The laws of the Anglo-Normans and those of the Welsh princedoms differed greatly with respect to land and inheritance. It was the former that won out, and which remain the basis of land law today. Remnants of earlier Welsh law, however, can still be seen in patterns of settlement and land ownership.

Although Welsh law has a clear basis in the social life of semi-nomadic pastoralists, leading a very different life to the settled arable farming communities of England, it was not in any way primitive, as T.P.Ellis was to point out in the 1920s. Welsh law is highly sophisticated, subtle, and developed. Indeed such was the aptitude of the Welsh lawyers that they became great experts in English law when compelled to adopt it. As A. H. Dodd put it in his classic Studies in Stuart Wales, by the 16th century the gentry had developed a “passion for what a Denbighshire man picturesquely called ‘lawying’“.

We know fairly little of Brymbo in the time when Powys was a thriving kingdom. It was clearly a frontier area, as Offa’s Dyke cuts it in half. At the time of Domesday, much of the area had been in English hands for some time, although it was lightly populated, if at all. The Cheshire hundred of Exestan stretched around Wrexham as far as Offa’s Dyke, while to the north the hundred of Atti’s Cross covered much of later Flintshire. The preponderance of English township and other names – Esclusham, Bersham, Stansty, and of course Harwood – is a record of this period of English administration.

As mentioned in my previous post, the mining community of Minera, partly made up of Welshmen and partly of emigrants from Cheshire, first begins to appear in records from the 13th century. From the 14th century onwards, however, we have a series of “extents”, or surveys, which provide a more detailed picture of land ownership and which show a period of transition between Welsh and English systems, although by this time Welsh families have recovered occupation of the farmland itself. Welsh freeholders, who often held land jointly in loose, extended kindred groups, can be seen gradually becoming the gentry of the 16th and 17th centuries, enthusiastically adopting the Anglo-Norman fashion for heraldry as they went.

The First Extent of Bromfield and Yale (1315) was eventually transcribed and published by T P Ellis in 1924 as part of the Cymmrodorion Records Series. It shows that most of the area later known as the Maelor Gymraeg, including the townships of Esclusham, Broughton, Bersham and Brymbo, was at that time held by freemen belonging to a clan identified by Ellis as the “Progenies of Ken”. “Ken” in this context – Kenrick or Cynwrig – is the same gentleman (mis)named Cynwrig ap Rhiwallon, the “lord of Maelor Gymraeg”, by the 17th century Welsh heralds. His family and entourage probably originated in Trefydd Bychain, a tref in the vicinity of Llandegla, and at some point – perhaps during the reign of William Rufus, according to Ellis – swept down into the lower country to retake richer farmlands which had once been in Welsh hands but had since been occupied by the English.

By 1315 we find a single gwely or group of Cynwrig’s descendants – “Group IV” under Ellis’ classification – recorded as the freemen of much of Bersham, Esclusham and Brymbo. In fact, Brymbo is held almost entirely by them. They also hold “half of Esclusham except 1/16”, and two parts of Bersham. These were a line of men shown in later genealogies as descended from Niniaw, supposedly one of Cynwrig’s sons. Here are their names:

 

Morgan ap Hwfa, Hwfa Foel [“bald Hugh”], Philip ap Aur, Madoc ap Atha [Adda], Gronw his brother, Hwfa ap Atha, Ken[rick] ap Hwfa ap Aur, Llywelyn ap Aur, […] ap Madoc, Iennaf [Ieuaf?] ap Madoc, Atha ap Madoc, Eigon of Gwersyllt, Ior[werth] ap Madoc, Hywel ap Madoc, Griffi[th] ap Madoc, Griffi[th] ap Eigon, Ithel ap Eigon, Eigon Foel, Llywelyn ap Eigon, David ap Gronw, Ririd ap Philip, Hwfa ap Ithel, Ithel ap Ithel, Ior[werth] ap Owain, Atha his brother, David Lloyd [“grey David”], Hywel his brother, Madoc his brother, Hwfa Goch [“red Hugh”], Madoc his brother, Ienna ap Madoc, Tudur his brother, Bullen ap Madoc , Ken Foel ap Bullen, Ior ap Ivor, Tudur his brother, Eden his brother, Hwfa ap Tudur, Ririd his brother, Gronw Cynfelin [“yellow-haired Goronwy”], Madoc his brother, Ior his brother, Hwfa ap Ithel, Ior ap Madoc Foel, Eigon, Ken, and Gwyn his brothers, Ior ap Eden and Llewelyn Oen [“Llewelyn the lamb”]

In this period of transition between Welsh and English systems, their land was held jointly, and they jointly rendered various payments to the lordship. The direct descendants of these men, often styled as “gentry” under a more rigorously Anglo-Norman view of land ownership and inheritance though little more than independent farmers, continued to hold land in the manor of Esclusham for many more years. In fact even in the 1620 survey of Norden, we can see a John ap John, or John Jones, having a claimed descent from “Cynwrig ap Rhiwallon” and holding a fairly modest parcel of land freehold in Brymbo. Other families became major landowners under the English administration. The 1620 survey notes the land in Brymbo formerly belonging to Edward Jones of Plas Cadwgan in Esclusham, who had proudly claimed a pedigree showing descent from Cynwrig, and some held by John Roberts of Hafodybwch, who also possessed hundreds of acres.

It seems clear that the later Griffith family of Brymbo Hall, who were descended from the mercenary Sanddef Hardd rather than Cynwrig, obtained their large estate in the township by marrying a heiress from one of the above families of freeholders, or perhaps through several marriages. The extant pedigrees show two likely sources – the marriage of Dafydd ap Madog to a Mallt ferch Dio ap Dafydd ap Madog Ddu “of Brymbo”, and the marriage of Dafydd’s father Madog to Nest ferch Hwfa ap Adda. Unless the pedigrees have missed a couple of generations somewhere (which is entirely possible), it seems unlikely that the Hwfa ap Adda mentioned here – whose daughter was probably of marriageable age well into the second half of the 14th century – would be the same as the Hwfa ap Adda mentioned as a freeman in 1315, attractive though the (slight) possibility is. However, both Hwfa and (especially) Adda were names particularly associated with this “gwely”. So it seems possible that a number of strategic marriages among this group of families enabled Sanddef’s descendants to acquire much, if not all, of the Brymbo freehold land, and set themselves up with a good-sized estate. Those odd parcels of freehold land belonging to other estates in later centuries – such as that associated with Plas Cadwgan and the farms in the south of township along the Gwenfro – represent the parts the Griffiths, as they became, did not acquire through marriage.

The only land in the Brymbo of 1315 not held by men listed above was the lord’s land, i.e. the lands where the freehold was held by the lordship. We can make some headway in identifying this within Bromfield and Yale as by the time of Norden’s survey, the old demesne lands were often held by farmers on 21 year leases (a “life” tenure was set at 7 years, and legislation passed under Henry VIII had limited the term of such leases to 3 lives, i.e. 21 years) while other land was held under what Palmer called a “quasi-copyhold” tenure of 40 years. This type of land, in Brymbo, is concentrated in Glascoed and, of course, in the Gyfynys estate of the Powells.