Recently the Brymbo Heritage Group announced that it was recreating a lost local landmark. Many people who grew up locally will either have known or heard of the isolated grove of twelve trees called (depending on who you asked) the “Twelve Disciples” or “Twelve Apostles”, which once stood on the hillside in the old grounds of the Hall. Like the latter, the trees were removed as a result of coal workings around forty years ago, but they were not forgotten.

There’s a lot of discussion in the heritage sector around the idea of recreating things, particularly buildings, after they’ve gone, and how meaningful or useful this actually is. This case, however, involves something growing and live, so is perhaps both a fitting commemoration of the past (albeit not in the same place as the original) and, hopefully, a new landmark for the future. All this serves to remind us that what makes a landmark, in the end, is its existence in the minds of people, as much as anything else. The trees were a purely ‘unofficial’ feature: they were not separately labelled on even the largest scale maps, but were still fondly remembered after they had disappeared.

With all this in mind, where exactly were the trees, and why were they there? Unofficial landmarks have another property of being hard to relocate if they are lost. I think I have a reasonable answer, but someone else may be able to confirm it, or know better.

Maps and photographs prior to the 1940s show much of the hillside between Brymbo and Vron covered in trees. They were probably put there by one of the previous owners of the Hall, as they sheltered the house and its gardens from the prevailing south-westerly winds. It was only after opencast mining in the late 1940s that the hill acquired its present rather bleak aspect: prior to this it had been rather heavily wooded, as this picture by Geoff Charles, now held by the NLW, shows (this is a view from the top of the coal tip at Vron – another landmark since removed – looking approximately northwards). This was just the last stage of a long process of change in the landscape, driven by industry, which had removed the old woods and common pastures still a feature of the township in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Look at the field and house names given by documents of this period: Tir tan y derlwyn, “the land beneath the oakwood”; Ty yn y kelin, “The house in the holly grove”; Coed towyll, “dark wood”. Even older Ordnance Survey maps show many small coppices which have now been removed, and lanes lined with trees long since cut down. Even someone who knew the area in 1900 would, if shown around today, miss many of the landscape features they would have habitually used to orient themselves: nothing can scar an area quite like primary industry.

Which brings us back to the Apostles, or Disciples. They were still there in the 1960s, but by this time (other than a bit of vegetation round the Hall itself) there is only one clump shown on largest scale OS map. Were these, then, the original trees? Interestingly, they are shown adjacent to a well and clustered around a small, otherwise unmarked square structure. This square structure is in fact in the same position as the “Ice House” marked on the earliest maps. So, it may be that the twelve trees were actually grouped around the remains of the icehouse, a brick building whose dome had collapsed around 1940: perhaps they were planted to shade it at a time it was still in use.

Selection from Ordnance Survey of (left) early 20th century, and (right) 1960s. The icehouse can be seen marked on the earlier map, as well as the trees still standing around it at a later date (© Crown Copyright. All rights reserved)

The icehouse was another of the interesting features of the estate. Icehouses were used from the seventeenth century onwards, but a very large number date from the nineteenth century. The one at Erddig, for example, is associated with a garden laid out in the late eighteenth or very early nineteenth century. Although there is no record of the building date of the Brymbo icehouse, an early-mid nineteenth century date seems likely: it is not mentioned in the 1829 sale particulars of the Hall itself, whereas nearly everything else imaginable is. There was, however, a building of rather different shape in approximately the same location on the 1829 plan; given the fact that there was a well or spring on the site, this was possibly the cold bath and bath-house mentioned in the sale particulars. So, unless the ice-house was simply overlooked in 1829, I’m inclined to think that it either was built by one of the post-Wilkinson occupiers, perhaps Robert Roy or his former business partner Henry Robertson, near the site of the old cold bath, or was perhaps a reconstruction of the bath-house.

In any case, the icehouse (and therefore the original Apostles, if that is where they were) could be found at SJ2950053057 – or a little beyond the end of Lamberton Drive today.

Whoever built it, neither the icehouse nor the trees that surround it remain, as the opencast of 1971 onwards swept them away, changing the ground levels in the process; you only have to compare today’s view with the Geoff Charles picture linked above to see how much has changed. (It seems that a couple of remaining trees may just be visible in this 1975 aerial photograph, towards the top left). Such was the fondness for the Apostles locally that the NCB went as far as to plant a new set of trees nearby to replace them, but all trace of these seems to have disappeared in the intervening three and a half decades. Hopefully their new replacements will be around for a long time to come.