RUTHIN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET Issue No 21 March 1990
THE DAY OF THE TRAIN
St. David's Day, 1862, was indeed an important day for the townsfolk of Ruthin for this was the day that Ruthin was linked directly to the rest of Britain by the Denbigh, Ruthin and Corwen Railway.
It appeared so important at the time that a song was written to commemorate the occasion. The words were by T. Ab Gwilym, music by B. Williams and published by that famous Ruthin publisher Isaac Clarke. The first verse and the chorus went as follows:
"Dear me, what a change the railway attraction, Through the Vale of Clwyd, puts thousands in motion!
What will be the shouts of acclamation,
When the Steamhorse starts from Ruthin station?
There he goes, sets the trains a wheeling, Now hear the Steamhorse loudly puffing,
And the hills in echoes loud repeating, The melodious strains of great rejoicing:-
Sing high, sing low, sing heigh down gaily, Ruthin Town is improving daily,
Ruthin Town is improving daily."
The very tone of this verse sets the excitement or the expectations in some form or context. The third verse had perhaps a sadder inference, for though there had been substantial 'out migration' from the area, by far the greater numbers had moved to the new industrial areas rather than overseas. It is plain from the verse, however, that the overseas migration was the more emotive. The third verse reads:
"Let thousands go to California, Across the seas, and to Australia;
Ten thousand more some future Tuesday, Will take a trip by the Clwydian Railway! Now then, my friends, lets fill our glasses, Ere long we'll see but happy faces, -Success to the Railway - many kisses To all our fair and smiling lasses:- Sing high, sing Low, etc."
It was in September of 1860 that Mrs Florence West had cut the first sod of this engineering enterprise followed now some eighteen months later by such scenes of jubiliation the like of which Ruthin had rarely seen.
The line covered the six and three-quarter miles to Denbigh with two stations in between. Llanrhaiadr and Rhewl. Eighteen months seems a considerable time to complete such a project for in the United States they were laying track at the rate of a mile a day. If they had built the transcontinental railways at the same speed as this little line, they would still be building them now! The terrain was in parts certainly more difficult than along the Vale though the manpower was very similar, - Irish, English and Welsh navvies taken over for the specific purpose of building the railroad. Perhaps it was the organisation and management.
Nonetheless, it was completed and Ruthin on that fateful day was crowded with folk from outlying villages. From 8 o'clock in the morning, the church bells of St. Peter's and Llanfwrog were heralding the celebrations which were to take place on that fine but cold day. The band of the Ruthin Volunteers entertained the crowds on the Square. They played from 10 o'clock in the morning, braving the cold east wind.
At mid-day John Denman, the Chief Constable of Denbighshire, assembled the Grand Parade which was led by the band. In the parade were the Mayor, the Corporation of Ruthin, the Directors and officials of the railway company, gentry, tradesmen of the neighbourhood, and the school children. They marched from the Square via Castle Street, Record Street, Well Street, the railway bridge, down the newly created Station Road to the Station Yard. Here, disorganisation took over. The railway company had provided a special train to make the inaugural journey from Ruthin to Denbigh. There were special passes provided for the school children, and although extra carriages were provided and an engine both at the front and rear of the train, the accommodation was inadequate. It was estimated that about half of the children were left on the platform.
The journey through the Vale that day must have been particularly exciting for as the train chugged along the children were shouting and waving flags from the windows of the carriages. At Denbigh, the procession re-assembled and solemnly marched to the Market Square and then after the conventional speeches, they returned to the station and the waiting train. Embarkation onto the train must have been chaotic. The organisers were not sure which of the children they had brought. Some or the children who had made the journey, flushed with the sense of adventure, had not joined in the ceremonies and were missing. Consequently, a considerable number or children were again left, this time at Denbigh.
Not deterred, the organisers pressed on with the planned events and in the Station Yard at Ruthin a buffet tea was provided. With the heartlessness of youth, the children ignored the fate of their school friends stranded at Denbigh and enjoyed their meal to the full. The procession re-formed yet again and marched back to the Market Place where it disbanded. There is still no news of those children missing in Denbigh!
In the evening, there was of course an inaugural dinner for the directors and the gentry. This was held at the Wynnstay Arms with close to one hundred people sitting down to the meal. Behind the list of those attending the dinner, and the verbosity of the Victorian speeches lay the coded messages of the power struggle that was taking place. The London North Western Railway were anxious to prevent the Great Western Company gain access to the lucrative trade on the Chester to Holyhead line. The G.W.R. had aspirations of coming through Corwen, Ruthin, and Denbigh and then to Rhyl, but more of that a little later.
The absentees from the banquet were as interesting as those present. The Wests were not there, although Mrs West had played such a prominent part in launching the venture some eighteen months earlier. West had petitioned against the railway going through to Corwen. It may be recalled that he had been instrumental in having the site of Ruthin Station changed from close to Borthyn School to where the Craft Centre now stands. The implication of this move was that the route to Corwen was considerably more circuitous. Other notables missing from what was, after all, a fairly prestigious night, were the Warden of Ruthin and Townshend Mainwaring. Mainwaring was the Chairman of the company and as will be seen later, when it was politically convenient he pleaded ill-health. Both he and the Wests were represented by their agents, which emphasizes how important these men were to the political structure of society at that time.
Among the many speeches that night, there was an interesting presentation. Roberts, the Castle porter, presented to the Mayor and Corporation a large coat of arms. This was made from black oak inlaid with bone and depicted three castles, leeks, goats, and the plume of feathers over the inscription: "Ye Armes of ye Towne and Corporation of Rhuthyne, 1282." This pseudo coat of arms had been made by Roberts.
The toasts were many that night, as they tended to be at such functions. Replying to the toast to the contractors, however, was the principal, Thomas Savin. He had sponsored the bill through parliament and was by this time one of the principal shareholders of the Vale of Clwyd Railway. It was he who was the chief conspirator in the G.W.R. attempt to gain control of the line. On this occasion, he was of course the very essence of modesty and charm with his two principal protagonists absent from the dinner. Perhaps he felt his battles were over.
MISTRESS OF CHARLECOTE
The forthcoming visit of the Ruthin Local History Group to Charlecote Park, Warwickshire, near Stratford upon Avon, partly because of the local connections, may arouse curiosity as to precisely what those connections may have been. There are, perhaps surprisingly, several, but 'the two more prominent are those arising from the de Grey family, who built Ruthin Castle and featured prominently in the government and life of the Ruthin Lordship in the 13th-15th centuries, and from the Williamses of Bodelwyddan Castle.
lnformation about the rather vague de Grey connection seems rather scanty as no-one seems to have researched or written-up this intriguing link. Even so, the de Grey armorial bearings feature very strongly in the Charlecote decor and are also prominent in the family tree on display in the house. The National Trust guide
book, and the booklet "Charlecote and the Lucys" by Alice, Lady Fairfax-Lucy [which can be purchased at the house], are silent on this point.
By contrast, there is a great deal of information concerning the Bodelwyddan connection, thanks mainly to the memoirs kept by Mary Elizabeth Lucy [née Williams] who married George Lucy in 1823. Another book ["Mistress of Charlecotte - The memoirs of Mary Elizabeth Lucy", by Alice Fairfax-Lucy; paper-back, Gollancz, 1995] gives a graphic account of Mary Elizabeth's early life at Bodelwyddan and subsequent life at Charlecotte.
The reader can almost experience the social rounds, e.g., with the Hughes' of Kinmel, the Hesketh's of Gwrych Castle, the Lloyds of Pengwern, the Pennants of Downing, the Mostvns of Talacre, Mrs Piozzi of Brvnbella, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynne of Wynnstay, and the Ladies of Llangollen. Mary described "the Ladies" as "just like two old men. They always dressed in dark cloth habits with short skirts, high shirt collars, white cravats and men's hats, with their hair cut short."
Life at Bodelwyddan seems to have been lived to the full with no shortage of loving bonds between children and parents and with an apparently kindly relationship with the servants. Even so, of course it was always a case or "the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate." For example: "but alas, I must say, with all the over-schooling of the present day the race of old faithful servants is fast dying away."
Some of the heritage left to us by the Lucy family, and countless others, is a monument not merely to the owners, but also those whose skill, toil and sweat gave aspirations reality.
RUTHIN STREET BY STREET SERIES
ST. PETER'S SQUARE 6 [Some of this has been overtaken by later research]
The Old Court House commands St. Peter's Square with an authority clearly derived from its age, though it is by no means the oldest building in town. It was constructed as a direct result of Owen Glyndwr's famous sacking of 1400, when one of the casualties was its predecessor, which as a symbol of de Grey's authority, made it a prime candidate for destruction. (There is no evidence for this)
Thus, the Old Court House was built in the period 1401/1404 and it assumed the role of Manorial Courthouse as performed by its predecessor. The Ruthin Court Rolls provide an almost unique record from 1294, but initially the court probably sat at the castle itself. The Court House also provided accommodation for prisoners on the ground floor or underneath the building and it seems reasonable to assume that, as the castle itself diminished in use and importance, it may have served as an administrative centre for the Lordship.
Its use as a courthouse continued for some little time, at least until 1663 when the Town Hall was built on the Square in front of the Myddelton Arms [see R.B.S. NO:14]. The first floor (of the town hall) was divided into two parts. The northern half was the Council Chamber and the southern served as a new Court House with "... a (curious piece of wainscotting bearing the date, 1663, eight feet in height; in its centre panel, the arms of the Myddelton family (three boars heads) were artistically carved; ...." It served to accommodate not only the local magistrates, but also the Court of Great Sessions which met alternately between Ruthin and Wrexham, at least until the construction of the County Hall in Record Street in 1790.
The Court of Great Sessions ordered the construction of a House of Correction in 1654 on a site in Clwyd Street, the first instalment of a series of many subsequent developments ISee R.B.S. NO: 10]. It is said, however, that the old courthouse continued to fulfill its former purpose, at least in part, until about 1679. One or the gruesome details of the building, at its north-western corner, is the supposed remnant or a gibbet from which people were hanged. This seems to have been well used, for at the time of the rebuilding in -1926, the foreman, Evan James Lake, told a Daily Express reporter that a deep hole had been worn in the wood where the rope would have been fastened. One of the last executions to take place there was that of Friar Charles Meehan, on 28th August, 1679.
Places of execution seem generally to have been outside town boundaries and there are 13th and 14th century references to executions suggesting a location on high ground to the south, possibly in the Wrexham direction. The traditional place of execution was said to be at Galltegfa, and this may have been in succession to the Old Court House. The most recent executions were carried out within the precincts of the Clwyd Street Gaol itself.
The Old Court House was in commercial use in the eighteenth century, for in 1741 the butchers of the town petitioned Richard Myddelton of Chirk, then owner of the building complaining that their "meat was exposed to all Weathers". This resulted in the construction of "The Shambles!" or "Pendist" as a lean-to on the north face to provide the required accommodation. It provided more than accommodation for the butchers in that they took advantage of their vantage point in relation to the bear-baiting [R.B.S. NO: 16] which took place on the Square, and derived extra income by charging a "fancy price" for grand-stand seats on the roof
The building was of two storey construction and old photographs show 3 dormer windows set into the roof. The court hall occupied the whole of the first floor which in 1858 was brought into use by Mr R. Lloyd, auctioneer, as an auction mart. The building was much altered to provide for the various needs over the years. By the middle of the 19th century, there were three main divisions - not forgetting that then there were five bays as opposed to the present four.
In the early part of the 19th century the eastern end of the building, nearest Ethel Austin's of the present, was occupied by a saddler's shop founded by Ellis Lloyd who died in 1866. Two of his sons succeeded him in this business and one of these may have been the R. Lloyd, auctioneer, who ran the auction mart upstairs. Another brother, Robert, had a chemist's shop where the Midland Bank of today is located.
By this time, too, extensions had been built to the rear. These took the form of three stumpy projections and one of these, to the rear of the saddler's shop, housed two forges used for nail-making, once an important local industry, especially in Mwrog Street. At the opposite end [the fifth bay) was a small shoe shop occupied by a Mr Charles Jones of Prior Street and, after his death [c. 1868], by his brother Isaac, who lived in Llanrhydd Street. Thereafter [c.1880], Mr Rovles carried on this trade until 1914 when he was succeeded by the National Provincial bank.
The major part of the accommodation, three of the five bays, was occupied by a grocer's shop run by a Mr T. Evans. The trade directory for 1844 lists Evan Lewis and David Davies as "ironmongers" and Roger Jones as "Grocer and ironmonger" in the "Market Place", as the Square was then known, without being more specific. Bearing in mind subsequent developments, it may be that Roger Jones' business was located in the old courthouse. The 1850 directory lists Mr Evan Jones, who came from Ruabon, as the only "grocer/ironmonger" in the Market Place. It is not known why Evan left Ruabon for Ruthin, though it has been speculated that Evan was related to his predecessor, Roger.
Grocery and ironmongery may today seem an unlikely combination, but there seems to have been a decent separation. The groceries were held on one side of the premises and the ironmongery on the eastern end. It would also seem that the accommodation originally occupied by the saddler was absorbed into the ironmongery shop, which included nailmaking and tinwork, etc. Many contemporary photographs of the exterior show, in addition to domestic hardware, sundry agricultural implements. Other, quite unrelated services were offered, presumably satisfying otherwise unmet needs, e.g. herbal medicines. If these did not assuage the toothache, then more drastic remedies were available. The patient sat on a low stool in such a way that Evan could hold the patient's head firmly between his knees while extracting the offending molar
Evan Jones had quite evidently established himself as a pillar of Ruthin society. His obituary notice [Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald, 22nd March, 1873] paid a warm tribute to his philanthropy and to his community service. He was trustee and a member of the committee of the British School, Rhos Street, member of the Literary Institute committee, Deacon and Sunday School Superintendent of the Calvinistic Methodist Chapel at Rhos Street, and a Captain among the Good Templars.
The business was then taken over by his son, Mr John Evan Jones, a bachelor, who died in 1906. Evan's grandson, Herbert Evan Aldrich, then followed and shepherded the business into a fresh location.
The old courthouse had been acquired by the Myddeltons of Chirk Castle with the Ruthin Lordship in the 17th century. Consequent upon the break-up of the Chirk estate in the early 19th century, the Ruthin Lordship and other estates in Denbighshire had passed to the West family which, by the early 20th century was experiencing hard times. The Ruthin Castle estate was sold, the first auction being held in 1913 and the final one in 1919. The old courthouse, with much other property, was purchased in June, 1913, for £1,191 by Wm. Godfrey Lecomber, a Cheshire man who had settled in Ruthin and had achieved prominence in the town's civic and business life.
There seems to have been little immediate change as a result of this, at least until 1914 when the western bay, formerly Royles' Shoe shop, was taken-up by the National Provincial Bank. In 1926, the National Provincial Bank purchased the whole property from Mr Lecomber, giving the Aldrich business notice to quit with appropriate compensation. The Aldrich business relocated at "The George", Clwyd Street [now Trevor Jones' the gentleman's outfitters], concentrating on ironmongery [R.B.S. NO: 9].
The National Provincial Bank then decided to remodel the building to their needs and this major project was embarked upon in 1926. The Bank remained in their little bay while the remainder of the building was carefully dismantled and meticulously rebuilt. Some, but not a lot, of the original timber-work had perished to such an extent that it could not be re-used, so that this was replaced with timber obtained from old barns of similar age in Shropshire and elsewhere, being demolished and brought here by train. On completion, the bay initially occupied by the bank was permanently removed so that the entrance to Castle Street and Upper Clwyd Street is that much wider. The architects involved were F.C.R. Palmer who directed the operation on behalf of the National Provincial Bank, while the project architect was Thomas Rich of Oswestry. The building contractor was J.T. Jones of Cetn Mawr, Ruabon.
Thus, the old courthouse was given a new lease of life, hopefully into the 21st century and beyond. The unsympathetic extensions to the rear, and the lean-to "Shambles" to the front were removed so that the building's appearance today is no doubt comparable if not identical to the original of the fifteenth century.
Acknowledgements: William Davis Handbook for the Vale of Clwyd; Jones’ ‘Handbook for Ruthin and Vicinity; Denbighshire Free Press 1910-1913, 1917; C H Aldridge Family HistoryAThomas/Evan Jones; National Westminster Bank Archives; The Iron Monger 7/X /12; Pigots and Slaters (Trade Directories)1844, 1850; Clwyd Historian No. 22 pp 14 to 25 .Ruthin Gaaol Clwyd Record Office 1977.