WILLIAM GODFREY LECOMBER
Mayor, Alderman, Freedom of the Borough
(County Councillor and J.P.)
Ruthin has had its share of notable personalities. Amongst these the name of William Godfrey Lecomber stands out, so much so that his portrait, officially unveiled at his last official meeting as Mayor on 1st October 1923, now proudly stands in the refurbished Nantclwyd-y-Dre, in Castle
On his father’s side he was of French descent – his Huguenot ancestors having escaped to this side of the water when the French Protestants were persecuted following the Revocation of the Treaty of Nantes in 1685. The Lecombers
settled in Ireland. The original form of their surname was La Combre later altered to Le Combre. However it was easier for the British to say Lecomber as one word.
A Young Engineer
His father William Webster Lecomber and family moved to Liverpool, where William Godfrey was born on 25 January 1870, before moving to Manchester. There his father built up engineering businesses. He was educated at King William’s College, Castletown I.O.M. After leaving school he served a full apprenticeship at his father’s engineering works of Thomas Ryder and Company, being treated exactly like all the other apprentices.
After completing his apprenticeship he was sent as a student to Owen’s College in Manchester under Professor Sir Henry Roscoe F.R.S. On completion of his studies he returned to his father’s works and donned the overalls ending as foreman of the finishers and pattern-makers departments. Eventually he was placed in sole charge of Thomas Ryder’s works. In the meantime his father had bought the important works of Allen, Harrison & Co.
About this time Lecomber developed a new Metallic Alloy of great value in anti-friction bearings. He called this alloy Cantaba. Allen Harrison’s old works were known as “Cambridge Works” and the Latin form of Cambridge (Cantabrigia) no doubt suggested the title under which the new alloy was registered.
When his father retired in 1908 Lecomber became the sole owner of three big works – the two above companies plus John Mellor & Co. - hence his wealth. In Manchester he had become a city councillor but he was proudest of his association with Henshaw’s Institution for the blind. He became while in Ruthin the Chairman of its Board of Management from 1917/18 to 1922/23. He was also founder and past president of the Allied Brewery Traders’ Association.
Established in Ruthin
His association with Ruthin came about during his courtship of Margaret Speakman Pendlebury who lived at Cefn Coch, and had come to live there when she was two years of age. After their marriage they lived in Cheshire and at Ty Coed in Pwllglas (now called Maes Tegfryn) before moving to Dedwyddfa at the bottom of Jumbo Hill (Bryn Goodman) and across the road from ‘Coetmor’ , the house designed by the well known Cheshire architect John Douglas– and who was also the architect of the Peers Memorial clock on the town square.
While in Ruthin, and being ‘rich’ he virtually bought up the whole area, including land, farms, residential and business premises. A great deal of it came from the Ruthin Castle sales of 1913 and 1919. He was a very generous man, for example, he gave 3 acres of land for allotments, a plot for 10 houses in Llanfair Road (houses to be built under the Act for the ”Housing of Working Classes”), and playing fields. Castle Farm, which he renamed as the Dedwyddfa Dairy Farm, became his Home Farm.
On the land he owned nearer Llanfair he built a new farmhouse – Cantaba. This property always intrigued the writer, who in his boyhood days used to cycle past on his way to the Ruthin County School as it was then known. All the other farms that he knew about were ancient and stone built, and here was a modern brick built one. We now know that it derived its name from the ‘cantaba’ alloy of which he was extremely proud.
The Minutes of Ruthin Borough Council on 1st October 1917 showed that a vacancy had occurred due to the death of a Councillor Price Morris and at that meeting it was formally proposed that William Godfrey Lecomber Esq. of Dedwyddfa, Ruthin be elected a Councillor to fill the vacancy. All this had of course already been decided at a Committee meeting of the Council – full meetings on the whole simply ratified Committee decisions.
At the next full Council meeting held just one month later he was sworn in as a Councillor and it was immediately unanimously resolved that he be elected Mayor for the ensuing year. In the glowing speeches that followed one of the things that he said was that he hoped that he had not been elected for his money and if he thought that this had been so he would not have taken up the position!! (He and we I think know better!!)
He was a wartime Mayor – three of his sons were serving soldiers, Lieut. Philip Hebdon Lecomber , one of twins, was killed in action in his 22nd year on March 27th 1918; while his eldest son, Capt. Eric Lecomber, although surviving the war, died in July 1928 , aged 33 from injuries he had sustained during the conflict. The twin son was George. He also had two daughters, Frieda and Edna.
When Peace was announced an ox roast celebration was held on Ruthin town Square, arranged for August 1919, with sit down meals for all the old people, sports for the children on Cae Gwynach and an evening film show at the Town Hall; bonfires, fireworks, etc.; all paid for by Lecomber. Not for nothing was he known as the ‘Peace Mayor’ – holding office for six strenuous years 1917-23., creating a precedent as far as Ruthin was concerned.
In October 1919 ‘it gave him much pleasure to add to the Mayoral Chain a medallion as a memento of the Declaration of Peace on the conclusion of the European War which had occurred during his term of office’. In 1920 he was elected as an Alderman – just three years after joining the Council and becoming Mayor.
At a special meeting in July 1921 he was made a Freeman of the Borough at the same time as Ezra Roberts, who had been in public office for a period of FIFTY years. He commissioned Julius Hare, one of the oldest members of the Royal Academy, to do a portrait of him (and also of his wife). The portrait shows the medallion which he had previously added, together with the Freedom scroll.
One of his last appearances in an official capacity as Mayor was the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1923. The photograph shows him inspecting the ranks of ex-servicemen. He is standing in front of Private Thomas Jones who is refusing to take his hand as a protest against the way the ex-servicemen had been treated after the war
A distinguished end.
Although a strong looking man he had not enjoyed full health; he attended his last meeting of the Borough Council on 10th November 1924. He subsequently fell ill and died 8th January 1925.
As can be imagined, Lecomber had a very big funeral with dignitaries from all over the country present.
Schoolchildren lined both sides of Wernfechan, flags on the Town Hall and Conservative Club flew at half mast, while en route in Rhos Street and Well Street blinds were drawn and all traffic suspended. The Borough Band was present and the hearse was drawn by a pair of his horses. The funeral cortege completed its journey in the graveyard of St. Peter’s, Llanbedr D.C.
ADDITIONAL COMMENT FROM GWYNNE MORRIS
Articles published in the Denbighshire Free Press during his Mayoralty show that Lecomber was a very open and generous man. As a member of the Church he celebrated what was known as Mayor’s Sunday with an attendance, with Councillors at St Peter’s Church followed later in the day with a service at Tabernacle Welsh Methodist chapel. He was happy to attend and serve as Chairman at an Eisteddfod in Pentrecelyn.
However one surprising event three years before his inauguration as Mayor is chronicled in the ‘Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser of 24th April 1914’ where there was a report under the heading ‘Catholic Bazaar at Leigh’ that ‘recently Mr & Mrs Shaw and Mr & Mrs Lecomber had been in Rome, and had an interview with His Holiness the Pope. The question which we ask is – how on earth did this come about? All four were non-Catholics. In the account Mr Shaw is also quoted as had given hundreds of pounds to the Catholic cause, and provided employment for a large number of people in Leigh.
As mentioned earlier Mrs Lecomber (Margaret Speakman Pendlebury) was brought up from the age of two, along with her step-sister Mrs Shaw (Betsy Jane Pendlebury) at Cefn Coch, Llanrhydd. Betsy married George at Llanfair D C Parish Church in July 1883. After their marriage newspaper accounts show that George Shaw was involved with various events in the Ruthin area.
... And a later note regarding the Papal connection:
The connection was probably through his sister Minnie, who had married a John William Unsworth. JWU was a CATHOLIC and they had two sons, Edgar Ignatius Godfrey Unsworth (who became Sir Edgar Unsworth and who served as Attorney General of Northern Rhodesia and then became Chief Justice of Gibraltar) and his brother, William Unsworth (a solicitor in Leigh) who had for a time become a Monk. Both boys were educated at the Catholic Public School, Stonyhurst College.
This could be a possibility.
See also 'Freemen of Ruthin' in Broadsheet No. 72. Ed.