The township road at Ffynnon-y-cwrw, looking East

The old “township road” of Brymbo, once maintained by residents’ contributions in a time before the modern highway system or even the turnpikes, is still called the Brymbo Road today. In a previous post I followed it from the site of Brymbo Hall through Penrhos to the crossroads at Pentresaeson: from here it runs west, towards Bwlchgwyn.

Leaving the crossroads and the Smelt Wood behind, the road passes the former Taylor Brothers foundry and Pentresaeson farm on the right and crosses the line of the railway from Brymbo to Minera. Here it climbs steeply under a deep bank that is covered with bluebells in spring. The road keeps just within the township border – marked by the Gwenfro, out of sight to the left – as it approaches the moor that was once another part of Brymbo’s common land.

As the road straightens and climbs further, Brithdir farm comes into view, sitting on an exposed ridge. The name Brithdir is translated by Palmer as “speckled land”, and it’s true that brith can mean “speckly” or “pied”, in some contexts. However a more accurate translation for brith in this instance could be “variable”, “mixed”. In fact, Pughe’s 1839 Welsh dictionary lists brithdir as a phrase meaning “land of a medium quality”.

The current farmhouse is probably of 18th century date by the Royal Commission’s assessment, but a messuage and attached land called Brithdir is mentioned in Norden’s survey of 1620. It was part of the Brymbo holdings of William Robinson of Gwersyllt, and was then in the tenure of Robert Matthews (who Palmer supposed to be the ancestor of the Matthews family of Glascoed). At this time the attached land contained 30 customary acres (about 60 statute acres). This farm is described by Norden as “nup’ terr’ Hugonis Puleston“, “formerly the land of Hugh Puleston”, like other of the Robinson holdings in the area. (This was perhaps the Hugh Puleston “of Bersham” who served as High Sherriff of Denbighshire in 1566, and presumably the same Hugh who married the daughter and heiress of Hugh Lloyd, last of the Lloyds of Llwyn-y-Cnottiau in Abenbury, and a descendant of Cynwrig ap Rhiwallon). It should be mentioned that there is another parcel of land called Brithdir in the 1620 survey, however, part of a holding occupied by Hugh ap Howell and owned jointly by him and several others. This totals 20 statute acres.

Moving forward a century, a few of Brithdir’s tenants are recorded in the surviving township rate books, with Edward Jones “of Brith Tire” appearing in the 1720s. The Robinson estates were broken up in the mid 18th century, and their various constituent farms came into the hands of several different owners. Brithdir itself, however, seems to have been part of the estate of the Wynnes of Tower by 1739. It later came into the possession of a Mr John Edwards of Stansty, who owned it at the close of the 18th century; at the time of the 1799 Land Tax assessment its tenant was Edward Humphreys, whose will was proved that May. A few years later it became one of the properties bought up by John Thompson, the Wigan ironmaster who ran the works nearby at Ffrwd.

Thompson was locally said to have kept a racing stable at Brithdir, and was in fact described as “of Brithdir” in documents of the 1840s, so seems to have spent a fair amount of time there. He was certainly fond of racehorses, and indeed it was a horse riding accident very near Brithdir that caused his death, at an advanced age, in 1852. The closing part of the 19th century saw Brithdir farmed by Mary Jones, until about 1890, and then by a Mr Edwards. The farm buildings were derelict not so long ago, but are now a house.

Leaving Brithdir on the left, the road turns slightly towards the north. On the left hand side of the road there are small fields sloping steeply down to a tributary stream of the Gwenfro, and a little further on is a spot where a number of cottages and other buildings are located by the stream, well back from the roadside. The lowest cottage was called “Ty’n-twll”, the “house in the hole”: appropriate enough given the steepness of the stream’s valley at this point. Elizabeth Williams, a widow, lived here in 1762 according to her will (not proved until 1788). As you might expect a number of old lanes and footpaths once converged here, crossing the stream and heading off across the township border towards Cae-Adar farm or back towards Brithdir.

Spring by the laneside at Ffynnon-y-cwrw, one of several sources of the Gwenfro in the vicinity

Opposite the bridleway down to Ty’n-twll, another old farm stands on the right, sheltered from the south-westerly winds by a clump of trees. This is Ffynnon-y-cwrw, the “ale spring”, which takes its name either from a well beside the house, apparently once well-known for its quality, or perhaps from one of the springs from which the Gwenfro’s tributaries rise. I suspect the latter, the name probably predating the farm itself. Despite it being the earliest version on record, Palmer thought this a very strange name for a farm and claimed it was likely that the original name was the prettier “ffynnon y ceirw”, the “hart’s well”, while his correspondent Mr R V Kyrke of Nant-y-Ffrith Hall chipped in with a suggestion of the “pure spring”, “ffynnon groew”. Either is, I suppose, possible, but overlook the fact that ale brewing would have been one of the preoccupations of the average Welsh yeoman: a spring whose water made good ale would have been something worth noting. Ffynnon-y-cwrw is right on the edge of the limestone outcrop around Bwlchgwyn, which might have made its water noticeably different to that of the lower part of Brymbo. A spring still trickles under the bridleway leading from Ffynnon-y-cwrw towards Ty’n-twll, spilling into a small pool and running down to join the Gwenfro, and this is probably the ffynnon which gave its name to the farm.

The tithe maps of circa 1840 seem to depict Ffynnon-y-cwrw as a less important farm than Brithdir, but the farm buildings themselves have certainly existed since 1760, when their owner Robert Peter mentioned them in his will as the “new houses and barns in the upper end of the township of Brombo“. He seems to have been reasonably prosperous, as he also owned a cottage and land in Broughton. The identification of the new buildings with Ffynnon-y-cwrw is confirmed by the will of his widow Mary, proved in 1789. A Robert Peter is listed as tenanting some of the Brymbo estate land in 1790, in Thomas Assheton-Smith’s time, and Ffynnon-y-cwrw stayed in the family until at least 1827, when Robert Peters (sic) owned it, though he lived down the hill in the grander and more sheltered Gwernygaseg and let Ffynnon-y-cwrw out to tenants. The land attached to the farm was part of John Wilkinson’s empire for a time.

The history of Ffynnon-y-cwrw before 1760 – if it existed in any form – is harder to trace. Other than fields rented from the Brymbo estate, it may be that part of its land was originally enclosed from the old common, which even at the time of the tithe assessments still lay just to the north and west (Bwlchgwyn, with its clusters of cottages separated by small fields and patches of scrubby pasture, still has the feel of a village built piecemeal on common land). At least one field is shown as recently enclosed in the 1820s. Robert Peter, the house’s owner in 1760, does not appear in the rate books of 1730s, though a “Robert Peter the younger”, of Brymbo township, does feature in the Great Sessions records of 1735, where he was accused, along with Samuel Jones, collier, of assaulting another collier, Joseph Owens. He is described as a “limer”, but if this is the same man who built Ffynnon-y-cwrw then he clearly did fairly well from it, judging by his will; while his descendant, Mary Peters of Gwernygaseg, went on (according to Palmer) to marry Faithful Thomas Esq, an attorney and Constable of Chester Castle, in the early 19th century.