The landscape of Uwchmynydd Ucha. Photograph by D Quinn from Geograph

The landscape of Uwchmynydd Ucha. Photograph by D Quinn from Geograph

Over the past few posts dealing with Brynmally and Berse Drelincourt we have lingered a little in Broughton, the township that borders Brymbo to the east and with which it shares many characteristics. We’ll return to the subject of Brymbo soon, but in the meantime, I notice that I have yet to say anything about Brymbo’s neighbours in Flintshire to the north.

The land across the Nant y Ffrith valley is an outlier of the sombre moorland ‘wastes’ into which the top end of Brymbo extends, and for much of the period would have been the same kind of landscape: agriculturally poor, though without the coal outcrops or lead veins that enriched Minera, Bersham and Brymbo townships. The area was called Uwchmynydd or Uwch y mynydd, the ‘higher’ or ‘upper’ mountain, and was included in Hope parish. It was far from an empty space on the map though, and had its own, albeit small, community. Indeed while the residents of Uwchmynydd might have paid their rates into a different pot to those of Brymbo, and conducted their marriages and baptisms at a different church, the social connections between the two were quite intimate. In the late 17th century, the depositions in the court action fought over the will of Griffith Thomas of Brymbo demonstrate the shared ancestry, gossip, and economic activity of the inhabitants of the townships. William ffennah, butcher, and Edward ap John ap Rees, husbandman, both of Uwchmynydd, give evidence and another Uwchmynydd man, John Williams, was also present at the signing of the will.

Uwchmynydd is actually two townships; Ucha and Issa. Uwchmynydd Ucha, as its name suggests the higher and more westerly of the two, was formed of the hills on the northern side of the Nant y Ffrith. Uwchmynydd Issa ran along the western bank of the Cegidog northwards, tapering to a narrow strip at its southward end at Ffrith. Most of Uwchmynydd Ucha not actually classed as ‘waste’ consisted (and still consists) of mountain pasture and scattered farms, such as around Bryn Common. Much of this land, with its characteristically straight field boundaries, probably represents 19th century ‘improvement’ – more about that later on – but there are some older farms a little further downhill. There were two main estates in the area; the first was land attached to Bryn Yorkin or Bryn Iorcyn, across Hope Mountain, and which belonged to the Yonge family throughout the period. The second estate actually had its main house in the township: this was Trimley Hall, situated on the slopes immediately north of the Nant y Ffrith and Glascoed. The name ‘Trimley’ seems to have been applied to the whole area at times: the Cegidog is also referred to as the “River Trimley” in at least one document., Although appearing on documents stretching back centuries, it is a patently English name: Hywel Wyn Owen, in his incomparable survey of East Flintshire placenames, notes a derivation from the Old English name Trymma and “leah”, a meadow; he also makes a suggestion the first element could be “trum-“, ’round’. Either way, it indicates the presence of Saxon settlers here at some point. Trimley Hall’s builders, the Eytons, nevertheless claimed an impeccably Welsh pedigree going back to Bleddyn ap Cynfyn of Powys.

CPAT suggests the house was originally built around 1630 by John Eyton. Unusually we can get a good idea of his architectural intentions, as the house is not only still standing but (having been used as agricultural storage for many decades) retains most of its original features. It is, to say the least, a strange building, cubic in shape with a massive and impractical central chimney stack. While one author, Tim Mowl, has characterised it as a bizarre survival of “Commonwealth idealism”, Peter Smith in Houses of the Welsh Countryside suggests it as an awkward attempt to reconcile the newly fashionable Renaissance house plan with a traditional local preference for siting the chimney opposite the entry. While there are other Welsh examples of the ‘cubic’ Renaissance house, it is interesting that Trimley Hall was only a short distance from Plas Mostyn – an only marginally more practical double-pile version of the same plan, featuring a similarly large porch, and dating from the same era.

The Eytons of Trimley and Leeswood were typical ‘parish gentry’ of the period; Royalist, of limited financial means, and closely connected by marriage with similar families in the area (including, predictably enough, the Griffiths of Brymbo; Catherine Eyton of Leeswood married into the family in 1583). Both John Eyton, the supposed builder of Trimley Hall, and his father fought for the King in the Civil War and were present in beseiged Denbigh: their house, according to CPAT, may actually have been made defensible and suffered damage in some skirmish or other during 1645. There were once loopholes for gun barrels in the front door, which shows the kind of environment the Eytons found themselves in. By the early 1700s, the then-head of the family, Thomas Eyton, found himself in the fortunate position of inheriting his uncle John Eyton’s property at Leeswood and moved there permanently, and his old house was let out to tenants afterwards (Thomas Jones was the tenant in 1757, CPAT state, and John Williams, gent, lived there in the late 18th century).

The landscape of Uwchmynydd Ucha was substantially changed from the 1790s onward, following the Hope Enclosure Act. The township’s small patch of commonland, known as “Heol Drimley”, was enclosed and sold in order to pay for the costs of the enclosure project itself, while the great swathes of ‘waste’ in the west, towards Bryn Common, were parcelled up and distributed amongst the area’s landowners. The whole process has been described in fascinating detail by D G Evans in an article in the Flintshire Historical Society Journal, so I will not go into it further here, other than to say it ended up in a minor enclosure ‘riot’ in which a large group of Brymbo men took part. The Eytons, in the person of their direct descendant the Reverend Hope Wynne-Eyton, did fairly well out of the process.

The family’s estate in Uwchmynydd was the scene of some interesting archaeological discoveries (or ‘antiquities’ as they were thought of at the time) during their period of residence. Like much of the upper moorland there was evidence of very ancient occupation indeed, with an old carnedd or tumulus known variously as Arffedogaid y Wrach or Ffedog y diawl, “the Devil’s Apronful” nearby at Cymmau. On the slopes of the Nant y Ffrith valley, east of Bodlondeb cottages, is a spot at the junction of three old lanes known as “Bedd y Gwas”, the “grave of the servant”. In the 19th century a story existed that the name referred to the roadside burial of a servant at Trimley Hall who had taken his own life, but both Hywel Wyn Owen and Ellis Davies, in The Prehistoric and Roman Remains of Flintshire, note that “yr hen was“, “the old servant, the old lad” was a common name for the Devil, with the obvious inference that this too was the site of a tumulus, now ploughed out.

By far the most interesting and substantial ‘antiquity’ of Uwchmynydd was, however, the supposed Roman hypocaust mentioned in Edward Lhuyd’s Parochialia and earlier by the pioneering late-Elizabethan / Jacobean antiquary William Camden. Camden had noted that, while he was writing, “Near Hope […] a gardener digging somewhat deeper than ordinary” had discovered some kind of ancient construction, a vault apparently of tiles set on brick pillars and enclosed in stone walls, which he surmised to be a hypocaust system. A slip of paper later found in Cotton MS. Julius F, headed “The vaut founde under the earth at Trymley, distant from Hope in Flyntshere, one mile“, was probably part of Camden’s original source for the discovery. A century or so later, Lhuyd’s characteristically chaotic notes, annotated “A Roman Bannis: square bricks“, state that brickwork (“gwaith o vricks“) was discovered “yn y Ffrith yn Hrymle” and was thought to be a Roman bath. Further information can be found in a letter Lhuyd received from Richard Mostyn, dated 28 Feb 1693/4. Mostyn who states “’tis in Hope parish where Mr. Cambden mentions the Roman bath found in his days, & Mr. Eyton of Trimley has a parlour there flagged with Roman brick tiles possibly taken out of that bath“.

Misreading Camden’s text led historians to labour for many years under the misapprehension that the Roman finds were made at Caergwrle, and it was only later that it was realised that the find was made near Ffrith, where in the early 19th century James Kyrke’s workmen seem to have cut straight through most of the evidence, destroying it in the process. Archaeologists have been trying to relocate it ever since with varying degrees of success.