top of page

RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET                                                                              Issue No 29 March 1992

David Rickman

THE Ruthin Castle Estate papers are now at the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth. These contain detailed accounts kept by the bailiff, John A. Rickman, between 1852 and 1858 and provide an insight into life and work on the estate some 130 years ago. [Note additional Ruthin Castle Estate papers are at the Denbighshire Records]

John A. Rickman came to Ruthin in 1849, when the red sandstone castle was being built, from Everton, near Milford on Sea, Hampshire, adjacent to Newlands Manor, the other large estate owned by the West family. He lived at Park Cottage and was later Steward and Builder for the castle estate. He also became Borough Surveyor and Inspector of Nuisances for Ruthin in 1863 at a salary of £15 per annum.

The accounts were divided into several sections, chiefly: Castle house; Castle stables; Castle Park; Castle improvements; Game; Castle Farm; Mining [Eyarth]; Ruthin woods; Foxhall Farm; Denbigh woods; Brickyard; Sundry repairs

These show the wide range of responsibilities held by the bailiff in running the estate, and the names listed indicate that there were at least 38 workmen. They included woods­men, carpenters, blacksmiths, saw­yers, gamekeepers, brickmakers, carters and labourers. The average rate of pay was around 2/- to 3/- per day, though the sawyers rate was 5/ - per day, probably including pay for an assistant.

They were all full-time, aver­aging 2/6d. per day for a 6 day week [the 5½ day [sic] week did not arrive until the 1870s], their total weekly wages would have amounted to c.£28.-10.-0d. Comparative [1992] figures for 38 men [5 day week] at a national average weekly wage of c.£140.00 would give a weekly total of £5,320!

The accounts give an insight into the men's daily tasks. For example, in 1852, Evan Evans spent 1.5 days making a pheasant coop at a cost of 3s.9d., and 3.25 days making a wheelbarrow at a cost of 8s.1d. Another man spent 6 days sinking a well and one of the sawyers spent 4 days - cutting a walnut tree for furniture. Others cut red stone for the castle, levelled the racecourse [Borthyn - now Parc-y-Dre; RBS. No: 7] and planed floorboards for stock. In 1853, Evan Thomas spent 6 days thatching houses in Mill Street.

An entry in 1855 perhaps provides another clue as to the date when piped water was supplied to the castle [RBS: No: 27] - Thomas Holland spent 61/2days "making reservoir at castle", - 19s.6d. The men were sometimes mobilised to help with the spring cleaning and on one occasion five of them had to take-up and shake the carpets.

Before the arrival of the rail­way, coal was carted from Ruabon and one man spent two days in 1858 in doing this at a cost of 4s.0d. The brickyard accounts show that floor tiles were also made. This brickyard was probably located alongside the Denbigh Road [Lon Cae Bricks] near the old lime quarry. The 1874 O.S. Map [Denbighshire Sheet 0CIX.3] shows a brickyard on land owned by Major Cornwallis-West, consisting of five buildings and two ponds. It was also on the route of the proposed Ruthin­ Cerrigydrudion Railway line. Production was not only for the castle estate. The records for 1853 show the sale of 49,300 [£58.11s.0d.] bricks to Mr Ralph Lewis, and 4,500 [£5.12.6d.] to the Gas Company. Altogether, 105,450 bricks were produced in that year, and taking today's price of common bricks as £210.50 per 1,000, their current value would have been £22,300.

Clues can also be found as to the brick-making process. There is, for example, an item of £1.14s. 6d. in respect of the time of John Roberts', the woodsman, for making faggots presumably for firing the kiln. Another item is for a load of sand, another for carting turf for covering the bricks and yet another for 3/-s. for plating brick moulds.

Does any reader have any further information on the brick­yard?


The introduction of a new char­acter in the dramatis personae, Richard Wakeford Attree of London and Corwen, and his agreement to fund the promotion of a Private Bill, height­ened the drama. While the decision to opt for an Act of Parliament was a moral victory for Marcus Louis, the victory was marred as the Act would be funded by an outsider and control of the company would not rest with the Borough. This defeated the prime objective of bringing piped water to the town, to reduce the indebtedness of the Corporation over the matter of the Town Hall.

Although R.W. Attree had offered to fund the Bill, he naturally would have a controlling interest in the Water Works Company, which would have to repay his investment in the promotion of an Act of Parliament. However, matters were still com­plex.

The first draft of the Bill did not meet with the Council's approval and even as late as December 1867, they were still contemplating a municipal undertaking. A Mr Duncan of Liverpool was paid £10.10s.0d. to investigate the possibility of using the gaol well to supply the town. The Town Clerk, R. Edwards, suggested that the scheme would raise the town rate from ls.6d. to 7s.0d. in the £, which would be totally unacceptable. The objections to the Bill may be summarised as follows:
[i] certain streets were excluded from the supply of water;
[ii] the Bill did not provide for the necessity of a constant supply of water;
[iii] that Plas-y-nant brook was an inadequate source of water.

These were typical objections, and it was decided to petition Parlia­ment against the Bill and a draft petition was prepared. If the petition was presented to Parliament, it was almost certain that the house would not impose the Water Company upon the town. However, moderation prevailed and a meeting was called with Attree and the other directors of the company to attempt to resolve the differences. The laying of pipes in certain small streets was agreed to by the company. The reservoir remained at five million gallons, but it could be increased to twelve and in consideration of a sum of money, some reports say £200, others £100, paid by the company to the Borough, all objections to the Bill were dropped.

The Act, 31-32 Victoria XCV, named three directors besides Attree, Robert G. Jones, William T. Rouw, and John Jones. It specified a twelve-million-gallon reservoir, with a uni­form depth of fifteen feet, which was to be constructed at Garthgynan, Llanfair D.C.

It was to be fed by Plas-y-Nant Brook and all streams above the reser­voir. By utilising Plas-y-Nant Brook, the water supply to the Bathafarn es­tate and surrounding farms would have been in jeopardy, but this supply was specifically protected in the Bill.

The route of the water main was: Llanfair Street, Rhos Street, Wernfechan, Record Street, Castle Street, Market Street, Prior Street, Upper Clwyd Street, Mill Street, Borthyn, and Park Street. Some of these streets were omitted in the first draft of the Bill. All the work, the reservoir and pipe-laying had to be completed within a three-year period from the passing of the Act (1868).

The capital of the company was to be £6,000 raised in 600 shares of £10 each. A down payment of £2 per share was required and calls for the remainder could be made at intervals of three months, but then for £2 per share only, until the share was full paid-up. The revenue of the company was to be obtained by means of a water rate which was to be: not exceeding 6.25% of the Poor Rate Valuation, where that valuation was under £10 and above £10 per annum the rate would not exceed 7.5%. However, there were two contentious points in the Bill. Firstly, there was no neces­sity to supply the water at any greater pressure than could be supplied by gravitation from the reservoir. The topography of Ruthin was not really conducive to gravity feed, particu­larly when the reservoir was low.

Secondly, what might be thought of as a total abdication of responsibility, and a point that was to haunt the company in later years, they were not to be held responsible for want of water through frost, unusual drought, or other unavoidable cause. This was one compromise that the company would not make in their negotiations with the corporation.




Saints Days, especially of those to whom the local parish church had been dedicated, had always been a good excuse for uninhibited celebrations. Separated families would travel vast distances for a reunion, and everyone would mark the appointed day with games, unbridled joy and drunkenness. Things did, however, get out of hand and the celebrations came to border on riotousness and were consequently banned.

Saint David's Day was special to Victorian Ruthinites, a day which did not pass unmarked. Victorian England was nothing if not strongly nationally and imperially conscious and so it was in Wales, where national pride and awareness were on this day at least proudly celebrated.

The various Friendly Societies held their annual meetings, processed under banners and followed bands to St. Peter's Church for special services followed by a sumptuous meal, washed down with copious amounts of beer, at their head quarters, - one of the town inns, "The Waterloo" for example. The meal was followed by speeches and merry­making and the day likely ended with an eisteddfod.

Such a gathering of bards, singers, and Welsh literati took place on 1st March, 1872 at the Star Inn, Clwyd Street, Ruthin. The account in the Wrexham Advertiser the week following gives a graphic picture of the celebrations.

After "a feast of reason and a flow of soul", the worthy host, Mr Hugh Jones, led the assembled multitude, each guest wearing a leek, into a special room decorated with a banner bearing the coat of arms of the northern principality - Dywysogaeth Gwynedd.

The venerable Archdruid, Clwydfardd, was installed in the chair and Mr John Simon of Regent House was elected vice-chairman. Toasts to her most gracious majesty the Queen, the Prince and Princess of Wales, and the rest of the royal family were loyally honoured.

The Archdruid then, with enthusiasm and patriotic fire, proposed the toast of the day, "to the pious and immortal memory of St. David". He recalled a St. David's Day eisteddfod in Ruthin fifty years before, attended by the old school of bards, including Bardd Nantglyn, Twm o'r Nant, and other celebrities of that time.

Everyone who was anyone in Ruthin society must have been there. More than fifteen speeches followed the archdruid's. During the evening, the company was enter­tained with harmony by John Roberts, Plas Einion, Llew Hiraethog, Caradog and others.

This particular event was not an eisteddfod as such, although the flavour was unmistakable. It was unanimously resolved to make arrangements for the holding of an eisteddfod at Ruthin on the next St. David's Day and at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, a gorsedd was opened in due form in the Park "under the wide spreading branches of a noted old tree". Clwydfardd proclaimed the 1873 St. David's Day Eisteddfod and invited the bards of the nation then and there to assemble.

"Rhuddfryn" presented Mr J.J. Paul for bardic hon­ours and "Taliesin" presented Mr T.H. Jones likewise. They were both duly exalted, the former being dubbed "Paul­ Fardd" and the latter "Huw Conway". Culture well "toasted"!



Notes: "Clwydfardd" was David Griffith [1800-94], a clock and watchmaker of Denbigh. A descendant has published an interesting article about his great-grandfather in Hel Achau,  NO: 31, Summer, 1990, the journal of the Clwyd Family History Society.

"Bardd Nantglyn" was the poet Robert Davies [1769 - 1835], born not surprisingly, at Nantglyn. Following tuition by Thomas Edwards, "Twm o'r Nant", he enjoyed great success and moved to London where he became secretary of The Gwernyddigion Society.

"Caradog", the bardic name of Griffith Rhys Jones [1834­c1897] of Trecynon, Glamorganshire. He was an accom­plished violinist, and a very successful choirmaster. It would be suprising if such an eminent musician had travelled to Ruthin for this occasion.

"Taliesin" was probably John Davies [1841-1894] originally from the Cerrig area but latterly lived at The Green, Denbigh.

There are short articles on these gentlemen in The Dictionary of Welsh Biography, and also on Bardd Nantglyn and Twm o'r Nant. "Rhuddfryn" was a grocer in Ruthin, Hugh Morris, who once lived at Corwen.

PLAS YN LLAN, Efenechtyd

Plas yn Llan, Efenechtyd, is quite striking if only because it is so untypical of the area. It has gathered unto itself a certain mystique, not a little mythology, and rumours of a haunted room! The mythology seems to arise from the two perhaps rather sinister black heads, cast in iron, that surmount the gateposts, said to have been placed there by a former owner alleged to have made a fortune in the slave trade.

Intriguing though this may be, it does not accord with the facts. The simple truth is that the house was built by a Conway and, if one explores the interior of the nearby Church, or visits Bodrhyddan, Rhuddlan, the heads can be seen in their true context, as crests of the Conway armorial bearings, and known as such as "blackamoors heads". It was, and still is, the custom of the landed gentry to follow this practice and the former village inn, the stone cottage opposite the church lych gate, was named "The Blackamoor Inn" following a similar custom.

Plas yn Llan is of brick, with a splendid doorcase and pediment, not in the stone of the vernacular style but having the appearance of a gentleman's residence in the English heartlands. Hubbard describes it as of the early or mid ­Cl8th. It is reminiscent in style, if not scale, of Webb's [1683-c.1687] Erddig.

A clue as to the builder of this house may be found in the nearby church over a wall-memorial dedicated to the memory of Jacob Conway [1653-1718]. This is surmounted by the family armorial bearings, displaying the crescent of a second son, and the crest of a blackamoor's head.

Jacob's father was Robert Conway of the Conways of Pentre Llech, Llanrhaiadr Y.C., a branch of the Conways of Bodrhyddan. There are many gaps in our knowledge of Robert and his family, but fortunately there is a fair amount of relevant documentation available.

Robert evidently left Llanrhaiadr for London to make his fortune as a silk dyer and merchant. He purchased his Efenechtyd estate at the turn of 1656/7. The documents relate to a capital messuage, or the principal residence, and several named parcels of land in Efenechtyd. They also tell us that a John Edwards owned the capital messuage which, presumably, was subsequently re-placed by Plas yn Llan, although there are no means of knowing whether or not they occupied the same site.

Robert is referred to as a silk dyer and a citizen of London, with an address at St. Olave, Southwarke, and a year later, he purchased Rhiwbebyll, Llangwyfan, from Foulke Price of St. Martins in the Fields. We have no information about Robert's marriage to Catherine, but they had at least two children, Benjamin and Jacob. It would seem that Robert retired to take his ease at Efenechtyd in the Vale of Clwyd. Robert died in 1677 and his Will suggests why he may have chosen to retire to Efenechtyd. His Will divides his property into two distinct lots, one linking the Efenechtyd portion - "got with my own money" - passed to his wife, Catherine, for the duration of her life and thereafter to his son, Jacob [1653-1718]. 1n default, his Efenechtyd estate was to have passed to his "loving cousin John Wynne of Efenechtyd." All of this suggests that his wife may have had Efenechtyd connections and might, indeed, have been a Wynne.

The second lot refers to property in Llangwyfan, Llandyrnog, and Llanynys which he left to his son Benjamin [1661-1700]. Robert provided, should his own issue fail, for these properties to be passed to his "loving brother-in-law, John Ashpool, of Llandyrnog." John Ashpool had married Robert's sister, Lucy.

Benjamin was educated at Westminster School where he matriculated in 1679 and gained entrance to St. John's, Cambridge. He gained his B.A. in 1682/3, his M.A. in 1686 and his Doctorate of Divinity in 1694. He was Rector of Bygrave, Herts., from 1696 until 1700, when he died at the early age of 39. There is nothing to suggest that Benjamin married, and it would seem that following his death that his estates passed to his brother, Jacob. The Efenechtyd and Llanfwrog estate alone amounted to some 300 acres.
There is no evidence of Jacob's academic history. So far as is known, he simply lived the life of a country gentleman. He married Anne Jones, daughter and heiress of Richard Jones of Efenechtyd, on 12th August 1679 and they had seven sons and three daughters. Jacob was sworn a Burgess of Ruthin on 19th March 1678/9. He died in 1718 at the age of 65 and was buried at Efenechtyd.
If Mr Edward Hubbard's assessment of the date of Plas yn Llan is correct, then Robert would not have built Plas yn ­Llan - more likely his son Jacob.
Jacob and Anne's eldest son [1681-1744] was the Rev. John Conway, Vicar of Derwen [1718-1744], although it seems that he continued to live at Plas yn Llan. He married Sarah Morris of Wrexham and died childless. His brother was the well-known Rev. Benjamin Conway, Warden of Ruthin and Vicar of Northop where he lived and died, not having taken a great deal of interest in his living at Ruthin. He married a distant cousin, Elizabeth Conway of Soughton Hall, Sychdyn, and devoted much of his life to breeding racehorses. Other members of the family married and settled at Cotton Hall, Denbigh, Ystrad Hall, Denbigh, and one brother, Robert, a tanner, lived at Ty Gwyn, Llanfwrog.

The Rev. John Conway was probably the last of the family to reside at Plas-yn-Llan, but it remained in their possession until the death of the Rev. Benjamin Conway Conway of Soughton in 1855.



References: Edward Hubbard, Buildings of Wales – Clwyd, Allan Fletcher & David Williams, "This Sweet Spot" a history of the Church of St. Michael & All Angels, Efenechtyd, and of the parish,; The Wigfair MSS., National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. Foster' s Alumni Cantabrigiensis, Part I.

bottom of page