Wrexham - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
WREXHAM, a market-town, a parliamentary borough, the head of a union, and a parish chiefly in the hundred of Bromfield, county of Denbigh, in North Wales, 26 miles (S. E. by E.) from Denbigh, 18 (E. S. E.) from Ruthin, and 187½ (N. W.) from London; comprising the townships and chapelries of Bersham and Minera, the township and ecclesiastical district of Brymbo, and the townships of Abenbury-Vawr, Abenbury-Vechan (the latter township in the hundred of Maelor, county of Flint), Acton, Bieston, Borras-Hovah, Broughton, Esclusham Above, Esclusham Below, Gourton, Stansty, Wrexham-Abbot, and Wrexham-Regis; and containing 12,921 inhabitants, of whom 5818 are in the townships of Wrexham Abbot and Regis, forming the town. This place, which is of remote antiquity, is noticed in the Saxon Chronicle under the names of Wrightesham and Wrightelesham, from which its present appellation is most probably derived. From its situation on the eastern side of Clawdd Offa, or Offa's Dyke, it was enumerated among the towns of the Saxon kingdom of Mercia; but at a subsequent period it was included in the district called Welsh Maelor. Edward I. granted the town, together with the lordship of Bromfield and Yale, within which it was comprised, to John, Earl Warren; but scarcely any thing of historical importance appears to have distinguished it. In the reign of Henry VIII. it was noticed by Leland as a trading town, having some merchants and good buckler-makers. During the civil war in the time of Charles I., the church was converted into a temporary prison; and it is recorded that in March, 1646, some of the parliamentarian soldiers here mutinied for their pay, seized Colonel Jones, the treasurer, and others of the commissioners, and compelled Colonel Mytton, who had just entered the town, to make a hasty retreat to Holt Castle. The following notices in reference to this period are taken from a manuscript account of the civil war in North Wales, preserved in the Wynnstay library, and printed in the first number of the Archæologia Cambrensis: "The king came to Salop the 20th day of September, 1642; from thence hee went to Chester, and in his return he came to Wrexam, and vywed the trayn bands of Bromffield and Chirke [two hundreds in the county of Denbigh], 27th September. The king came again from Salop to Wrexam ye 3d of October, and vywed the traine bands of the hole county, who weare to marche the morrowe after to Shrewsbury for a gard to the Prince." "The 9th day of November, 1643, Holt-brige was taken by Sir Tho. Midleton and Sir Wm. Brerton, who presently entred Wrexam; and shortly after, Hawarden Castle was delivered to them."
The town is pleasantly and advantageously situated at the junction of the Shrewsbury, Welshpool, Oswestry, and Chester roads; on the line of the Shrewsbury and Chester railway; at the distance of little more than eleven miles from the latter place, and in the centre of the mining and manufacturing districts of the eastern part of Denbighshire. It consists of several spacious streets intersecting each other at right angles, the houses in which are in general neatly and substantially built; the town is paved, and lighted with gas, and the inhabitants are plentifully supplied with water. A small theatre is occasionally opened for dramatic performances; and races are annually held early in October, on a course a little north-west of the town, on the right of the road to Mold.
No particular branch of trade or manufacture is carried on in the town; but the parish, which is about twelve miles in length, and two and a half in breadth, abounds with mineral wealth, and extensive works of various kinds are conducted in different parts of it. There are some large paper-mills, situated on the banks of the river Clywedog. In the township of Minera are lead-mines and collieries: the working of the former, however, is suspended, owing to the great influx of water, notwithstanding the united power of several steam-engines, that were employed to draw it from the mines. The coalworks in this township, and also those in Broughton, Brymbo, Esclusham Above, and Minera, are upon a large scale, the city of Chester being principally supplied with coal from these places, and large quantities being exported from the railway-port of Saltney, on the river Dee. In the township of Brymbo are also important iron-works, established by the late John Wilkinson, Esq. The coal-mines generally vary from a hundred to a hundred and twenty yards in depth, and in some parts they are sunk to the depth of two hundred yards; the strata of coal vary from eighteen inches to fifteen feet in thickness. The ironstone of the district is found in detached nodules, in beds intermediate with and below the coal strata, and is of the usual kind of argillaceous ore, containing from thirty to thirty-five per cent. of metal; it is often smelted with a small portion of the richer hæmatitic ore from Ulverston, which is brought hither for that purpose, and is thought to improve its quality, being much prized for its peculiar tenacity. The iron-works in the parish had latterly been long in a neglected state, and appeared to be superseded by those in Ruabon and Gresford adjoining; but, as the ores both of lead and iron are rich and abundant, and the railway affords great facility of carriage, the works are again brought into active operation. A foundry for cannon was established at Bersham by the late John and William Wilkinson, Esqrs., from which not only our own Government, but some of the continental states, particularly Russia, were formerly supplied; these works are now in ruins, the only tenable part having been converted into a corn-mill. When the Ellesmere canal was projected, it was in contemplation to construct a branch from Pont-yCysylltau to Chester, through Broughton, Brymbo, &c.; but the plan was abandoned, owing to the want of water sufficient for a high level, and other circumstances; and before the construction of the railway, the only mode of conveyance was by land carriage to Chester. The railway has a branch to Minera, &c.
Markets are held on Thursday and Saturday, the former being the principal; and fairs take place on the Thursday after the second Wednesday in January, on March 23rd, Holy Thursday, June 16th, the Thursday after the second Wednesday in August, on September 19th, the third Thursday in October, and the Thursday after the second Wednesday in December. The March fair, which was the greatest in North Wales, commences on the 23rd, and lasts fourteen days. For the accommodation of the various dealers attending it, five extensive areas used to be fitted up with shops and booths: one of these commercial halls confers twenty-eight votes for the county upon its proprietors, who are principally inhabitants of Huddersfield. The fair used to be attended not only by those of the neighbouring district, but by tradesmen from distant parts of the kingdom. The chief commodities brought to it by the Welsh were, flannels of various qualities, linsey-woolseys, coarse linens, horses, cattle, and sheep; the dealers from remote places exposed for sale Irish linens, Yorkshire and other woollen cloths, and every variety of Birmingham, Sheffield, and Manchester manufactures. Of late years, however, the greater facilities for communication with the interior of Wales by improved roads, have caused this fair gradually to fall off, and comparatively few tradesmen now attend it. A commodious covered market has been recently erected on the north side of the High-street, in front of which is a large room intended for a cornexchange; the façade, in the Elizabethan style, is very imposing, and gives importance to the street and town.
By the act of 1832, to "Amend the Representation," Wrexham was made contributory with Denbigh, Holt, and Ruthin, in the return of a parliamentary member; the borough to consist of the two townships of Wrexham Abbot and Regis, with a very small detached portion of that of Esclusham Below, situated within the town. The elective franchise is vested in every person of full age occupying, either as owner, or as tenant under the same landlord, premises of the annual value of ten pounds or upwards, provided he be capable of registering as the act directs; the number of such tenements is 376. Wrexham is also one of the polling-places in the election of knights for the shire; and is under the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold pettysessions in it every week. The county debt-court of Wrexham, established in 1847, has jurisdiction over part of the registration-district of Wrexham, and a small part of that of Ellesmere. This court and the petty-sessions are held in the town-hall, a large brick building at the top of the High-street; where formerly the courts of great sessions were held. There is a county bridewell or house of detention for prisoners before their commitment to the county gaol at Ruthin.
The living is a vicarage, rated in the king's books at £19. 9. 9½.; net income, £626; patron, the Bishop of St. Asaph; impropriator, Sir W. W. Wynn, Bart. The church, dedicated to St. Giles, is a spacious and venerable structure, in the later style of English architecture, deservedly regarded as one of the finest ecclesiastical edifices in the principality. The steeple of the original structure was blown down in 1331; and in 1457 the entire church was burnt. In order to promote the rebuilding of it, an indulgence of forty days, to be continued for five years, was granted to every one who contributed to the work; and the present edifice was erected, about 1472, the glass used in the windows having been brought from Normandy: the tower, however, was not finished till about the year 1506, as appears by a date on the building. Of late years, no fewer than 1550 sittings have been added, of which 900 are free, the Incorporated Society for erecting and enlarging churches and chapels having given the sum of £200 towards that purpose.
The exterior of the church is embellished with grotesque sculpture; and the tower, which is very lofty and highly enriched, consists of several successive stages, panelled throughout, and decorated with numerous statues of saints (among which is that of the patron, St. Giles) in canopied niches, elaborately wrought. From the loftiness of its elevation and the light open-work turrets by which it is crowned at the angles, the tower forms a conspicuous and very interesting object, as seen from any part of the surrounding country. The body of the church consists of a nave, chancel, and north and south aisles; the nave separated from the aisles by pillars and pointed arches, and lighted by a fine range of clerestory windows; the roof of carved oak richly ornamented, and supported by springers resting on embellished corbels. The chancel is divided from the nave by a curiously wrought iron railing, and is octangular at the east end; the roof appears to be of more ancient date than the roofs of the nave and aisles, and on one side are three stone stalls elaborately sculptured. The fine brazen eagle formerly used as a readingdesk, purchased for the parish by John ab Grufydd ab Davydd, of Ystiva, in 1524, is still preserved, and is occupied by the clerk during the performance of the communion service. Extensive alterations and embellishments have been made in the chancel within the last eight years. The east window, which had been filled up with an incongruous Grecian screen, within which was a painting of the Last Supper, presented by Elihu Yale, of Plâs Gronow, has been re-opened, and, with the smaller windows on the sides, filled with beautifully stained glass by Evans, of Shrewsbury: the two side windows contain fine figures of St. Peter and St. Paul. The old screen is replaced by one of correct pointed design, executed by Jones, of Chester, in Bath stone. Elihu Yale also gave to the church a painting of David playing on the Harp.
Among the most ancient of the monuments is that of a knight in complete armour: at the feet is a dog, and beyond it a dragon, with the point of the tail terminating in a serpent's head; on the shield is a lion rampant, and around it an inscription of which only the words "Hic jacet" are legible. In the chancel is an altar-tomb, on which is a recumbent effigy of Dr. Bellot, successively Bishop of Bangor and of Chester, in his episcopal robes: he died at Bersham, in the parish, in 1596; his funeral was celebrated at Chester, but his body, according to particular request, was interred here. Nearly opposite to this tomb is an exquisite and highly interesting monument, by Roubilliac, to the memory of Mrs. Mary Myddelton, of Chirk Castle, in which she is represented rising from the tomb in all the freshness of youth and beauty; above is a shattered pyramid, with a cypress-tree, and near it an angel with a trumpet. At the corner of the aisle is a monument, also by Roubilliac, to the Rev. Thomas Myddelton and Arabella his wife; their profiles are finely executed on medallions, with a curtain, partly drawn aside, the drapery of which is exquisitely sculptured. There are also monuments of very good design and elaborate execution, to William Lloyd, Esq., and his son; to the Fitz-Hughs, the Pulestons, the Longuevilles, and others; with a superb monument near the organ, of Bath stone, and of pointed design, executed by Jones, of Chester, to the memory of Sir Foster and Lady Cunliffe, who lived together in this neighbourhood upwards of fifty years. In the churchyard is the tomb of Elihu Yale, governor of Madras, whose singular epitaph represents him as born in America, bred in Europe, to have travelled through Africa, and to have been married in Asia: of other tombs deserving of notice, one, bearing a curious inscription, records the interment of Daniel Jones, parish-clerk of Wrexham, who died in 1668. At Bersham-Drelincourt, Brymbo, and Minera, are separate incumbencies. There are places of worship for Wesleyans, Baptists, Independents, Calvinistic Methodists, and Presbyterians, and a Roman Catholic chapel, in the parish.
The Free grammar school was instituted in 1603, by Valentine Broughton, alderman of Chester, who endowed it with £10 per annum, afterwards increased by a rent-charge of £3 from Mrs. Gwen Eyton, and by £5 interest from a bequest of £100 by Ralph Weld. The income thus amounts to £18 per annum, of which £14 are paid to the master on condition of his teaching six boys gratuitously, on their being nominated by the trustees. He is allowed to take pay-scholars, and to receive boarders; the present school-buildings comprise an excellent residence, with a garden adjoining, for the master, and two schoolrooms capable of accommodating 190 scholars. A free school for boys and girls was founded and endowed by Lady Dorothy Jeffreys, who by will dated 1728 left £400 for the purpose, with which, and a sum of £120 previously bequeathed by her daughter Margaret for a similar object, and an accumulation of interest on both sums, an estate was purchased for £822 in the parish of Holt, containing 69½ acres, and now yielding a rent of £100. The boys' school was until lately held in an indifferent building that had been originally a barn, but recently this has been demolished, and the site thrown into the cattle-market; and a new schoolroom, much more spacious and convenient, has been erected in lieu of it. The girls' school is held in a large and commodious apartment, built in the year 1817: both schools are conducted on the National plan. In Brook-street are very excellent schoolrooms in the Elizabethan style, built in 1844, at an expense of £1200, on land the gift of A. W. Thornely, Esq.: the schools are for boys and girls, and are taught on the system of the British and Foreign School Society. There is another British School in Chester-street, for boys only, with an endowment of £35 a year from Dr. Daniel Williams's charity. Other schools are supported in the town and parish, and about thirty Sunday schools are held in this populous district: two new schools and master's houses were built in the year 1849, from the designs of Mr. Penson, architect, of Oswestry. On the Mold road, a handsome infirmary and a savings'-bank, both in the Grecian style, have been erected within the last ten years.
There are considerable funds, arising from bequests and donations, for distribution among the poor of the parish; to whom have been left lands containing 12½ acres, now producing £14 per annum, (partly, however, for the benefit of the poor of Holt,) by Gerrard Barber, in 1660; a similar bequest by Elizabeth Jones, in 1663, yielding £3 per annum; a most liberal bequest in the same year by John Hughes of Rhos Ddû, of the lands of Eythen Ddû in the township of Bieston, comprising about 63½ acres, worth £124 a year; and a grant made by Jane Eyton, of above 14½ acres of land in the parish of Holt, paying a rent of £24, but £2 of which she directed to be paid to the poor of Ruabon. In addition were various consolidated gifts, with which two purchases of land were made, that now yield a rental of £46 per annum. The total amount of all these charities is £204, the distribution of which for the use of the poor and the purposes of the parish is regulated by the vestry, generally at Christmas. Connected with the Presbyterian communion is a grant by Elizabeth Roberts, sister and heiress of the above Dr. Williams, who in 1752 advanced £175, with which six cottages and their appurtenances were bought in the town, now producing a rental of £37. 14., divided among widows and others of the Presbyterian denomination. The same lady created an annual rent-charge of £60, which is allotted to ministers of different congregations, except £2 given to the clerk of Chester-street chapel, Wrexham, and a like sum to its poor. In 1812 a munificent bequest was made by Mr. Joshua Hughes, a native of this place and a merchant of Jamaica, who gave £2000, the interest to be annually divided among six of the poorest housekeepers: the principal is vested in the three per cent. consolidated Bank annuities, the yearly dividends amounting to £82. 8. 9.; and three persons are selected from the town, and three from the rural district, to enjoy the gift. In 1815, Ann Roberts left £100, the interest to be distributed on Christmas-day among twenty widows of Wrexham parish. The parish is also entitled to receive £2 annually for the benefit of a child, from the Rev. George Smith's charity at Northop.
The poor-law union of which this town is the head, was formed March 30th, 1837, and comprises the following fifty-six parishes and townships; namely, the townships of Bangor (parish of Bangor-Iscoed) and Abenbury-Vechan (parish of Wrexham), the chapelry of Tryddin (parish of Mold), the extra-parochial district of Threapwood, and the parishes of Erbistock, Hope, and Worthenbury, in the county of Flint: the townships of Eyton, Pickhill, Ryton, and Sesswick, in the parish of Bangor-Iscoed; of Allington, Borras-Riffrey, Burton, Erddig, Erlas, Gresford, Gwersylt, Llay, and Merford with Hoseley, in the parish of Gresford; of Cacca-Dutton, DuttonDifieth, Dutton-y-Brân, Holt, Ridley, and Sutton, in the parish of Holt; the chapelries of BershamDrelincourt and Minera, and the townships of Abenbury-Vawr, Acton, Bieston, Borras-Hovah, Broughton, Brymbo, Esclusham Above and Below, Gourton, Stansty, Wrexham-Abbot, and Wrexham-Regis, in the parish of Wrexham; and the parishes of Marchwiel and Ruabon; all in the shire of Denbigh: and the townships of Agden, Bradley, Chidlow, Chorlton, Cuddington, Malpas, Newton-juxta-Malpas, Oldcastle, Overton, Stockton, Wichaugh, and Wigland, in the parish of Malpas; and of ShocklachChurch and Shocklach-Oviatt, in the parish of Shocklach; all in the county of Chester. The union is under the superintendence of sixty-one guardians, and contains a population of 39,542, of whom 36,751 are in the Welsh portion.
Offa's Dyke is to be traced in various parts of the parish: it is plainly visible in Esclusham, which, in reference to it, is divided into Esclusham above and Esclusham below Dyke; it also intersects the township of Broughton, and, in every part of the parish in which it appears, is in a very perfect state, but particularly in the grounds of Pentre Bychan and Plâs Power. Wat's Dyke passes along the western boundary of the town of Wrexham, and, taking a northern course, is continued through the township of Stansty to the river Alyn, near which it enters Llay, in the parish of Gresford. The remains of two Roman baths were discovered in the town, in the year 1806.
In the vicinity are numerous gentlemen's seats, for which, even in the time of Churchyard the poet (celebrated as the author of the "Worthiness of Wales," &c., and who died early in the seventeenth century), it was peculiarly distinguished. Among the seats in the more immediate neighbourhood are, Pentre Bychan, Plâs Power, Cevn, Acton Park, Erddig, and Brymbo Hall. Acton Park, once the seat of the family of Jeffreys, and the birthplace of the notorious judge of that name, is a spacious mansion delightfully situated in extensive grounds, richly diversified with picturesque and romantic scenery, and commanding views over the town and the adjacent country, which abounds with features of interest. The hanging woods in the domain of Erddig are deservedly the theme of general admiration: the mansion, which is approached from the Ruabon road, has been considerably enlarged and modernised; in the saloon and other apartments are many fine paintings, and the library contains a large number of Welsh manuscripts, including the valuable Seabright collection. Brymbo Hall, said to have been from a design by Inigo Jones, is a fine specimen of domestic architecture, and embraces the most extensive prospect in the neighbourhood. There are several other seats in the adjoining parishes, in the accounts of which they are respectively noticed. In the vicinity of the town are also the remains of many old mansions, now occupied only as farmhouses; among which are, Cadwgan; Havod-y-Wern, formerly the residence of the Pulestons; and Esclusham Hall, also a seat of that family.
Mr. Edward Randles, organist at Wrexham, towards the close of the last and early in the present century, although blind, was one of the most skilful performers on the harp in the kingdom; and his daughter, Elizabeth, was an unexampled prodigy of juvenile proficiency in music; having had the honour, when only three years and a half old, of performing on the piano-forte before the royal family.