This is another in my occasional series of walks around the area, and links to an earlier one through Penrhos.

From the junction at Penrhos, an unusually straight lane runs northwards towards Brymbo Pool: Mount Pleasant farm stands at its far end, at the junction with Brake Road. A “brake” is a local term for a railway incline: sure enough, maps of the 1870s show a tramway running downhill at the roadside to the furnaces, connecting with others running south to Penrhos and the Wonder Pits, and running north and west to others. It must have been a busy place, of drifting smoke, blaspheming carters, and spoil tips spreading across the fields, giving rise to one suggestion that the name “Mount Pleasant” was probably tongue-in-cheek.

The farmstead itself probably dates from the Wilkinson era, or soon after it. In 1829 a man called Thomas Shone, Jr, tenanted it, but the fields attached to the farm were certainly in the occupation of Wilkinson himself back in 1800. The tithe assessments of the 1840s show the tenant to have been Frances Shone, Thomas’s widow. The Shone family seem to have farmed in the vicinity of Mount Pleasant and Penrhos for several decades. The first clear record is that of Henry Shone, farmer of Penrhos, who died in 1798; the will of his wife, Mary, is dated 1814, witnessed by Richard Griffith “of Brombo Smelter”. Her eldest son is named as Watkin Shone, probably the  “W Shone” who was the tenant of Penrhos Bach, now Rhos-y-coed, in 1799. Jonathan, Thomas, and Henry were the other sons, and a daughter Jane – married to Thomas Edwards – is also mentioned.

While Watkin, as Henry’s eldest son, continued farming, the younger sons took on jobs as colliers and the like, and went on to have children of their own. Watkin was later recorded as farming over 80 acres: extra land probably became available to rent after the death of John Wilkinson, as the latter’s nephew and trustees were far less hands-on in their management of the estate.

Mount Pleasant farm, overlooking Brymbo Pool.

Mount Pleasant farm, overlooking Brymbo Pool. The No. 1 pit was in the area behind the trees on the pool’s far bank.

Mount Pleasant itself almost directly overlooked some of the main coal-pits on the estate, as will become clear when turning left at the farmhouse and turning downhill to the long, causeway-like section of road alongside Brymbo Pool. The No. 1 – No. 4 pits of the Wilkinson and post-Wilkinson period seem to have been in a sort of enclosure behind the farm, just south of the Pool. It’s still covered with old banks of mine spoil, now overgrown with furze: a hidden industrial landscape. The Ordnance Survey draft of 1835 shows a pit there, along with the road leading from it across to Mount Zion. The fact that this immediate area is called Cae Mawr Bychan on 19th century records leads to the suspicion that this is also, in fact, the site of the pit recorded in 1684 in the ownership of Robert Griffith of Brymbo Hall and worked by Lewis Thomas and his three colleagues. The field boundary enclosing the pits might even have been the same hedge that Griffith ordered the colliers to plant around the works.

On the left is Brymbo Pool, which has been deliberately expanded several times over the years before shrinking slightly to its present size. As it probably deserves its own post I’ll leave it aside for now, but will also mention the second, smaller pool that used to exist just to the south-west, and whose traces can still be seen, slightly, on aerial photographs. It is shown on the first Ordnance Survey and tithe maps, but had disappeared by the 1870s. On the north side of this smaller pool stood a cottage locally known as “Rhos Hall”, which had also disappeared by the end of the 19th century; I imagine “Rhos Hall” was another ironic name. John Jones lived in it in 1829.

The “Rhos” in question was the same area to which the name Penrhos, “moor end”, referred and which formed a large chunk of the Brymbo estate. Alfred Palmer talked of it as the “waste” that stretched westwards from Offa’s Dyke as far as Glascoed, noting that it was covered with the remains of mining works. It forms an approximate rectangle, with Penrhos, the Smelt Wood, Caello, and Mount Zion at its corners, the pool towards the centre, and the Dyke on its eastern edge. However, I’m not sure that it was waste in the sense of being part of the common moor: for a start, it had long been part of the Brymbo Hall estate, and the mineral rights belonged to the estate’s owners (such as Robert Griffith). On the ‘real’ commons the rights were held by the Grosvenors of Eaton, who had bought them in the early 1600s when the Crown was hawking off various assets. It seems more likely that the “Rhos” was simply a large, open area of rough furzy pasture for cattle grazing. The appearance of the name Caello, “calf field”, at its far north end again suggests this use, as it was perhaps an outlet field for calves. Many of its fields are still of very large size. Whether it had once been treated as common land, in the time when the freeholders of Brymbo still held their land jointly, is now difficult to say; or perhaps the Griffith family still allowed their tenants or neighbours the right to stray some cattle there. Either way it was poor land, and bits of it were given over to industrial uses from at least the late 17th century onwards. The greener fields around Penrhos Mawr farm are perhaps a legacy of Wilkinson’s sideline as an ‘improving’ gentleman-farmer.

Across the pool is the Bottle, the base of the lead smelter blown up in the 1960s after standing idle for the best part of 150 years. Wilkinson’s smelting works, later converted to other purposes, lay just behind it. To the north, at the end of the road bordering the pool, stood Mount Zion, another Wilkinson-era farm. The useful estate sale catalogue of 1829 shows that there was also a carpenters’ workshop here, a smithy, a weighing machine and wheelwright; all essential support activities for the pits, two or three more of which had been sunk in the fields just to the east. There were also cottages occupied by Zachariah Williams, James Reynolds, John Jones and John Roberts. The farm itself and its 35 acres, stretching across Offa’s Dyke down towards Caello was then tenanted by Samuel Evans. The farmhouse and some of the associated buildings were still there as late as a decade ago, but like much else have been replaced by a small estate of houses.

Although the Bottle’s working life was very short, superseded by better smelting processes, the smelting works just down the hill towards the turnpike had a relatively long existence. It stood on the left of the road, as you go west from Mount Zion to the old turnpike, its site now covered in trees. Wilkinson built it, or the earliest version of it (though the reference to a “lead mine” on the estate in its 1790 advertisment for sale gives at least a possibility of smelting being carried out by Thomas Assheton-Smith). At some point in the first part of the 19th century it was rebuilt, and restarted as an operation separate to the ironworks. An article of 1862 gives more details:

A Joint Stock Company […] has been formed for purchasing the Brymbo Lead Smelting Works near Minera, Wrexham. The nominal capital is
40,000l. in 8,000 shares of 5l. each […] These works were erected some years ago, but their operations ended in failure. One of the Directors of the present company, Mr. Thomas Edgeworth, of Wrexham, was, we believe, connected with the former company.

Edgeworth, a solicitor, is a familiar figure to historians of Wrexham. He became Mayor in 1857 and, as an obituary notice puts it, was “a gentleman of literary and artistic taste“, who taught drawing-classes at the Wrexham Literary Institute. Like most municipal worthies of the time – and many today – he had his fingers in many pies, though the Brymbo lead works had a rather troubled existence. By the end of the 19th century it had been repurposed as the “Electric Carbon Works”, run by the English Electric Carbon Company, and manufacturing arc-lamp carbons. There was a strong connection with the ironworks, as the manager was Graham Littleboy, brother in law of John H. Darby, who also acted as the Carbon Company’s chairman. Lamp carbons were not as lucrative as had been hoped, and the company was voluntarily wound up in 1907. Though the ruinous walls of parts of the buildings survived into the mid 20th century, it is now difficult to imagine that a factory was ever here.