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RUTHIN LOCAL HISTORY BULLETIN                                                                                 ISSUE No 19 September 1989 



Like bits of clay pipes, tokens are sometimes dug-up in the garden and the curious may be tempted to raise many questions, e.g., why were they issued ? When ? Who issued them? Tokens were issued because of shortages of small change in the official currency. One reason for this was that the Royal Mint once considered that copper was too base a metal to carry the royal portrait. Then the shortage of coin led to hoarding which made matters worse.
There were three particular occasions when there were major recourses to this alternative coinage. Firstly, in the middle of the 17th century; secondly, at the end of the 18th century,  and, finally, at the beginning of the 19th century. The first period, of course, coincided with 
the civil war that racked the nation, while the next two were reactions to the Napoleonic wars.

The Bank of England was down to its last £1m in gold coinage and it was necessary to resort to paper money, including notes for £2.; £1.; 7s.- not less than three to a guinea; 5/3d.- not less than four to a guinea.

Ruthin doubtless owes its origin, and certainly its survival, to its economic viability. The town's origins may be somewhat obscure, but there is abundant evidence from the medieval era that Ruthin was an important centre, unique in North Wales, for the whole process of cloth-making, from sheep farming to the carding of the wool, its fulling and weaving.

By the end of the fifteenth century, the corvisors and shoemakers of Ruthin, and their ancillary industries of cattle production and tanning, had been established. The cloth industry declined from the beginnings of the sixteenth century, but the new industries maintained the town's prosperity.

If the number of tokens issued can be taken as an indicator of the level of 17th century commercial activity, Ruthin would have ranked second in a league of token issuers in the present Clwyd area, having 6 tokens to its credit. This was exceeded only by Wrexham, which had 12. Denbigh had 5 and 'Mold' 2. Even on an all-Wales basis, Ruthin figured well.

Tokens were issued by inn-keepers, coffee houses, and by shopkeepers of all kinds. Some towns, like Bristol, issued their own, perhaps, because of a lack of confidence in those issued privately. Issuers of tokens in Ruthin, and brief information about them, were as follows -

1. RICHARD GOODEN, 1664; Apothecary; face value, one halfpenny; brass; bears Apothecaries' arms. Gooden is described as apothecary, petit rentier [a person living off dividends, rents and other investments], and small landowner. His will was proved in 1677 and witnessed by John and Richard Wynne. The inventory showed that he had large premises, including a brew-house, and owned a considerable herd of cattle. He had evidently been a wealthy man and his assets were in the hands of his brother James, and Richard Win [sic].

2. RICHARD WYNN, 1666; grocer; face value, one penny. Wynn was an alderman in 1659 and in 1673, and also postmaster. In an advertisement for Bromfield's pills in 1679 and 1684, he was described as "mercer". It is thought that he was the father of Richard Wynne, apothecary, a burgess of Ruthin in 1678 and who supplied medicines to "the lady of Chirck Castle" in 1693, the year he died. It is assumed that Wynn was a mercer-apothecary-grocer.

3. JOHN BAYNHAM, 1664; face value, one half penny; copper. The token bears the crest of a bull's head but there is no record of Baynham having been sworn burgess of this Borough. The obverse of the token is the same as that of a token issue in Bromyard, Herefordshire and it has been suggested that this specimen is either a mistake made at the workshop manufacturing the tokens, or a deliberate forgery.

4. PETER EDWARDS, 1666; face value, one penny; copper; bears mercers arms. Edwards is described as "gentleman, mercer" and was Alderman in 1666, and 1668, and deputy for John Wynne of ‘Evenechtid’, 1671. In 1667, he farmed the highway tax; in 1687, he was one of the farmers of the town toll for £16

5. JOHN HUGHES, 1684; face value, one penny; brass; bears Haberdashers' arms.

6. DAVID VAUGHAN, 1669; face value, one penny; brass; Mercers' arms.

7. BASIL WOOD, 1665; face value, one penny; brass; bears Apothecaries' arms. Basil Wood[s] appeared in court, with others from the town, charged with being a Roman Catholic. While he had taken the oath of allegiance and supremacy, he had failed to attend protestant services.

What precisely was a mercer/grocer/haberdasher? In 1696, a "mercer" was defined as a trader who dealt only in silks and "stuffs". In the country, as opposed to the city areas, however, it was not feasible to specialise to such an extent so that a mercer traded in all sorts of linen, woollens, silk and grocery wares. At that time, "groceries" referred mainly to sugar, spices and preserves, and not to fresh foods which were traded under quite strict market legislation. "Haberdashery", then much as now, referred mainly to buttons and bows, hats and ribbons.

Who were these businessmen? To start a business in a Borough, one firstly needed to be a sworn burgess; secondly, membership of a Guild was essential, but which Guild seemed immaterial. Roger Brereton, ironmonger, of Chester, for example, supplied fish. Finally, one needed capital.

In the 17th century, the younger sons of the gentry often had to fend for themselves, but their family connections would ensure that all the necessary pre-requisites were met. They were often apprenticed to a trade or became innkeepers.

There seems to be no record after the seventeenth century of the issue of trade tokens in Ruthin, until the Nantclwyd Hall Lime and Coke Co. Ltd., decided to issue a brass two-penny token. The trade directories of 1876 and 1883 refer to this company as at 23, Clwyd Street, and in 1886, in Market Street, but it is not known when the token was issued and for how long it remained in use. A specimen of this issue was found by Mr Richard Davies of Peniel under the floor boards of a house at Prion ["Y Bedol" of December, 1986]. Another is in the possession of Mr David Rickman, found in the garden of "The Royal Oak", 51, Clwyd Street. DW



One of Borthyn School's more controversial headmasters was Robert Roberts, "Y Sgolar Mawr", who spent two years of his unhappy life in Ruthin. Roberts had an intelligence beyond his ability to reap its rewards. He was consequently a frustrated character and, unfortunately, allowed his frustration to cloud his life and warp his character.

His biographer, T.O. Phillips, recalls the grinding poverty of his youth at Hafod Bach, Llanddewi, Llangernyw. The farm had been in the family for three hundred years and had 150 acres and a further 250 acres of common grazing. With this size of farm in 1834, there should have been no need for such poverty. Prof. D. Howell suggested that a farm had to be greater than 40 acres to be economically viable, therefore one is forced to the conclusion that Roberts senior had not the ability to farm his land in an efficient manner.

Whatever the cause, the family were poor and the young, scholarly Roberts was forced to earn his living as a casual farm labourer. Poverty galled the boy and envy was to dog him for perhaps the whole of his life. In his autobiography, he wrote:
'I looked forward to the life of a farmer's labourer with utter loathing and detestation and became utterly miserable at the prospect.'

Eventually, building upon the briefest of time spent in full-time education, he was funded by some Methodists to attend their college at Bala, although he had been brought up in the established Church. His stay was short, and he enjoyed every moment of it, but funds ran out and he had to find work. He went as a private tutor to a Methodist minister's family in Anglesey.

Here he improved his education by studying in the large library. He worked on William Owen Pughe's Welsh/English dictionary, noting many of its failings, and developing his skills in tracing the origins of words. However, the rigid discipline of the household regime, particularly the emphasis on abstinence, became too much for young Roberts and he left. For more than a year, he took one job after another and was ultimately a porter in a bookshop. This was the nadir of his career.

With the help and encouragement of a friend, he turned again to the established church and gained a scholarship of four shillings per week to study at the Anglican Teachers Training College. There he demonstrated his inherent intelligence, for in spite of his lack of formal education, he frequently headed the examination results. After Training College, he had two appointments before reaching Ruthin.

He came to Borthyn School in 1854, but by this time he had decided that a schoolmaster's role in society provided neither the income nor the status that he wished. Consequently, he planned to enter the Anglican priesthood. According to his biographer, T.O. Phillips, he was happy and content at Borthyn, although at times he did imbibe a little unwisely at the 'Lion'.

However, from his autobiography another picture emerges, of a cynical, bitter young man who envied the wealth of the Castle. He mentioned the 'fawning' nature of the town in its relationship to the Castle:
'Mr West, the owner of the Castle, had but to beckon and down went every knee at once; while as Sir Watkin, the amount of prostration which each Ruthinian would willingly have undergone for the sake of a nod from that demigod is more than I can venture to describe. In politics, their subjection to their lords and masters was complete.'

He talks of the dominance of the Castle, although with the perspective of time, West was a liberal landlord in comparison with some of his peers. Roberts was a complex character, for when the Warden and West were planning to remove the old, privilege-based box pews from St. Peter's Church, he bemoaned the move, referring to the old pews as 'the glory of Ruthin'. With this dissatisfaction with the society he lived, one can hardly agree with Phillip's conclusion that he was happy and content in Ruthin. His stay here was a relatively brief one, just two years.

Being unable to secure a patron, or to save enough money to support himself at Oxford or Cambridge, he left Ruthin and registered at St. Bees College, Cumberland, to train for the Anglican Church. He again performed brilliantly, heading all the examination lists. After leaving college, he obtained a curacy at Cwm, then Bala, where he became Rector. Then he moved to Rhug, near Corwen. By this time he was immersed in his life's work, the creation of a definitive Welsh/English dictionary. Perhaps it was the clash of his secular interests with his religious responsibilities that was to prove too much for him. He was now turning more to drink and his drunkenness was brought to the attention of the Bishop and he was forced to resign.

He then had a short spell as a private tutor before emigrating to Australia. He became tutor to the children of two wealthy families, including that of the Solicitor- General of Victoria. During the 12 years he spent in Australia, he worked on his dictionary and also published a few short books. He returned home in 1875.

The Church establishment had not forgiven his behaviour at Corwen. Although he was asked to take at least three curacies, the Bishop steadfastly refused to grant him a licence. After a spell as a private tutor, he became a schoolmaster again, in the Isle of Man and then in Wolverhampton. He was again sacked for drunkenness.

His career was now in ruins. His only work, his life's interest, was his dictionary. The standard work at that time was Pughe's and of this dictionary Roberts wrote:

"I started with an interleaved Pughe and noted down on it all the words I could find from old glosses [i.e. glossaries]. There was hardly a page where I did not find many words left out - sometimes as many as twenty or thirty to a page.    His first meaning is often imaginary. He never distinguishes between literal and metaphorical meanings."

Roberts had worked for years on his dictionary but one of Wales' greatest lexicographers, Chancellor D. Silvan Evans (1818-1903), had also been collecting data for a revised Welsh-English dictionary. Roberts' poverty and intemperance forced him to sell his life's work to Silvan for a few pounds.

Roberts' last few years were spent in poverty, drunkenness and ill-health. He was buried in Llangernyw Churchyard in 1885. Two years later, Silvan Evans published his dictionary. To what extent this momentous work relied upon the research of Y Sgolar Mawr is difficult to judge for Silvan Evans himself was a formidable scholar.

Thus, a Ruthin headmaster made a contribution to Welsh literature, and in so doing his own genius led to his ultimate destruction.


SOURCES: T.O. Phillips, 'Robert Roberts: [Y Sgolar Mawr]’, 1957; D.W. Howell, 'Land and People in Nineteenth Century Wales.' 1977; J.N. Davies (Ed), ‘The Life and Opinions of Robert Roberts, Wandering Scholar, autobiography edited by J.N. Davies, 1923.                                                                                                         



[Note many properties have changed use and ownership since written]

The Myddleton Arms

The facts are somewhat obscure. The late Edward Hubbard in "Buildings of Clwyd" suggests that while the Myddelton Arms is traditionally associated with Sir Richard Clough, this seems to rest solely on the flimsy evidence of the unusual, but picturesque, three tiers of dormer windows.

However, in some circles, the Myddelton Arms are referred to as "The Clough Town House" which is surprising as the Clough's family home was in Denbigh and at the time of his marriage to Katherine of Berain in April, 1567, he was building Plas Clough and Bachygraig. Those are clearly "country Houses", but why would a Denbigh man, who spent most of his short life working in Holland, Spain and Germany, have needed a town house in Ruthin?

It has been suggested that a Flemish architect, Hendrik van Paesschen, was responsible for the design and construction of this building. Paesschen was working in England on various projects, including building, possibly at the suggestion of Clough, the London Royal Exchange for Gresham. Gresham himself employed Paesschen on other projects, so why not Clough?

Another expert, Peter Smith of the RCAHM at Aberystwyth, thinks that Paescchem may well have been responsible for Bachygraig but probably not for Plas Clough, and almost definitely not for the Myddelton Arms. Indeed, Smith doubts whether any architect was ever involved.

What is certain is that the core is of the medieval hall house type, although, of course, it is very difficult today to recognise it as such. The building has certainly been much altered over the centuries and an inscription over the Vanity Fayre gable states that it was renovated in 1883.

In one of the rooms is an armorial bearing in moulded plaster dated 1657. This is said to be the Langford coat of arms and it is reasonable to deduce the possibility that this family owned or lived there at that time. The Langfords were brought here by the de Greys and in the fifteenth century served as Constables of Ruthin Castle.

The property is said to have been purchased by Sir Hugh Myddelton in 1595. Sir Hugh was the Myddelton who virtually bankrupted himself in providing London with its first fresh water supply via the "New River". He also presented the Borough of Ruthin with two handsome silver goblets. Although of a Denbigh family and a Denbigh benefactor, he was made a baronet as “Hugh Myddelton of Ruthin, citizen and goldsmith of London”. 

Local tradition maintains that the Myddelton Arms and the Castle Hotel were built over the site of the town walls. Here was located, so it was said, Porth y Dwyrain. Rhuddenfab in his ‘Handbook for Ruthin and Vicinity’ of 1884, records that during renovation workmen discovered the alleged stone framework of this gateway, with rings and hooks attached. 

Shortly after these renovations, the the name was changed from “The Castle Arms” to “The Myddelton Arms” and “The White Lion” became “The Castle Hotel”. 
The WHITE LION is equally enigmatic. It is said to date from about the early to mid-eighteenth century. It may have been built on the site of an earlier building and indeed to the rear there are timber-framed outbuildings of the 16th/17th centuries, The moulded plaster ceiling of the entrance hall is of the seventeenth century, but was transferred from the adjacent Myddelton Arms some years ago. 

No definite evidence has yet come to light as to when the rebuilding took place, but the Chirk Castle accounts record a number of payments for “repairs”, which must have been quite extensive, over the period 1680-1702. For example:-
“7th November 1702 Paid Gabriel William for 55,600 slates had to repayre John Price of Bodiggre yr Jarl his house and to White Lion in Ruthin - £1.15s.-0d.”

Some of the earliest known landlords were from the families of the landed gentry. In the seventeenth century, it was not unusual for the younger sons of the gentry to be apprenticed to a trade and others entered the Church or became lawyers or innkeepers. Indeed, some of those who became innkeepers had second strings to their bows. For example, William Myddelton of Tyr y Llanerch of the Corwen branch of the family, while landlord of the White Lion towards the end of the seventeenth century, was also described as ‘barber-chirurgeon’. In 1725, a Mr henry Charles was innkeeper and ‘perukemaker’ [wig-maker].

With the development of the turnpike trusts and the improvement of the road system, the White Lion became a coaching inn and post-house. Following the arrival of the railway, the services offered by the hotel expanded and the hotel bus met every train. Ponies, traps and other horse-drawn vehicles were available for hire. A little later, the hotel was advertising that all its produce was brought in daily from the home farm. There was a motor garage, a pit, petrol and and a mysterious machine, which were all offered as part of the service. This was in the era of Mr. Tegid Jones [c1913], who had some link with the White Lion Royal Hotel at Bala.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: William Davies, ‘Handbook for the Vale of Clwyd’; ‘Jones’ Handbook for Ruthin and Vicinity; Denbighshire Free Press, 1910, 1917; ‘Chirk Castle Accounts, 1666-1673’; W.M. Myddelton, RCAHM, Aberystwyth.

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