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Most people from the area will be familiar with the lead mines of Minera, which were worked as far back as the end of the 13th century (an interesting paper by C. J. Williams, The Mining Laws in North Wales, discusses the ‘customary law’ under which they were worked, until the 17th century at least). Residents of Brymbo will also be familiar with the remains of John Wilkinson’s lead smelting works, which lay at the western extremity of the Brymbo Hall estate above Hurricane House, and which were built by Wilkinson in 1792 to process ore extracted from the mines at Minera: this was constructed even before he had begun building the better-known ironworks.

Wilkinson was a man of rare energy, a great imagination, sound business sense – dalliances with his housekeeper aside – and lived through a time of rapid technological change, so he was probably the first person to make the area’s lead mines pay well. But as with the coal pits and even, perhaps, the smelting of iron, it turns out that Wilkinson was not the first to carry out such work on the Brymbo estate.

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As you might recall from my previous post on the subject, Plas Mostyn was an interesting Renaissance house that was for many years the largest in Brymbo township, if not the most prestigious.

Built, most probably, sometime in the early 17th century, it took its name from a branch of the landowning Mostyn family of Flintshire, who had owned it ever since Archdeacon William Mostyn purchased the estate around in 1640. With the death of his son Roger Mostyn in the early 18th century, the house itself ceased to be a main residence of the Mostyns and became a tenanted farm, perhaps with increasingly large proportions of its land given over to small-scale coal mining.

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Gorse growing on old spoil heaps in the fields behind Mount Pleasant farm, where coal mining may have taken place in the 17th century.

We know a fair amount about coal mining around Brymbo in the 19th century, after John Wilkinson had developed the area’s industry, and the township was at the heart of the Denbighshire coalfield. It’s also clear that some smaller-scale activity was taking place from at least the 14th century. These would have been very shallow mines by later standards: bell-pits with a central shaft flaring out at the coal face at a depth of around thirty feet, though sometimes more depending on the depth of the seams. Most of the evidence of the early coal workings has been obliterated by those of subsequent centuries, or by the destructive opencast workings of the past 50 years, but some references can still be found in old documents.

I have already mentioned the 14th century grant to the burgesses of Holt, permitting them to dig for coal on Brymbo’s commons. Leland, writing in the 16th century, also notes that there are “se-coles at Harwood”. Most remarkably, one document still exists which not only gives us a good idea of how the coal miners of the late 17th century Brymbo worked, but even tells us some of their names.

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Just a quick post this time; a break from the 18th and 17th century to look at the changes that have occurred even in the past 50 or so years, and a chance to talk about a wonderful photographic archive.

The National Library of Wales has recently begun digitising its huge collection of photographs by the late photojournalist Geoff Charles, who lived in Brymbo. In his time, Charles was one of the most talented and significant photographers working in Wales, and in a lifetime of work for Y Cymro, Farmers Weekly and other publications built up a large library of negatives. Although they cover all areas of Wales, some of these are a record of the area in which he lived.

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One of the more puzzling questions about the Brymbo estate’s pre-Wilkinson days is what exactly happened to it during the 1650s and 1660s. As Palmer and other sources state, the Hall is recorded as being occupied by Sir Richard Saltonstall, an influential Puritan, and after his death in 1661 the estate is shown as rated to his heirs. Yet by the 1670s the Griffith family, who had owned it since at least the 14th century, were back in full occupation. What happened? Did the political climate of the time have any bearing on it, or was this a purely financial matter? Part of the answer, it turns out, lies in a set of obscure Chancery files in the National Archives.

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This is site about Brymbo, a township once part of Denbighshire, and its history. You can read more about the site in general, start with the most recent posts or with the archives listed below.