Despite the closeness of Brynmally to the modern-day village of Brymbo, it is not actually in the old township; it lies just over the border, in Broughton. Nevertheless the colliery at Brynmally employed many Brymbo men over the years, and the residence of its owners, Brynmally Hall, was one of the area’s most notable houses. Its name, which mean’s Mary’s (or Molly’s) Hill, is more correctly written as Bryn Mali, though the anglicised version is probably more familiar. The hill, such as it is, forms a low ridge of farmland lying east of Clayton Road and marked by the distinctive tower of the Wrexham-Rhos transmitter. The house of Brynmally lay just north-east of the hill’s highest point, with the colliery a little further to the east beyond that.

The land in question was once attached to the Lower Halcock or Halcog Issa tenement, itself one of the farms belonging to the Gyfynys estate. The Gyfynys had been owned by the Powell family since at least the 16th century, but by the early 18th century the Powells had departed the area and their estates were broken up to satisfy various inheritances. Much of this land, including Lower Halcock, then in the tenancy of Thomas Rogers, came into the possession of a Mr James Morgan of Stansty, and after the latter’s death in 1760 passed to his heirs. Although mining was undoubtedly taking place on surrounding land in this time – with pits at the Lodge and on the Broughton Hall estate – there is not much evidence of either the house or the coal pits at Brynmally, although there has been a suggestion of a reference to the pit on the estate as early as 1753, during Morgan’s ownership. That was soon to change, however.

As commonly happened in this period, the catalyst for Brynmally’s development was an ‘outsider’: Thomas Brock, Esq, the City Clerk of Chester. Brock – who comes across as a man always on the lookout for a good deal – had a number of investments in the Wrexham area, including land in Minera and elsewhere, and was well aware of the district’s mineral potential. By 1769 Brock’s attentions had turned further south; his sister had married John Wood the younger, architect of much of the fashionable city of Bath, in 1752, and in 1769 Brock took a lease on number 1 in the newly-completed Royal Crescent. However, he still took an interest in his Denbighshire investments, and in the same year he appears to have completed his acquisition of Lower Halcock from Morgan’s niece, Catherine Hilditch, and her husband. The documents include a reference to “coal mines in all or any of the premises, with whimseys and other machines“; perhaps an acknowledgement of the land’s coal producing capacity, if not of a specific pit. In the same year Brock agreed to lease the land at Halcock Issa, along with its mineral rights, to Charles Roe, an acquaintance from his time in Chester: within the next few years coal production had clearly been expanded, and Brock had built a new “capital messuage” on the site, an early version of Brynmally Hall. Incidentally, Roe’s biographer has made the suggestion that Brock, whose wife was called Mary, was responsible for the name “Bryn Mali”.

Brock’s business associate, Roe, was one of the most remarkable of the early industrialists: the youngest son of a Derbyshire clergyman, he had got his start in the button and silk trade and later diversified into copper mining and smelting, becoming extremely wealthy in the process. By the 1760s, he was operating Europe’s greatest copper mine at Parys Mountain on Anglesey, with smelters in Liverpool, and would have had a great need for coal, which the mines at on Brock’s land helped to fulfil. Brock also obtained the lease on the minerals beneath the adjacent Upper Halcock tenement, previously assigned by Morgan’s widow to a collier called John Price, and assigned it to Roe, incorporating an agreement to drive a “sough” to drain the Upper Halcock mines. I note that two of the fields of the Lower Halcock farm, then tenanted by Jonathan Shone, were known as the Drowsell Fawr and Drowsell Fechan, and I wonder if this field name might possibly explain the puzzling name of the Drowsell coal seam, which was worked in several of the district’s pits.

The arrangement continued until 1789, when Charles Roe’s son, William, assigned the remainder of the lease on Brock’s land to Richard Kirk. Kirk had come to the area a few years earlier, and gone into partnership with the Mr Venables who, according to Palmer, had been operating a pit at Cae Hico or Cae Iago, the area of scrubby common land lying west of present-day Clayton Road. Kirk had been steadily building up a portfolio of the area’s mineral resources: in 1786 he leased the minerals under Tyddyn Broughton, and “Mr Hill’s Colliery”, the pits on the Lodge estate; in 1787 he leased the minerals of the “Broughton Colliery”, the mines under the Broughton Hall estate, jointly with Samuel Davies and William and John Price; and by the 1790s he would take a lease on the nearby estate known as the Ffrwd, sinking pits known as Coed y Brain and Cae Gwydd. The Roe family pits, by this time known as the Brynmally Colliery, gave him almost complete control of the mineral resources in Broughton and the eastern half of Brymbo.

I’ll continue the story of Brynmally and its colliery in the next post.