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ISSUE No 7 September 1986


The history of the Fire Service in Ruthin, or of Ruthin Fire Brigade, as it was until 1941 – is both an honourable and an interesting one, particularly bearing in mind that Ruthin Borough Council was the first in North Wales to establish a local authority fire brigade.

To appreciate the history of the Fire Service in any one town, one must have some knowledge of fire service history in general. Very briefly, therefore, apart from some nominated military “fire parties” in the ranks of the Roman and Norman armies, there were no organised fire brigades in Britain until the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was a direct result of this disastrous conflagration that the earliest fire insurance offices were founded. It was the custom of these early Insurance Offices to provide their own individual fire brigades for the protection of properties insured by them – an “Insurance Brigade” being obliged to fight a fire only in property insured by its own Company. These Insurance Brigades continued in London and in other major cities for some 250 years, and until the the mid-nineteenth century, the only other Fire Brigades were the private “Estate Brigades” maintained by some gentry for the protection of their own mansions and estate properties – two such in the Ruthin area being at Ruthin Castle and Nantclwyd Hall.

It was not until 1840 that Parliament approved legislation making it PERMISSIBLE (not compulsory) for local authorities to expend public monies on the provision and/or maintenance of a Fire Brigade. To the credit of local enterprise, it was not long after the introduction of this permissive legislation that Ruthin Borough Fire Brigade came into existence. The origin of the Brigade was very modest. Initially, the Brigade was formed by a group of local tradesmen with the blessing of the local council. The fire-fighting equipment of the brigade, when first formed was very meagre, but Mr Cornwallis-West of Ruthin Castle was so favourably impressed by the enthusiasm of the volunteers, that he arranged that, in the event of a serious fire, the Castle fire engine should be made available for the town brigade.

The arrangement for the control and management of the Borough Brigade was one commonly applying to local authority Fire Brigades in small country towns prior to 1938, viz., that the brigade was administered by a Fire Brigade Committee composed of representatives of the Brigade personnel, with two representatives of the Council, elected annually. The system was that the Council should be responsible for the provision of fire-fighting equipment, and the housing thereof, but all other expenses of the brigade should be found by the Committee - such latter funds accruing from charges levied for the services of the brigade at fires, from local collections, and from special efforts organised by the Brigade. Whilst this was a practical arrangement for the running of a fire brigade by the standards of the day, without too much expense upon the rates, it was nevertheless a system which gave rise to constant differences and bickering between the Council and their Brigade. Understandably, the Council was mindful of keeping expenditure from the rates at a minimum whereas, at times, the Brigade was sorely in need of new equipment, and there was much discord throughout the years.

It was during the last decade of the nineteenth century that Ruthin Fire Brigade enjoyed a period of prosperity and of high renown, probably un-paralleled in the annals of any other local authority Brigade of equal size. This era of success was due entirely to the enthusiasm of a prominent local tradesman - Mr Theodore R. Rouw. Captain Rouw, as he was in, his fire service capacity, must have been a man of boundless energy for under his leadership the Ruthin Brigade enjoyed a period of financial affluence and engaged with great credit in activities normally outside the scope of a country town Brigade. Not only did Captain Rouw sponsor an association of Fire Brigades in North Wales, but also arranged inter-brigade rallies and competitions. Perhaps his outstanding achievement, however, was in the devising of a special rescue drill, and the training of Ruthin firemen in this drill to such a standard that they achieved national fame and renown by their successes in competitions which they attended (and won) as far afield as Windsor Castle, Blenheim Palace, London and even Brussells and Amsterdam.
Perhaps Captain Rouw's love of his Brigade can be appreciated from his own words when, in replying to a toast in his honour at the annual Fire Brigade dinner at the Castle Hotel in 1897, he said: "I have only two complaints - not enough money and not enough fires to achieve the highest possible standard for the Brigade”; adding that it was his dearest wish to see Ruthin Brigade equipped with a steamer fire engine. Seemingly, at that time, the financial support of the Brigade by the Borough Council amounted to an annual grant of £10. In spite of all difficulties, however, the Brigade was able to purchase a Steamer Fire Engine in 1906, and the Council allocated the use of the Market Hall as a Fire Station, on condition that the Brigade vacated the Hall for the annual Christmas Poultry Fair, and for any other special market days.

Sadly, after Captain Rouw's departure, the affairs of the Brigade deteriorated. During the next two decades hardly any, if any at all, equipment or uniforms appear to have been purchased, and there were repeated disputes between the Council and the Brigade. During the early 1920s, when the engine was still towed by horses, there were several attempts to persuade the Council to equip the Brigade with a motorised fire engine, but time and again the Council baulked at the expense. At Christmas 1925, however, the personnel of the Brigade took the bit between their own teeth and organised a "Bazaar" which resulted in a profit of £393. This financial bonanza enabled the Council to purchase a second-hand motor fire engine for £350 and Ruthin Borough Fire Brigade thus became motorised in 1926.





NANTCLWYD HOUSE (Now known as Nantclwyd y Dre. For the most recent recent research publication see Gareth Evans’Buildings of Ruthin’, 2018)

The origins of No.10, Castle Street, or Nantclwyd House, are remote and as such, largely a matter of speculation. What follows, therefore, is a brief interim outline of its history while research continues.

It is certainly one of Ruthin's earliest houses and the only one in Ruthin listed by the Welsh Office as a Grade 1 building of special interest. Nantclwyd House has rejoiced under several names. Once known as "Manor House", Jones' Handbook of 1884 refers to it as "Nantclwyd-y-Dre". It has also been known as "The Judges' House" as from 1788 until 1972, Judges were accommodated here on their visits to Ruthin Assize Courts.

The construction of Nantclwyd House probably commenced in the fourteenth century, possibly even earlier, and evolved over the next 100 years. It is not likely to have been the first building on such an important and prominent site. Its earliest part is of the "truck" type of construction, a method whereby ground to roof-top timbers were of curved tree trunks joined in the shape of a wishbone. Crucks were sometimes of single trunks, but here they are of two pieces.

It is of two storeys, mainly of the late sixteenth century, The upper storey is of timber framing and plaster work, whereas the ground floor is of stone with a roughcast finish. The roof structure is one of the oldest in Wales and there are carpenters' marks to be seen on some of the exterior timbers. The central porch wing is jettied out and supported by five pillars, two of the outermost being Ionic on stone plinths. There are also mounting steps - one of only two such still remaining in Ruthin.
The late Mr S. Dyer

Gough discovered original windows which had been blocked-up and which had no rebates for glass. Fragments of linen used to keep out the wind were still fastened to the frames. Glass was, of course, very expensive and often considered a tenant's fixture. In one window, small pieces of glass had been carefully used. The leaded light process would have facilitated the thrifty use of small, odd-shaped pieces of glass.

The interior has extensive decoration, partly of the eighteenth century and partly earlier. The Hall is undivided though a chimney has been added and forms a lobby. The Hall fireplace has a magnificent mantelpiece with two panels of the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries and others of the Elizabethan and Jacobite periods. The walls have oak panelling of the early sixteenth century, reputed to have come from Llanelidan Church. A gallery was added along two sides of the hall, while the stair-case is of the seventeenth century.

The front room to the left has eighteenth century panelling with ‘bolection’ moulding to the fire-place and door. The rear fire-place has fluted columns. Some of the seven upper rooms are named, e.g, "The Whispering Room", "The Judge's Bedroom',  'The Gabriel Room", and have fielded panelling, some with original plasterwork.

A Priest's hiding place was found below the passage leading from the Judge's Bedroom to the Gabriel Room. A letter dated 22 March, 1475, written on skin in latin was found in this which had been sent from Rome to a John Holland and his wife Gwenruyll.

The front bedroom ceiling over the porch has plasterwork comprising the Tudor Rose and the Pomegranate with a representation of the Prince of Wales' Feathers in each corner. Why this particular form of decoration had been used is never likely to be known but there are plausible theories. The major clues are the Tudor Rose, the Pomegranate, emblem of the House of Aragon, and the Prince of Wales' Feathers. Bearing in mind the House of Aragon, there were two candidates entitled to bear the emblem of the Prince of Wales, Prince Arthur and Prince Henry, both sons of King Henry VII.

Prince Arthur (1486-1502), was Henry's eldest son and was "President of the Council of the Marches", holding court at Ludlow, where he died of the plague at the tender age of 16. He had nevertheless married Catherine of Aragon in 1501. Thus, Arthur Prince of Wales may have brought his bride to Ruthin, or the room in question may have been prepared in anticipation of such a visit.

Henry was betrothed to Catherine of Aragon in 1503 by proxy and they married on 3rd June, 1509, following his accession to the throne on 22nd April. Mr Gough suggested that this might have been the occasion of such a visit, perhaps between 1502, when Henry became Prince of Wales, and 1509, when he acceded to the throne. There is, however, a third possibility.

This marriage was happy and fulfilled but eventually in 1519 a disillusioned Henry was presented with a natural son by one Elizabeth Blount. He was named Henry Fitzroy who later became Duke of Richmond and Somerset, Lord Warden of the Marches, etc., and was presented with Ruthin Castle and the Lordship of Ruthin. Mr Gough felt it highly probable that Henry VIII must have visited Ruthin at that time.

This seems rather less likely for it would have been a little indelicate to flaunt the pomegranate of Aragon before Henry who had partaken of the perhaps sweeter fruit of the house of Blount. Perhaps one of the two previous possibilities is more plausible. Henry Fitzroy was not, of course, Prince of Wales.
Buck's print of Ruthin Castle (1742) includes a distant view of the town and the rear of Castle Street. In this may clearly be seen the gazebo in the garden of Nantclwyd House and that too enjoys its own Grade II Listing.

The smaller walled garden may have been laid out as a formal parterre of the Tudor period, while the lower may have been a less formal "flowery mead'. The boundary wall of the garden is separately listed.

Ownership of Nantclwyd House at various periods of its history is difficult to establish. Two crests displayed in the entrance hall are those of Ednyfed Fychan, an ancestor of the Tudors. Ednyfed's home was at Llandrillo-yn-Rhos, Colwyn Bay, and his second wife took the title "Duchess of Dyffryn Clwyd". Nantclwyd House, it has been suggested, could well have been one of Ednyfed's residences. He died in 1240 and such an early dating and ownership seems less plausible.
It is not unreasonable to suppose from the letter from Rome that the Holland family may have been in occupation in 1475. Ownership passed to the Parry's of Nantclwyd, and then to the Thelwall family by marriage. Edward Goodman of Plas Ucha, Llanelidan, and father of Gabriel, probably acquired Nantclwyd House on his marriage to Elsbeth Thelwall in about 1508.

Ownership passed from the Goodman's by the marriage of Jane Goodman, daughter of another Edward Goodman, Barrister, (died 1699) to Meredydd Wynne of Coedcoch, Abergele. One of the first of the nineteenth century occupants was John Evans, variously described as "maltster" and as "farmer", He was still in occupation in 1841 and 65 years of age.

By 1850, the Mayor of Ruthin, Robert P. Roberts, was in residence. He was 34 years of age and from Bangor. By occupation, he was a surgeon and his household included  19 year-old, Henry Morris, "an apprentice surgeon (student)". Most unusually, on 3rd July, 1851, the Town Council declared Roberts "absent" and a new Mayor was elected in his place.

Roberts was followed by another medical man, Thomas Prydderch, who died in 1862, aged 43. His wife Maria died twelve months later, also aged 43.
In 1871, Edward Edwards was the head of household, aged 58, and a partner in the firm "Edwards and Williams", Ironmongers, of Market Street. In that year, Edwards was elected Mayor, having served as councillor only since 1869, becoming Alderman in 1883.

For a short spell after the Edwards', Mrs Charlotte Price and her daughter Jane were in residence and ran a girls school. This was followed by a highly controversial residency, that of the Rev. J.F. Reece, Rector of Llanfwrog.

Briefly, as Nantclwyd House was not within Llanfwrog Parish, Reece should have had a special licence from the Bishop to reside outside his Parish. A formal enquiry was held in 1894, and the Bishop did not find in Reece's favour. However, Reece resided at Nantclwyd House until 1907 and was followed by Rev. Thomas Pritchard of Rhos. A Rectory was not provided until 1925.

The house was then purchased by Mr Clinton Holmes. It was Mr Holmes who uncovered the half-timbered front ofthe house. Mr S. Dyer-Gough purchased the property from Mr Holmes in 1934 and did much restoration work. Mrs Dyer-Dough sold the house to Clwyd County Council in 1983.
Sadly, the house has been unoccupied and in limbo since then. It is greatly to be hoped that some means are found quickly to arrest the deterioration of this very fragile and vulnerable part of our heritage. Somehow, pre-occupation with economies in public sector expenditure must be urgently reconciled with the duty to preserve the worth-while for our heirs and successors.
[Editor's note: The house has now been restored and is owned by Denbighshire County Council. It is open to the public during the summer, on certain days.]





In the 19th century, nestling between the River Clwyd and the Denbigh Road lay the Ruthin Racecourse, a site now mainly occupied by the housing estate, Parc-y-Dre. Although never aspiring to the glories of Goodwood, it was nevertheless a thriving sporting venue. It was important enough to change the line of the Denbigh Road in 1852, hedges and ditches were removed and the road straightened to improve the facilities. The road was lined with a fence of iron hurdles to enable better viewing.

So that one may gain an appreciation of horse racing at Ruthin, we follow a meeting through the account of an eye witness. The meeting was held on Tuesday, 11th October, 1853, under the stewardship of T.E. Madocks and T.LL. Fitzhugh. The weather in the morning was cold and wet which might have limited the attendance and certainly restricted the number of ladies who under finer skies would have wished to air their fashions. However, in the afternoon, the conditions improved and the weather was conducive to good racing..

The first race was over a mile and a half and the prize was the Yeomanry Cup, valued at £20, plus a side stake per rider of £1. The winner would take all the side stake money except for £2, which went to the horse placed second. On this occasion, there were only four horses in the race, so the first and second took the same amount of stake money. The runners in this race had to have served eight days permanent duty in the Denbighshire Yeomanry Cavalry. It was as well that they were strong horses for the race was run over two heats. A heat did not eliminate any horse but the cumulative times decided the winner, so that a mile-and-a-half race became one of three miles. Another small matter. Horses were entered in more than one race, so the winner of the first race, which won both heats, was Mr Thomas Jones' Bob, ridden by an amateur rider, Mr Clymont, who was also entered in the third race.

The second race was for thoroughbreds and the prize was the Ruthin Cup, with side stakes of £5, the second horse to have the side stake. There were no heats and the distance to be run was two miles. There were only three runners in this race, one of these being a local horse "Dinas Bran", owned by a Mr E.W. Jaques. After the race had started, "Dines Bran" withdrew or pulled out. This was to save him for the third race which was for local horses and clearly Mr Jaques thought he had a better chance in that event. The horses were handicapped according to age, but this handicap was not constant. For example, in the Yeomanry Cup, a three year-old had to carry 9st.61b. and in the Ruthin Cup, a three year-old had to carry 7st.31b.

The third race was for bona fide residents in the counties of Merioneth, Denbigh or Flint and was for a plate valued at £30 and a side stake of £2, It was in this race that "Bob" who had already raced 3 miles, met "Dinas Bran" who was pulled out of the previous race. There were two other runners in this two mile race. Although Bob by all accounts made a gallant effort, leading for the first half of the race, he was no match for the fresher "Dinas Bran', who won the race, "Bob" finishing third, many lengths adrift.

The last race was for the small, strong Galloway breed of horses not exceeding 14 hands and again the race was run in two heats of a mile and a half. The first heat was a very close affair, but the horse "Birdline", carrying a five pound handicap, just made the winning post. In the second heat she won by several lengths.

The race course is shown on the first ordnance survey map made under the command of Lt. Col. Mudge and Captain Thomas Colby during the years 1818-40. Mr P.R. Randall has a copy of the six inches to the mile map of Ruthin dated 1832 which also shows the race course. This latter Ruthin map was the work of Lt. R.K. Dawson, presumably under the command of Mudge. By the time of the more general Ordnance Survey of 1871, the race course was no longer shown.



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