A few years back I wrote down some notes on the Gyfynys, Brymbo, and the family called Powell who had once owned the house and estate. Although you can still find the name on maps, the Gyfynys itself vanished perhaps two centuries ago, so its site needs to be searched for carefully.

If you walk eastwards down Glyon Lane, Brymbo, towards its border with the township of Gwersyllt, you will come to a junction with Cae Penty Road. In the angle between the two lanes is a small field, raised above the road level. This is the Gyfynys. Enclosing it to the south and west, and bordering Glyon Lane, is another much larger field: this is Cae Penty, the “House-End Field” (or perhaps “Field of the Main House”), of which Alfred Palmer wrote in 1903:

this field […] is famed in the neighbourhood for the crop of snowdrops, violets, and other flowers which it yearly bears, presenting the semblance of an old but abandoned garden

The story of the Powells is a long, turbulent, and occasionally tragic one. It starts much further back than the area’s records now extend, but their first appearance in records is courtesy of a man called Howell ap Llewelyn ap Dafydd ap Owen, described as a “franklin”, and who lived back in the reign of Elizabeth. As I described in my previous post on the Gyfynys, the closing years of the 17th century saw the family mired in legal squabbles, with the eldest son and heir, Thomas, a former Royalist, set against many of his siblings and particularly his younger brother Samuel, a former Parliamentarian. Many of Samuel’s family subsequently settled in Ireland as planters. The Gyfynys itself passed down to one of his children, another Samuel Powell who lived at Gwersyllt, but subsequent to that the estate was broken up.

Back in Palmer’s time there was still a local tradition that one of the Powellsclung to the house and garden, or part thereof, after the rest of the property had passed away”. Palmer thought that this might have been explained by the Samuel Powell who was noted around 1845 as the tenant of the Gyfynys, but discounted any actual connection of this man with the old owners. This set me wondering whether there could be any other explanation for the story, and what happened to the estate between the early 18th century, when the last of the Powells owned it, and the later 18th century, when most of it was owned by James Morgan, a landowner from Stansty, although not the site of the Gyfynys itself. Who was it who “clung to the house and garden“, and were they actually connected to the Powells?

The situation of the Welsh branch of the family during the lifetime of the younger Samuel Powell of Gwersyllt is shown by his will, proved in 1722. He bequeaths his cousin Jane Eyton a house in Wrexham churchyard, along with other property in Wrexham; land in Gwersyllt  and Stansty that he had bought, and houses he had erected on the latter; a tenement called Fron Deg that he had owned with his wife, Jane Hadilo; the tenement called Plas Alcock in Broughton; and also “the tenement where the Potter lived and also the Coale work thereunto belonging”, and a pew in Wrexham church “next Adjoining to the Wardens seate”. This proves, incidentally, that Samuel Powell of Gwersyllt had some coalmining interests, which means that Graham Rogers (in Brymbo and its Neighbourhood) may actually have been right when he asserted that the Powells of the Gyfynys had been the family that the local Powell Coal seam was named for – a suggestion I’d previously said was incorrect. Perhaps the ‘coale work’ was a forerunner of Brynmally colliery, which was later developed on part of the Halcock tenement. The pew also shows what an important family the Powells had been locally.

However, to his brother Jonathan’s daughters went the heart of the estate: all the capital house of “Gyvynys” and its demesne land, equally divided, along with his moiety of the corn and hay tithe in Brymbo, also divided.  This shows why the estate was split up and what happened to it: it went to the daughters of one of the members of the family who had settled in Ireland. Not all of the Irish relations did particularly well out of the will, though: Arthur Powell of Drumbee gets “two shillings and six pence”(!).

The next source is a surviving freeholders’ list for Wrexham dating from the mid 18th century. We find that in 1745 James Barton, Arthur Knipe and Thomas M’Chonchy of Armagh, and a Mr. Colebank of Dublin are qualified as voters in Wrexham on the strength of their property in “Govonice”, here still listed as if it were a separate township. It appears, therefore, as if the property was divided into at least four shares. Were these the heirs or husbands of Jonathan Powell’s daughters?  In the same period, Arthur Knipe is rated for the property in the parish rate books. There were still Knipes owning land in Ballaghy, Armagh (the townland in which Jonathan Powell lived) until the 20th century, and indeed there may be Knipes in the area still.

So far it seems as if the old story, of one of the Powells retaining a part of the house and garden, has no basis in fact.

However, there may – perhaps – be an answer. It is found in records connected with the adjacent estate of the Ffrwd farm, literally over the road from the site of the Gyfynys. For much of the latter 18th century this was in the hands of a man called John Griffiths, gent, whose marriage settlement (dated 1765, and preserved as part of a later will) mentions an undivided “fifth part or moiety of the Capital House known as Gyfynys”, and which was then in the tenancy of a Thomas Matthias. It also certainly included some lands in Brymbo, such as the field known as Tir Merched Cadwgan, which had previously been recorded as part of the Powells’ estate.

It seems probable that this “fifth part” is additional to the four shares owned by the Powells’ inheritors in Ireland: was it then possible that John Griffiths was an heir of another of the daughters of Jonathan Powell? It seems unlikely that something as specific as a fifth share would have come to him any other way but through descent. As Griffiths lived right opposite the Gyfynys, rented his share of it to a prominent local farming family, and had descendants who owned the land until well into the nineteenth century, this would be a convincing explanation for the “tradition” unearthed by Alfred Palmer many years later.

 

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