Ruabon (Rhiw-Abon) - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
RUABON (RHIW-ABON), a parish, in the union of Wrexham, hundred of Bromfield, county of Denbigh, North Wales, 5 miles (S. W. by S.) from Wrexham; containing, in 1841, 11,292 inhabitants, of whom 657 were in the township: the population has greatly increased during the last twenty years. This place, which derives its name from its situation on the small river Avon, is distinguished in the Welsh annals on account of a fierce and obstinately contested battle fought in the vicinity, between the forces under Owain Cyveiliog, Prince of Powys, and the English, in which the former obtained a decisive victory. In commemoration of this event, the Welsh prince, who was eminent both as a warrior and a poet, composed a beautiful poem called Hirlas Owain, or "the drinking-horn of Owain," of which an elegant translation by the Rev. Richard Williams is preserved in Pennant's "Tour in North Wales." The parish is situated in a picturesque part of the county, within three miles of the great Holyhead road, and is bounded on the south by the river Dee. The village, which is of considerable size, and of prepossessing appearance, stands on the road from Oswestry to Wrexham and Chester, and seems to have been indebted for its original prosperity to the noble mansion of Wynnstay, in the immediate vicinity, and to owe its present importance chiefly to the mines of ironstone and coal which abound, particularly in the southern and western parts of the parish.
The extensive park of Wynnstay is entered from the village by a plain but handsome gateway of modern erection, opening into a straight avenue nearly a mile in length, composed of lofty trees of ancient growth, in which venerable oak-trees, stately elms, beeches, and chestnuts are intermingled. At the extremity of the avenue is the mansion, the hospitable residence of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, Bart., beautifully situated on a fine large lawn, having a noble artificial sheet of water in front, reflecting from its surface the foliage of some majestic trees near its margin. This spacious mansion, which has been erected at different periods, and in various styles of architecture, though wanting unity in its design, is, notwithstanding, a stately pile, possessing, from its extent and substantial elevation, a striking character of simple and unostentatious grandeur. The older portion contains the domestic offices and general apartments for the accommodation of the household. On the wall of a tower within the court of this part of the house is the following Latin inscription, allusive to the name of Wynnstay: "Cui domus est victusque decens, et patria dulcis, sunt satis hæc vitæ, cætera cura labor. Struxit Johannes Wynn, miles et baronettus, A.D. 1706." The more modern part of the building was erected by the first Sir Watkin, and enlarged and modernised by the late (or fifth) baronet. It forms a handsome substantial structure, and comprises several noble apartments, embellished with excellent family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds and some of the best masters, two full-length paintings of Charles II. and his queen, and numerous other paintings of merit; in the drawing-room are several fine marble busts of distinguished characters by Nollekens and others. Adjoining the house is a small edifice, originally built as a theatre, in which, during the festival of Christmas, dramatic performances were exhibited for the amusement of the gentry of the surrounding country, guests of the hospitable proprietor.
The PARK, which is twelve miles in circumference, is enriched with fine timber, and comprehends much variety and beauty of scenery. There are handsome lodges or entrances into it from various parts of the adjacent district; and a new drive, leading to the house from the lodge built of late years on the London road, has added greatly not only to the convenience of access, but to the embellishment of the gounds on the south side. At a short distance from the Hall is a cold bath, near which stands a handsome fluted column, erected after a design by the late Mr. James Wyatt, to the memory of Sir W. W. Wynn, fourth baronet, by his mother. The shaft of the column, which is one hundred feet in height, rests upon a square pedestal, sixteen feet high, ornamented on the faces with festooned wreaths of oakleaves, and at the angles with eagles finely moulded in bronze. The capital is surmounted by an entablature supporting a circular platform, surrounded with an iron balustrade; there is an ascent from within the column by a flight of spiral steps, and the platform has in the centre a circular pedestal, twelve feet high, on which is placed a massive vase of bronze, enriched with goats' heads. Over the door leading to the ascent is a tablet bearing the inscription, "To the memory of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, Bart., who died the 29th day of July, MDCCLXXXIX., this column was erected by his affectionate mother, Frances Williams Wynn;" and on the north-east side, in letters of copper, "Filio optimo, Mater Eheu Superstes." Not far from this column is a fine sheet of water, bounded by Wat's Dyke, which here intersects the park, and from which the mansion originally derived the name of Wattstay, changed by Sir John Wynn to its present appellation. The Dyke, which entered the park near its northern boundary, has been levelled in its course through the grounds, but is traceable again on the south side, near Penylan, and crosses the river Dee at its junction with the Ceiriog. By the late improvements, part of Offa's Dyke is now within the limits of the park, which it enters at the second lodge from Ruabon, and leaves near the Waterloo Tower. Near the south-western extremity of the woods is a cenotaph, erected by the late Sir W. W. Wynn, from a design by Sir Jeffrey Wyatville, to the memory of his brother officers and soldiers who were slain during the rebellion in Ireland, in 1798. It stands on an eminence overlooking a deep ravine called Nant-y-Bele, "the dingle of the marten," through which the river Dee urges its rapid course along a narrow channel, richly fringed with impending woods. From this building is a magnificent prospect, embracing a large extent of the counties of Carnarvon, Denbigh, Flint, Chester, and Salop; Chirk Castle and its noble park; and the whole of the beautiful Vale of Llangollen, including the stupendous aqueduct of Pont-y-Cysylltau, and the majestic and elevated ruins of Castell Dinas Brân, with the fine range of mountains in the distance.
The PARISH comprises an important part of the Denbighshire coal tract, of which the principal seam of coal is here nine feet thick; and its mineral wealth in coal and iron-ore, particularly in the southern and western parts of it, has caused the establishment of numerous works. At Acrevair, within its limits, the New British Iron Company have three blast furnaces, making about 300 tons of iron weekly, and forges and mills capable of converting that quantity into malleable iron; connected with these are extensive ironstone-works and collieries, and the whole give employment to from 1400 to 1500 men and boys. There are three other blast furnaces in the parish, none of which are now in blast; and at Ponty-Cysylltau are a forge and mill, also out of work. A zinc-work has been established at the Pant; and throughout the parish are numerous country-sale collieries, giving employment to a large population. At Rhôs-y-Medre and Cevn-Mawr, two populous and straggling villages, principally inhabited by the neighbouring miners and by the firemen in the employ of the New British Iron Company, are two manufactories of coarse earthenware, and some excellent quarries of freestone, from which blocks of very large size can be obtained. The Chester and Shrewsbury railway, recently completed, is assisting to develop the resources of the district in the most effectual manner; it has a station at Ruabon, and connects this parish and the parish of Chirk, at Newbridge, by a magnificent viaduct over the Dee, of nineteen arches. Within view of the viaduct, about half a mile higher up the river, the celebrated Ponty-Cysylltau aqueduct carries the Ellesmere and Chester canal across the valley: this canal terminates in the parish, and communicates with the various collieries by means of a tramway three miles and a quarter long. The railway viaduct is described under the head of Llangollen, where also the aqueduct is fully noticed. A branch canal from Pont-yCysylltau, passing along the north bank of the Dee, by the limestone rocks of Trevor and by Llangollen, terminates at Llantysillio, where it receives from the river a supply of water for the whole line of canal. Fairs are held on the last Friday in February, on May 22nd, and November 20th; and a post-office has been established in the village. The powers of the county debt-court of Ruabon, established in 1847, extend over the parishes of Ruabon, Chirk, Erbistock, and Llangollen.
The living is a vicarage, rated in the king's books at £13. 6. 0½., and endowed with a portion of the great tithes, consisting of one-fourth part of the tithe of corn throughout the whole parish, and the whole of the tithe of hay in several of the hamlets within its limits; present net income, £588, with a glebehouse; patron, the Bishop of St. Asaph; impropriators of the rest of the rectorial tithes, Sir W. W. Wynn, and others. The tithes of Ruabon have been commuted for £799 payable to the impropriators, and £440 to the vicar. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a spacious and venerable structure, containing some splendid monuments to the family of Wynn, of which the most ancient is one to the memory of Johannes ab Ellis Eyton, who joined the party of the Earl of Richmond, afterwards Henry VII., and in reward for his eminent services, received from that monarch an extensive grant of lands in this part of the principality. In the same sepulchral chapel, on the south side of the chancel, are the monuments of Henry, tenth son of Sir John Wynn, of Gwydir, ancestor of the present family; he is represented in a standing posture, and on one side is a kneeling figure of his father, and on the other of his wife Jane, daughter of Eyton Evans, by whom the Wynnstay estate was obtained. On the opposite side of the altar is a beautiful monument, by Rysbrach, to the first Sir Watkin, who was killed by a fall from his horse, in 1749; his effigy, in a graceful attitude, is finely sculptured, and his various virtues are recorded in an elegant Latin eulogium, written by Dr. King, of St. Mary's Hall, Oxford. There is also a fine monument, by Nollekens, to Lady Henrietta, first wife of the second Sir Watkin, who died only a few weeks after her marriage, in 1769; on the pedestal is an exquisitely sculptured figure of Hope, reclining on an urn, and on one side is an inscription inclosed within a serpent having the tail in its mouth, emblematical of eternity. The church was thoroughly repaired, in 1772, at the expense of the fourth baronet, who presented an organ, and endowed the office of organist, in 1781, with £40 per annum, and also, on the baptism of his eldest son the late Sir Watkin, gave an elegant font of white marble supported by a tripod of beautiful design. In that portion of the Cevn district called Rhôs-y-Medre, two miles south-west of the village of Ruabon, a church, capable of accommodating 800 persons, was erected and consecrated in 1838; the expense was borne by subscription, aided by grants from the Incorporated Church-Building and the St. Asaph Diocesan Societies, and the family of Wynn have endowed it with £50 per annum. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the Wynn family. At Rhôs-Llanerchrugog, four miles northwest of the village of Ruabon, is another incumbency, formed under the act 6th and 7th Victoria, cap. 37, and in the gift of the Crown and the Bishop of St. Asaph, alternately. There are places of worship for General and Particular Baptists, Calvinistic Methodists, Independents, and Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists.
The Rev. John Robinson, incumbent, in 1703, bequeathed the whole of his estate in the hamlet of Moreton, yielding £86 per annum, in trust, to his successors in the benefice, to receive out of the rent £12 for preaching a sermon every Sunday afternoon in the church, and to appropriate the remainder to the support of a free grammar school, to be open to all children of the parish, and under the care of a master appointed by the vicar. He also gave lands at Wrexham, producing £100 per annum, to the vicar, in trust, to pay sixpence per week to nine people of this place, and one of Erbistock, with a gown or coat to each every Christmas, and also to clothe six children from six to twelve years of age; and by a codicil to his will he gave a house and garden, and £50 in money, towards the erection of almshouses for the ten poor people, which he directed to be built near the church. The endowment of the school was augmented in 1711 by Ellis Lloyd, who bequeathed £200 for the maintenance of the master, and for apprenticing poor boys. The schoolroom was erected by the parish in 1632, and, with a residence for the master, adjoins the churchyard; the endowment amounts to about £100 per annum. Another school, a lofty stone building, was erected by subscription about 1825 near the market-place, on ground given by Sir W. W. Wynn; and had an endowment of £25. 18., arising from a moiety of an estate given by Griffith Hughes, amounting to £20. 18. a year, and from the interest of a bequest of £100 by Hugh Parry. This school, which was for boys, and a girls' school founded by Lady Harriet W. Wynn, are now merged in a new and handsome National school for boys and girls, erected at the entrance of the village, with aid from the Committee of Council on Education, and from the National Society. A National school has been some time established in connexion with Rhôs-y-Medre church; there is a British school at the same densely-peopled place, and National and British schools are also held at Rhôs-Llanerchrugog, another populous district. At Bryn is a school with a small endowment, and the parish contains fourteen Sunday schools.
The Rev. Richard Davies, vicar, in 1740, bequeathed an estate in the Vale of Clwyd, producing £42 per annum, for the erection and endowment of four almshouses for so many men and women. With Robinson's ten, and four others added since, the almshouses are now eighteen in number, and the inmates receive a weekly allowance of two shillings and sixpence each, with clothing and coal; the income, including the proceeds of a bequest of £200 by the Rev. Robert Saunders, amounts to £155 per annum. There are likewise four houses at Nant-yGwalia, in the parish, erected in 1782, by Mrs. Rowland, of Plâs Bennion, who vested the nomination of the almspeople in her heirs. Numerous other charitable donations and bequests have been at various times and by different benefactors made to the poor, amounting to more than £2000; a part has been vested in the purchase of estates, and the whole produces a very considerable income, which is regularly distributed in money, clothing, and food. The principal of them is a grant of twenty grey coats and sixty-three white flannel gowns by Sir John Wynn, and Jane Hughes of St. Giles in the Fields; these cost about £34, and are given away every year by the agent of Sir Watkin. About £66 per annum arise from what are called the Consolidated Charities; and in addition to this, bread to the amount of £12. 8. 8. a year, is weekly divided among the poor, chiefly from a bequest by William Eyton, in 1636; also blankets to the number of eighteen pairs annually, the produce of a bequest of £100 by Thomas Griffiths, in 1826. There is also a fund derived from bequests of £200 each by Ellis Lloyd (already alluded to) and the Rev. Richard Davies, with which certain property was purchased in the parish of Llangadwaladr, now producing £30 per annum; half of this sum is paid to the master of the grammar school, and with the other moiety two boys are put out apprentices annually with fees of £7. 10. each. Edward Lloyd, Esq., in 1382 left £100, the interest to be distributed among twenty widows on the 29th of November, being his birthday. Hugh Parry had left £56 for a similar purpose previously. There are some small bequests for a distribution of coal; and a few minor charities have been lost, having been lent on insufficient security.
Offa's Dyke and Wat's Dyke both intersect the parish, and in their courses approach within a quarter of a mile of each other, near the village, but diverge as they are traced either northward or southward, so as shortly to leave an interval of several miles. Various vegetable impressions, and a great variety of petrifactions are found in the mines, and also near the river Dee in the southern portion of the parish. The Rev. Peter Roberts, A.M., M.P.S., the learned editor of the Collectanea Cambrica, and author of the "Early History of the Cymry, or Ancient Britons," and other works, resided in the parish.