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ISSUE No 9. March 1987


By Stan Wicklen BA(Edn). MA., FTCO(Printing) Member of the Printing  Historical Society

Ruthin was quite an important centre of printing in the nineteenth century, but pressure of space in The Ruthin Broadsheet allows me to mention only one printer on this occasion - Isaac Clarke (1824-75). He was one of the major printers of Ruthin and indeed of North Wales; a local farmer's son from Coedllai, near Mold, who left the land for the craft of printing. Surprisingly enough, Isaac Clarke's contribution to Welsh printing has been totally ignored, his name not even being mentioned by Ifano Jones in his 'History of Printing in Wales' (1925). On leaving his father's farm, Isaac Clarke was apprenticed as a printer to Nathan Haddocks and when he died, the apprentice continued to work for Haddocks' widow who carried on his printing-office. Clearly, the young Isaac Clarke learnt his craft well since there is a record of his having an apprentice indentured to him in 1845, when he would have been twenty one years of age and barely out of his own time as an apprentice. Later, be became foreman printer for Mrs Haddocks and eventually acquired the printing-press from her.

Isaac Clarke's printing-office was situated near the Wynnstay Arms, Ruthin. Some scholars credit Isaac Clarke with the first printing of the Welsh National Anthem 'Hen Wlad fy Nhadau', the music by James James (1833-1902) and the words by his father Evan Janes (1809-78). It would appear, according to some Welsh historians, that there is some doubt cast on the note which appears in a ballad by P. Evans of Pontypridd claiming that it was first printed in 1858 when in fact the work was still in manuscript. The anthem was included by John Owain (Owain Alaw) in his third volume of 'Gems of Welsh Melody’ (1860), printed by Isaac Clarke at his Ruthin printing-office.

Another first for Isaac Clarke, and a major contribution to Welsh literature, was in obtaining the copyright of the works of John ‘Ceiriog’ Hughes (1832-87). Ceiriog  went to Oswestry as a printer's apprentice on his sixteenth birthday, but after a year left printing for a job as a clerk on the railway at Manchester. It may be that Isaac Clarke with his farming and pastoral background recognised the appeal and commercial value of Ceiriog’s poems and other Welsh work that he was the envy of other contemporary book printers such as Hughes and Son of Wrexham. Isaac Foulkes (Llyfrbryf), a one-time apprentice with Clarke at Ruthin, has noted that by 1872  the volume 'Oriau'r Hwyr’ of Ceiriog’s poems went to five editions. Shortly after this, the copyright was sold to Hughes and Son, Isaac Foulkes, continuing his publishing statistics, says that between twenty-five thousand and thirty thousand copies of the same book had been sold by 1887;  so in effect, Hughes and Son had capitalised on Clarke's publishing initiative. It is interesting to compare those production and book-selling figures for a Welsh book with the lamentable tales today in this year, a century after John 'Ceiriog’ Hughes' death.

This was only one of many successes for Isaac Clarke as a respected book publisher and printer in the town of Ruthin. He produced religious work, hymns, and part-songs, such as  ‘Y Delyn Gymreig’ (1859), poetry of John Blackwell "Ceinion Alun' (1851), and historical volumes such as 'Hanes yr Hen Gymry’ (1858) by R.W. Morgan. A major work during the 1860s was 'Geirionydd' (1862), the collected writings of leuan Glan Geirionydd. This has the imprint 'Rhuthyn Argraffwyd gan Clarke.'  To be entered at Stationers' Hall, as many of these early books were, needed to be according to law.

W.J. Roberts (‘Gwilym Cowlyd’) , at Llanrwst, collected the material for this  comemorative volume. The editor was Richard Parry (‘Gwalchmai’). A handsome book, well printed and received with acclaim by the general public. Although ‘Nicander’ (Morris Williams) cleric, Welsh bard and writer commented to Gwilyn Cawlyd 'You ought, in justice, to have told your friends in soliciting their subscriptions that you had engaged a Dissenter to write the biography of the Clergyman your uncle.'

Gwilym Cowlyd's experience in seeing the volume of ‘Geirionydd’ through Isaac Clarke's printing press at Ruthin and in gathering subscriptions and support from other printers could have spurred him to set-up his own printing press at Llanrwst the following year. Among the subscribers to ‘Geirionydd’ were two Ruthin printers - Beniamin Williams and William Williams, who could have been father and son.

One of the competitors of Isaac Clarke of Ruthin was the well-known Welsh book printers, Hughes and Son of Wrexham. In tendering for work, this inevitably led to some undercutting of prices in quotation - and excuses for charging. An example of this is in a letter written 7th April, 1864, to a Rev. John Roberts, Merthyr, who was the editor of the Welsh music magazine ‘Y Cerddor’, sent by Charles Hughes who at that time was in charge of the Wrexham press. He writes:
'We have strained a point to meeting your wishes to publish 'Y Cerddor' for you. As publishers, we dislike the small periodical, because there is so much attention and labour to get it over, and so little to see for it. We may be higher in our estimate than Mr Clarke, and this will arise because wages in Wrexham are higher by 20 or 25 per cent than Ruthin.'

An interesting comment on the wage rates paid to printers at Ruthin, if true, in comparison with Wrexham. It could also reflect on the business acumen and efficient working practices of Isaac Clarke and his press.

Isaac Clarke seems to have been an excellent craftsman and his printing compares well with his nineteenth century colleagues anywhere in the British Isles. He also had considerable influence in the training of his apprentices. I have mentioned Isaac Foulkes (‘Llyfrbryf’) who shared his master's love of Welsh books - making a contribution to Welsh printing in Liverpool.

Another apprentice was Lewis Jones (‘Rhuddenfab’, 1835-1915), who was born in Ruthin. He was indentured to Clarke at Mrs Nathan Haddock's printing-office, Ruthin.  In 1845, he followed Isaac Clarke as a printer of Welsh ballads and other Welsh work.

The death of Isaac Clarke in 1875 brought to an end the career of a notable Welsh printer, but not the end of printing in Rutbin.










As an Interesting sequel to our recent series an the Ruthin fire service, you will be interested to know of the origin of the metal helmets used by the fire services. They are based on a 19th century Napoleonic military helmet.

A disastrous fire occurred on 1st July, 1810 at the Austrian Embassy in Paris, whilst a Ball was in progress, attended by the Russian Ambassador and Princess Schwartzenburg. Unfortunately, one of the casualties was the Princess who was burnt to death. Napoleon himself helped fight the fire and he was most concerned at the lack of fire precautions at all the palaces in France. As a direct result of the fire, he issued an order: 
'....There shall be raised before 1st  January, 1811, a company of sapeurs-pompiers of the Imperial Guard under the Commandant of Engineers....'

Their purpose was to serve the fire pumps at the Imperial Palaces. Thus, on 16th July, 1810, the first military fire service was established. The basic design of the helmet of the Engineers of the Imperial Guard has been copied and used by fire services throughout the world.




James James of Pontypridd composed 'Hen Wlad Fy. Nhadau' in 1856 and four years later John Owen (‘Owain Alaw’ (1821-93) wrote to him seeking permission to publish his song in one of his forthcoming collections of 'Gems of Welsh Melody', of which Owain was to be sole editor and arranger of the music. Permission was given, but James was disappointed as Owain had slightly altered his original melody. But without doubt, the alteration in fact helped in the achievement of its great popularity.

There were four volumes of the 'Gems' series published by Isaac Clarke from NO.6, Well Street, now Siop Naim, between 1860 and 1864. The most popular volume was the first, published in August, 1860, and this contained and named for the first time, 'HEN WLAD FY NHADAU'.

John Owen was a native of Chester, born there In 1821. His parents were from Llanfachreth, near Dolgellau. When still quite young, he became an organist at a number of Chester Churches and was a well-known baritone vocalist, composer and organist. He was also a great participator at all contemporary National Eisteddfodau, and was honoured with his first degree and given the bardic name 'Owain Alan', at the Rhuddlan Royal Eisteddfod in 1851, as the successful composer of an anthem for competition. Later, at the great Llangollen Eisteddfod, he was further admitted as a Bard and Pencerdd (Chief of Song) in recognition of his contribution to Welsh music. His chief compositions were his oratorio 'Jeremiah' and his 'Gwyl Gwalia' composed for a Festival of Wales held in Chester in 1866

He died on 30th January, 1883, at Lorne Street, Chester, and was buried at the General Cemetery there. His eldest son, William Henry, was also a very able musician and organist at Holy Trinity Church, Dublin. His death came most tragically on return to Ireland, after a summer holiday at home, on the Irish Mail train which crashed near Abergele on 20th August, 1868. He and 32 others were burnt to death and buried in a communal grave to be seen at St. Michael's Church, Abergele.

Oswald Edwards ALCH


Since the time of Edward I, the 'Marcher' area lately known as the County of Denbigh, had five sub-divisions called 'Hundreds'. Each Hundred had its own court which, besides dealing with criminal and civil justice, also was responsible for the administration of its area. Denbigh had two Hundreds, Uwchaled and Isaled. The other three were Ruthin, Chirk and Bromfield.

The Ruthin Hundred was again subdivided Into four ‘Commotes’, - Ruthin, Llannerch, Coelion and Dogfeilion. At this time the parish had only ecclesiastical responsibility, the hundred or commote handled all secular matters. It was not until the Tudors, with the Poor Law of 1536, that the parishes became responsible for the poor. Therefore, there was little reason why commote and parish boundaries should co-incide. Roughly, the following shows which parishes were in the three commotes of the Ruthin ‘Hundred'-
Llanerch: Llanfair DC Llanelidan.
Dogfeilion or Dogfeiling: Aberwheeler, Llangwyfan, Llanychan, Llanrhudd, Llandyrnog, Llangynhafal, Llanbedr
Coelion: Derwen, Cyffyliog, Llanfwrog, Clocaenog, Efenechtyd, Llanynys.
Sources: Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, Vol. 14, 1963;  ‘Bye-Gones’, 1911; Cambridge Historical Encyclopaedia.



Many of its buildings can be dated to the 15th and,16th centuries. Exmewe House had a 'basement' shop frointing Clwyd Street, occupied in the Iate 19th century by Mr W.C. Joyce. Mr Joyce was then a furniture and Singer Sewing Machine dealer advertising as a 'Watchmaker and Jeweller' in The Ruthin Illustrated Magazine of 1879. Later, c. 1890, Dr J. Medwyn Hughes had a surgery here, at NO.1, Clwyd Street.

NO. 2, accommodated the business of the well-known Ruthin bard, 'Rhuddenfab', or Mr Lewis Jones, who advertised the sale of furniture, wallpaper and pictures. He is best known as a stationer and printer/publisher, particularly of that well-known guide 'Handbook to Ruthin', which first appeared c. 1884 and subsequently in several editions.

NO. 3, thought to have been redeveloped towards the end of the nineteenth century, was under the ownership of the Castle until the sale of 1913. Its parts, (a), (b) and (c)  and (d), have been occupied by paper-hangers, brewers, shoe-makers, milliners, dress and straw-hat makers. Men’s outfitters seem to have been in occupation of No 3 (a) continuously since c. 1910, when Mr. David (‘Togo’) Evans had his business there.
A Mr J.R. Hughes had a butcher’s shop in No. 3(b), c.1913, followed some years later by Mr Hattersley Williams' pork shop. NO. 3(c) was occupied c.1913 by a Mr Farley, grocer, and c1919 as 'apartments' run by a Mr H. Spencer, specialising in the needs of cyclists.
Manweb's present shop at NO. 3(d) provided refreshment roams c. 1876, ran by a Mrs Edwards; a grocer's shop run by a Mr Bell and, c.1913, Mr John Evans' confectionery

'The Boar's Head' at NO. 4, is recorded as having paid its mise, a tax for the maintenance of St. Peters Church, in 1742. Ann Parry was the licensee In 1829 and A. Parry in 1876, although in between a Mr John Joyce was licensee c. 1868. The choice of the 'Boar's Head' as the sign and name of this tavern is intriguing. Taverns were often named after prominent local families, or after a feature of their armorial bearings. The 'Middelton Arms' and the 'Wynnstay Arms' are examples of this, as was the former 'Blackamoor Inn', Efenechtyd, after the Conway family crest. The head of a boar was incorporated in several Welsh armorial bearings, e.g.,. those of the Lloyds, Ednowain Bendew, Lord of Englefield in Flimtshire; Cowryd son of Cadfan of Dyffryn Clwyd, their descendants, the Cowryd Parry's of Llanbedr and Coed Merchan (Coed Marchen?), and perhaps most relevant of all, the Thelwall family. (there are boars heads on the heraldry of the Myddeltons of Chirk Castle)

NO.6, occupied from c.1876 by the Simons as a draper's/woollen shop. The Simons were prominent in the world of sport, George being a famous footballer, Ap famous runner and J. Hampson Simon a very fine footballer and member of the local Board of Guardians. He eventually lived at Llanrhydd Mill.
From about 1926, the premises were occupied by 'Williams & Son' as a boot and shoe shop, having previously been located in Well Street in premises now occupied by 'The French Connection'. The shoe shop is now run by the Cooledge family. Mr Cooledge ran a shoe shop opposite for some years and then removed to Prestatyn. His son, the late Mr A. Cooledge, returned to Ruthin c.1975, having acquired the business.

The ‘Castle Bell’, at Nos 7 and 9, were occupied in 1868 by a Joseph Williams, who dealt in earthenware. In the early years of this century, Thomas Hughes was advertising as stationer, tobacconist, newsagent, etc., a business which continues.
Mr Hughes purchased the property from the Castle Estate in 1913 and extended it to its present position at the edge of the paving. Up to that time, NO. 9 was occupied by a Mr Cushion who repaired bicycles; followed for a short time by Messrs Williams & Pont, corn merchants. Then came Mr Ellis Williams the hairdresser, Mayor of the Corporation in the mid-1930s, who transferred his business to the Square, being followed by Mr Eddie Roberts, also a hairdresser.

N0.8, opposite, now occupied by Dragon Kitchens, was in 1883 the residence of Sergeant-major A.E. Purcell, of the Ruthin Yeomanry. In the early years of the century, Mr Robert Hughes transferred his business (established 1845) from the Square.

NO. 10, Elton House, may once have been a brewery, for perforated slabs of the kind used in the drying of malt were once discovered in a floor. In 1883, Jane Cole operated a registry office for servants from this address; later occupied by the brother of Mr R. T. Hughes.

NOs 11 and 13, now occupied by Williams the Florist and Greengrocer, were built by Mr Thomas Bealy c.1870,  who purchased several properties at that time, demolished them and raised some splendid buildings in their place. Mr Williams started his business in that part of the Boar's Head nearest the Square.
In 1876, Hannah Jones, milliner and dressmaker, operated in NO. 11 and was followed by Joseph Davies, who advertised as a saddler in 1883. Mr Hugh Jones, clothier, occupied the premises for several years until they were acquired by Williams the Florist and integrated into their existing premises. NO. 13, prior to the Williams', was occupied in 1876 by Mr William J. Barker, who sold fish and game and, in 1883, by Mr John Griffiths, fishmonger.

NO. 12 now accommodates Mr Trevor Jones, the gentlemen’s outfitter. Known as ‘The George’, it has been speculated that they might date from c.1553, which seems very early. A perhaps more realistic date would be the eighteenth century. There is some very interesting timberwork internally, of substantial dimensions and numbered and may have been brought from the Castle ruins.

'The George' was functioning as an Inn/Tavern in 1844 when Hugh Davies was licencee, but by 1868, Mr Humphrey Jones was advertising as a Temperance Hotel. In 1871 and in 1883, Elizabeth Jones, widow, was running this hotel and her daughter married Mr T.H. Aldrich.

A Miss Gwendoline. Hughes had a 'studio" here at about this time. Dr J. Medwyn Hughes acquired 'The George' c.1888. By 1890, Dr. Hughes had a surgery at No1, Clwyd Street, and in 1900 was residing at ‘Manor House’ Well Street. 
c. 1910, Mr. William Hughes Roberts transferred his photographic and joinery business here from 45, Clwyd Street. In 1913, Mr. Roberts acquired the Old Mill from the Castle Estate and transferred his business there, then giving up photography. 
In 1926, the Aldrich family, trading as ironmongers in the Old Court House on the Square, resumed occupation of of ‘The George’, where they remained until recently. 
Elisha Parry was the licensee of the ‘Unicorn’ in 1829 at NO 14, now a butcher’s shop. Its licence ceased in 1913, when it became a temperance hotel run by Miss Williams, sister to Mr Ellis Williams.

NO 15, also built by Mr Richard Bealey, was occupied in 1868 by Levi Jones, a joiner/cabinet maker. He was followed by Messrs R. And J. Dick, boot and shoe makers, and by 1883 Mr Edward Goodman  Maddocks had a hair-cutting business there. He was a great bird-fancier and had several caged speicimens in his shop.

NO 16, now occupied by Mr G. Trebor Hughes, was once known as ‘The New Inn’, the home of Mr Magin, who had a draper’s shop at ‘The Raven’, Castle Street. An interesting feature is the king’s head of fired clay, thought to have been transferred from ‘The King’s Head’ in Upper Clwyd Street. These eighteenth-century premises are listed.

Elizabeth H. Magin had a smalllware, wool, etc., shop in 1876 at NO.18, which, by 1883, was a chemist's and druggist's shop, operated by Arthur E. Magin. The premises, occupied by Mr Thomas Jacks, were included in the 1913 Castle Estate sale.

NO. 20, ‘Bryn Clwyd’, occupied by a Mr Peter Evans, was also included in the Castle sale. Before that, Mr Thomas Jones, surgeon, seems to have been is occupation from c.1850 until c.1876.

NO. 21, Gwalia Grocery Stores faced down Clwyd Street, and were demolished to improve visibility. DW

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