I have mentioned in earlier articles the brief rule in Wrexham of the “committee men” – the supporters of Cromwell. Three of them at least (Hugh Prichard, Edward Taylor and Sir Richard Saltonstall) had close connections with Brymbo,  along with other local supporters such as the younger Samuel Powell of Stansty and the Gyfynys, while the most influential of the lot, John Jones Maesygarnedd, lived not far away. A. H. Dodd, in his history of Wrexham, said that the town gained administrative importance in this period as a stronghold of often English-speaking nonconformity; had the Protectorate continued it might well have become the real centre of power in North Wales. Still, it was not be, and in later years everyone was very eager to prove how few “committee men” had been amongst their number.

Despite this, the noncomformists and Parliamentarians were surprisingly deeply embedded in the social fabric of the area.

Leaving Brymbo behind and climbing the green slopes of the mountain once known as Glasfre, you come to the high moors around the hill of Cyrn y Brain. Beneath it the drovers’ and shepherds’ paths drop steeply down into a narrow valley, edged with limestone crags to the east and woods to the west, and which opens out into the Vale of Llangollen. Pennant, writing in the late eighteenth century, mentions the ancient yew trees which once grew along the cliffs and praised the independence of the area’s yeomanry. The valley was once known as Eglwysegl, and at its head was the home of John Jones Maesygarnedd, the manor house of Plas Uchaf.

Pennant said that during his visit he was shown a farmhouse somewhere high up the left-hand side of the valley. There, he was told, had lived “a low partizan” of Cromwell: one Edward Davies, known as “Y Cneifiwr Glas”, the “Blue Shearer”, for his enthusiasm in fleecing local Royalists. (Llangollen Museum identifies the house visited by Pennant as Tan y Bwlch, north of Pentredwr, though a 19th century guidebook suggests it was Pant Glas, on the western side of the valley close to Plas Uchaf.) Appointed as a steward by the commissioners for sequestration, the Shearer’s reputation had been such that tales were still being told of him when Pennant visited, some 130 years later:

“he was accustomed to take even royalists under his protection, on receiving the proper reward. He once concealed Sir Evan Llwyd of Bodidris, at a time that a considerable sum was awarded for his apprehension. He lodged him in a cellar below the parlour; then summoning his people ordered them, in a seeming rage, to sally out in quest of Sir Evan, stamping with his foot, and declaring that if the knight was above ground, he would have him”

Weak jokes aside, there are only a handful of references elsewhere to Davies, all of which ultimately seem derived from Pennant. Dodd’s history of Wrexham briefly characterises him as a “low-born adventurer” and he is elsewhere described simply as a “bandit”. It is not a very flattering picture, but as is often the case the truth may be rather more complicated, and reveals a good deal about the nature of the Interregnum in the district.

The will of an Edward Davies, gent, of Eglwysegl, proved in 1692, still survives. He describes himself as “aged”, holds much property in the valley and in Llangollen Vechan – a good match for “Y Cneifiwr Glas” – and mentions sons called Peter (the eldest) and Thomas (Thomas is bequeathed a farm, on condition he promises to obey his brother’s advice). If this is the right will, then the Shearer died in his bed many decades after the Civil War’s turmoil. Peter Davies himself appears in the probate records in 1705 – his possessions including two hundred sheep, eight oxen, a library of books and much furniture – followed by another Peter Davies a couple of decades later.

This Davies family very closely match some names described in the Chirk Castle Accounts of the 17th century, edited by Myddleton. An Edward Davies (ap David, ap Edward ap Morus) of Eglwysegl is mentioned by the estate steward Watkin Kyffin: the book also notes Edward’s son Peter, who was the estate agent at Chirk, and grandson, another Peter. Kyffin, in a note, calls Edward Davies his “brother”, meaning brother-in-law. Kyffin was also the brother-in-law of John Jones Maesygarnedd, as all had married daughters of John Edwards of Stansty (Jones’s wife was another member of Morgan Llwyd’s congregation). So there was – assuming that the Edward Davies of Eglwysegl mentioned in the Accounts is the same man as Pennant’s Edward Davies of Eglwysegl – a firm link through marriage between the Shearer and his highly-placed neighbour. Moreover the Davies family also worked in the administration of Chirk Castle – whose owners, the Myddletons, were the most powerful supporters of Parliament in the north east. As so often happened in this time, business and religion and family all went hand in hand; the administration of the committee men was rooted in much the same pattern of patronage, intermarriage and blood relationships as had always governed the compact world of the Welsh gentry. Very much the same thing can be observed in the close connections between Edward Taylor and Hugh Prichard over at Brymbo, and those landowners who openly supported the Royalist cause, such as John Robinson of Gwersyllt and even John Powell of the Gyfynys, had a rough time of it for a few years.

Even after the Restoration, the execution of his brother-in-law John Jones, and in an environment supposedly hostile to the “committee men”, Edward Davies of Eglwysegl maintained his social standing: he appears on a list of Mayors of Holt in the 1670s. Perhaps the Myddleton connection protected his interests.

The will and other evidence suggest a man of some social standing, whatever tales of low birth or banditry were spread after his death. If Peter Davies was the son of Edward, as seems likely, his possessions suggest prosperous and well-born farmers as much as anything else. The large number of sheep makes me wonder if the Davies family had been drovers or graziers – not a dishonourable profession for a Welsh gentleman of the time – and that perhaps the name “Cneifiwr Glas” had been a double joke; a sheep-farmer as well as a shearer of Royalists. Indeed the grandson Peter Davies appears to have followed typical gentry interests and been a collector of geneaological materials; his signature appears in a manuscript compiled by Gutyn Owain. Interestingly some of these materials are those used to prove Cromwell’s Welsh ancestry, so perhaps the family’s allegiances were not entirely forgotten.