Bwlchgwyn is the ‘second’ village of the old township of Brymbo. It is supposed to be the highest village in Wales, and whether this is true or not, it certainly has some of the finest views, facing eastwards towards the flatlands of the Maelor and Cheshire and with its back to the fierce weather blowing over the hills.

As a settlement, in the modern sense, it is no older than Brymbo village itself and possibly much less so (though the moorland farm called Craig-Corn appears well back in the 18th century, when the Foulkes family tenanted it). One of the township’s main commons once surrounded the site of Bwlchgwyn, and it seems quite possible that like many such villages, it may have grown around small cottages and holdings encroaching onto the common land. Palmer suggests that the old one-night house custom was in operation in the area; if this was really the case, it is likely that the quarrymen and miners of the township would have carved small plots out of the common. According to Palmer, it also seems possible that this was the area of the township where its inhabitants cut turves, the common turbary: the name “the Gorse”, applied the nearby farm which was created out of common land by John Wilkinson in the late 18th century, may indicate this.

The packhorse trail above Ffrith through Glascoed.

One of the earliest presences in Bwlchgwyn, however, seems to have been that of the Romans. We know that there was some sort of settlement nearby at Ffrith. It has been suggested (by Ivan Margary, pioneering historian of Roman roads) that the old road up from Glascoed and along the ridge above Nant-y-Ffrith is of Roman origin: followed, from Bwlchgwyn, by today’s main road, it runs to the hamlet near Landegla called Pen-y-stryt (“the end of the road“) and then across the moors. It is interesting to note, in the light of the comments of Dorothy Sylvester and other historians, that the word heol is often associated with Roman roads, that the name howle y Glascoed appears in Norden’s 1620 survey of the area. This road is, I think, one of those shown on the maps attached to the mineral leases obtained by Arthur Owen, the main Brymbo landowner, in the early 18th century. From medieval times until the era of turnpikes a packhorse trail led up from Ffrith to Bwlchgwyn over at least part of the same route, used for the transport of all kinds of goods between the markets of Wales and England. It can still be walked to day, though its unforgiving steepness gives an idea of the sort of obstacles the packhorse drivers (not to mention their horses) would have had to negotiate even on better roads in the hills.

Of course, it may be that Roman settlers may have adopted an earlier right of way, perhaps used by pastoral farmers bringing their animals from the summer pastures on the moorland. In this case it’s appropriate that another of Bwlchgwyn’s main points of origin, other than quarrying, seems to have been as a shoeing station and a place of refreshment on the drove routes from Ruthin and beyond through Llandegla and Llanarmon. This was one of the two main passes across the hills, the other running via Llangollen, and a little further downhill were two inns (Gegin Wen and Gegin Ddu) to shelter those thirsty or weary after the slog over the mountain. It wasn’t just sheep and cattle that came along these routes, either, and traffic wasn’t entirely towards English markets: a note in the Parochialia of Edward Lhuyd, compiled around 1700, mentions of Llanarmon “their Fuel  Rhos-vawn some Dyvn-vawn and Coal from Brymbo” (sic). Other goods, until the 19th century, might well have been carried by the packhorse trains mentioned earlier.

The first part of Bwlchgwyn’s name perhaps refers to the reason a number of roads have passed through in its history: Bwlch means “pass“, or more simply “gap“. The pass that was the source of the name was likely to have been up what is today called Fronheulog Hill: the point where it joins the “Old Road” across from Minera is marked “Bwlchgwyn” on an 1835 map, and a house lower down the hill was called Tanybwlch, “below the pass”. There have been a number of explanations given for the second part, -gwyn, which should mean “white“. One is that it refers to the snow often seen lying there in winter; another is that it describes the pale surface of the trackway due to the underlying rocks in the vicinity. In the nineteenth century R V Kyrke, one of the area’s landowners, said they had seen the name written as “Bwlch Gwynt” on an old deed, raising the possibility the name references the wind that often blows here. Interestingly, although Arthur Owen’s leases do not mention Bwlchgwyn at all – perhaps showing that there was no substantial settlement here in the 1730s – they do make reference to some rocks just to the south, which in the dubious Welsh orthography of the man who drew up the leases are described by the word “gwynniad“. Palmer also suggests that the name “Bwlch Gwyn”, which he saw in a document of 1649 attached to a common, referred to a “long and high outcrop of white limestone cliffs”, so I wonder if the answer is simply that the road passed among white rocks as it climbed upwards.