pool

The pool today.

There are certain public spaces that seem to define a community as much by their existence in memories and experience as by their physical existence. Brymbo Pool, I suspect, is one of these.

There can be few people locally who have not walked up there on Sundays or summer evenings, rather as many would remember the walk across to Hope Mountain, down Farm Lane to the Hafod, or over to the waterfalls at Nant-y-Ffrith, depending where you lived or how much time you had to waste. I always imagine the pool in bright sunshine, simply because it was where you might go when it was sunny. Nevertheless it has a recorded history too, although early on it becomes as murky as the water has occasionally been.

It was in origin, perhaps, one of the typical marshy hill ponds found across the area, much like the one up at Waun y Llyn on Hope Mountain. In fact, there were once two pools there, as earlier maps show a second smaller one to the south-west. If the ‘Rhos’, as I’ve called it in a previous article, that stretched from the Dyke to Glascoed was used as a sort of open rough pasture for cattle, the pools at Top Brymbo would have been a useful watering place. They may have had other uses, too. G. Rogers, in his book on Brymbo and its neighbourhood, notes that local Baptists were said to have once been immersed in Brymbo Pool “as a means of professing their faith“. (He writes that the cause was supposed to have started “somewhere in the Glascoed in 1728”, perhaps a reference to the strongly nonconformist ffennah or Phennah family of Upper Glascoed farm: Richard ffennah was one of the trustees of Wrexham’s first Baptist chapel in the late 1740s).

The earliest maps show the pool having a very irregular, natural-looking outline. However this may not be all it seems, as it is curiously broken by the lane from Mount Pleasant to Mount Zion. The tithe map, Ordnance Survey draft of 1835 and estate plan of 1829 all show the lane travelling ruler-straight along the eastern edge of the pool, with a further small pond immediately east of the road. As it seems unlikely that an old lane would have travelled straight across the middle of one end of a natural pond, it immediately suggests that the lane was actually the top of a small causeway or dam intended to raise, or hold back, the water from the springs that once rose on the hilltop. Whether this was actually the case, and if so whether the work was done by John Wilkinson or by one of the estate’s previous owners (who were carrying out coal works very near the spot at least as far back as the 1680s) is something that may still be recorded somewhere among the estate’s scattered records. Either way, there is a possibility that Brymbo Pool was not entirely in its natural state even 200 years ago.

Four depictions of Brymbo Pool. Anticlockwise from top left: c. 1829 (J. Bolton's map of the estate); c. 1835 (for first Ordnance Survey); c. 1844 (tithe map); and detail from 1873 OS (Crown copyright) showing changed shape.

Four historic depictions of Brymbo Pool. Anticlockwise from top left: c. 1829 (J. Bolton’s map of the estate); c. 1835 (for first Ordnance Survey); c. 1844 (tithe map); and detail – not in scale with the others – from 1873 OS (Crown copyright) showing changed shape.

By 1874 the pool was shown as having a definite parallelogram shape, very similar to its appearance today, a little over 2 acres in size. This was at least partly artificial, and certainly bears little resemblance to the smaller and less regular outline seen in 1835, so further work had clearly been carried out during the era of Robert Roy, over at the Hall, and Henry Robertson, down in the ironworks. The smaller pool to the south west had disappeared by this point, presumably filled in when tramways were run through the area. By this time the Baptists had a fine chapel, Tabernacl, in the centre of Brymbo village and the days of Richard ffennah and his associates baptising people in the Brymbo Pool’s waters (if indeed they ever did so) belonged to the far distant past. If anyone entered it, it was more likely to be to cool off in summer weather – or to rescue those who got into difficulties, like Mr. Alexander Griffiths, who (on P.C. Wynn’s suggestion) was awarded a medal by the Royal Humane Society for dragging a hapless bather from the pool in July 1886. The Vicar of Brymbo observed that all young men should “aspire to some heroic deeds“. The parched summers didn’t only put overheated colliers and ironworkers at risk; on July 9, 1887 the pool was reported by the Wrexham Advertiser to be extremely low due to drought, and that large trout were seen to be “dying in numbers“. The water levels were eventually restored using a supply from the Brymbo Water Company, and the pool had a healthy fish population through to the 1950s.

One of the biggest changes at the pool took place in 1892-3. The works was expanding, having recently begun steelmaking under the management of John Darby, and it was decided to use the pool as a reservoir of cooling water. On December 31, 1892, the Advertiser reported that “The Brymbo Pool, once a fine expanse of water, and a favourite resort of skaters, is at present nearly dried up, owing to the alterations which are being made there, to enlarge and deepen the pool“. The “considerable” improvements were reported as finished by the following May. The pool now had an area of some 5 acres, and the road on its eastern edge was raised on a long, straight embankment to accommodate the higher water levels (another news article claimed it was intended to extend it to cover 9 acres, with an average depth of 10ft, going to 17ft at the deepest). Its southern edge now stretched out nearly to the site of the No.1 Pit near Mount Pleasant. The little pond on the east of the road had gone, but the Company had created a new reservoir nearby in the angle of the road from Mount Pleasant and that down to the furnaces: intended to receive the heated water pumped back from the works, it soon became known as the “Hot Pool”, and in later years was as popular an unofficial swimming place as the “Cold Pool” had been. A bandstand on the north bank added to the general air of company-tolerated festivity surrounding the spot at that time.

The extra demand for water meant that fresh sources had to be found. The company, initially, pumped a supply from the Cefn stream over in Glascoed (the same stream into which the water drained from the estate’s mines through the Level Fawr, or “Big Day Level” as it was sometimes called). The whole formed a very effective system for ensuring the works had a reserve of water to draw on.

The final period of expansion took place in the 1950s, coincident with the steady expansion of the works itself that was eventually to swallow up most of the village of Lodge. The improvements raised the water level still further, giving the pool a total area of 7.3 acres. Around the northern and eastern edges of the pool, the banks were remade and new pumps were installed to bring water up from the Cegidog near Ffrith. The hum of machinery, splashing of pumped water and concrete embankments gave the place a definite industrial air which contrasted strangely but somehow charmingly with the gorsy pastures and wind-bent trees spreading to the south and west and the view of Hope Mountain across the water. Though the bandstand had fallen silent and signs warned of the extreme dangers of swimming, the banks of the pool were still a favourite spot for Sunday walks.

The steelworks, in its final incarnation, was enormously thirsty and even after the 1950s rebuilding the management continued searching for further water sources. In the 1970s there was even a project to try and tap some of the huge quantities of water which flooded into the Blast Pit from up in the Drowsall seam. Naturally, when the steelworks closed, the pumps were switched off and the water levels fell drastically. For a while it seemed as if one of the best loved features of the area might disappear entirely, drained by leaks in its bed, but eventually public money was found to restore it in a softer and more natural incarnation, looking a little more like it must have in the 1870s, though the gorse and scrub have spread far closer to the edges these days.

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