Most of the large villages that lie immediately west of Wrexham have quite modern origins. They date from either the 19th or even the early 20th century, sprung from the need to accommodate thousands of workers in industries which have since vanished. In the area of the old township of Brymbo, you can find settlements of this type (Vron and Tanyfron); there are also older villages which expanded substantially in the same period, such as Bwlchgwyn, or Brymbo village itself. These older settlements resulted from an earlier phase of industrial development, when landless labourers built cottages encroaching on the old commons: hence the original name of Brymbo village, “Harwood”, which had been the name of the common on which it was built.

There are also cases of hamlets which failed to expand and have even since shrunk, like Pentre’r-fron, a possible “Pentre Glascoed” and – in a more modern era – Penrhos. One village in particular, however, was both entirely the creation of 19th century industry and was later largely destroyed by it. This was the Lodge, on what had been the township’s very eastern border, adjacent to Broughton.

I’ve seen it stated that the Lodge was named for a lodge of Brymbo Hall, which stood to the west, overlooking the valley that defined Brymbo’s eastern border. The land was certainly called “the Lodge” long before the village itself was built, though I have never seen any evidence of, or other reference to, a lodge of the Hall; there was no road there leading to it, just rather steep meadows and an old pond towards the foot of the hill. Alfred Palmer’s History of the Thirteen Country Townships of Wrexham says that the name Lodge was only adopted towards the end of the 18th century. Before this, the parcel of land on which the village was later built – a small 40 acre freehold estate – was usually known as “Hill’s Land”, after one of its owners, and doubtless its fields had once had other, older names.

Palmer argues that the Lodge was likely part of the estate of the Sontleys of Sontley, a family I’ve mentioned briefly before. There is nothing clearly identifiable with it on Norden’s survey of 1620 (although some parcels of land formerly held by the Sontleys are listed, as well as a few acres belonging to their kinsman Robert Sontley of Brymbo, later to become part of the Plas Mostyn holding). Palmer may possibly be wrong, but does note that by 1715 the Lodge was in the hands of John Hill of Shrewsbury, who had married the last of the Sontleys. It was due to this that the estate became known as “Hill’s Land”. (I’ve since been able to resolve this ownership question).

Hill, sometime Mayor of Shrewsbury and High Sheriff of Denbighshire in 1697, was another of those people with a knack for both marrying, and then outliving, heiresses. Through his first wife, Priscilla Rowley, he obtained Rowley’s Mansion in Shrewsbury, while through his second wife, Anne Sontley, he got hold of all the old Sontley lands, including perhaps the Lodge. The family cannot have got much in the way of rent from the little 40 acre estate, but nevertheless hung onto it throughout much of the century; Hill was succeeded by his son Thomas, though the latter did not outlive his father by long. “Hill’s Land” next came into the hands of Thomas’s son, another John, and on the latter’s death reverted back to Thomas’s wife Matilda.

It seems unlikely that Matilda Hill (who came from Kent, ended her days in Chelsea and was eventually buried in Canterbury cathedral) would have been very familiar with her lands in Brymbo, though this may be an unfair judgement. Nevertheless she did have a part to play in the future direction of the area: in 1769, she granted a lease on the Lodge estate to William Price and John Phillips, two men involved in the coal trade. Price seems to have lived in the cottage on Llewelyn Road just south of Ty Cerrig farm, which he rented from the Marchwiel churchwardens, while Phillips was a tenant of Thomas Assheton-Smith and Jane Wynne on the Brymbo estate. Their wills (both of which are in the NLW’s collection) both centre on their partnership in “coal works” in Brymbo, which must have been fairly lucrative; at any rate, they soon struck a deal with John Wilkinson to dig for iron under the Lodge, and with Richard Kirk to dig for coal. A 1788 deed involving Kirk describes the operation by the name “Mr. Hill’s Colliery”. Perhaps these works at Lodge were among Wilkinson’s first in the township.

The immediate area was already well served by coal workings; Harwood common, just to the north, had seen coal digging since the 15th century, when one of the Pulestons had operated a pit there. Immediately to the east, the Broughton Hall estate, long in the hands of an old family called Powell (not to be confused with their near neighbours, the Powell family of the Gyfynys) had already been worked for coal; by the 1660s the Broughton Powells also had a coal pit on a small piece of land in Brymbo, probably in the vicinity of present-day Southsea. The will of Griffith Powell, gent, of Broughton, begins by noting “whereas I did in July 1725 lease my Coalworks of the Coals commonly called the Cranke and Brass Coal lyeing & being in Brymboe […] to Hugh Hughes John Davies & William Thomas for the term of 31 years…” and continues by leaving the “Benefitt” of the pit to his son John Powell.

There were certainly, then, a number of small coal-pits in the valley, but the tithe maps, of around 1840, show it very nearly empty of buildings, at least on the Brymbo side. Palmer, writing a few decades later, was able to comment “so late as 1844 […] there was only a single house in the Lodge, now so densely populated, and fairies were believed to dance there“. While the latter might have been a story designed to discourage curious children from wandering into open coal pits, it was a sign that the Lodge was still a deserted place where locals chose not to go.

This bucolic setting was only to last a few more years, however. Under Henry Robertson and the Brymbo Company, the ironworks – idle in the final years of ownership of Wilkinson’s trustees – was soon back in full-time production, and the future of the Lodge would be very different.