RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET Issue No 38 June 1994
“On the Discovery of THE DENBIGH POEMS and their author”
by John Idris Jones
Of course, for me, Ruthin is the place to be: a sleepy, medieval town, half-timbered, etc. But, I have to admit, Denbigh steals the literary thunder. The names of literati who lived in or near Denbigh are many: George Borrow; Hugh Evans; Robert Graves; William Wordsworth; Dr Johnson; Thomas Pennant; Hester Salusbury; Beatrix Potter; Henry Morton Stanley; Gerard Manley Hopkins; Kate Roberts; Robert Parry; John Salusbury and (last but not least) William Shakespeare. And that does not include Felicia Dorothea Hemans, the author of "The boy stood on the burning deck ...." who belongs to St. Asaph (as in a sense does Hopkins).
But Shakespeare? Really? Well, I really think so.
It's just that when I read the first 102 lines, printed in the current number of The New Welsh Review in Tom Lloyd-Roberts's article, of what I call 'The Denbigh Poem', I had a strange feeling. It crystallised in the thought: 'I know this man; I know this author; I can hear him talking....it is the mind-set; the ideas are typically his… it is Shakespeare....'
I remember sitting in a classroom in Brynhyfryd School, in the old section to the right which used to be the girls' school. On the dais before me was the bald-pated, gowned figure of Bleddyn Griffiths. He started to read from Shakespeare. It was Portia's speech on mercy from The Merchant of Venice. He told us to learn it by heart, and I did. I still know it. It is very beautiful. I knew then at the age of about 12 that this was very fine indeed. With our English teacher, Audrey Watson, we read more and in the sixth form studied King Lear for A level. I am now teaching King Lear for A level, forty years later, and I still feel that I don't fully appreciate it. I find new things in it every day. The genius of the man Shakespeare, you can say, has followed me around.
He was, I think, at Denbigh in the last months of 1593 and the early months of 1594. I think he was here for quite a few months. I think he wrote the lines in the commonplace book of the house of Llewenni, the aristocratic home of the rich Salusburys.
In his recent book on the life and times of Shakespeare, Peter Levi says that John Salusbury was a friend of Shakespeare's. Tom says this in his article and gives a mass of fascinating information. The commonplace book has survived. No scrap of Shakespeare's attributed writing in his own handwriting has survived. This is not surprising. The papers did not belong to him; they belonged to the acting group `The Chamberlain's Men' - later, 'The King's Men'. He could not leave them in his will because he did not own them. All 37 of his plays went into print; and once in print, the manuscripts were of no value. One scrap today would be priceless!
But, perhaps he wrote something which was not for publication. Perhaps in praise of his hosts John and Ursula Salusbury, thanking them for hospitality at their large comfortable house in the uncontaminated countryside just a mile to the east of Denbigh. There he was away from the dangers of the London plague; and the theatres were closed; he could not make any money; but in the Llewenni library he could consult the old history books, or even original documents, letters, etc. They may have had Ovid and Holinshead. There, I think, he wrote the poem The Rape of Lucrece and most of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The Denbigh Poem is full of words and phrases which appear in that play; the phrase "simple skill" appears in both. The same use of the peculiar word 'grekish'; the word 'beauteous'; the reference to the 'round' dance; the same structure exactly as his poem Venus and Adonis. The work of a self-conscious wordsmith with a large vocabulary and a flexible use of the language.
He would have been 29 years old; he had written nine plays and hundreds of carefully crafted stanzas of poetry. The handwriting is compact, tidy and workmanlike. It is like no other in the commonplace book (which is in Christchurch College Library, Oxford) - they are generally larger and more decorative.
He is not in the poem servile and flattering in an obsequious way; he does flatter, but with elegance and wit. Shakespeare was low-born - yes, the son of a farmer and dealer in skins, leather, wool and whatever made a profit - but he was enormously ambitious; he sucked in words, plots, ideas like a vacuum cleaner; and he was a Poet - the Welsh liked that. It is him, this little, fast, fluent hand is his.
Four hundred years ago to this very month, William Shakespeare was living six miles down the valley at Denbigh. And about now he was writing his valedictory poem to the Salusburys, saying he had to go away quickly. Why? - because the theatres were re-opening in London and his destiny was calling. And in June, he expected to see his new play performed at the wedding celebrations of the brother of his host Ursula Salusbury - William, the 5th Earl of Derby, marrying Elizabeth deVere - performed before the majestical Elizabeth at her Palace at Greenwich.
Let us look inside the covers of the most important book ever published - the First Folio, Shakespeare's collected plays of 1623, and in doing so say Thanks to his faithful friends John Heminge and Henrie Condell. In it, on its own under a decorated heading, on a right-hand page, just before the Contents page, is a sonnet called "Upon the Lines and Life of the Famous Scenicke Poet, Master William Shakespeare". Its last two lines are:
For though his line of life went soon about,
The life yet of his lines shall never out."
And who wrote it? Hugh Holland.
And where was he born? Denbigh!
STANLEY JOHN WEYMAN (1855-1928) Novelist and Man of Letters
by John Williams.
IT IS MOST APPROPRIATE that we should remember Stanley Weyman in 1994 as it is the 100th anniversary of his most successful year. During 1894 no fewer than three of his twenty-five novels were published, including "Under the Red Robe", which is generally considered to have made his reputation and which has had no fewer than 34 reprints.
He was born in Ludlow, Shropshire, on 7th August 1855, the second son of Thomas Weyman, a solicitor. After attending the local King Edward VI Grammar School and, after the age of 16, Shrewsbury School, he obtained a second-class degree in Modern History at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1877. His first post was as a History Master at King's School, Chester, under the Rev'd. George Preston (his future brother-in-law) who had previously been Headmaster of Ruthin School from 1871 until 1875. After four terms, he returned to Ludlow in December 1879 to read for the Bar. Alas, his call to the Bar in 1881 brought no success or happiness. He had joined the Oxford Circuit but when challenged by the tax people, he produced a fee book showing an income of only £130. In some years, it was as low as £20. He was nervous and shy in court. One judge shouted at him in exasperation. He was a poor cross-examiner and his short stature must have been a disadvantage.
A scanty income and too much leisure compelled him to try his hand at writing short stories, three of which were accepted by James Payn, editor of the Cornhill Magazine. Payn encouraged him to more ambitious work on a larger scale, and attendance at a casual reading in a Club of White's "The Massacre of St. Batholemew" gave him the idea for a novel set in the year 1572. This was the first of many books revealing his fascination with the Huguenots. It was serialised in the English Illustrated Magazine in 1883, but was not published until 1890 under the title "The House of the Wolf". A very favourable review in The Athenaeum and the publication of two further novels in 1891 enabled him to leave the Bar after ten unsuccessful years.
In 1885, a "weakness of the lungs" had led to an extended stay in the south of France in the company of his younger brother, Arthur. This was to increase his already wide knowledge of the by-ways of French history and proved invaluable in researching the background of his most successful novels. It was during this long stay in France that they were both arrested as spies for sketching and spent 24 hours or so in a police cell before the intervention of the British Ambassador and a question in parliament.
He was firmly established as a successful romantic novelist when he was married on the 1st August 1895 (6 days before his 41st birthday) to Charlotte, the daughter of the Rev'd. Richard Panting, formerly a head of Shrewsbury School. They came to live at Plas Llanrhydd, just outside the Ruthin town boundary, in c1898. We can reasonably assume the move to Ruthin was made at least partly on health grounds. He was careful not to overwork and never wrote more than 1,000 words per day.
t was indifferent health that made him resign from the Denbighshire County Council in April 1914 after only 13 months. In Who's Who his hobbies are given as "Riding and cycling." He died at the hall after a brief illness on 10th April 1928, in his 73rd year. Mrs Weyman survived him by four years. There were no children. They are buried in Llanrhydd churchyard, the entrance to which is immediately opposite the decorative wrought-iron gates at the entrance of Plas Llanrhydd.
The original gates are thought to be the work of Robert Bakewcll of Derby or his successor, Benjamin Yates, who flourished in the first half of the 18th century. Plas Llanrhydd was built around 1620. Although he made a fortune as a novelist, Stanley Weyman never owned it. He made many alterations and additions, including the red brick wall, which cost £1,000 (or roughly £23,000 in our money), around the orchard.
Weyman was active in local affairs and chairman of the Ruthin Bench for 15 years. He was much involved with the Ruthin War Memorial Fund and with any local charities that had to do with hospitals and schools. He was a Commissioner of the Inland Revenue and took a keen interest in the work of the church. Besides being churchwarden, he was also parish councillor at St. Meugans, Llanrhydd, where he read the lesson regularly for many years.
Another role he took was that of Governor of Ruthin School and of Howell's School, Denbigh, and became friendly with one of his fellow-Governors, Dr A.G. Edwards, first Archbishop of Wales, who was to officiate at his funeral.
Although he regarded himself as lucky in the timing of his first novels which appeared after fresh interest had been aroused in the historical novel by the publication in France of "The Three Musketeers" by Alexandre Dumas, there is no denying his worldly success.
In his will he left the equivalent of £2,273,286 gross, £2,198,850 net. Among his bequests were the approximate present day equivalent of £40,000 by way of a life annuity for his wife and on her death £5,000 to the Central Fund of the Church in Wales and £4,000 to the Vicar and Churchwardens of Llanrhudd for the repair and improvement of the church.
When he came to the Vale of Clwyd, Mr Weyman brought with him a coachman, Mr Frederick Walpole, and a gardener, Mr Nash, Mr Walpole remained in his employ throughout the thirty years and received a legacy of £6,000. He married late in life and his daughter is Mrs Warburton of Ruthin Castle. Mr Nash's grandson, Leonard, lives in Porth-y-Dre, Ruthin, and his grand-daughter Mrs Mary Smith in Rhewl. Among his pecuniary legacies was one of £4,000 to his gardener, Richard Burd - a familiar Ruthin surname. He left £40,000 to his elder brother Harry "as a token of affection" and "100 volumes as he may select from my library." The remainder of his library, which contained several books relating to Wales and Welsh history, was bequeathed to the parishioners of Llanrhydd and St. Peter's. The equivalent of £100,000 was left to his younger brother, Arthur, some of whose descendants still live in the Vale.
His most successful period as a novelist was already behind him when he came to live at Plas Llanrhydd. His best-known books were: "A Gentleman of France (I893)", "Under the Red Robe (1894)" and "The Red Cockade (1895)". These and several other novels written at Ludlow were of the "cloak and hood" variety, albeit often with historical characters strongly drawn from authentic sources. Many of the books written after 1897 were "social-political", the author being particularly interested in the social changes which took place in the early years of the 19th century and in the clash between old money and new. He was a historian who devoted much time and money to conscientious research. He had a passion for accuracy of background. In the Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, no less a person than Sir Hugh Walpole was able to assert in 1924 that Weyman's books were "the finest historical novels since Sir Walter Scott." Sadly, Stanley Weyman's novels are seldom read today.
Sources: D.N.B., item by T.E. Welby. The Cornhill Magazine; The Bookman; The Fortnightly Review; London Mercury; John O'London's Weekly; The Athenaeum; The Times; Manchester Guardian Quarterly; Country Quest (article by Oswald Edwards, February 1975); lecture notes by R. Le Scrope.
CAERFALLEN, Near Ruthin
This is by any standard a striking half-timbered house, commonplace in the Cheshire countryside, but unusual in the Vale of Clwyd. Caerfallen, a little to the north of Ruthin, is in the parish of Llanrhudd and formed part of the ancient township of Rhosellevyrion, the identity of which was lost after about the 18th century. It is from this that 'Rhos' Street presumably derives its name.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments at Aberystwyth does not have a great deal of information as a detailed survey has not yet been carried out. Its age while indeterminate is certainly great and the original house was a simple rectangle of three bays which has undergone much change over the centuries. It will not be a surprise that this prestigious building is now a farmhouse.
Edward Hubbard in his Buildings of Clwyd describes the building as partly 'brick-nogged', i.e. some of the panels between the frames have been bricked-up, although others were in-filled with wattle and daub. The chimneys above roof level are of ribbed brick and below are massive limestone gables 6' 9" in width. The late Mr George Hooson, a former owner, uncovered a magnificent limestone hearth of 10'4" width in the kitchen.
A survey of Ruthin Lordship carried out in 1324 refers to "Cayvelyn" and this is thought to be an English-speaking scribe's attempt at "Caerfallen". There is no record as to who constructed Caerfallen but it is said to have been the home of the Turbridge family for generations. The Turbridge family came to the district possibly in the 13th or 14th century to serve the de Greys as manorial officials. The Turbridge name is perpetuated in Plas Towerbridge, also a farmhouse nearby in the parish of Llanbedr. Plas Towerbridge is more likely to have been the family seat and it is interesting to speculate as to the relationship between the two properties, though it seems clear that Caerfallen was a distinct and separate part of the estate.
Knowledge of the Turbridge family is somewhat scanty and the use of the same Christian name by successive generations tends to make the identification of individuals speculative. The earliest record discovered is of a Robert Turbridge witnessing a document in 1589. Ten years later, Robert Turbridge is described as 'Queen's Officer' in the Lordship of Bromfield and Yale. A survey of the Ruthin Lordship carried out in 1631 refers to an earlier survey of 1605 partly attributed to "Robert Turbridge esqr. surveyer there".
It is not known who Robert Turbridge [snr] married, but he had at least two sons, Robert and John. In 1602, a Robert Turbridge is described as 'of Lincoln's Inn, Middlesex'. A little later, in 1613, Robert is described as 'of Caerfallen, gent.' It is probably this Robert who appears in Foster's 'Alumni Oxoniensis, 1500-1714' who is said to have gained a B.A. from St. Edmund's Hall on 15th June 1593 and a student of Lincoln's Inn in 1594.
A document of 20th March 1652/3 refers to Robert Turbridge of Caerfallen, gent.; John Turbridge of Llanbedr [presumably Plas Towerbridge]; and Mary Heaton of Llewenny Green, Denbigh, his wife and Robert Turbridge, their son and heir apparent. The same document refers to another Robert Turbridge of St Martin’s in the Field, Middlesex, gent., John’s brother. Robert, probably the son of John, married Anne, daughter of Samuel Mostyn of Calcot, co. Flint, by whom he had an only child Anne. She married John Myddelton of Gwaenynog, Denbigh, on 27th May 1685, at St. Hilary's Chapel, Denbigh.
The document of March 1652/3 refers to the letting of Caerfallen and parcels of land, including a water corn mill, `Melin-y-Fryer', all in Rhosellevirion. In July 1653, John and Robert Turbridge entered into a mortgage by way of a lease for 1,000 years on Caerfallen and Melin-y-Fryer with the Rt. Hon. Phillip Lord Viscount Lisle. The arrangement was terminated in January 1660/1, presumably to permit the sale of Caerfallen to Sir Thomas Myddelton of Chirk castle in whose family it remained for the next 250 years.
Robert Turbridge sold the Caerfallen estate to Sir Thomas Myddelton on 1st April 1661, for £1,300 and having sold Caerfallen, Robert appears to have made his home at Henblas, Llanbedr. Thereafter there are many references to Caerfallen in the Chirk Castle accounts.
One of these is to Richard Green of Caerfallen, attorney-at-law, prominent citizen and public figure. He was the son of Henry Green and his wife Dorothy, the daughter of John Wynne of Eyarth. Richard married Hester Thelwall of Maesmaencymro and they had 7 children, not all of whom survived into adulthood. Their eldest son James was described as 'of Caerfallen' which he too occupied as tenant. One item in the accounts dated 5th January 1664/5 refers to the payment of £38.19s.0d. in respect of his new barn of 5 bays and to an adjustment of his rent accordingly. Richard was buried at Ruthin 11th February 1706-7, aged 79, his wife having predeceased him in December,1680.
The corporation records refer to one Richard Green who was sworn a burgess of the town on 1st May 1652 and who served as alderman from 1659-60. Mr Green was a manorial official and acted as deputy to Eubule Thelwall who was Chief Steward of the Lordship, and later as deputy of Ellis Meredith who also held that office. Thelwall and Meredith were the nominees drawing the major income while Green performed the duties, probably on a salaried basis.
No doubt in recognition of his services, and thanks to the influence of Sir Thomas Myddelton, Lord of the Manor, Green became under-Sheriff for Denbighshire in 1662 and again in 1676, also from 5th January, 1689 holding office as 'Secondary' [?] of the three counties of North Wales.
Another entry records the payment of £140 to Mr Robert Turbridge on 26th June, 1669 'for his mill …… and kilne …… and land thereunto belonging'. Another reference is to a water corn mill called "Melin Caerfallen" described as being in Rhose llyvirion in the parish of Llanrhudd. These references to the mill are a little puzzling but the latter description states that the mill in question was at some distance away in the parish of Llanrhudd.
Another reference has already been made to a water corn mill, viz., Melin-y-Fryer, located at a little distance from Caerfallen. While it may be dangerous to speculate, both references are probably to today's Melin Meredith, a short distance to the north, which might have been associated with Caerfallen. It is not certain who Meredith of the mill was, but could it have been Ellis Meredith for whom Richard Greene acted as Deputy Steward of the lordship? [note: there is a Melin Meredith on the Clywedog in Rhewl. It is more likely that the mill mentioned here is Melin y Wern, which was quite near to Caerfallen].
The association of cornmills with Caerfallen leads to speculations as to the possible derivation of its name. The survey of 1324 referred to "Cayvelyn" [sic], thought to refer to 'Caerfallen'. Thus, would it be unreasonable to wonder whether 'Cae'rfallen' might be a corruption of 'Caevelyn' ["Field of the Mill" or simply "Mill field"]? However, another suggestion is that the spelling should be "Cae'rafallen", deriving from "Cae yr Afallen" ["Field of the Apple Tree"].
Mrs Luce or Lucy Turbridge seems not to have been satisfied with the Myddelton's title to ownership and Myddelton successfully defended his case at the Assizes in Wrexham in March 1685. Lucy was John and Mary Turbridge's only surviving child.
The tenant of Caerfallen and its mill in September 1688, was a Mr Richard Lloyd, who paid a rent of £54 p.a. This also records that some £100 had recently been spent on the mansion house and the mill. Lloyd, however, did not make a success of his tenancy and the farm was split into small holdings, although he retained the mill and two fields at a rent of £3.10s.0d.
Richard Lloyd gave up the tenancy of Caerfallen in 1694 and was succeeded by Robert Davies, described as a drover. Davies seems to have been a man of some substance having stood at the county election in 1680 representing the Myddelton interest. He was later sworn Alderman of Ruthin on 15th October 1698. His wife was named Mary and they had at least a son and two daughters. Robert fell into arrears of rent, a debt of £32-4s.-0d., which was cleared by his daughter Anne.
There is little on record of the life and work of Caerfallen over the next two hundred years or so. The fortunes and line of the Myddelton family waxed and waned. In the early C19th, the last direct male heir died and the estate was divided between the three surviving daughters. The Lordship of Dyffryn Clwyd, including Caerfallen, went to Maria Myddelton [note Harriet inherited and died unmarried] who had married Frederick West, founding a new though short-lived dynasty. The last of the male Wests, George Cornwallis West, was compelled to dispose of the Ruthin estate by means of two sales, the first of which was in 1913.
The tenant of Caerfallen and its 137 acres was then Mr J.W. Bonner, but the farm was sold for £5,000 to Mr Lecomber, a wealthy newcomer to the town and district, eventually Mayor of this ancient Borough.
REFERENCES: 'Calendar of Wynn Papers '; NLW.; 'Ruthin Lordship, Deeds and Documents'; NLW.; 'Chirk Castle Accounts 1605-1666; 1666-1753; W.M. Myddelton; Transactions Vol. 17, p. 52, , Vol.19, p.22, , of the Denbighshire Historical Society; Clwyd Record Office, Ruthin, DD/DT; DD/RC. "The Memoirs of a Very Fortunate Man", George Hooson; privately published, 1983. The kindness and assistance of Mrs Helen Wright, Mr Hooson's daughter, is gratefully acknowledged.