changes that had just been completed or which were under way: "There have been built during the autumn and winter about 20 new houses by the side of the railway and opposite the road leading from Well Street to the station. These buildings have given employment to a large number of men so far through the winter, and it is said that another row of houses is to be built on the opposite side facing the Corwen line, On the left hand side of the new road leading from the station to the Market Place, close to the latter, a large space is boarded-up, where spade and mattock, hammer and chisel are being wielded all the day long, by about 60 men who are engaged in building the new market hall which is rapidly progressing; the favourable weather lately experienced has been of advantage to the workmen. Several new houses have been built, some of which are occupied, adjacent to the road from Borthyn to the station and in Llanfwrog a number of new cottages have been built on both sides of Mwrog Street."


Post Scripts

In our June 1987 (N0:10) issue, we carried a story about Sir Charles J. Watkin Williams M.P., and we are grateful to Mr W.C. Wynn-Woodhouse, the well-known local historian, for further information about this interesting gentleman.

Both of his grandfathers and his father were Anglican clergymen serving parishes in the Aled and Uwchaled areas. There is some mystery as to the date and-place of Sir Watkin's birth, often said to have been Llansannan, but more likely to have been Llangar where his father was Rector 1826-36. Most sources state that he was born on 23/9/1828, but the Llangar registers record the baptisms of his brother Henry on 7/9/1828, his sister Margaret Sophia on 17/9/1829 and another brother Robert on 29/12/1830. Another brother, Peter, was baptised 25/5/1833 and Mr Wynn-Woodhouse concludes that Charles must have been born in 1831 or 1832.

A further enigma occurs in the recording of the burial of his father, the Rev. Peter Lewis Williams. His gravestone in Llansannan churchyard reads "... 2/10/1861 (?) aged 64 years (7) ...", with the question marks actually inscribed on the stone. Yet, the burial register which would have been readily available, unambiguously states that the Rev. Williams was buried 8/10/1861, aged 63!

Enigma seems to have surrounded the death of Sir Charles himself. The prolific obituary notices stated that he died suddenly "in the street", whilst at Nottingham to preside over the Assize Court. An inquest report ("The Standard", 19th July 1884) states that he died of a heart attack "consequent on over-excitement" in somewhat embarrassing circumstances.

Sir Charles, though twice married, appears not to have had any children, but the family name was perpetuated through his brothers and sisters. A descendant, Peter Wynn Williams, was living in Christchurch, New Zealand as recently as late 1981.


Our last issue (NO: 11) carried the story of "Jones the Quaker Baker" and we are indebted to Mrs Sheila Thompson of Slough, who is a descendant of John Jones, the brother of her great, great, grandfather. Unfortunately, one or two inaccuracies appear to have crept into our account and we are grateful to have this opportunity to put the record straight.

Joseph, John's brother, is more likely to have brought the Quaker message to Ruthin, c. 1823, rather than 1826, the same time that he started his bookseller's shop in Broad Street. John would have left the marines in 1823 rather than in 1826.

Ann, John's wife, died in 1837 (not 1857) and John re-married in 1838 and not in 1858.

The companion article "Brynhyfryd Chapel of Ease" quotes the inscription on John's tombstone as "1871" and this should have been 1874, an error probably arising from the weathering of the inscription.


NOs 40 and 42, now Barton's Shoe shop, is thought possibly to be timber framed and probably of the 18th century. Was once "The Crumpet Shop", in the ownership of Mrs M,E. Williamson of the Greenwich Cafe at the top of Upper Clwyd Street, now a video shop.

The Royal Oak, at NO.51 Clwyd Street, is thought to be of sixteenth century origin, although the present owners, Mr & Mrs Maelor Roberts, believe it may be even older. It was certainly functioning as an inn in the period 1829-1886. Ann Clubbe, a member of the well-known. Ruthin family, was licensee in the period 1868-76. More recently, it has been a butcher's shop, and a Mr Thos. Williams operated his butcher's shop there c.1910.

Next door to the Royal Oak is the charming half-timbered house, NO: 53, for many years occupied earlier this century by Mr Jimmy Lilly, a dealer in block salt.

The Star Inn, No. 55 Clwyd Street, is of ancient origin and there was a mantle shelf which bore the date 1639 carved, it is believed, when alterations were being made to an even older building. It is but one of two buildings remaining in Ruthin with a horse mounting block at its corner. There is a record of publicans since 1829 and James Clubbe, was publican c.1883/86.

The earliest reference to "The Boot" is dated 5th August, 1750, when the alehouse recognances identify Elizabeth Dykins as the licence holder. This Inn, now called Tan-y-Castell or NO. 61 Clwyd Street, served as such during the greater part of both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and was also residence for one of the prison governors, John Jones, c. 1830. The researches of the present owners, Mr and Mrs Scoins, tell us a great deal of its past. One might speculate as to the origins of the name of "The Boot" and Mr Scoins reasonably speculates that this could be due to the fact that the nearby Crispin Yard, now a 20th century monument,  a car park, was once the centre of the economically important leather trade in Ruthin. Traditionally, Ruthin's tanners lived and worked in Mwrog Street, and there are records of at least two tanneries in Mwrog Street or Llanfwrog, which we shall deal with in a future article.

"The Boot" passed into the possession of the Jones family in 1778 when, until 1789, William Jones was licencee but was also listed as "corvisor", or shoemaker. When William died at this time, the properly passed to his widow, Jane who seems to have been a successful entrepreneur. On her death, her estate comprised 9 houses, 8 cottages, 2 shops, a blacksmith's yard, a "yard", a garden, two rooms and, of course, The Boot. Much of the property was in Crispin Yard or in the Mill Street area in the vicinity of The Boot.

William, Jane's fourth son, succeeded as licencee from 1815 until 1825. William, though married, had no children and the property passed to one of his nephews, John, who became the Governor of Ruthin Gaol opposite. John died intestate in 1849, and this caused many family problems. Even in 1857, the widow, nee Mary Williams, was lodging affidavits in the courts to the effect that her eldest son John Williams Jones, was heir at law. At this time, John Williams Jones was 21 years of age and serving as a lieutenant in the 51st Native Infantry Regiment of the East India Company at Bangalore.

The trade directories list several different people who are thought to have been managers of "The Boot" as opposed to owners. The licence was not renewed in 1896, so that is thought to have been the last of The Boot as an inn. The names of several owners and occupiers are recorded since that time, but it is interesting to record that on 20th January, 1914, the Ruthin Electricity Supply Company was incorporated and a generating station built in what was the first Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Ruthin, in Mill Street. The Boot was acquired as the Manager's residence. The Electricity Company was acquired by the Ruthin Corporation on 20th December, 1936 and remained in the Corporation's ownership until nationalisation in April, 1946. The Boot passed once again into private ownership in 1974 and has remained so ever since.

Around the corner is the old mill, which deserves special consideration which will be given to it in a future article. Likewise, we propose to deal with the old Mill Street Chapel in the same way.

The past of the old prison, at 46 Clwyd Street, was clearly revealed to our readers of our issue NO. 10 (June 1967 under the heading "From Correction to Punishment'.

 Perhaps one of the gems of the street, much camouflaged, is NO. 65, Porth-y-Dwr, or "Watergate". The house is said to have been built in 1586 by Peter Moyle, the Castle Miller of that period and until c.1860 there was said to have been a very fine stone mantelpiece with armorial bearings and the date and initials "16 P.M.,M.M. 55". This chimney piece was given to James Maurice who installed it at his own house, Plas Tirion, in Well Street but, alas, it is no longer there.
However, the core of this building is described as being a 15th century timber framed house with a solar wing, but with much of the fabric being of the 19th century or later. There is an interesting section of moulded 17th century balustrading embedded in the south end facing into Mill Street.

Its association with the town gateway is of course intriguing and it is clear that there was indeed such a gateway at or very near to this point [see "Broadsheet NO.8, p.4].

NO. 67 is thought originally to have been part of NO. 65, and for many years accommodated the once well-known firm of North Wales grocers, Messrs E.B. Jones.

The present Castle Park Cafe has also served as the Bridge Inn and was once called "The Myddelton Arms" and "Bridge House".

The area currently known as the Crispin Yard car park, leading to Cae Ddol, was once occupied by a number of cottages which were demolished in the late 1920s. During the first World War of 1914-18, the cinema first came to Ruthin in a tent pitched in Crispin Yard, together with a steam organ. Manders, the March Fair people, were unable during the war to tour the country with their shows and so established a settled base here, showing Charlie Chaplin and "The Masked Rider" and other much admired characters to enraptured audiences at a cost of 3d. or 6d. per seat.

After the war, the Yard seems to have been a kind of depot for a contractor working on the Pentrellyncymer -Birkenhead water pipeline using war-surplus American F. W.D. lorries, each conveying two massive 30 cwt pipes to various destinations as the pipeline made its way through the district. When this contract was completed, the lorries were then used to bring timber down from the Clocaenog Forest to a saw-mill where Canol-y-Dre is now located.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS    Free Press; Messrs H.S.Williams, Tecwyn Roberts, Neville    Williams, W.G. Pritchard, Local Guides and Trade Directories.

Students of local social and art history will be interested to learn of Ruthin's connections with one of the major contributors to the exhibition "Hard Times" at the City of Manchester Art Gallery, until 10th January, 1988, The exhibition, which is designed to portray social realism in Victorian art, prominently features work by Professor Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849¬1914) - including "The Last Muster", "Eventide", "On Strike", and "Hard Times", which not only inspires the exhibition title, but also provides the front cover illustration of the excellent catalogue (£15, or only £8 while the exhibition is at Manchester).

This theme was not one which the Victorian art establishment took to their hearts. It was felt that the scenes of poverty and social deprivation were not suitable subjects for high art. We are therefore fortunate today that in spite of a frowning establishment certain artists of the calibre of Herkomer bequeathed such sensitive insights behind the facade of solid prosperity created by the middle class of the time. One can gaze into the eyes of proud men, as in "On Strike", and almost feel the desperation they experienced. There is also an inner strength and determination visible, as in "Hard Times", which they must indeed have possessed to have survived at all. The trustful dependence of their women and children upon them is clearly apparent.

Who, then, was Herkomer and what were his Ruthin connections?  His name alone makes it reasonably clear that he was not of Ruthin, and was in fact born at Waal in Southern Bavaria. His father was a joiner, and his mother a talented musician and a  teacher of music. The family emigrated to the United States in 1851, but returned to Europe and settled at Southampton, where Hubert entered the School of Art.

His talent quickly developed and one of his early major successes was ."The Last Muster - Sunday at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea", which won widespread acclaim, and which he sold for £1,200. From this, he went on from success to success, gaining a considerable reputation as a portrait painter. Among his prominent sitters were "Richard Wagner", "John Ruskin", "Lord Kelvin" and "The Marquess of Salisbury".

Herkomer's talents were not confined to painting, however, and he successfully turned his attention to engraving, composing music, writing operas, designing stage scenery and lighting, acting, cinematography and motoring. He founded the Herkomer School of Art, was appointed Slade professor of fine art at Oxford, and spent much time lecturing and writing. He made a significant contribution to art in Wales and was granted the bardic name of "Gomer". In 1897, for the National Eisteddfod at Newport, he designed the bardic robes, the crown and the necklet of gold, which he also executed.

It was marriage that brought Herkomer to Ruthin. His first marriage was to a lady from Berlin and there was a son and a daughter. Unfortunately, his wife died in 1883. By this, he had engaged a nurse, a Miss Lulu Griffiths, the daughter of Mr and Mrs Thomas Griffiths of Stanley House. Llanrhydd Street, Ruthin. Mr Griffiths was a well-known and highly respected citizen of the town and was Relieving Officer. This, and the fact that Stanley House was then in the shadow of the Ruthin Union Workhouse, provides an appropriate context for hard times, in spirit if not in oil paint. It is, however, of interest to note that the major painting "Hard Times" was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1885, though we are told that it was inspired by a scene he had witnessed in Coldharbour Lane near his Bushey home.

Herkomer married Lulu at Ruthin in August, 1884, but, tragically, Lulu sustained a severe accident in York. As a child, Lulu had suffered from rheumatic fever which had damaged her heart, and it may be that this combined with the effects of her accident caused her death in 1885. Later, he married his sister-in-law, Margaret, in Bavaria in July, 1888. Professor and Lady Herkomer spent many of their latter years at Stanley House, where an outhouse at the rear was adapted as a studio, He died in 1914 and Lady Griffiths Herkomer in 1934.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:    "Hard Times - Social realism    in Victorian Art", Julian Treuherz, Manchester City Art
Gallery; Dictionary of National Biography; "The Herkomers", by Herkomer himself; Mr Oswald Edwards, Ruthin

bottom of page