During the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, most of the land in Brymbo was owned by landlords who lived outside the township and parish, and in many cases outside Wales. In this it was similar to other parts of the region. Many tenements were part of large estates like those belonging to the Grosvenors or to the Myddeltons, and later Wests, of Chirk. Yet while the 18th century, for example, put paid to most of the small ‘parish gentry’ and yeomanry, their land being swallowed up by big landowners and increasingly by a rising class of industrial entrepreneurs, some estates went the other way too.

It is clear that for many years much of the land in the southern part of Brymbo was owned by the Robinson family of Gwersyllt; I’ve already talked about the picturesque figure of Colonel John Robinson, the tenacious Royalist soldier. His father, William, is shown as a major landowner in the township in 1620; well over 100 (modern) acres of his land are tenanted by one man, a Robert Griffith, who as a freeholder elsewhere in the survey is likely to have been one of the Griffiths of Brymbo Hall, and there are several other Robinson-owned farms too. William Robinson had no doubt obtained these through transactions with one or several of the old gentry of Wrexham parish, men like Robert Griffith. These were the descendants of freeholders from the time of the Welsh administration and were often desperately short of cash (several of the farms recorded in 1620 are described as formerly belonging to Hugh Puleston).

There is one tenement that we can be fairly certain was among the Robinsons’ property in Brymbo township. This was Ty Cerrig, a farm of sufficient importance to be named separately in documents in a period when such names were not usually listed.There are a few early references to its occupants too. Palmer found reference to a “John Griffith of Te Keryg, Brymbo” in the 1660s, and a hearth tax return of 1670 shows a “Mr John Griffith ty kerig” rated for 2 hearths. There are not many other John Griffiths in the area in that time, and on the hearth tax list the collector is careful to record him as “Mr” along with the township’s other small gentry, so I suppose this man may well have been John Griffith “the younger”, then owner of the Brymbo Hall estate which lay just next door: entitled to bear arms but still very much of the stamp of the old freeholders I mentioned earlier. The rate books of the time show that the latter estate was still divided amongst him and the heirs of Sir Richard Saltonstall, with whom Griffith’s father, John Griffith “the elder”, had made an apparently disastrous financial arrangement back in 1650. The younger John had been taking action in Chancery against the Saltonstall heirs but in the meantime had been compelled to live in rather reduced circumstances – or a very “poore and low condition” as his legal pleading put it – and I wonder if any of that time had been spent at Ty Cerrig, or at least tenanting its land in order to provide some additional income. If the Robert Griffith shown in 1620 as a Robinson tenant had been of the same family, there would clearly have been a precedent for this arrangement.

John Griffith died in 1678 and his son, Robert, was soon recorded as in occupation of the full estate. With the Griffith family back up at Brymbo Hall, the farm of Ty Cerrig was let to other tenants. We certainly know the exact situation with the Robinson estates in Brymbo as of 1680, as in that year John Robinson mortgaged them for £500. At this point, they included what was described as a “messuage and lands called Tukerrig” in the joint tenure of Hugh ap Edward and John ap Hugh, and a further tenement, of slightly higher annual rental value, occupied solely by the same Hugh ap Edward. The latter could represent the land which later became the Vron Farm, which was always rated for the same amount as Ty Cerrig and was of similar size. Perhaps Hugh ap Edward and John ap Hugh were a father and son working their 150 or so acres together.

The mortgage was one of a number of signs the estate was becoming financially stretched. Robinson’s dogged support of the Stuarts through the previous decades had paid off, politically, in the longer term, but the family’s efforts to keep the estate together, while Robinson was in exile or otherwise occupied, had proved expensive. Though the chickens had not come home to roost yet, they would do so for Robinson’s descendants.

Two smaller tenements are also mentioned in the 1680 document; these were occupied by John Powell and William ap Edward and judging by their rents, they were less than half the size of Ty Cerrig and Vron. These perhaps represent the small tenement immediately north of Plas Mostyn which Palmer called “Gwern y Sawdl”, a name I have not located in any document, and the adjacent Penrhos farm, which certainly belonged to the Robinsons a little later on.

John Robinson died the year after mortgaging his property in Brymbo. The estates were taken over by his son William, who despite serving as MP for Denbighshire between 1705 and 1707 was unable to do anything constructive about the debt hanging over the family possessions. He was succeeded by his eldest son, another John. John made a good match by marrying Elizabeth, one of the two daughters and coheirs of the wealthy, charitable and locally famous Dorothy Jeffreys of Acton. It was in the younger John Robinson’s time, it seems, that Ty Cerrig and Vron, split into tenements of nearly equal size, were first let to two families who would be associated with them for many decades to come: the Taylors at Ty Cerrig, and the Lewises at Vron.

The rate books seem to show that there was some degree of amalgamation or change of farm boundaries in this part of Brymbo in around 1700; perhaps there was even enclosure of some small fragments of common. Coincidentally this is a time in which there is a gap of several years in surviving rate books, and the assessments that do survive are oddly fragmentary. Nevertheless, from this time the boundaries of Robinson’s two tenements would remain substantially unchanged down to recent decades, although both would lose some land to the Vron Colliery during the 19th century. Both were between 70 and 80 acres in size. The Vron Farm stretched north from the Gwenfro as far as the ‘Minera Chapel Field’ or Cae Llewelyn, and along the bank of the Gwenfro towards Glanyrafon. Two of its fields once bore the interesting name ‘Cae Harwood’, presumably in reference to the common around a mile away at Brymbo, or maybe a sign that there was a further piece of common here. The holding at Ty Cerrig occupied most of the remaining land northwards to the Brymbo Hall estate, but also included the land west of present-day Vron village which part of colliery banks later occupied, fields which bore the name of ‘the Henblas’. Of the tenants, the Lewis family appear on the record first, with Arthur Lewis being rated for Vron Farm from 1717 onwards. From his gravestone, which is still visible in the Dissenters Burial Ground in Rhosddu, we know that Arthur was born in 1680, and was married to Rachel. He was preceded, briefly, in the rate books by a man called Evan Lewis, and the possibility that Evan was a relative is reinforced by the will of a woman called Alice ferch Evan of Brymbo, who had died a few years previously, and whose eldest sons were named as Evan and Arthur Lewis. The family can be traced back even further in the township, as other wills reveal the name of Alice’s father, Evan Thomas Shone, and husband, Lewis Thomas (the same name as borne by one of the operators of Robert Griffith’s pit at Mount Pleasant in the 1680s). Both appear on the Brymbo rate books in preceding years, though neither appear to have tenanted Vron at this point, so perhaps Evan was the first Lewis to farm it.

Evan and his brother Arthur clearly had a long family history in the township. The Taylors, however, appear in the early 1720s more or less out of nowhere, with Simon Taylor being rated for the same sum as his neighbour Arthur Lewis. Where the family came from is uncertain, though there was a prominent Taylor family on the township rate books some fifty years before: that of Captain Edward Taylor the Parliamentarian. A few years later, Simon was succeeded in his tenancy by a son called Edward. The remote possibility that the Taylors of Ty Cerrig might be connected to Captain Taylor, suggested by the prevalence of the name ‘Edward’ in both families and by dissenting tendencies, is however diminished by the fact that Captain Taylor’s sons – Edward, John and David – do not appear in local records, though John possibly crops up in Esclusham. In any case, the Lewis and Taylor families of Brymbo were to be neighbours for the next century at least, occupying two of the township’s most important farms and perhaps sharing a similar religious outlook.

The continuity of tenants, however, was not reflected in the land’s ownership in the same period. John Robinson’s properties passed to his only surviving son, another William. This William married a cousin – another Elizabeth – and had a daughter, also called Elizabeth, but on the 20th June 1739, while still in his 20s, was said to have died a young man’s death, drowning in a storm while on a ‘sporting’ expedition to the Skerries with some friends. The Skerries, the ‘island of seals’ off Anglesey, were an old monastic property appropriated by an earlier Robinson who was Bishop of Bangor. Here is Angharad Lhwyd, describing the incident:

“The last heir male of Monachdy, and Gwersyllt, in the county of Denbigh, leased this Island of Skerries to Mr. Morgan Jones of Cilwendeg; and in the year 1729—30 [sic], when a light-house was erecting there, by Mr. Jones, he (Mr. William Robinson) with twelve other young gentlemen of fortune in North Wales, were drowned one stormy day, on their return from this dreary spot. It was an after-dinner frolic. The heir of Carreg Lwyd escaped the same fate, by hiding himself under a manger, to avoid accompanying the party. Mr. Robinson was not more than twenty-three, when he perished in this unfortunate manner”

The odd and ill-fated “frolic”, whatever the truth of it (a trip across a famously dangerous stretch of water to some desolate rocks seems a strange choice of after-dinner entertainment) is now pretty much the only information on the hapless Robinson to remain; contemporary accounts, and even the identity of the twelve companions, are notably difficult to find.* “Their boat was afterwards found near Whitehaven, containing the oars and sea stores, but not a vestige of the company,” wrote another author many years after the event, and it was intimated that Robinson’s terrible and watery end was some sort of divine retribution caused by Bishop Robinson’s acquisition of the property long before. “People really should be more careful in the selection of their ancestors!“, commented A N Palmer in an uncharacteristically tongue-in-cheek moment. One can only guess at the comments passed in the parlours of Vron and Ty Cerrig when the news arrived.

As often happened in such cases, the estates – now including an interest in those lands once belonging to Dorothy Jeffreys – became entangled in a complex of inheritance and debt, with demands on them from Frances Egerton (Dorothy Jeffreys’ other heir), William Robinson’s wife and child, mother, and two sisters, Dorothy and Anne (the former being the wife of Ellis Yonge, and the latter of whom had married the improbably named Cawley Humberstone Cawley of Gwersyllt Uchaf), not to mention those who had advanced money against the properties. So it was that in 1744 the various parties interested in the estates asked leave to bring in a Bill to have some of the property sold off. The farms in Brymbo were among those targeted, and sure enough in 1750 the London attorney Matthew Bacon drafted up documents for the sale. Two of the farms – Ty Cerrig and Vron, then occupied by Edward Taylor and Arthur Lewis respectively – were to be sold to John Edwards of Llan y Cafn, a landowner from Overton. Two other farms in Brymbo – then in the tenure of Hugh Hughes or his “heirs and assigns” and Robert Roberts – were bought by William Meredith of Pentrebychan; Roberts’ tenement, probably the one called “Gwern y Sawdl” by Palmer, was retained by the Meredith family for many decades. The latter sale also threw in the farm called Glanyrafon in Bersham township on whose land Southsea village stands today.

In this way the Robinsons’ estates in Brymbo were broken up. John Edwards, Llan y Cafn did not enjoy the rents of Ty Cerrig and Vron for long, as he died and passed the property to his wife, who remarried a Reverend Wood. Wood, in turn, left the two farms to a man called Roger Meeson of Ruabon parish, and Meeson, who had a large family, bequeathed the two Brymbo properties to two of his children: Vron went to a son, and Ty Cerrig to a daughter. Nevertheless the land itself continued much as before, with the same families working it: they had other and more pressing concerns than a change of landlord, although the disappearance of the firmly Tory and Anglican Robinsons might have made their life easier in religious terms. The tenancy at Vron came into the hands of Moses Lewis, Arthur’s son, in 1762; Moses, who lived until 1812 and the age of 90, is of course well known in his own right as a locally important figure in nonconformist religion, and joint founder of the chapel at Adwy. Here he is, in 1748, as described in William Williams’ Welsh Calvinistic Methodism, sheltering his fellow preacher Peter William s:

Preaching in the neighbourhood of Wrexham, [Williams] was arrested by the orders of Sir Watkin, and brought into his presence. We have no account of the examination which he underwent, but at the close of it he was committed to the dog-kennel, where he had to remain for the night. In the morning he was set at liberty, and bent his steps towards the friendly roof of Moses Lewis, a farmer in the neighbourhood. Here he was followed by the constables who had arrested him on the preceding day, not, it is supposed, by the order of the magistrate, but wishing to do a little business on their own account. His host seeing them approach the house, and suspecting their purpose, took possession of his watch. He was obliged to submit to be searched by these worthies, and they appropriated to themselves all the money which they could find upon him, which amounted to three shillings and sixpence. Our readers will not be shocked when we say that he took snuff. The constables took possession of his snuff-box, but at his earnest entreaty were kind enough to return it. Possibly they would not have returned it unopened if they had only known that besides containing a quantity of the sweet-scented dust, it contained half a guinea.

It is strange to think that, only a few years earlier, the family from whom the Lewises held their tenancy had been among the most ferocious persecutors of local nonconformists – and almost disappointing to note that Moses, in old age, abandoned a lifetime of controversy to become a Wrexham churchwarden.

Up at Ty Cerrig Edward Taylor seems to have kept going until 1787, when he handed over to his oldest son, another Simon. His will – the brief, plain will of a tenant farmer – also mentions sons called William, Edward, John and Thomas, and daughters Mary Gittins and Anne Pugh; the wife who had to bear those six is named as Anne. With so many sons it was natural that another Taylor would simply take over the tenancy.

The will of Simon Taylor of Ty Cerrig was proved in 1838. Although he also had sons called Edward and Simon, he broke with tradition by calling his eldest son Robert. Robert was to bring the family’s residency in the township well into the industrial era. Even in this time, the district’s farmers still occupied some of the upper positions in parish society, and Robert Taylor (the tenant, incidentally, at the time of the tithe assessments) went on to become a deacon of the Calvinistic Methodist chapel in Brymbo. Colonel John Robinson would have been extremely unimpressed.

Footnotes

*The one exception is, however, the diary of William Bulkeley of Brynddu, another Anglesey landowner, which records the names of those drowned and some other contemporary details. There were in fact two boats, Robinson’s from Mynachdy and one from Wylfa; those in Robinson’s boat included a “Mr Edwards of Stansty”, two manservants, a landscape gardener from Holywell, William Thomas the tenant at Mynachdy and his son, Hugh Jones of Rhoscolyn, John Lewis of Llanrhwydrys, and Owen Prichard of Cemlyn; they were said by the lighthouse keeper to be “heated with liquor“; the storm blew up late in the day, at 6pm, but it was decided by Robinson to sail through it; the occupants of the Wylfa boat included William Watkin, the heir of Wylfa, and Richard ap Sion and Richard Owen ap William Bedward, owners of the Gwyddelyn and Tyddyn Ronw estates; and that wreckage of this second boat was indeed found in Whitehaven. Bulkeley ended by lamenting that so many, mostly young family men, had been “lost in following the caprice of a hot-headed young Gentleman“.

The identity of “Mr Edwards” is confirmed by the fact that admon was granted for the effects of Thomas Edwards of Stansty, Gent, in October 1739. Similarly, an examination of probate records for Holywell in that year gives a likely candidate for the unfortunate landscape gardener mentioned by Bulkeley: Peter Wynn of Brynford.