RUTHIN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET ISSUE No 14 , June 1988.
RUTHIN'S TOWN HALLS
The Town Hall was not always situated in Market Street. For two hundred years until 1863, the town council had met over the Market Hall, which was to be found in the centre of St. Peter's Square, or "The Market Place", where the Peers memorial clock is situated today. Built in 1663 with stone from the derelict chancel of St. Peter's, the old Town Hall provided accommodation for a variety of needs. On the ground floor, cheese, butter, eggs, geese, fowls, small ware, etc., were sold on market and fair days, following the ringing of the tower [which tower?] bell which now does more solemn duty at St. Meugan's Church, Llanrhudd.
Upstairs sterner events took place. Jones' ["Rhuddenfab"] "Handbook on Ruthin and Vicinity" describes the accommodation here:
"At the north end was the neatly arranged Council Chamber in which meetings of the Corporation were held, and at the south end was the Magistrates Bench having at its back a curious piece of wainscotting bearing the date 1663, eight feet in height; in its centre panel, the arms of the Mvddelton family (three boars heads] were artistically carved; whilst the body of the hall was an open space for the public. Over the fire place in the Council Chamber was fixed in a handsome gilt frame the portrait of Alderman John Roberts of Well Street who was held in high esteem by the inhabitants.
What motivated the move is a matter of conjecture. It might have been the nineteenth century urge for modernisation. By then, of course, St. Peter's Church had been renovated, the old box pews destroyed, and the spire added
The Denbigh, Ruthin and Corwen Railway Company was shortly to link the town to the national railway network. None of these events in themselves necessitated a new town hall, but perhaps a sense of ending the isolation of the town coupled perhaps with the mid-nineteenth century scientific renaissance might have been underlying factors. There was certainly a great deal of re-building and other changes taking place and it was largely at this time that the town centre assumed its present appearance.
Clearly in 1860 there seemed to be no intention to change the venue of council meetings for the council authorised the purchase of twelve chairs for the princely sum of seven shillings each. These were to be used in the Council Chamber. However, on the 10th December 1861, when R.G. Ellis was Mayor, it was decided to approach F.R. West of Ruthin Castle to ascertain whether the Council could purchase a site for a new Market Hall and Council Chamber. In January of the following year, Ellis reported to the council that negotiations were well advanced. Serving on the Council at that time was James Maurice, a friend of West's and Mayor of the Council prior to Ellis. These two men were asked by the Council to form a subcommittee to complete negotiations with F.W. Smith, West's agent. They were to arrange the terms of the purchase of the land for the new market hall adjoining The Bull yard. Further, they were to confer with a surveyor, a Mr Pownley, to ascertain the most profitable method of disposing of the Corporation land. (Note .It was intended that the sale of this land should help pay for the new building)
The decision to build the new hall adjoining The Bull yard was of course the first tentative step in the creation of a new thoroughfare from the market square, through the site of the former "Bull" inn down to the railway station that was to be built where the Craft Centre now stands. Naturally, this would be known as "Market Street", although there was then a press reference to it as "Exchange Street".
Later, in January 1862, Ellis and Maurice reported back to the council that West was willing to sell. From later documentation, it is evident that West insisted that when the old town hall was demolished, no buildings should be erected on that site. So the tact that Ruthin has the fine St. Peter's Square has little to do with the foresight of the councillors of yester-year, but with the whim of the local land-owner. It may be remembered that it was F.R. West who was the driving force behind the renovation of St. Peter's and perhaps he wanted an uninterrupted view of the church as he drove out of the Castle gates. Whatever the motivation, it ensured that the town had a pleasant square that was to give pleasure to townspeople and visitors for generations.
At the end of the spring of that year, F.R. West died, but his instructions were quite clear and the sale proceeded. Pownley estimated that the Corporation land divided into suitable building plots would raise £2,060. The cost of the new town hall was estimated at £3,500, and the duration of the contract was to be twelve months. The actual cost was to be nearer £5,000 and the time taken was nearly two years.
On 17th August, 1863, a notice appeared on the Town Hall door stating the intention to demolish it and:
"to enter into an agreement with the trustees of the late F.R. West to leave the space occupied by it open to the street for ever hereafter."
In the September of that year, the council submitted a memorial to the Lords of the Treasury for permission to proceed with the plans, and raise the "deficiency only of the said sum of £3,500 on mortgage of the rates."
The new hall was designed in the 12th century Gothic style by Messrs Poundley and David Walker of Kerry, Montgomeryshire and Liverpool. Mr Edward Griffith of Chester executed the fine sculptured capitals, representing subjects connected with the history of the town.
Work proceeded, initially at a good pace, though not without the usual controversies about the cost and the effect upon the rates. Unfortunately, some twelve months after the commencement of the contract, the main contractors failed before completion. However, two local businessmen, Messrs Evan Roberts and Edwards, had been appointed sureties under the terms of the contract and they were called upon to complete the project. This done, there appears not to have been any civic celebration or a formal "opening ceremony" by some distinguished personage, but the week 8th-22nd September 1865, was devoted to celebrations, which culminated with a Grand Volunteer Ball in the new Assembly Room. The Town Council held its first meeting in the new Council Chamber on 20th September, most astonishingly without any reference whatsoever in the formal Minutes of that meeting to the historic occasion.
(Sources: Minute Books of the Ruthin Borough Council from 1860 to 1865; Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald, 1863, 1864 and 1865; Clwyd Record Office, Ruthin)
"LET THE PEALING ORGAN BLOW!" (MILTON) by R.H. SHINGLES
This should really have been written last year since it relates to Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee year, 1887. To understand the "goings on", one has to realise the feelings that existed in those days between supporters of the Established Church as it then was, now the Church in Wales, and the Nonconformists, or Dissenters.
A prominent inhabitant of the district at that time was Mr E.O. Vaughan Lloyd who lived at Berth, Llanbedr, though he was also High Sheriff of Merionethshire. He was very generous to the local community and to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee he offered to present an organ to the Town Hall for use in the Assembly Room. It was, apparently, to be a quite magnificent instrument.
Almost two years previously, in August, 1885, Nonconformist services in English began in the Town Hall, just as they did in Denbigh, leading to the eventual erection of the English Presbyterian Churches in the two towns. In Ruthin, the group, known then and for a good part of the ensuing hundred years as the "English Cause", had obtained their own American organ from the proceeds of the performance of a cantata.
Mr Lloyd was an Anglican, but an enlightened one. He was generous to the English Cause on more than one occasion. However, on 9th April 1887, the following letter appeared in the "Denbighshire Free Press" under the nom-de-plume of "A Church Mouse":
"It seems hard that in these days of possible disendowment, a good Churchman should seek to celebrate the Jubilee of our Queen (Defender of the Faith) by a munificent gift to our town which will in the main be devoted to the use of nonconformists.
Would it not be better that Mr Lloyd should at least divide his splendid offering and if £200 would surely provide an organ for the Town Hall, might not £100 be spent on restoring and rehanging the bells of the Parish Church on which in their present condition, it will be impossible to ring a peal for the completion of the 50th year of Her Majesty's Most Glorious Reign?"
A week later, a reply appeared in the paper under the initials "P.M." -
"In your impression of last week is a letter signed by "A Church Mouse", dictating to a gentleman (who to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee offers to present the town of Ruthin with a magnificent organ) how the gift should be distributed. I myself can only regard it as an impertinent, presumptuous, ignorant interference with a gentleman's right to celebrate the auspicious occasion in the manner he thinks best himself.
Your correspondent appears to be labouring under the impression that no good Churchman should extend his munificence to Nonconformists, but solely and absolutely to the Established Church. What bigotry and narrow-mindedness. It is no wonder that the country clamours for disestablishment and disendowment when its avariciousness is made so public and so prominent. The great sore, evidently, is the fact that the organ is proposed to be placed in the Assembly Rooms where it would be available to the English Cause.
Had Mr Lloyd expressed his wish that it should be placed, say, at Ruthin Station or at any other place where Nonconformists do not congregate, I wonder if “Church Mouse” would have made such an exhibition of himself in the “Free Press”. It were much better if “Church Mouse” had been consistent in the peculiarity of this little vermin.”
Mr Lloyd did not hold his hand. The following week the “Free Press” reported that the organ was then being installed by a firm from Gloucester. It was to be played for the first time a week later, on 26th April, at a Ballad Concert, organized to defray a deficit in the funds of Ruthin Musical Society. However, it was not used as the organist did not arrive until after the concert had started and had had no opportunity to test the instrument.
Six weeks later, it had still not been used and the donor was said to be arranging to have it “opened” at a special religious service. The following week, the Town Council was discussing whether to charge for its use, but they deferred a decision till it had been officially presented.
Mid-August came and the presentation ceremony still had not taken place. Complaints were being voiced that it took up space on the platform, making it difficult to erect scenery when theatrical companies were there. Also, it was suggested that the organ might be damaged by props and stage litter. A committee was appointed to consider extending the stage by four feet and at a later meeting it was reported that a removable extension had been provided.
The organ was finally handed over at a Male Voice Choir Concert at the end of September. The donor presented it and the Mayor, Col. Cornwallis West accepted it on behalf of the town. It was to be played by Mr. Llewelyn Lloyd of St. Asaph Cathedral, presumably the organist there, and all he played was the National Anthem!
It was revealed at the same time, though, that it had been played – unofficially – just once before, at a tea for old people on Jubilee Day. Miss Mary S. Edwards, organist of St. Peter’s, “played the National Anthem in a splendid manner on the new organ.”
The saga did not end there, though. At a Town Council meeting on 12th November, it was reported that the English Cause, in response to an enquiry as to whether they would be prepared to use the organ at their services, replied that the musical instrument which they used at present was sufficient for their purpose. The Council decided to charge five shillings for its use.
But the organ was evidently not popular, probably because of its size. On 14th April, 1888, it was reported that Mr Lloyd, learning that a piano would be more useful and more suitable for the Town Hall, had removed the Jubilee Organ and presented the Council with a grand piano. One wonders what happened to the organ.
It was decided to make a charge of seven shillings and sixpence for the use of the piano for local purposes and twelve shillings and sixpence for strangers, to cover the cost of tuning. The Council was onto a good thing! Later in the year it accepted a tender of only £1 per annum for tuning the piano!
(REFERENCES: DENBIGHSHIRE FREE PRESS, 1887, "100 YEARS ON”)
RUTHIN "STREET-BY-STREET” SERIES
MILL STREET PART 2
Mill Street's 'piece de resistance' is, of course, the old flour Mill, said to have been built at the same time as the castle. The original purpose of this has been the subject of much speculation by our local historians of the nineteenth century. Archdeacon Richard Newcombe lends his no mean authority to suggestions that this was once a chapel. Some have claimed, not unreasonably, that it was originally the castle garrison chapel even though it now appears to be outside the castle precinct. Others, supported by Leland, have thought it to be the original chapel of the cell of White Friars whose presence in the town is somewhat shrouded in mystery.
Some of the architectural features of the elevations are certainly suggestive of an ecclesiastical function, and one cannot help but wonder why the builder incorporated them if not for ecclesiastical reasons. Each gable has a single trefoiled lancet window and over that to the east is a cross in red sandstone.
Ecclesiastically, or no, (and our friend E.L. Barnwell rejected the theory), the building has been much altered over the centuries. For example, the height of the roof has very obviously been raised, giving the building an extra two storeys. The front or northern façade had at each end two entrances formed by arches, both being capable of admitting a horse and cart. Towards the western end was a large archway housing the water-wheel. Many of these features can clearly be seen from our illustration, taken from Arch. Camb. 1856.
The old mill has completed another phase of its life cycle and is about to be prepared for another, by conversion into residential accommodation. The present thoughtful owner has allowed a preliminary investigation which has already yielded new information. Under the floor of the area originally occupied by the water-wheel, two pieces of carved stone have been found by Mr Ian Gough [Clwyd Planning Department], which have been sent for expert examination. It may well be that the impending remodelling work will uncover further evidence which may help to elucidate the building's early history.
Unfortunately, Barnwell does not comment on the use being made of the building in his day, but it seems to have continued its function as a flour mill until quite late into the 19th century. We know, thanks to the late Mr Tecwyn Roberts, that at the beginning of this century the building was empty, having in the immediate past been used to store salt. Mr Roberts' father, Mr W,H, Roberts, purchased the property in 1913 during the first sale of the castle estate, Mr Roberts was a joiner by trade having also pursued a successful career as a photographer, but he had decided to give that up to concentrate on his original trade, using this old building as a saw mill.
The water-wheel had evidently not been in use as such for some time as it had badly deteriorated following neglect, so that Mr Roberts purchased the wheel at Felin Meredydd, Rhewl; dismantled it and brought it to Ruthin, where it was re-assembled. Mr Roberts soon found that the whole system was inefficient. The water neither over-shot nor undershot the wheel but struck it half-way down and gave the wheel little momentum. The original reserve pond in the castle grounds had fallen out of use and the mill race frequently clogged with weeds. Modern technology was mobilised and a gas engine provided power more efficiently.
The 1914-18 war interrupted Mr Roberts' plans, for although too old for military service, he was required to contribute to the war effort at the Royal Flying Corps aerodrome at Shawbury. After the war, he entered into a partnership with Mr Rice-Jones as a builder and contractor with the old mill as base and also undertook haulage work. This partnership was dissolved in 1924, when Mr Rice-Jones continued at the mill as a builder's merchant and Mr W.H. Roberts with his son, Tecwyn, specialised in road haulage work,
Another narrow street leads from Mill Street towards the Castle and it appears likely that this may have been the main approach to the castle in its hey day. Eighteenth century prints (Buck and John Ingleby] show clearly the remains of a prominent entrance, probably the main one, to the original castle to which this very narrow approach leads.
Another but much more recent building of great local interest was erected in 1801 alongside this roadway, and this was the first Wesleyan Methodist chapel in the town. Capel-y-Felin, as it was known, had been built only after considerable difficulty had been experienced in finding a site. Non-conformists of that era were subjected to harassment and found great difficulty in acquiring land on which to build their chapels.
By this time, the importance of this corner of Ruthin had declined and there were derelict buildings which had once served the mill. These were demolished and the chapel was built. On opening in 1802 there were about 40 members, but after quite a short time the building was inadequate. Market Street had been opened by then and in 1868 a larger chapel was built there.
"Capel-y-Felin" was then converted into four dwellings but, in 1913, the premises were acquired by the borough council and converted into an electricity generating station operated by "The Ruthin Electricity Supply Co.", and for the first time a public supply of D.C. current became available to the town. Two large gas engines, with huge fly-wheels, together with an ex-1914/18 war surplus tank engine, generated the supply.
Following the post-war nationalisation of the electricity industry, supplies for the town were derived through the national grid and "Capel-y-Felin" was used by MANWEB as a depot and a transformer sub-station. More recently, the property was disposed of to a local business concern and the upper floor has once again been converted to provide residential accommodation.
A new Scout Hall was provided in 1973 on a site adjoining to replace the original off School Lane when that land was required to provide access to Awelon Old People's Home.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: ARCH. CAMB. 1856, pp.284/5; DENBIGHSHIRE FREE PRESS; THE LATE MR TECWYN ROBERTS, RUTHIN CLWYD COUNTY PLANNING DEPARTMENT; MR E.S. SCOINS, RUTHIN,