My previous post discussed the early history of the Brynmally estate and its colliery – which started operation in around 1753 or 1770, depending on which source you consult. We arrive on firmer ground with the appearance of the coalmaster Richard Kirk during the 1770s. Kirk, who ran or was involved with a number of pits in and around Brymbo and Broughton, was to be central to the district’s mineral developments for the next fifty years.

Alfred Palmer did not always have success in getting landowners to show him their deeds and family histories; he said that John Burton of Minera, for example, refused to talk to him.  However R V Kyrke of Pen y wern, grandson of the first Richard Kirk, was an enthusiastic correspondent, even offering his own suggestions on the area’s history and the origins of its place names. Of Brynmally, Kyrke wrote to Palmer that to his knowledge the colliery “was originally started about 1770 by Mr Charles Roe of Macclesfield […] and by Mr. [James] Venables“, broadly in agreement with the evidence of the surviving leases. He provides a brief insight into the working of the colliery in Richard Kirk’s time, adding that his grandfather continued operating it until about 1815, and that “it was drained by a deep level, called ‘the Ffrwd Level’“. This was likely the level or “sough” mentioned in the agreement between Roe and Brock. The coal was raised by whimseys, the horse-powered windlasses familiar from early industrial scenes; Kyrke added the detail that the horses were given a break every two hours.

Kyrke further said that the badness of the local roads meant that coal would have to be stacked up in fields around Brynmally during the winter,  ready for carting away in better weather. We know that this also happened at Wilkinson’s pits up in Brymbo, and it was even written into the contract which three miners signed with Robert Griffith of Brymbo Hall in 1684. Clearly getting the coal out of the ground was one thing, but getting it out of Brymbo and Broughton added another layer of difficulty. It was for this reason, no doubt, that Kirk became one of the principal local supporters of a project which promised an enormous reduction in transport costs.

The Ellesmere Canal Company was created in the early 1790s. Both Kirk and John Wilkinson were shareholders, described as “assiduous attendants on our early labours” in a company document. Although the two main objectives of the canal, Chester and Liverpool, were never in doubt, the line taken by the remainder of the canal was the subject of a good deal of discussion and both Wilkinson and Kirk – with their eye on direct access to the industrial markets of the north-west – were among those pressing for a westerly route passing close to Wrexham. The final plan envisaged a route linking Shrewsbury, Ellesmere, Wrexham, Chester and the Mersey, and an Act was duly passed in 1793 for the canal’s construction. Kirk must have been happy; a feeder, joining the main line at Gwersyllt, was intended to pass practically alongside his pits at Ffrwd, and a very short journey from those at Brynmally.

In the event things did not go exactly according to plan. Although much of the canal was built and proved a success, it never reached Shrewsbury, or indeed Wrexham. The biggest technical challenge faced by the project’s consulting engineer, William Jessop, and his colleague Thomas Telford, was the terrain west and south of Wrexham, where the planned route for the main line turned out to require a huge number of locks, and the feeder ran into problems of its own. The navvies actually made a start at Ffrwd in 1796 – perhaps there was an element of appeasing Wilkinson and Kirk’s impatience – but the canal refused to stay in water and two years later the Company finally had to admit defeat. Kirk seems to have made the most of his disappointment, as research carried out by the Plas Kynaston Canal Group has indicated that he may, at least, have used the stump of the Ffrwd canal for a few years to carry coal down to Gwersyllt. Its other main relic, a lake constructed by Telford just to the east of Brynmally, was adopted by Kirk’s family as a sort of oversized garden feature, and R V Kyrke fondly recalled the bittern, geese and other waterfowl that used to live there (and which, sadly in accordance with the temper of the age, he used to bag with his gun). The lake was about 10 acres in size, with an island in the middle.

Kirk and his sons had a record of constructing or rebuilding grand houses across the family estates. Gwersyllt Hill, where he moved after leaving Brynmally, was the best-known of these. The family built another house on the bank of Telford’s lake; it was given the name ‘Pendwllyn’ or, rather modestly given its size, the “Boat House”. The elderly Kirk, according to Raymond Lowe, ordered the demolition of Brock’s house at Brynmally in the late 1830s, shortly before his death in 1839. A new house, Brynmally Hall, was however almost immediately constructed; whether this was on Richard’s orders or those of his son George is unclear, though George (who had married William Roe’s daughter in 1813) had been resident at the old Brynmally house since at least 1828. The large but rather plain replacement building was, like Gwersyllt Hill, a design by the younger Thomas Penson, who was married to Richard Kirk’s daughter Frances. It occupied the hilltop to the west of the colliery itself, on the same site as the previous house, though with a somewhat larger footprint.

Richard Kirk’s death saw his two older sons James and George taking over the reins at Brynmally (although as R. V. Kyrke’s note suggests, it is possible he relinquished control earlier). James was heavily involved with the old Wilkinson estate in Brymbo, purchasing much of it, running Wilkinson’s old lead smeltery, and occupying the Hall for a short period. The 1840s were, however, to be a lean time for the Kyrke brothers, and by the end of the decade both James and George were facing bankruptcy. James’s estate, including a large amount of land in Brymbo, particularly in the Glascoed, was sold off piecemeal, and Brynmally was soon to follow, being sold in 1849. The two elder Kyrkes more or less retired at that point: James stayed locally, for he was described as “of Pendwll” at the time of his death in 1857; he was buried in the Dissenters’ Graveyard, Wrexham. George passed away a couple of years later. Palmer is vague as to his fate but, given his connection with the Roes of Toxteth Park, he is probably the George Kyrke who died on 13 June 1859 and is buried in Toxteth Park Cemetery. The family of Richard, the youngest brother, maintained their interests in local mining for some time (and in local history – R H V Kyrke, son of the R V Kyrke mentioned above, showed his support of Alfred Palmer by purchasing 20 copies of his History of the Thirteen Country Townships of Wrexham). Nevetheless with the sale of Brynmally the empire built up by Richard Kirk was effectively over. The purchaser of house, estate and colliery was a Lancashire man, Thomas Clayton, who would go on to become an important figure in the area for as long as the Kyrke family had been.

Clayton was only 23 when he bought Brynmally, which suggests both a fairly wealthy background and existing connections in the industry. H. Ellis Hughes’ Eminent Men of Denbighshire described him as coming from Chorley, but gives no more detail. A little more information may be extracted from a marriage record of June 1849 from the parish of St Wilfrid in Standish (now in Greater Manchester); Thomas Clayton, “coal proprietor” of Bedford Lodge, married Margery Darlington of Charnock Richard. The Darlington family, into which Clayton was marrying, was running the Astley colliery around this time, which perhaps explains Thomas’s experience in the industry. He also seems to have been of a comfortable background himself: Clayton’s father is listed as “John Clayton, Gentleman”, and I suspect that the Thomas recorded as baptised on 2nd June 1826 at St Laurence, Chorley, the son of John (gent.) and Elizabeth Clayton, is the person we are looking for.

Clayton’s ownership of Brynmally was to bring the colliery to the cusp of the twentieth century, a story I’ll follow in a future post.