It has been a while since I talked about Brymbo, and particularly about its main estate, Brymbo Hall, and the family called Griffith who – in one way or another – owned the land from at least the 1400s up until about 1792, when one of their descendants sold it to John Wilkinson. While genealogy is a subject of limited interest to a lot of people, outside their own families, at least, the rather limited information available on the Griffiths makes them an interesting subject for anyone trying to untangle the history of Brymbo and its community through the centuries. During most of that time they would have been the townships’ most prominent people, alongside the Powells of Gyfynys.

Palmer gives a little information about them but admits he is able to find no record of any member of the family earlier than 1620, when John Griffith is shown as the estate owner in Norden’s survey. In the absence of definitive birth records – which Palmer would undoubtedly have found in the parish registers, should they have existed – we have to reconstruct the family to a certain degree. Starting in the 17th century, the last of the family in the male line, Robert, was born in about 1645 based on his age at the time of his death in 1720. He was High Sherriff of Denbighshire in 1686 and had at least three children: Jane (who died in childhood); John, his heir, who attended Oxford but predeceased his father in 1708; and Mary, who went on to become the heir of the estate, and whose daughter eventually sold it.

We have, moreover, a probable date for the birth of Robert’s father, John Griffith ‘the younger’, of 1620, based on the matriculation from Oriel College Oxford of a student I suspect to be him. John Griffith, whose financial woes provide the main record of his life, died in 1678, rather than 1708 as Palmer suggests: the 1708 entry had referred to his grandson, as noted above.

His father, John Griffith ‘the elder’, builder of Brymbo Hall (John “Wyn” as one manuscript of the 1640s calls him) died in 1658, according to a legal case pursued by his son. Palmer thought he died in 1678, based on the confusion noted above. The elder John would possibly have been born in 1590, if he had children as a young man; but perhaps he was born as far back as 1580 or so. The latter is made possible by the fact that his own grandfather, Gruffydd ap Edward, is already turning up on deeds as a financially independent gentleman in the 1530s. John was certainly in ownership of the estate by 1620, when his lands were detailed in Norden’s survey, so it is probable his father was dead by that point.

This man was, according to the pedigrees, another Robert. The pedigrees suggest he had brothers called William and Roger, the latter of whom inherited land in Hope parish along with the house of Plas-y-Bold. There is a lot less evidence for Robert’s life over the years, although an exchecquer case of the very early 1600s gives a sort of snapshot, and a post nuptial settlement of land in Brymbo of 1583 describes Robert as the son and “heir” of Gruffydd ap Edward. The latter, who held large estates in Hope and Brymbo, and is mentioned in several deeds stretching as far back as the 1530s, probably represented the high point of the family’s fortunes. So, we have a rough sequence of members of the Brymbo family:

Robert Griffith 1645 – 1720 (m. Jane Holland of Teyrdan)
John Griffith ‘the younger’ 1620 – 1678 (m. Jane Myddelton of Plas Cadwgan)
John Griffith (?)1583 – 1658 (m. Mary Wynne of Dyffryn Aled, Llansannan)
Robert Griffith (?)1540 – bef.1620 (m. Catherine Eyton of Leeswood)
Gruffydd ap Edward (?)1500 – (?) (m. Catherine Hope of Hawarden)
Edward ap Morgan (?)1470 – (?) (m. Margaret Whitford of Plas Bold, Caergwrle)

One of the more confusing things about the Griffith genealogy is that Norden’s Survey also notes a ‘Robert Griffith of Brymbo’, ‘generosus’ (gent), who owns land in Broughton and Brymbo and appears on the Esclusham manorial jury alongside John ‘the elder’. Some points about the field names suggest to me that the farm in Brymbo he owned was Penrhos Bach – now Rhos y Coed – which is obviously alongside the Brymbo Hall estate, and he tenanted the bulk of the land in the township belonging to the Robinsons (i.e. the land which was later Ty Cerrig and Vron). Indeed, it may have been the case that he lived at Ty Cerrig itself. There are obvious reasons for suspecting he was also of the Brymbo Hall family, and the Griffith pedigree in Powys Fadog seems to suggest he was John Griffith’s father, the Robert born in about 1540, as the date “1620” (i.e. the date of the survey) is placed next to his name. Though the pedigrees indicate no other possible candidates I strongly doubt that he was John Griffith’s father, the Robert born in about 1540, however, as it seems unlikely that his son would have taken over the main estate before his death.

However, it appears from a couple of later deeds in the Flintshire archives that there were rather more members of this family than the pedigrees show. Two of the three deeds, which refer to a farm called ‘Tyddyn Pentre’r felin”, are dated 1636. One is a lease of land and property in Hope for the term of 60 years between “Anne Gruffyth of Hope Medachied co. Flint, widow of Ellis David Goch of Hope Medachied, deceased”, and “Robert Gruffyth of Brymbo, co. Denbigh, the younger, gent., natural brother of [Anne Gruffyth]”. Another of the same date is between “Anne Gruffyth of Hope Medachied, widow” and “John Gruffyth of Brymbo, co. Denbigh, the elder, gent”; “Robert Gruffyth of Brymbo, the elder, gent”; and “Robert Johnes of Bersham, co. Denbigh, gent”. So in 1636 we clearly have a John Griffith “the elder” – probably the John who built Brymbo Hall – plus two Robert Griffiths, an older and a younger (along with an Anne Griffith who had the same father as Robert the younger). As neither of these Roberts are indicated on the pedigree, I think that they may represent a junior line, or lines, of the same family. I would very tentatively suggest that Robert Griffith the elder was most likely the younger brother of the John Griffith mentioned in the same deeds, and also being the man shown in Norden’s survey as holding Penrhos, while his brother occupied Brymbo Hall.

As for the Robert Griffith ‘the younger’ mentioned in 1636, he may have been a son of Robert ‘the elder’ – or even of John. Given the near-universal practice at the time of giving the grandfathers’ name to the eldest son and heir, it is surprising that John Griffith’s heir, as suggested by the pedigrees, was also called John. It may be that there was an older brother who died before he was able to inherit the Brymbo Hall estate in 1658.

Unfortunately the records for this family are so patchy, complicated by the dispersal of the estate records and their partial destruction by fire in the 1790s, that it is very difficult to expand on the above suggestions. We do not even have a clear picture of their political sympathies in this turbulent period in East Denbighsire’s history – though I suspect, based on the family marriages and appointments, that these were Royalist and, later, Jacobite. They even gave a picture of Charles II pride of place in the parlour. Could it be the case that the otherwise unidentified Royalist “Captain Robert Griffith” of Denbighshire, noted by Norman Tucker amongst the officers of Sir John Owen’s regiment and who later put his name to a soldier’s application in the Denbighshire Maimed Soldiers mize, was the Robert ‘the younger’ of 1636? How many more other family members, like the illegitimate Anne Gruffyth mentioned in the Hope deeds, remain to be traced? And is the Griffiths family of Ffrwd, who owned land in Brymbo and Broughton as late as the 1790s and appear to have used the family names John and Robert, some connection of the Brymbo Hall family?

It is clear there is still a lot of work to be done before the history of Brymbo’s main landowners, in the centuries before John Wilkinson took over their estate, is filled out.