RUTHIN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET Issue No 18 June 1989
THE NEAREST RUN THING by Peter Randall
Whilst reading John Williams' interesting article on the "Ruthinite at Gettysburg" [RLHB, March, 1989], my mind turned to the conflict at Waterloo on the 18th June, 1815, as to whether any soldier from Ruthin might have been present at that historic event. By referring to the "Medal Rolls of the 23rd Foot - Royal Welsh Fusiliers - Napoleonic Period", compiled by Norman Holme and Major E.L. Kirby, I found that ten men born in Ruthin and district were present among the 711 members of the Regiment at Waterloo. Their rank, name, age, place of birth, trade, and the Company of the Regiment in which they served were as follows:-
1. Private Edward Lloyd - born at Bryneglwys; Age 39. trade - blacksmith; No: 3 Company.
2. Private John Roberts - born at Ruthin; Age 27. trade - miller; No: 1 Company.
3. Private Richard Roberts - born at Ruthin; Age 43 trade - shoemaker; Grenadier Company.
4. Private Thomas Roberts - born at Llanrhydd; Age 38 trade - labourer; No: 3 Company.
5. Private Robert Rogers - born at Llanynys; Age 33 trade - sawyer; Grenadier Company.
6. Private Evan Williams - born at Ruthin; trade - labourer; No: 8 Company.
7. Private Henry Williams - born at Ruthin; Age 38 trade - labourer; No: 7 Company.
8. Private John Williams - born at Ruthin; Age 37 trade - stone mason; No: 7 Company.
9. Private Thomas Williams - born at Ruthin; Age 21 trade - labourer; No: 7 Company.
10 Private William Williams - born at Llangynhafal; Age 28 trade - labourer; No: 8 Company.
Although the Rolls give other biographical notes on the soldiers, no addresses are given to trace their homes. As the R.W.F. has been noted as a 'Family Regiment', can one hope that the three 'Williams' serving in No: 7 Company were all related?
Of the ten, it would appear that they all survived the battle, with only one, Private Henry Williams, being wounded. It is also recorded that Private John Williams, after being repatriated,” walked to his home in Ruthin". Seven men from Denbigh served at Waterloo, one, Private Thomas Jones, was killed in action.
Unfortunately, the 32 year-old Colonel of the Regiment, Sir Henry Walton Ellis, K.C.B., was mortally wounded and died two days later. Officers and men of the Regiment erected a monument, by John Baker the younger, to him in Worcester Cathedral.
Practically all the officers and men who served at Waterloo qualified for the Waterloo medal. An unusual feature of this was that the head of the Prince Regent appeared on the face in lieu of that of the monarch, George III. The medal was suspended from a red ribbon with blue edges.
Doubtless, other Ruthin men might have served in other Regiments, but at least ten Ruthinites were present at Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo. A well-earned honour is displayed on the Regimental Colours of the R.W.F. who this year are celebrating their Tercentenary [1689- 1989].
FURNESS WILLIAMS TENOR EXTRAORDINAIRE by Oswald Edwards
How many of us now remember the once famous celebrity, born and bred here in Ruthin, Furness Williams? He was an internationally known tenor who for decades delighted opera fans throughout the musical world.
He was born in 1878 at No: 8, Llanfair Road, one of five or six tiny cottages demolished during World War II, now the site of D.T. Williams' garage. John was the eldest of the 14 children of Staff Sergeant Major William Williams of the Denbighshire Hussars, and his wife, Elizabeth. Only 12 of the children are recorded in the baptismal records of Llanrhydd Church. The two other children were born at 62, Llanfair Street, a three storey dwelling on the corner opposite Llanrhydd Manor. Some of the family later lived at 27, Well Street, the newsagent's on the corner of Wynnstay Road/Well Street.
The father, William, was attached to the Denbighshire Yeomanry and gained much local renown as a horseman and a marksman. His was a musical family and John became a soloist member of St. Peter's Church choir, along with other members of his family. He commenced his musical training by singing at various concerts and entertainments, especially at Ruthin Castle, where the Cornwallis Wests' frequent house parties often included eminent musicians. John's road to stardom began, but to earn a living he became a plumber at Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire, where he gained much experience and developed his tenor voice. It was at this time that he adopted "Furness" as his professional name.
He soon appeared before the footlights of the Royal Opera House and other important theatres and concert platforms. His first tutor was the renowned baritone, Sir Charles Sontley [1834-1922]. Furness also studied languages at the Berlitz School of Languages and mingled with many opera stars during his studies at Milan.
Furness became one of Wales' best tenors. He was the only British singer in a brilliant cast of world-famous artistes for a performance at Covent Garden on 10th May, 1913 of Wagner's "Flying Dutchman", sung in German under the baton of Dr Rottanburg. On 4th July, 1915, Furness was again the only British singer in an all-Italian cast at the Teatro Coliseo, Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was deputizing for "The Prince of Tenors", Enrico Caruso, who sat in the audience listening to Furness' interpretation of "Il Duca di Mantova" in Verdi's "Rigoletto". Afterwards, Caruso congratulated this one-time chorister of St. Peter's Church, Ruthin, on "one of the finest performances I ever heard", to quote Caruso's own words.
Furness' friendship with, Caruso lasted until the latter’s death in 1921 [aged 48]. It is interesting to note that Caruso was born in poverty in Naples and, like Furness, was also one of a large family of 21.
Having gained a mastery of foreign languages, Furness was equipped for a successful career. He became principal tenor of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, for three seasons, and also of the Beecham and Denhof Opera Companies. He toured Ireland with the Harrison and Fremin Company in leading parts and on many occasions featured in opera at the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool. London audiences applauded him as did Australian, South African and South American audiences.
When touring Australia with the famous baritone. Peter Dawson, Furness gave more than 50 recitals and the tour ended with both performing the "Elijah" at Sydney. During a tour of Germany and Austria, the audiences included the Kaiser. The press referred to him as the finest performer of Wagner's "Tannhauser".
Nine members of his family served in the Great War of 1914-18 and he sang to the troops in Flanders as a member of a well-known concert party.
Furness was also renowned for his performances in oratorio, ballads and at "At Homes". He sang at the St. David's Day service at St: Paul's Cathedral on four occasions and at many National Eisteddfod Concerts throughout Wales. He lived in London for about 30 years; when not touring. He married a foreign lady, c.1922, and there was one daughter who, it's said, was in the intelligence service during World War II. The marriage did not last, and very little is known of this part of Furness’ life.
Press notices give an indication of the quality of his singing: of his performance at Bechstein Hall, it was said, "Mr Furness Williams is gifted with a genuine tenor voice." "The Referee"' said: "He has clear intonation and his voice is of beautiful quality. In addition to being a perfectly cultivated singer possessing that emotional element that marks him as a genuine artist - his high 'C' in 'Salve Dimora' from "Faust" was sung with great ease."
Towards the end of his life, he returned home and died at Ruthin Hospital in 1957. He is still remembered in Ruthin by some of the older residents as the long-haired, artistically profiled gentleman who in his last months gracefully walked about the town.
Many tributes were paid to him on his death. He was buried in Llanrhydd Churchyard with one of his older brothers, next to their parents. The tombstone is inscribed: "In Loving Memory of William H. Williams, died 15th December, 1957, aged 46. Also His Brother, John Furness Williams, died 23rd June, 1957, aged 79”.
JAMES MAURICE (1800 -1875) Part 3
Barnwell and Maurice appeared to have little in common in the many disputes in the town and were invariably on opposite sides. In March, 1857, Maurice was in the Chair at the prize giving at the British School in Rhos Street when in his speech he said:
" We have heard of children cruelly punished - of masters who stop to take breath, and then begin again … because I believe that the consequences of their treatment is not sufficiently known for a boy shut-up in a school and compelled for hours each day to see the countenance and bear the voice of an unfeeling, passionate and unjust teacher, is all the time learning lessons of hard heartedness, injustice and inhumanity."
Whether Maurice was referring to Ruthin Grammar School under the headship of Barnwell, we will never know. Barnwell certainly thought so and brought a legal action against Maurice, but of course he had to withdraw his claim. As one can see in the above piece, there is neither reference nor inference that it was Ruthin Grammar School and. Maurice denied any such meaning. It is a measure of the character of Maurice that he was involved in both the National and British schools in Ruthin, and 'Howell's Orphan School' at Denbigh. The National Schools were Anglican and the British were dissenter based.
Another disagreement between these two men arose over the matter of pews at St. Peter's Church. West had planned a major restoration of the Church which involved amongst other things the removal of the box pews and replacing them with the open pews that are there today. Pews were an emotive subject. In a manner, they reflected a person's position in the town and many of the good burghers of Ruthin were apprehensive about the change. F.W. Smith, West’s agent, wrote to West, who was at his London home, saying that Barnwell was the ringleader of the discontent over the matter of the pews. There was a long correspondence culminating in a public meeting called probably by the West faction and in the chair was Maurice. Considerable discontent was expressed, but this all faded when Maurice gave the floor to Smith, who read out a letter from West clearly expressing the landowner’s displeasure at what he saw as the town’s ingratitude for his involvement in the restoration. That really was the end of the matter when the Castle expressed itself as clearly as that. Too many were economically dependent upon his largesse for the matter to go further.
The clash of personalities between Maurice and Barnwell continued for years. In 1860, for example, when Maurice was the Chairman of the Board of Guardians, he publicly castigated Barnwell for injudiciously attempting to interfere with the decisions of the Board. He said:
" That the other day he [the pauper] bad come round to Maurice with two papers in the handwriting of Mr Barnwell purporting to be drawn up under the 4 and 5 of William 4th for the purpose of getting magistrates to order outdoor relief in opposition to the Board's decision. He thought the Reverend gentleman misunderstood the object, letter and spirit of the Act which was not passed to array one public body against another or to reverse the decision of the Board of Guardians. It was very mischievous to encourage paupers to dispute the decisions of those who had the troublesome and often very painful duty of granting or withholding relief, but it seemed peculiar confirmation of that gentleman's mind to be busy meddling with other people’s duties."
In this quotation, one gains a glimpse of the sense of duty with which Maurice fulfilled the onerous task of being Chairman of the Board. He was undoubtedly a man of his time with a stern paternal streak. Paupers were not necessarily idlers but this was a period of transition and many were hard-working men who had been put out of work. Maurice appeared to appreciate this point, but he could only arbitrate within' the framework laid down by the Amended Poor Law Act. In the above speech, one can sense the urge to do more for the poor, yet at the same time he firmly believed that they should know their place in society.
Maurice goes on to announce to anyone who was willing to read the account in the paper, that Barnwell had tried to make trouble for the local Board of Guardians with the Secretary of State and had received a severe rebuff for his efforts. This feud between the two men was to drag on for years. However, Barnwell was not the reactionary ogre that one might picture from this account of Maurice's activities. He was a founder member of the "Cambrian Archaeological Association" playing an active part in many of its activities. He published many papers in their journals and was to Ruthin School what Dr Arnold was to Rugby.
In his later years, the county honoured Maurice with the Deputy Lieutenancy, which made him treasurer of the Quarter Sessions. He lived quietly at Plas Tirion having, according to the 1871 census, only one servant. At sometime in the 1870s [the date is not clear] he made a number of disastrous investments in partnership with his step-brother, Price Maurice, home from Australia.
Possibly, the deterioration of his finances affected his health and he removed to reside at Reading with a nephew, an eminent doctor, where he died some two years later, in 1875.
A kind man who brought to his adopted town a wealth of talent of which he gave gladly and unstintingly to the local community.
It is an interesting footnote that James' father, Thomas [?] Thelwall Maurice [probably born in the Ruthin area], was described as 'of Plas Einion', Llanfair D.C., had settled in Marlborough, Wiltshire, and practiced medicine. This practice has continued from c.1794 until the present day and as such has established a record acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records. -
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: RUTHIN RECORD OFFICE, DD/DA 2557; CAERNARVON AND DENBIGH HERALD1856-66; DR T.K. MAURICE, MARLBOROUGH
ST. PETER’S SQUARE PART 3 [Note many properties have changed use and ownership since written]
"CHURCH GATES" [now demolished]. This house was immediately adjacent to the magnificent wrought iron gates made by the famous Davies Bros. of Groesfoel, Wrexham, in the 1720s. The last residents were Mr Robert Jones Edwards and his sister, Miss Mary Sidney Edwards. Mr Edwards was a solicitor and Registrar of Ruthin County Court, and also a keen local historian to whom we are indebted for many accounts of life in the late nineteenth century and the beginning of this. He also wrote an unpublished life of Gabriel Goodman which is, with others of his manuscripts, at the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth. Miss Mary Sidney Edwards, a talented musician, was organist for 30 years at St. Peter's and taught music at Ruthin School when it was located in the Memorial Buildings. The two Edwards' were the children of a former Town Clerk of Ruthin who lived at Plas Coch, Well Street. The property was unoccupied for many years and was eventually demolished in the early 1940s.
NO: 15; "IHE BLACK HORSE" [now the office of the solicitors Wiliam Jones and Talog Davies]. The premises ceased to be licensed in 1929. There is an impressive front portal and door casement with-intriguing initials "R.R." decoratively carved thereon, but it is not known to whom they refer. [now known to be of Robert Roberts of the Hand brewery] The casement is believed to have been transferred from the property next door when it was being converted as a shop by Mr Harris Jones.
FLORENCE HOUSE [now Gayla House]. Mr William Green retired here, having been landlord at the Castle Hotel, for many years. He died at the age of 91 in 1900. Mr W.G. Hodgson was the tenant in 1919, when the property was included in the second Castle estate sale. Following the sale of his shop premises to the Midland Bank c.1923, Mr Harris Jones transferred his home and shop here, converting the ground floor for the purpose.
"POST OFFICE YARD" [See "R.L.H.B., Nos: 5 & 6"): About 1860, the Post Office was located on the north side of this yard, located to the rear of what is now "Gayla House" The only inward mail arrived from Denbigh by mail cart at 8 p.m., the only outward mail having left at 5 p.m. The Post Master at this time was Samuel Jones, who was also a bookseller, Registrar of Births and Deaths, teacher of music, parish clerk, and organist of the church. He also kept a "circulating library".
NO: 16; "THE WHITE HORSE" [now London House]. When the White Horse Hotel was discontinued as such in 1829, the property was divided into two parts, the southern half was given its present title by Mr John Edwards, Draper and Grocer, who set-up business there and dealt with London houses.
c.1880, W.C. Joyce opened a shop here as watchmaker. He was renowned for his grandfather clocks, and he was eventually succeeded [c. 1890] by a Mr Rigby who traded as a jeweller and musical instrument dealer, offering pianos and harmoniums for sale or hire, and repairing watches and clocks.
The Rigby family transferred their business to Chester, where it is still operates under the same family, and were followed by H. Boothroyd; watchmaker and jeweller; silversmith and optician, whose business was purchased by Mr O. Bonner Thomas, watchmaker, jeweller, silversmith and optician, in June,1910.
In 1919, the property was sold as part of the Castle estate, and at that time it was occupied by Mr Charles Laws, a wine and spirit merchant.
"VANITY FAYRE". Part of the premises [now "Vanity Fayre"], prior to the: reconstruction of 1888, were occupied by Anne Llwyd, famous among the children, “when they became fortunate possessors of pence or half-pence", for her home-made treacle toffee, Thereafter, the premises were occupied by Henry Joyce, jeweller, watchmaker and silver-smith, one of the famous family of watch and clockmakers of Shropshire. One of his advertisements, c.1914, made the interesting claim - "1692, oldest established firm in Wales".
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: WILLIAM DAVIES: 'HANDBOOK FOR THE VALE OF CLWYD’; 'JONES' HANDBOOK FOR RUTHIN AID VICINITY'; DENBIGHSHIRE FREE PRESS, 1910, 1917; TRADE DIRECTORIES; MR H. STANLEY WILLIAMS.