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Nicholson's Cambrian Traveller's Guide

3rd Edition 1840 - Ruabon

RUABON, or RHIW-FABON, a village in the hundred of Bromfield, Denbighshire, is pleasantly situated upon rising ground. The Church is a good building, presumed to have been founded by Mabon, a brother of Llywelyn. Here are several marble monuments, which deserve notice. One to the memory of the first Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, of whom a fall from his horse deprived the world of a valuable citizen, on the 26th of Sept. 1749, aged 41 years. Rysbrack has preserved his figure in a graceful attitude; clad in a loose robe, and his hands outspread as if in the act of addressing an assembly. On one side is the likeness of his son, and on the other that of his daughter, both kneeling, their hands placed upon their breasts; and the late Dr. King has expressed the qualities of his mind in a long Latin inscription, certainly not more lavish of praise than he merited both as a member of the senate and a true patriot.

          " A friend to truth! of soul sincere,
            In action faithful, and in honour clear!
            Who broke no promise, served no private end,
            Who gain'd no title, and who lost no friend! "

The monument to the memory of the late Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, Bart., and another to his wife, Lady Rennetta, by Nollekens, prove that the art of sculpture maintains considerable importance in this kingdom. The latter represents that amiable female in the character of Hope, standing and reclining her elbow upon an urn, with the accompaniment of an anchor. The features, the attitude, and the drapery, are exquisitely fine. The figure is placed upon a pedestal in the shape of a Roman altar upon which is the following inscription: -" Sacred to the memory of the Right Honourable Lady Rennetta Williams Wynn (third daughter of Charles Duke of Beaufort, and Elizabeth his wife. daughter of John Berkeley of Stoke, in Gloucestershire, Esq.) Born Mar. 26. 1748; married to Sir W. W. Wynn, Bart., April 13., and died July 24., 1769, aged 21 years." A mural monument for Henry Wynn, Esq. 10th son of Sir John Wynn of Gwydir, who died in 1671, represents a personage clad in a full bottomed coat, short skirts, with square-toed boots. Two accompanying figures. Sir John Wynn, of Wynnstay, Bart., and Jane his wife, both in a supplicating posture, are badly executed. Sir John Wynn, son of the before-mentioned Sir John Wynn, lies beneath, with his wife the heiress of Wattstay. He died at the age of 91, in the year 1718. In ,a chapel on the s. side of the communion table is an altar-tomb, upon which lie two recumbent figures; one represents a man clad in armour, a helmet supporting his head, with a collar marked S. S. ; the other a female resting upon a mantle. Round the edge of the sarcophagus, a Latin inscription indicates that these commemorate John ap Elis Eyton, Esq., who died in 1526, and Elizabeth Calfley, his wife, who died in 1524. The living of Ruabon is a vicarage, the Bishop of St. Asaph, patron. The late Sir Watkin presented the church with a handsome organ, and a marble font upon a tripod of great elegance. In 1801 the population of the parish was 4483; in 1831, 9385. The Market is on Monday, the Fairs are the last Friday in February, May 22., and Nov. 20. The petty Sessions for the division of Ruabon are held here.

Dr. David Powell, who translated into English the History of Wales, originally drawn up by Caradoc of Llancarfan, with a continuation by Humphrey Llwyd, was a native and held the vicarage of this place with Llanvyllin. He was instituted to Ruabon in the year 1571, and edited the works of Giraldus, subjoining annotations. He published also a treatise entitled " "De Britannica Historia recte intelligenda," and dying in 1590, left for posterity a large collection of Welsh manuscripts. He was appointed chaplain to Sir Henry Sydney, and interred here; a small mural monument marks the spot.

At this place is a comfortable INN, whence the park gate of Wynnstay is seen, the seat of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, Bart., whose patriotic and devoted attachment to national objects has never been surpassed. With permission, the traveller may examine its varied and magnificent improvements. The avenue is formed of oaks, elms, beeches, chestnuts, and planes, which extend 1m. One oak, called " the King," measures 30 ft. in circumference. A carriage road leads into a spacious lawn, upon which stands Wynnstay Hall. Raised at different periods and in various styles of architecture, this mansion cannot be placed in competition with many elegant and more stately structures. The interior of the new part contains several spacious apartments, in which are some good portraits of the Wynns, the Williams's,  the Seymours, &c. A head of Sir Richard Wynn, gentleman of the bedchamber to Charles II., by Vandyke, is much admired. A half-length figure of the last Sir John Wynn, by Godfrey Kneller, reminds us of Walpole's remark, that " where he offered one picture to fame, he sacrificed twenty to lucre.". An engraving of this is given in Yorke's " Royal Tribes." Adjoining the house is a neat small building fitted up as a theatre, by the late proprietor, and was opened for a week during the Christmas holidays in every year. The present owner has, however, happily divested the room of its Thespian ornaments, and appropriated it to an Agricultural Meeting, as an auxiliary to the society at Wrexham.

An annual show of cattle is held at Wynnstay , where premiums are adjudged for the best of every species of stock, for ploughing the greatest number of acres with two horses abreast, without a driver, &c. This agrestian fete is held in the month of September, when a numerous and respectable assemblage of practical agriculturists attend. From 500 to 700 visitors have the honour of dining with Sir Watkin, and others at the same time enjoy a most cordial welcome at his princely board. This magnificent domain was anciently the residence of Madog ap Gryffydd Maelor, lord of Bromfield, and founder of Vale Crucis Abbey.

The Park, from a portion of the ancient rampart, called Watt's Dike, running through this part of the estate, was denominated Wattstay; but when the heiress of the property, a daughter of Eyton Evans, married Sir John Wynn, the new proprietor enclosed the grounds with a lofty stone wall in 1678, forming them into a park 8m. in circumference ; the name was changed to Wynnstay. Though the surface of the ground is not, greatly diversified, yet being well wooded, and aided much by the interposition of art, the spot possesses advantages which render it delightful. Both the near and distant views are distinct, and extremely fine, especially towards the Berwyn chain of mountains, with the majestic natural breach in it beyond Llangollen, through which, in turbulent grandeur, rolls the rapid Dee. The recent improvements consist of baths, new plantations, and a fine sheet of water. Under the direction of John Evans, Esq., of Llwyn-y-groes (who published a nine-sheet map of N. Wales, made from actual surveys), the waters of the small brook Belan, and some other rills, were so united as to form a considerable torrent, dashing over artificial rock-work, covered with moss and lichens, assuming the appearance of a natural cascade, similar to one in the Marquess of Lansdowne's park at Calne. Hence the stream winds through the Bath or Belan grounds forming the beautiful lake now skirted with lofty woods, where formerly some stinted hawthorns were almost the sole possessors of the soil. To those who can remember its then rude and rugged state, the change must appear the work of some potent enchanter, whose only spells, however, were industry and munificence, guided by the faculty of taste. (See the " Bees," a poem, by Dr. Evans, son of the topographic surveyor, printed at Shrewsbury, in 1806. ) To this park trees of a large size were brought by adequate machinery, from a considerable distance, without regard to their size or the season of the year. One precaution only was regarded, to bring with the tree as much as possible of the surrounding earth. Similar experiments have succeeded by Mr. Richardson, at Brierley, near Bradford, Yorkshire, and by Mr. Smith, at Stoke Park, Wilts. A herd of Buffaloes, some Chinese cattle, and pigs rough with curled hair, have been frequently in the park. The principal features of this domain are the lake, surrounded by a semicircular amphitheatre of wood, and terminated by the Column, seen from a seat near the rustic bridge; adjoining which are a hawthorn measuring 6 ft. in girth, at 5 ft. from the ground; the sequestered retreat of the marble Bath, supplied by two lion-head fountains; the smooth lawn, affording varied glimpses of the water, animated by numerous wild fowl; a Gothic seat upon an eminence well disposed to display the objects of water, lawns, interspersed with stately timber-trees, and, at the end of the vale, the tower of Ruabon church; the vista of the waterfall, beyond which appear forest above forest, to the more distant mountains. The column is 100 ft. high, the base 16 ft., built with freestone. Round the entablature is a gallery, with a circular iron balustrade, 9 ft. high, in the centre of which stands a handsome urn in bronze. The plinth is wreathed with oak leaves descending from the beaks of eagles. A door opens, and a flight of spiral steps leads to a gallery above, whence is an extensive prospect. This monument, from a design of Wyatt, is the pious offering of maternal affection in memory of the son of the Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, whom Dr. King eulogised, and father of the present baronet. On the lower part of the cenotaph is the following concise but emphatic inscription :-


This column is highly and tastefully finished, rising from a spacious stone pavement, surrounded by a neat lawn, enclosed by majestic oaks, other trees of inferior magnitude and appropriate shrubs. Though not seen from the house it is visible from various parts of the surrounding country. Upon a more enlarged scale is the New Drive, 5 m. in extent, conducted over lofty elevations, to a rotundo or Tower, intended to commemorate the heroes belonging to the Cambrian Legion of ancient Britons, who fell in that country's cause, under the command of Sir Watkin, in the Irish rebellion of 1798. This station affords a magnificent display of mountain, wood, and meanderings of the deeply imbedded Dee. Descend to the charming Nant-y-Belan, or Dingle of the Martin, upon a level with the river. The captivating scenery of this spot excited the admiration of the tasteful Lyttleton. It certainly contains many exquisite beauties. A deep ravine overhung by the precipitous sides of ragged rocks, contains the Dee, fringed, for a space, with woods, terminating a mad career in a profound pool of black stagnant waters. .From a rock at the end of the dingle is a fine view to the w. of of the ruins of Dinas Bran, seated upon its conic mountain ; and the town of Llangollen appears to lie at the extremity of the vale, the scene being closed by the distant British alps. The turnpike-road runs for about 2 m. upon the bank made by forming Clawdd Offa, or Offa's Dike. It is here 10 ft. high, and broad enough to admit two carriages, for a long space of ground called Llwybr-y-Cath, or the Cat's Path. Near this road is a remarkable tumulus, besides a fine view of the Dee, in its course through a delightful valley. After having viewed the obelisk, mansion, bath, &c., the Dee may be crossed, on the bounds of the park, whence CHIRK CASTLE, a grand and venerable pile, is shortly attained. Advancing 3 m. on the Wrexham road, appears Erddig, the elegant domain of Simon Yorke, Esq. Here anciently resided a descendant of Tudor Trevor. Joshua Edisbury, Esq. erected the present structure. The estate, under a decree of chancery, was purchased by John Meller, Esq., who, bequeathed it to the grandfather of the present owner. This mansion has recently been enlarged and modernised, under the skilful hand of Wyatt. The plan of the old building, however, marred the new. The saloon and other apartments contain some valuable paintings, and the library is enriched by Welsh manuscripts, including the Seabright collection. The approach from the Ruabon road, is rendered strikingly beautiful, by a dense wood, overhanging a banquetting room, disposed upon the edge of a murmuring brook; this, after having embellished some other parts of the domain, skirts a spacious lawn of peculiar beauty. The grounds are laid out with considerable taste, but the efforts of art are conspicuous. A portion of Watt's Dike extends across this estate, running along one side of a bank between the two valleys by which this property is bounded. Not far distant are fragments of a cemented wall, and foundations of others, the remains of a fort, probably constructed by the Saxons under the direction of Offa, to defend their line of demarcation. This work consists of several deep entrenchments surrounding an area of a pentagonal form, apparently the site of a bastion; and at the verge is an artificial mount, upon which probably was a tower. Philip Yorke, Esq. was a man of social habits, and possessed of considerable talent. His "History of the Five Royal Tribes of Wales," is a work abounding with so much information that the reader cannot help wishing that he had written his intended Stemmata or Fifteen Tribes. His " Crude Ditties,'. printed at Wrexham, in 4to, do him less honour. A terrible conflict took place in this vicinity about the year 1161, between the English and Welsh. The latter were commanded by Owain Cyfeiliog, prince of Powys, who was the conqueror. This victory produced the poem called Hirlas Owain, composed by the hero himself. This, in the original, ranks with the best Pindaric ode of the Grecian school. It has been clothed in an English dress by the Rev. Richard Williams of Vron, and appears in Pennant's Tours, 8vo, vol. iii. p.93.

The district to the l. of the road from Ruabon to Wrexham abounds with valuable mines, and considerable works are carried on at Acrevair, in which several hundred men are employed by the British Iron Company. There are numerous blast furnaces and forges in other parts of the parish, for the manufacture of iron ; also a pottery for coarse earthenware. The iron ore dug in the adjacent hills is exceedingly rich, generating, when blended with a portion of the furnace ore from Lancashire, an iron of most excellent quality. The coal is procured close to the works from pits 210 yards in depth. Almost every thing is done by the aid of steam-engines of various powers. Bersham iron works, 2 m. distant from Wrexham, belonged to the late celebrated. enterprising John Wilkinson, Esq., better known as the father of the iron trade; but the property was after his death vested in the hands of trustees, for the benefit of his children. These works are situated at Pont-y-Penca, near Ecclusham, consisting of forges, slitting, rolling, and stamping mills, &c. with a large cannon foundery. The various processes in preparing these instruments of death are very curious. Besides cannon and mortars, these works produce wheels, cogs, bars, pipes, cylinders, rollers, columns, pistons, &c. &c. Sheet iron is made and manufactured into furnace boilers, steam caissons, and various articles which were formerly made of copper. Wire of every dimension is also here produced. Mr. Smith, amongst many striking illustrations of character, gives the following anecdote of Mr. Wilkinson:-"This clever and ingenious machinist was so far back as 1799, on the eve of that important discovery which is effecting a rapid and extraordinary revolution in all our commercial relations. ' I worked,' said Mr. Wilkinson, ' at a forge in the north. My master gave me 12s. a week. I was content. They raised me to 14s. : I did not ask them for it. They went on to 16s.-18s. : I never asked them for the advance. They gave me a guinea a week. I said to myself, if I am worth a guinea a week to you, I am worth more to myself. I left them: He first brought into action the steam engine blast, at his works near Wrexham. ' I grew tired of my leather bellows,' said he, in his old age, to a young friend, ' and I was determined to make iron ones. Everybody laughed at me; but I did it, and then they all cried, Who could have thought it ? ' To the same gentleman, in 1799, he said, ' You will live to see waggons drawn by steam. I would have made such a waggon for myself if I had had time."'

A little to the I. after passing through the turnpike to Wrexham, the traveller may visit Caer-ddin, called Garthen, seated upon the summit of a hill, commanding an extensive view of Maelor Gymraeg, or Bromfield, and part of Maelor Saesoneg or English Maelor, mostly flat and wooded. This Caer includes four acres of ground, protected by deep ditches. The inner dike is made of loose stones, with a wall of vast thickness on the top. Within the area are many vestiges of buildings. It lies about 200 yards upon the outside of Offa's Dike; upon the top of this entrenchment the turnpike-road is formed for a considerable way. Watt's Dike leads direct to Erddig.


To Wrexham, 5 miles. Pugh; Bingley; Skrine ;
Chirk Castle, 4 miles. Wyndham.
To and from Bangor lscoed, by way of Overton,
20 miles. Bingley.

To Oswestry, 9 miles. Gilpin.
Whitchurch, 18 miles.
Llangollen, 7 miles.
Denbigh, 28 miles.


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