This site is about a small area of North Wales, the township of Brymbo, which lies in the low hills to the east of the Clwydian Range. It is also about those people whose lives have shaped its character over hundreds of years, as farming, mining and industry left their imprint on the landscape.

I might as well start by defining what a “township” is, as it has nothing to do with a town in a modern sense, although the root of the word is the same. To put it in its simplest terms, the township is really the basic mediaeval unit of civil administration in England – and later in Wales, as we’ll come to see. It might contain one settlement, several smaller ones, or a few scattered farms, but will generally encompass enough in the way of natural resources to enable a community to sustain itself (some common land, woodland for fuel, farmland, and access to water). Royal tax collectors would carry out their assessments within the township and its inhabitants would have a duty to enforce local laws and catch criminals. In many cases, township boundaries would coincide with those of a large manor or estate, although this was something that increased with time after the Norman conquest, rather than necessarily being consistent.

Another system existed in Wales, at least until later in the period. Welsh laws were different to those imposed by the Normans, although the system was still essentially a feudal one (it was the right to maintain Welsh law, in addition to language, that inspired the Welsh to fight so hard against English authority). In this case, the basic unit of administration was the tref: either one of the free trefi held by important families, in which land would be divided equally amongst all male heirs, or a tref held by bond tenants in exchange for labour and produce, with land again divided equally amongst the bondsmen. Generally speaking trefi were grouped together in cymydau, anglicised as “commotes”.

Many of the old boundaries of the trefi continued in use after the English conquest of Wales, with the tref becoming the township. The township of Brymbo, in particular, came to be organised as part of the lordship of Bromfield, formerly the cymyd of the Maelor Gymraeg (for a quick online summary of the early administrative history of the Maelor, see the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust’s page on the Maelor Saesneg).

This history is not so simply depicted as Welsh land coming under English patterns of administration, however. Authority in the border areas, and patterns of settlement, were always fluid, with the result that there are many English names to be found. Wrexham itself is the most obvious example, but there are many others, often heavily modified by Welsh pronunciation. Brymbo, the township name and now that of a village within its boundaries, is likely Welsh, and refers to a hill (bryn) which some early residents chose to associate with baw (dirt, or worse – no wonder some historians tried to bowdlerise it as bryn bwa) . But the small hamlet later to become that village was, until the middle of the 19th century, called Harwd or Harwood: an English name meaning – simply enough – “the wood of the hares”. You can still see hares on the rough pastureland above the village, if you look closely.

The township boundaries

The boundaries of a township can coincide either with natural ones, usually rivers, or with those of an old estate or group of estates. In the case of Brymbo, they largely follow natural boundaries surrounding several commons, estates and a central large landholding: the estate attached to its “capital messuage” Brymbo Hall, which was perhaps the core remnant of the original tref, assuming the traditional Welsh patterns of land ownership applied here. By the 17th century, it still took up several hundred acres in the centre of the township. In the south-east, Brymbo met the neighbouring townships of Broughton and Bersham at a place identified in 1620 as “y groes faen” (at or near modern-day Southsea). Its border ran along the valley of the River Gwenfro westwards, across Offa’s Dyke and upstream to the old farm known as Gwernygaseg, before continuing westward to the common moor above present-day Bwlchgwyn at the spot known as Maes Maelor. From this point it ran north-east along the ‘waste’ of the Nant y Ffrith valley, which also divided old Denbighshire from Flintshire, enclosing more of Brymbo’s common lands to the south, as well as the wooded valley known as Glascoed. At Glascoed, a tract of land which was traditionally held on renewable forty-year leases from the Lordship of Bromfield and Yale, rather than the freehold tenure seen elsewhere in Brymbo, was associated with a small cluster of farms, an early hamlet which seems to have been called ‘Pentre Glascoed’.

From the point where the Nant y Ffrith stream met the Cegidog, near present-day Ffrith, the boundary followed the latter river, passing north of Brymbo hill and the Hall’s demesne lands, to a bridge recorded at the end of the 17th century, by the antiquarian Edward Lhuyd, as “the bridge of the stone hall”: “Pont y plas maen betw: & Wrexham parish hard by Gyvynys house“. The Gyfynys was another of the township’s very old estates, although much of it was held on the forty-year leases mentioned earlier. The border then ran sharply southwards, now adjoining Gwersyllt township, along a stream once known as the Ffrwd, the “torrent”, to the common known as Harwood or Harwd. Finally the border, once again alongside Broughton, went southerly along another brook, where today’s placename “Lodge” refers to another old estate, and once again to the Gwenfro at the vanished “groes faen“.