Looking down the lane from Mount Sion, Brymbo, towards Glascoed in the middle distance and the higher ground of Pen-Llan-y-gwr beyond

The area known as the Glascoed lies between the Nant-y-ffrith stream in the north and the steep, wooded valley of another stream in the south, sometimes known as the Cefn Brook. The land slopes downwards to the north-east, towards Ffrith and the River Cegidog. Crossed only by one or two narrow, winding lanes, it is today perhaps the quietest and most isolated area of the old township of Brymbo. Palmer, who translated Glascoed as “greenwood” (glas is often translated as “blue” in modern Welsh) commented that few people from Wrexham then knew how beautiful this out-of-the-way place was, “especially after a spell of drought“. This is still true, though to some degree this rural feel is deceptive as Glascoed’s past history includes mining and other industrial activity, much like the rest of the area.

Between the ravines of the Nant-y-ffrith and the Cefn Brook, the land forms a sloping ridge that leads upwards and westwards towards Cefn Farm, whose name translates as “ridge”, appropriately enough, and towards Cefn Buchan. Further uphill is the Waen, and eventually the Gorse farm and Bwlchgwyn. In the later 18th century these farms were purchased by John Wilkinson as he added to the original Brymbo estate, but prior to this much of the land around them seems to have been common. There are two roads crossing it; the Cefn Road, running along the ridge itself, and the “Glascoed Road” on the edge of the Nant-y-ffrith valley, but there is supposed to have been a Roman trackway here too, leading up from Ffrith: the Glascoed Road may follow its alignment. Despite this, archaeological investigations have had trouble proving the road’s exact route. Later still there was a packhorse trail on roughly the same alignment, and in the 17th and 18th centuries the Waen farmhouse was a stopping point for pack trains heading for the markets of England.

While much of the land towards Bwlchgwyn was first enclosed from common by John Wilkinson, there were several farms at Glascoed in earlier times, and the name occurs more than once in Norden’s survey of 1620. All these occurrences relate to land held by 40 year leases, indicating farms carved out of the ‘customary land’ of the lordship (as opposed to the old freehold estates in the south and east of Brymbo township). In 1620, “Pentre Glascoed” is mentioned as a tenement held by Edward ap Llewelyn and his wife Agnes, along with other parcels of land totalling 15 acres and 2 roods; roughly 30 modern acres. There is an interesting exchequer case relating to this property (the subject of a future article). Another tenement recorded by Norden “in Pentre Glascoed in Brymbo”, and land totalling 5 acres and 2 roods, is held by “Ellice ap John ap David ap David ap Griffith”, while a third tenement, with an orchard and other parcels of land “in the place called Pentre Glascoed”, is held by “Will’mus Jussingham”, (probably a mis-transcription of the distinctive name Tussingham, or Tushingham, mentioned elsewhere in the survey; if so, William also sat on the manorial jury). A descendant of the same name – a son perhaps – was still there into the late 1660s; his will was proved in 1679, by which time he was described as “gent, of Wrexham”.

The name Pentre Glascoed certainly seems to indicate a small hamlet or cluster of smallholdings, a status borne out by a Court of Augmentations document of the 1560s, which refers to the “hamlet of Glascoid” in the “vill of Brymbo”. By 1620, Johannes Batha has a cottage “on the waste” (vastum) while a second cottage, in the ownership of David ap Robert Gwynn, is also noted to be on the “waste”, so it may be that the process of enclosure from waste and common was then still ongoing. 13 acres is also held by a “Robert Mathew” – a surname which appears several times in connection with this area – and 15 by John Matthew ap Howell, who was important enough to sit on the manorial jury alongside minor gentry such as John Griffith. His property may have extended down by the Cegidog, as one field (Wern ddu) is stated to be “next to the river”.

A family called Matthews were certainly farming at the Lower Glascoed, the large farm in the valley of the Cefn Brook, about a century later. They also held the Ffrith farm during the same period, and seem to have sat on the blurred border between the class of better off farmers and the minor ‘parish gentry’. A 1663 bond records the possessions of Samuel Mathew of Brymbo, recently deceased, and mentions his “relict” Mary John Griffith: Mary appears to have been of a ‘good’ family from Bryneglwys, a remote township over the mountain near the Nant-y-garth Pass. Palmer, who thought they were probably descended from the John Matthew ap Howell noted in 1620, found two members, John and Samuel, who served as churchwardens of St Giles in 1699 and 1717 respectively. A Samuel Matthews, yeoman of Brymbo, made a will in May 1749, in which his “lands messuage and tenements” are left to his eldest son John, who was also tasked with dividing the remainder of the estate among “my eight children who are yet unmarried”. This John Matthews may well have been the John Matthews, yeoman, of Brymbo who made a will in 1777 mentioning sons called John and Samuel. He leaves “all the Vessels that Belongs to the Bruing, and the Vessels that Belongs to the Dairy, or making of chees“, to his son John, along with “seven Cows and two heifers in Calf“, six young cattle, five yearlings, a horse, three mares and a filly, a cart and a wagon, and ploughs and harrows – an interesting portrait of a farm of the time. He notes that “for all my Lands I have nothing to lay on them they being settled in a deed between Gabriel Roberts and me“. Yet a John Matthews is listed as the owner and occupier of the “Freeth” (Ffrith) farm in the 1790s, and as the owner of another adjacent farm – perhaps Lower Glascoed itself – occupied by William Moses: while Samuel Matthews, according to Palmer (very probably another member of this family) came into occupation of the Pen-y-Coed farm just up the hill in the 1760s, so the Matthews seem to have been farming in Glascoed until the 19th century.

Looking down towards Glascoed Hall, with Hope Mountain beyond.

Although the Lower Glascoed holding was historically the largest farm, the grandest house in this area today, later known as Glascoed Hall, had its origins in a handsome early 17th century farmhouse on the slopes above Ffrith. Confusingly it was often known simply as the Glascoed, and later as Middle Glascoed. In 1662 the estate’s owner, a prosperous farmer named Maurice Jones, used his will to set up a charity based on a rentcharge on this property and another in the township called Cae Helig,1 both of which were left to his wife Ales (Alice): the charity brought some 40 shillings a year to the poor of Wrexham, as well as a further 40 shillings to the poor of the parish of “Llansilio in […] Pembrooke where I was borne“. Jones also instructed that his sister, Ellinor, be paid the sum of £10 yearly for life by his “well beloved friend” Humphrey Lloyd of Bersham, in consideration of which Jones signed over a further house and lands to Lloyd and his heirs. The will was signed in the presence of some men with familiar surnames: “William Tushingam” and “Samuel Mathew”, perhaps Jones’s immediate neighbours in Glascoed acting as his witnesses. Jones’s act of kindness was still benefiting Wrexham’s poor in the 19th century, although by this time the charity commissioners, who had not seen his will, could not understand why the charity also distributed money to a parish in south-east Wales: they thought that the Llandisillio there had perhaps become confused with that near Wrexham.

Jones’s old estate went through several changes of ownership in the period, passing through the hands of Roger Hanmer of Maesgwaylod and later Edward Rowland of Ruabon. Its tenants at this time seem to have been the Fennah family, who took an active part in the area’s spiritual life. Alfred Palmer mentions a Richard Fennah and Peter Fennah among the district’s 18th century nonconformists, Richard being one of the first trustees of the chapel in Chester Street, Wrexham. Hanmer’s will, dated 1785, mentions a “Rd. Fennar” as occupying one of two holdings in Glascoed (“John Michill”, or John Michael, has the other; I suspect this to have been the farm once owned by William Tushingham). The rate books suggest that he was preceded there by Peter Fennah, and also note a Benjamin Fennah living nearby. John Michael – a surname borne by several generations of Brymbo yeomen in this period – was a weaver as well as farmer, like others in the Glascoed area.

Jones’s old lands eventually ended up in the hands of the industrialist James Kyrke, who bought Rowland’s Glascoed holdings in 1825 (a few years before becoming the Receiver of John Wilkinson’s estate). Kyrke was eventually able to acquire most of the Glascoed farms, including the Lower Glascoed, and rebuilt the upper farmhouse as his residence, before eventually going bankrupt.2 Parts of Maurice Jones’s property can probably be identified with an estate shown by Norden in 1620 as owned by “Johannes Griffith Lloyd”, as some field names of the latter (“ddol goch“, “ddol fawr“, “coed towill” and “kay Madyn“) are strikingly similar to ones recorded in the 19th century for Glascoed Farm (Cae Madyn, the “foxes’ field”) and the associated Ffrith Farm (Ddol Goch, the “red meadow”, Ddol Fawr, the “big meadow”, and Cae Tywyll, the “dark field”). Perhaps Maurice Jones, given his surname, was the son of John Griffith Lloyd: though perhaps not, given Jones’s stated origins in Pembrokeshire.

Two other farms in the area, Bryn Glascoed (on the hill above the Glascoed valley, along the road towards Waen) and Pen-y-Coed (located at the point where Offa’s Dyke crosses the road from Pentresaeson to Ffrwd) were once another single landholding according to Palmer, who believed that Pen-y-Coed, as suggested by its architecture, “was formerly of much greater importance than it now is“. Palmer states that it was owned by a Robert ap Hugh, around 1700, and after that by his son Hugh, who is variously styled Hugh Hughes, Hugh ap Robert, and Hugh Roberts. There is a will dated 1708 written by a Robert Hughes of Brymbo, who calls his son “Hugh ap Robert ap Hugh”, and also mentions other children (Robert, Jane, Catherine and Sarah). Mr Hughes leaves two fields to his wife Elizabeth, adding that if she “shall not like” to live with their son Hugh, then the latter must at his own expense build an extension for her onto another house then occupied by a John Bennett. I only hope Mr Bennett was happy with this arrangement.3 The rate books seem to suggest that Hugh Hughes of Pen-y-Coed also rented a parcel of land nearby belonging to the Myddleton family. This is perhaps the Myddleton land that in the 1730s was recorded as having a coal pit on it worked without licence by a “Hugh Roberts”, which could easily be an alias of Hugh Hughes.

In the 1760s Pen-y-Coed came into the hands of a Samuel Matthews, who as mentioned above may (or may not) have had something to do with the Matthews family of the Lower Glascoed farm. By the early 19th century James Kyrke owned and operated a small colliery at Pen-y-Coed, raising the possibility that this was a development or successor of Hugh Roberts’ pit.

Indeed as the 18th century wore on more and more signs of industry appeared in the area – an aspect of the landscape to be covered in a later post. Most of the farmland, however, has survived more or less unscarred, if not the farmhouses themselves (or the small cottages and “clod halls” that married farm labourers would have inhabited, which have vanished). Pen-y-Coed farm seems to have been demolished or very heavily rebuilt around the turn of the 20th century, and two further houses were built near to it. The evidence of its former importance noted by Palmer has disappeared, though there is an attractive old range of farm buildings across the road. The longhouse at Bryn Glascoed across the valley is today a roofless shell, but Glascoed Hall, although rebuilt in the 19th century, is still standing.

Footnotes

Back to post. 1.Cae Helig, the “willow field”, is mentioned in Norden’s 1620 survey, where it is described as part of a 10-acre freehold estate held by “Richardus Langfford”. A parcel of land of the same name seems to have belonged to the Myddletons of Chirk at the turn of the 18th century. By around 1730 Samuel Matthews, of the (Lower) Glascoed, was charged for it in the rate books. In the 1837 tithe records, one of the fields then attached to Brynyffynnon Farm is called “Cae Helig”. This Cae Helig, which may have been the piece of land referred to in 1620 and 1662, lay roughly west of the line of Vicarage Road, opposite Gyfynys Farm. Unfortunately the field boundaries have changed substantially since the time of the tithe map.

Back to post. 2.Glascoed Hall was then bought by a Mr. Roskell. It seems that the newcomer did not understand local ways as well as Mr. Kyrke had done, judging by a court case reported in the Wrexham Advertiser soon after his purchase. It was alleged that an argument over escaped horses between Roskell and his neighbour John Hughes, the farmer of Lower Glascoed, ended with Roskell hitting Hughes on the head with his stick. Hughes was awarded some damages, although less than he was seeking.

Back to post. 3.Interestingly enough, there is a will of 1727 signed by a John Bennett of Brymbo, collier (and probably farmer of some kind, as he leaves his nephew two ewes and two lambs, along with other bequests to his son William, grandchildren, and wife). One of the witnesses is Samuel Matthews, and another (signing in a large, slanting hand) is called – Hugh Hughes.