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December 2015.  Member's talk at the Christmas meeting, before the a.g.m.

The Bull - an Elizabethan Tavern  


 D.Gareth Evans


The earliest building in Ruthin of which we have internal details is an Elizabethan tavern dating to 1580, a few years before the Spanish Armada. It belonged to Vulfrano or Ulffraim and sometimes Humphrey ap Robert ap Howell. His father, Robert ap Hoell ap Thomas began assembling property before 1484 on the south side of Mwrog Street but the small urban estate that developed and disappeared during Tudor times seems in the main to have been assembled by his son, Humphrey who was one of the first aldermen of Ruthin elected in 1558. His estate of 20 messuages, 20 gardens and 320 acres in Ruthin, Llanrhudd and Llanfair had diminished by his death so that his Ruthin houses consisted of three on Mwrog Street, one on Castle Street and two on Well Street. 

In 1580, after his death, an inventory of his home was compiled, the oldest surviving house inventory from Ruthin, but there is no clue to its location in the inventory. Locating it can only be conjecture at best. Tudor rentals help and the balance of probability – based on wishing to live amongst his social peers, choosing the most impressively located of his properties with the highest rent and living close to where wealth was generated - suggests that one of the central Ruthin burgages was Humphrey ap Robert’s home, and that the house where Humphrey ap Robert probably lived was at the top of the north side of Welsh Street at its junction with Market Place. This was charged the highest rent. The rentals suggest his house was next door but one on the south side of today’s Castle Hotel. It later became known as the Bull.


The 1580 inventory describes a house of two floors. The lower floor consisted of a hall, which was probably open to the roof, an upper and lower parlour and an outward parlour, a buttery, a kitchen, an old kitchen and a ‘bowtrye wthin the court’; and on the upper floor were a loft over the stairs, a middle loft, a cross loft and a loft over the kitchen. The upper rooms contained little furniture and were probably confined in the roof space. The ground floor parlours were all bed chambers and reasonably furnished. The lofts were also bed chambers with two beds in each. There were sixteen beds suggesting this was an inn. So, wherever its location, it was an Elizabethan tavern in Ruthin. Only the upper parlour, which had the most furniture, had a close stool so that most guests needing to use a close stool had to go outside. 

Probable Configuration of the Tavern

The hall had a fireplace with an iron grate and an iron chain and the kitchen had cooking implements – grills, spits, fire tongues and ‘gobbettes’ and utensils for boiling, grilling and frying so presumably had a fireplace and may have shared a chimney with the hall. The hall had the only glazed window and a touch of comfort with its tables, benches, chairs, carpets and cushions. These were the only heated rooms in the building. There were 15 platters and 15 trenshers and four candlesticks so large numbers could be fed and there was a modest provision for lighting. The inn had an external court in which pigs were kept with a few outbuildings, a buttery and an old kitchen. The presence of a former kitchen suggests the building had been expanded; the out-buildings contain evidence of brewing - barrels, ‘comes’ and turnells. 

The tavern probably had one chimney and was a single storey building with a loft space above. The few later pieces of evidence support this property description. Ninety years after the inventory the location of the Bull had one hearth and 50 years later the first drawing of the property shows a single-storey property.

This was an Elizabethan tavern serving the Market Place and it stood at one of the best locations in late Tudor Ruthin with the markets and fairs outside its front door and the new Tudor courts alongside. It offered food and ale, but it lacked comfort, most of the building was unheated, there were no sanitary facilities for guests and it appears crowded. Tudor visitors to Ruthin needed to be hardy folk.

Details from J Ellis, 1715. The Bull is in the centre of the upper row of buildings. (Denbighshire Records Office) Further detail on right.

The Bull is first mentioned in 1672 when it was owned by Robert Williams, butcher of Ruthin. Richard Gooden, apothecary bought the Bull, which adjoined his property, and assembled the area at the top of present day Market Street together into one unit just before 1676. In 1676 Richard Wynne mercer lived there. This property unit survived intact through all later purchases until Market Street destroyed it in 1862.

The two properties fronting Market Place at the location of the Bull appear in the Ruthin parish rate assessments from the late seventeenth century to the 1740s; at the end of the Stuart period they were held by important local tradesmen. The Bull and its surrounds were drawn by Ellis in 1715 and show a single storey building with a loft. The Bull and the adjoining croft are shown on a plan in the 1720s by William Williams, surveyor to the Plas yn Rhall estate, Llanbedr which owned the property. He was a meticulous draughtsman and he drew two adjoining houses, one occupied by Mr Rice Jones, a mercer and alderman, and the other by Mr _ Edwards. They are on ‘Pen y dre Street opposite the cross’. Today’s Pendref chapel, dating from 1827, may take its name from this Georgian name for the top of Welsh Street. His drawing shows a terrace with an arched gateway leading through to a courtyard at the rear and beyond the courtyard is a large bulbous piece of land – the Bull Croft.

Details from William Williams’s 1720s plan of the Bull and its Croft shows the frontage with its two properties, Rice Jones’s house is on the left and Mr Edwards’s shop on the right. Cozn Lloyd’s house protrudes onto the street so the Bull properties were set back a little. Opposite on Market Place is ‘Markett house’ and ‘Ye Cross’. (NLW)

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