In the previous post, we saw how the main estate of Brymbo – consisting of the Hall and its lands, as well as the tenanted farms of Penrhos-isaf, Mount Sion, and Mount Pleasant, adding up to around 500 acres – developed through the 1500s and 1600s. We left it in the early 1700s, when the estate’s owner, Robert Griffith, suddenly found himself without a male heir. A 1709 indenture, by virtue of an earlier recovery, confirmed that his daughter, Mary Griffith, would inherit her father’s estate (subject to his wife’s jointure) on his death. This would have raised her standing considerably: heiresses were a valuable commodity in the society of the time.

In the event, Mary made an excellent match for herself . Her husband, Robert Jeffreys, was the son and heir of Sir Griffith and Lady Dorothy Jeffreys of Acton. Sir Griffith, a magistrate and Jacobite sympathiser, was one of the most substantial landowners of the area and a nephew of one of Wrexham’s more notorious sons, the former Lord Chancellor and “hanging judge” George Jeffreys. An agreement drawn up on the 19th and 20th June 1713 detailed Robert’s provision of an annuity of two hundred pounds to Mary “for the love and affection which he had and bore to her”. However, Robert Jeffreys was to die only a few months later, leaving her in an uncertain position. A letter exists, dated 22nd February 1714, witten to Mary by a relative in which he advises her:

There is a report about town, that Doct. Jeffreyes son does, by virtue of a deed of settlement made on him by your husband, claime the inheritance of all the estate belonging to Acton, after the Lady Jeffreyes, and […] payment of his debts (which I hear do not exceed one thousand pounds), and his youngest sisters portion, and that he has in order to make good his title to it filed a bill in the high court of Chancery against the Lady Jeffreyes, yourself, and Mr.Comberbach of Chester, and if that report proves true, you need not be hasty to remove yourself or any part of your personall estate from Acton, for ’twill be a work of time to settle this Chancery cause; and ’twill be necessary for you to take good advice, whether you can safely, and without doing yourself an injury part with the possession of Acton before it has had a determination.

The relative advises her to consult with a lawyer (though not, it is suggested, the unfortunate Mr. Comberbach) on how the rival claims of Lady Dorothy Jeffreys and Robert’s cousin might affect her ability to “have the entire benefit of [her] husband’s kindness”. The letter closes by warning, somewhat dramatically:

‘Twill not be proper to let any person have the reading of this paper; and if you observe any part of it may be material for your service, pray transcribe it with your own hand, and afterwards burn it. Doe not let your Attorney see it, he was somewhat open in the management of your husbands suite against his mother, and I advise that my handwriting may be kept a stranger to him.

The gentry of the time were extraordinarily litigious, as the many Chancery cases in the records show. In the event it seems that Lady Jeffreys was able to retain control of the estate (at her death she set up several charities benefiting the poor of Wrexham, some of which still exist today) while Mary, who did have to leave Acton, was left with her two hundred pound annuity.

West entrance of Brymbo Hall; the doorway itself was lkely 19th century in date. Crown copyright: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales; used with permission

As a very young widow without children and with expectations of inheriting property, it is unsurprising that Mary soon received another offer of marriage, from a Shropshire gentleman called Richard Clayton or Cleaton, as it was sometimes spelt. His family were originally from the north of England, but in 1660 they had, through marriage, come into possession of Lea Hall near Preston Gubbals, a little north of Shrewsbury. Mary married Clayton in 1716, and according to Palmer, they were known to have had three children: Alethea, the eldest, named for Clayton’s mother; Jane (or Jenny, b.1721), and Rachel, who died while still quite young. Later legal documents, however, show them to have had a fourth daughter unnoticed by Palmer: Mary, the youngest, born c. 1723. Clayton himself is a rather shadowy figure, although he is recorded as a founder member of the Cycle, a kind of secret society for local landowners of Jacobite inclinations. (This is not entirely surprising, as the Claytons were known to be a Catholic family.) Brymbo Hall itself continued to be occupied by the elderly Robert Griffith and his wife, until his death at the respectable age of 78; he was buried at Wrexham on 15 October 1720. He died without making a will, and a list of his possessions drawn up at his death reveals surprisingly little beyond old furniture (and “one silver cupp”). His widow, Jane, was to pass away seven years later.

Unfortunately for Mary, while her marriage to Richard Clayton may have provided her with children, companionship, and possibly with seditious political conversation, it didn’t necessarily provide her with complete financial security, despite Clayton’s arrangement of a further annuity for her. He was heavily in debt: an Act of Parliament begun on 9 October, 1722, allowed for part of his lands to be vested in two trustees to be sold in an attempt to pay some of it off. When he also died in 1725, leaving Mary on her own yet again, the debts reduced the amount of annuity she received, and while her daughters would presumably have been provided for by the remainder of their father’s estate, it was now subject to a complex administrative tangle thanks to his efforts to extricate himself from debt.

So, Mary now married for a third time – this time to a younger man. Her new husband was Arthur Owen (b.1692), a younger son of Sir Robert Owen of Brogyntyn near Oswestry, and according to some sources an army officer. The complex series of arrangements resulting from Mary’s previous marriages to Richard Clayton and Robert Jeffreys necessitated a lengthy marriage settlement, including a “Tripartite Indenture”, dated 13th January 1727, between Mary, the estate trustees (Watkin Williams-Wynne and John Williams of Chester), and Arthur Owen, which detailed all the various transactions previously made. An interesting feature of this document, which remains amongst the Brogyntyn papers at the National Library of Wales, is a complete inventory of her possessions in both Mary’s house at Wrexham (where she appears to have spent much of her time) and at Brymbo, from bedsteads and looking-glasses to paintings of the family (and one of Charles II in the parlour) and down to the iron dripping-pans and napkin-presses in the kitchens.

Arthur Owen, for his part, seems to have thrown himself wholeheartedly into the business of estate management. Copies exist of agreements with him on the sale of standing oaks and on mineral mining rights, and his papers contain bills for garden trees and for work done to the properties, as well as for dancing lessons. He served as a churchwarden at Wrexham parish church, subscribed to works published in Welsh (the Owens had literary tastes in general; Huw Morus had written englyns on the family, including Arthur) and may have been an acquaintance of Wrexham poet Thomas Beech, a correspondent of Swift. There are extant letters between various members of the Owen family referring to the seemingly endless legal issues connected with the properties. A more personal, but particularly interesting letter from him survives that hints at the problems he faced with Mary’s children from her previous marriage, in which he attempts to as tactfully as possible suggest to his stepdaughter Jane, or Jenny, that she might be rashly conducting herself:

Tis reported in the neighbourhood but I hope without foundation that you are about matching yourself. If it were to your advantage no body wd. rejoice at it more than I but as matrimony is a circumst[ance] of the utmost concern with regard to our temporal interests we ought with the greatest circumspection enter into a way of life that must either make us most miserable or happy. Consider you are a young lady whose person and understanding want few advantages and whose fortune sets you above any other care than that of not diminishing it then why will you run the hazard of losing a certain felicity for a prospect if not a certainty of the contrary. Tis not to be suppos’d that young ladys of fortune are sufficiently aquainted with the practises of the world to avoid every snare that is laid in their way but this I will venture to tell you that whatever professions of faithfullness and friendship you may be amus’d with you will very rarely find when you come to experiment that the persons that made these professions had not their own interests at heart more than yours therefore it behoves you to be upon your gard in every circumstance and not to enter into a state of life without reserving to yourself and family a certainty let what will happen. What I mean is to secure to your self a certainty by a good jointure. A numerous family with a declining fortune is the most miserable condition in the world and the constant apprehension of the consequences must make us feel all the woes that attend distress before the worst arrives. Pray think of all this at least but at the same time why may not you hope to be as fortunate as others? What advantages have they had that you want? Perhaps the guidance of good advisers but you have a good understanding if you will make use of it. Dont deprive nature of the benefits she has so liberaly confer’d upon you both as to person and parts. Consult your own heart, think what it is to be despair’d and distrest without either hope or remedy. Think what a tryumph it will be to every mean thing that envys you now to look down upon you hereafter. These are the consequences of imprudent matches and many more may be recited. Tis not my part to reflect on any body because your sence will interpret what I hint. If I am impertinate in what I write I wd. rather be so than otherwise but if what I am told is true there will come a day that you will repent that you had not made an advantage of an advice that meant no otherwise than your prosperity. From your servant and one that will always rejoice in your prosperity,

A. Owen

Strong stuff, that leaves you wondering who the “imprudent match” could possibly have been. I also wonder if the warnings about good jointures and declining fortunes were informed by bitter experience of money troubles. The Owen family hadn’t been immune to disastrous matches, with Arthur’s sister Elizabeth having married, and then gone through an acrimonious separation from, Sir Thomas Longueville of Esclusham (as related in in a NLW study of the Owens’ correspondence, Elizabeth spent much of her time in her siblings’ houses, writing that “Sir Thomas said he wod Cutt his throat if I came under the same roofe with him“).

Owen needn’t have worried about his stepdaughter so much; she was to marry Watkin Wynne, a respectable landowner from Voelas (Pentrefoelas), while her elder sister Alethea married a doctor from Wrexham, James Apperley. Arthur Owen and Mary did not have any further children themselves, however, and when she died in 1738 – the last of the Griffiths of Brymbo – there was still no male heir to the estate. Arthur did not outlast her by long, dying in Bristol on the 22nd July 1739 at the age of 46 (if he had been involved with the military, perhaps the July 1739 outbreak of war with Spain might explain his presence there). He was buried in Selattyn church on 1st August next to his mother,and his memorial can still be seen there today.

With the passing of Arthur and Mary, family life ground to a halt at Brymbo. James Apperley and his wife, Mary’s daughter Alethea, lived at the property for a short while (they seem to have made a good impression socially, with the London Evening Post of 7th October 1738 describing them as “Dr Apperley of Wrexham and his wife […] a Gentleman of Merit, and very well esteem’d in his Profession of Physick; and she a beautiful well-accomplish’d young lady of very considerable fortune”). Alethea died in 1740, however, and her “very considerable fortune” became subject to a fresh round of lawsuits dragging on into the 1750s, as those with an interest in the estate tried to extract property or money from it, even encompassing agreements made years before by Robert Griffith. The administration of Arthur Owen’s estate, in particular, seems to have become a major headache for his younger brother Lewis (an unwilling churchman described by one NLW researcher as the “charmer of the family”) and was only rendered worse when Lewis himself died in 1746, sparking more legal cases.

Brymbo Hall continued to be rated to Dr Apperley for some years, though he may have lived mainly at a house in Wrexham. Although he was ‘life tenant’, the Brymbo estate was to be inherited by Mary’s two surviving daughters Jane and Mary. The former had been a formidable legal opponent of Apperley during his tenancy, opening several lawsuits against him. Alfred Palmer, in his History of the Thirteen Country Townships of Wrexham, states that Jane, who had married Watkin Wynne, lived on her own at Brymbo Hall for several years after she was widowed in 1774. Although she eventually moved away, ending her days peacefully in Hendon, Jane’s occupancy of the property for some reason stuck in the locals’ minds, as according to Palmer, well over a century after she sold up, they were circulating “all kinds of rumours” about her ghost still roaming the house.

Whatever ghosts might have lingered around, the era of the old-fashioned rural gentry, with their constant round of strategic marriages, lawsuits and agreements to borrow money from each other, was over at Brymbo, and with the 19th century fast approaching the distant descendants of Sanddef Hardd,  the Welsh mercenary, no longer needed the estate. Jane Wynne and her son-in-law disposed of the property to a new kind of landowner, one whose plans for the estate were to completely change the landscape and economy of the whole area: John Wilkinson.