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In my last post I briefly mentioned a section of Norden’s Survey of 1620 which made reference to the lands of a “Hugh ap Robert ap Howell” on the borders of Minera and Esclusham. There are a lot of Hughs, Roberts and Howells in the history of the area, but the one mentioned by Norden seems to have been a member of a family who were once fairly important – in terms of the society of this corner of East Denbighshire, anyway.
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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.

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Continuing the previous post.
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The River Gwenfro – really just a stream – forms much of Brymbo’s southern boundary, successively separating it from Minera and Bersham townships. Following its course, even over only a few miles, can uncover much of historical interest.

Its name comes, probably, from gwen and bro. The latter can mean a variety of things, depending on the context. “Country” or “locality” is one potential translation, more specifically the “cultivated country”; “valley” (or more specifically “vale” – a large, wide valley) another. Gwen, of course, is “white”; either used in a literal sense or more poetically to signify “fair”, “blessed” or “holy”. So take your pick. “Gwenfro” can even be translated directly as “Paradise – which sounds a bit like the kind of ironic name that the colliers might have bestowed, were it not for the fact that the river name appears back in the 15th century at least.

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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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This is site about Brymbo, a township once part of Denbighshire, and its history. You can read more about the site in general, start with the most recent posts or with the archives listed below.