RUTHIN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET
ISSUE No 6. June 1986
SOME CLWYDIAN SAINTS
E. PRYCE WILLIAMS
Hagiology is the very opposite of an exact science. It is also very far removed from what we today term history and deals as often with fiction as with fact. It is a means of driving home Christian truths of far greater import than the accurate recording of events.
An excellent example is found in the story of St. Winifred. We are told that a handsome prince, Cradocus, struck with her beauty, determined to gratify his desires. Winifred was affected with horror. The disappointed youth cut off her head. He immediately fell down dead and was swallowed up by the earth. The severed head rolled down the hill and stopped near the church of St.Beuno, Winifred's uncle. From the spot burst forth a spring of uncommon size, the "Holywell". St. Beuno offered prayer and instantly joined the head to the body. Thus we are taught how Christian virtue and chastity are rewarded and the evil-doer totally destroyed.
Some dedications however are quite closely related to early Celtic history. We can accept that in the sixth century Bishop Kentigern fled from Strathclyde and established a place of worship at St. Asaph, together with a monastery said to accommodate a thousand monks. He ultimately returned to Scotland and, known there as St. Mungo, became the first Bishop of Glasgow. In Clwyd, he was succeeded by his favourite pupil, Asaph, who gave his name to the place and also to Llanasa. A window in the cathedral shows Asaph, because of his sanctity, finding no difficulty in carrying hot coals in his tunic, whereas Kentigern is depicted holding a fish and the ring of Langwith, wife of the king of Strathclyde. The queen had lost the ring on the shore whilst paddling. The king was furious and suspected that she had a lover. In answer to Asaph's prayers, the ring was found in the fish served to the king at dinner. Filled with remorse, he was obliged to believe the queen's story. A recent issue of ‘Country Quest’ features an article by Sally Bowdler in which the king is the Welsh Maelgwyn and the Queen his wife, Nesta.
Turning from the association with Strathclyde, we find the connection with Ireland reflected in Llansannan. Sannan, Irish Bishop and Saint, is said to have been a friend of St. David of Wales and of Winifred's father. Tradition has it that he lived in seclusion at Llansannan. Then again Llanynys is related with Saeran, the son of an Irish saint. The name is a diminutive of Saer, a modern Welsh word, one skilled in the working of a medium - wood, stone or metal.
Teyrnog of Llandyrnog is also believed to have been born in Ireland and to have fled with his brother and sister from the monastery at Bangor-on-Dee when the "saints" there were put to the sword after the battle of Chester. There is another dedication to him in Cornwall. His mother was a prince's daughter and, as a baby, he was cared for by St. Bridget in Kildare. He became a handsome youth and was kidnapped by pirates but rescued by a kind and powerful king. He found turning a mill-stone gruelling work and would pause to read the Psalms.The Christian king then sent him to school whence he visited Rome and Tours. Returning to Ireland, he found his own people pagans. He beseeched them to turn to Christ, became a bishop and founded an abbey. His miracles caused wonderment throughout the island. During the last twenty years of his life he was blind and spent his time meditating and praying in his cell until he died about 550 A.D.
Whilst Teyrnog settled in Llandyrnog after the flight from Bangor, his brother Deifyr had his cell and healing well at Bodfari, near the site of the present church dedicated to St. Stephen. It is not uncommon to find a church associated with a Celtic saint also dedicated to a biblical saint.
Marcella, sister of Deifyr and Teyrnog, had her well and cell on the site of Whitchurch, Denbigh. In some medieval writings we read of St. Marcellus - so perhaps she was their brother! Another interesting Denbigh dedication was to St. Hilary. One hesitates to accept this Hilary as the Celtic one. The Church was built by the Anglo-Norman settlers who would know little about the Celtic saints but probably revered St. Hilaire (Hilary) of Auxerre, much venerated in fourteenth century France.
Nearby Henllan Church is dedicated to Sadwrn, collegian and confessor of Asaph and mentioned in the life of St. Winifred. Llanrhaeadr, between Denbigh and Ruthin, was once referred to as Llandyfnog. Dyfnog is said to have settled there around 550 A.D. and many pilgrims visited his well, famed for the cure of skin diseases.
Yet another Celtic country is associated with Llangollen. Born there during the seventh century, Collen ap Gwynnawg ap Cowdra ap Caradog Freichfras ap Llyr Meirim ap Einion Yrth ap Cunedda Wledig was educated at Orleans. He is then said to have settled in Glastonbury, there becoming the abbot. He then left to go preaching for five years. After quarrelling with the monks, he became a hermit on Glastonbury Tor. Then followed a period in Brittany, where he founded Langollen near Ouimper, but he finally returned to his birthplace.
Tremeirchion, closely associated with St. Beuno - St. Beuno's Monastery and Ffynnon Beuno (Beuno's Well) - has a church with a dedication unique in these parts -Corpus Christi (The Body of Christ).
Not all wells were places of healing. At Llanelian, near Colwyn Bay, until as late as 1832, was an infamous cursing well.
Churches established by Anglo-Norman or English communities do not of course have dedications to Celtic saints. St. Peter's, Ruthin and St. Mary's, Rhuddlan, immediately come to mind.
Readers unacquainted with the Welsh language should note that the initial letter of the saint's name may change after the word 'Llan". So that the saint associated with Llangwyfan is Cwyfan, with Llanfwrog, Mwrog, with Llandrillo, Trillo. In Llanrwst, the initial letter of the saint, Grwst, has disappeared. This only happens with the letter ‘G’.
The word 'Llan’ is not always followed by a saint's name. 'Rhaeadr’ in Llanrhaeadr means ’waterfall', ‘rhudd’ in Llanrhudd means ‘red’, but the (church is dediciated to) saint Meugan or Nawgan, a Celtic missionary, to whom your well-known local historian and author, Dr Trevor Hughes, refers as "the patron saint of travellers".
In Llanynys, 'ynys' suggests marshy ground, often surounded partly by water - the modern Welsh word for 'island'.
'Ty’ or 'Te’ between 'Llan’ and the saint's name means approximately ‘venerable' or even 'blessed’. Thus, Llantysilio in Llanfairpwll means the Llan of the venerable Silio. Older inhabitants of Llandegai near Bangor used to call the village Llangai, the Llan of Cai (the Venerable).
In an attempt to check what was seen to be the uncontrolled spread of alcoholism towards the end of the last century, the temperance movement opened a chain of locally sponsored 'Cocoa Rooms'. In Ruthin, these provided a bagatelle room, a library, a chat and reading room. This suite of rooms was situated at the far end of Well Street, over the Golden Lion (now 'Shoe Shop") and was opened with great ceremony in 1878. The suite was tastefully decorated, the reading room was supplied with daily papers, and the library had, it is said, hundreds of volumes.
However, by 1880, all was not well with this excellent facility and there was criticism in the local press. Clearly from the reports those who were to use the facilities were apathetic towards them and in "The Ruthin Illustrated Magazine' one may read:
'Unless encouragement is given to these philanthropic ladies and gentlemen who exerted themselves so much to establish the rooms, their support must be withdrawn and the public wilt be deprived of an inestimable boon.'
This brief paragraph raises more questions than it answers, for if the rooms were an inestimable boon, why were the general public apathetic about their use? However, by October, 1880, things must have got worse for the "Illustrated Magazine" included yet another critical passage which concluded with the following extract:
'One word about the ladies who associated with it (Cocoa Rooms). They have been indefatigable in promoting its interests from the outset and although we question the advisability of the fair sex taking part in the management of these kind of institutions, in the present case they have set an example which the gentlemen who are on the Committee of the Ruthin Cocoa Rooms would do well to take to heart.'
What a gem of male chauvinistic condescension and a lovely glimpse of a Victorian comedy of manners!
“RUTHIN STREET BY STREET” SERIES
CASTLE STREET, Part II
No.7, BOD GRIFFIN or SIR JOHN TREVOR HOUSE, has all the appearance of great age with interesting carvings on certain exposed external timbers. In the 1700s, the property was known as 'Totty's’, the attorney's. Since then, it has been in use as an antique shop, a tea shop or simply as a private residence.
The old Rifle Volunteer Corps' (formed in 1859) armoury was transferred from a front ground floor room of a house in Record Street adjoining and to the east of the Cross Key's yard to a room off the passageway of Sir John Trevor House. The armoury remained there until the Drill Hall was built in Borthyn (1885). Sergeant Major Watts lived here. After he left it was thoroughly renovated to become the Conservative Club, and was opened in November, 1885. The ceremony was performed by Lieut.Col. Naylor-Leyland.
No.8, GORPHWYSFA. These premises later became the Conservative Club until they transferred to Plas Coch, Well Street, in 1977. The property formed part of the Castle Estate at least until the first of two sales initiated by the Wests in 1913 and again in 1919. At the time of the sale, it was let to Mr John Roberts, draper.
Mr Edward Hubbard tells us that the roof timbers are of a timber-framed hall and cross-wing.
No.9, once known as 'CORWEN", now the private residence of Dr & Mrs John Williams. In 1785, John Spier Hughes, mercer, was in residence. Later, in that century, it was known as Phillips', the attorneys.
No 11, ARDWYN. A three-storey house where the Smart family lived in 1700. Mr Smart was one of the several lawyers who lived and worked in this street.
No.12, PLAS-YN-DRE. This may have been the last property in Castle Street to remain in the ownership of the Castle Estate. The Sale Catalogue of 1963 describes it as "c.1823", but that seems to have been the date of its renovation. A stone above the front door states 'Rebuilt by C. Jones, 1823". It has been suggested that the facing stone was taken from the premises on St. Peter's Square that were demolished to make way for the present Post Office following a disasterous fire. This occurred in 1904 so it was not on that occasion, unless the house was given another face-lift at that time. The original premises on the Square were, however, modernised by a Mr Davies, a draper, c. 1814 and so it may have been as a consequence of that project. It may not be too wild a speculation, therefore, that the stone facing to Plas-yn-Dre may once have formed part of the Carmelite Priory of White Friars believed by some to have occupied the present Post Office site on the Square.[Note no evidence has been found for the existence of a Carmelite foundation in Ruthin]
Mr L.G. Thomas, Manager of the North and South Wales Bank, resided at Plas-yn-Dre in 1876 at which time the Bank was accommodated in those premises on the Square already referred to. Mr Thomas was one of the prime movers in the founding of the English Presbyterian Church in Wynnstay Road in 1886. It was once the town house of one of the Jones family. A Dr. Jenkins also lived here and, in the early 1900s, was occupied by Mr J.C. Davies, the then (and first) Director of Education for Denbighshire. It is now divided into two separate private residences.
No.13, INGLESIDE. Listed by the Welsh Office as probably an 18th and 19th century remodelling of an earlier building.
No.14; The Welsh Office have it listed as an 18th century building which was remodelled in the mid-19th century. Among those who once lived here was a William Jones of 1700. Francis Williams lived there from 1840-41 and he has a tomb in St. Peter's churchyard. Thomas Pryddech, surgeon's assistant, lived here in 1856. There is reputed to be a gardener's bothy to the rear.
No.15, Y WERDDON, possibly started life as a cruck cottage, now having a regency addition to both floors. The Welsh Office listing describes it as a cottage with a late 18th century front to an earlier fabric. Jones' Handbook of 1884 refers to it as "a public house of great fame called 'Yr Iwerddon", possibly having an Irish flavour.
The deeds state that a sum of money, possibly in the form of a ground rent, was to have been paid to Ruthin Charities. As in the case of so many other houses in this street at that time, Mr Robert Lloyd, a solicitor and Agent in Law lived here in 1840. Another Robert Lloyd, a chemist, lived there in 1871.
NOs 16 and 18 have been paired off by the Welsh Office in their listing survey and were assessed as having early to mid 19th century frontages. Mr Hubbard suspects the presence of timber framing. This house too has been the home of many stalwart Ruthin personages and Mrs Daphne Goodwin who currently resides in No. 16 believes it possible that the property may well have started as a small unit and extended progressively over a long period of time. There was a coach house to the rear and a quartering stone discretely located to prevent wheel damage to the corner of the property.
Both properties formed part of the Castle estate and at the time of the first Sale in 1913, were occupied by Mr Robert Beech and Mr John Roberts respectively. No.16 was also to appear as one of the lots in the subsequent 1919 sale.
COLOMENDY, across the road on the corner of Record Street, has an early Georgian elegance and the blind windows on the Castle Street gable end tend to re-inforce this ambience. However, it is believed that the blind windows did not result as a tidy piece of tax avoidance but were deliberately provided for effect. The Listing survey dates the house to the early 19th century and does not identify any especial features of historic interest. It would seem that the brick exterior, certainly on the Castle Street frontage, is a cladding to a stone wall to its back
The Welsh Office List considers NOs 20, 21, and 22 as a group, which is of nearly similar age to Nantclwyd House. The survey refers to a 16th century timber frame with an early 19th century frontage. At the same time, not a great deal is known of past inhabitants of historic significance. In the last century, Mr Goodman Roberts, an attorney, resided at No.20, which has a porch on Ionic posts. The property formed part of the Sale of the Castle Estate in 1913 when it wa occupied at the time by a Mrs Hugh Jones.
NO.22 may have accommodated a small private school in the early part of the nineteenth century. It later became the Castle Estate Office and was the home of the Forder family, the head of which was the Estate Agent.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS/SOURCES: DENBIGHSHIRE FREE PRESS, MR H.S. WILLIAMS, MRS D. GOODWIN, MR EDWARD HUBBARD, "BUILDINGS OF CLWYD”; WELSH OFFICE; LOCAL GUIDE BOOKS AND DIRECTORIES.
THE NEXT INSTALMENT WILL BE DEVOTED ENTIRELY TO NANTCLWYD HOUSE.
Mr Gwynne Morris' article 'Ruthin's Postal Past' which appeared in our last issue generated a great deal of interest and has raised questions about 'Post Office Yard', the location of Post Offices, and the identity of Post Masters/Mistresses.
From personal reminiscences that have appeared in the Free Press, in addition to other sources like trade directories, one learns that the Post Office of 1860 was on the north side of Post Office Yard, to the rear of Gayla House, St. Peter's Square. Mr Samuel Jones was then the Post Master.
Mr Jones was a man of many parts for he was also bookseller, Registrar of Births and Deaths, teacher of music, parish clerk and organist at St. Peter's Church. He also kept a 'General Circulating Library".
The Post Office was transferred to No. 2 Well Street and another source tells us that it remained there "for some 70 years". It is well known that the Post Office transferred to its present location in 1906 so that its reputed sojourn of 70 years in Well Street conflicts with the earlier information concerning Post Office Yard. Such is the reliability of oral history!
Perhaps more reliably, it may be inferred from Mr Jones' ‘Handbook to the Vale of Clwyd' that the Post Office was transferred in 1860 to No. 2 Well Street, which was specially adapted for the business of a Post Office.
In 1871, Mr Edward Jones was Post Master, followed some time later by a Miss Ann Jones. Miss Margaret Jones was Post Mistress in 1883.
It would seem that the Post Office was on one side of the shop and on the other Miss Ann Jones kept a confectionery and cake shop. Miss Jones, we are told, was a very capable lady and wrote a distinctly clear, manly writing.
"PONT PEDWAR ENW”
A ‘Bridge of Four Names' ? ‘Pont Rhydycilgwyn', 'Pont yr Englyn’, or ‘Pont yr Afon Gwaed’ - take your pick, but they all refer to one bridge, built. in 1819 over the Clywedog near Rhydycilgwyn, which explains the first name, as one leaves Rhewl en route for Denbigh.
A pedestrian, taking his/her life in her/his hands, pausing on the centre of the bridge, would observe inscribed on the centre stone the following stanza or englyn, viz.,
"Pont Rhydycilgwyn; pentan y gwir - sailfawr, Ei sylfaen ni 'scydwir;
Dda odiaeth am a dd'wedir,
Oesa ton hyd oesau hir.'
Tradition has it that this stanza was not only composed by but also carved on the stone by the noted Welsh bard Twm o’r Nant.
The fourth name is rather more ominous, Roughly translated, it means "Bridge over the River of Blood'! Again, local tradition has it that a battle was fought in the vicinity and the river ran with the blood of the casualties. The dead are said to have been. cremated in the large field 100 yards further on towards Denbigh to the left. It is also said that in times of drought, the scorch marks are visible.
Unfortunately, local tradition is not clear as to who fought, why, or when. Two battles or skirmishes are known to have taken place in the vicinity of Rhewl. The first was the Battle of Maes Maen Cymro, fought in the Dark Ages probably betwen the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons. The other bloody encounter is usually described as a ‘skirmish’ which took place during the Civil War.