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Rough pasture near Ffynnon-y-cwrw. This land was first added to Brymbo after the 14th century creation of Minera: the more fertile fields in the distance are in Minera township.

Rough pasture near Ffynnon-y-cwrw. This land was first added to Brymbo during the 13th century creation of Minera: the more fertile fields in the distance are in Minera township, along with the slopes of the mountain once called ‘Glasfre‘.

The upper and western part of the township of Brymbo is formed of land that was once mainly mountain “waste” or common. Although the higher parts are still open, much of the area is now either enclosed as rough pasture or has become part of the village of Bwlchgwyn. Two familiar processes can be seen at work here: the piecemeal encroachment onto common land of labourers’ cottages and gardens, and the efforts of 18th and 19th century ‘improving’ landowners such as John Wilkinson and James Kyrke. However, in the case of Brymbo there is an extra element in the area’s long history of mineral extraction: it is even to some degree responsible for the physical boundaries of the township as they later appeared.

The “waste” seems a bleak place today, friendly only to sheep and grouse, but it is even now scattered with the signs of Bronze Age habitation, and was hardly deserted in mediaeval times. Some areas would have been wooded, perhaps frequented by the charcoal burners often associated with the early appearances of the name “coed poeth“. As common land, the waste would have been a rich source of game (Norden notes that the upper reaches of Esclusham manor were much frequented by gentlemen with their hawks) and defined areas within it, later becoming detached parts of Esclusham township, were reserved as summer pasture for Valle Crucis and for the lord of Bromfield. Throughout the summer months the area would have been covered with livestock and the huts or hafodau of the shepherds who looked after them. In the autumn, however, the cattle were withdrawn to farms on the lower slopes, and the higher ground was largely left to the snow and perhaps, in the earlier part of the period, to the wolves remembered in a handful of old field names. The freehold farms of Brymbo would, in this period, have been the last outpost of settlement before the beginning of the upland commons.

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The southern boundary of Brymbo township is formed by a stream, the Gwenfro. As elsewhere in the area, coal is close to the surface here, and some of the earliest recorded coal workings lie in this part of the township.

I have already mentioned a little about early coal extraction in Brymbo in relation to Robert Griffith of Brymbo Hall, who signed an agreement relating to it in 1684, while the marriage settlement of his daughter Mary mentions horses belonging “to ye coal pitts” among her property. Of course, we already know that some coal extraction was taking place even before that. Many sources mention the 1411 grant to the burgesses of Holt to dig coal in Brymbo: this in fact refers to an inspexismus of 1563, in which Elizabeth I confirms the terms of the earlier Holt borough charter. In the original, the burgesses are granted the right to freely take turf and coal in the “wastes” of Coedpoeth and Brymbo by Thomas FitzAlan, the 12th Earl of Arundel, who at that time held the Lordship of Bromfield and Yale. A copy of the Holt town charter, or rather the inspexismus, is now available on the Holt village website, for those who enjoy legal Latin.

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