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On February 24th 1894 the Wrexham Advertiser, always alert to stories of local interest, ran a small article on what it called the “first annual match of the newly-formed Brymbo District Ploughing Society“, which had recently taken place at Penrhos Farm. As the industrial past of our area is usually emphasised, it is easy to forget the agriculture that not only long preceded it, but continued very successfully alongside Brymbo’s most intense period of industrial development. Although ploughing matches still take place in Wales – you can attend the 57th All Wales Championship next September – I certainly imagine that little ploughing of any kind has taken place in Brymbo since the 1940s, after which most of the area’s farms went over to dairying. More recently many of them have, sadly, had to cease even that. However, there was little hint of this future in the inaugural Brymbo ploughing match, whose patrons (including J. R. Burton of Minera Hall, R H V Kyrke, Alfred Darby, Henry Beyer Robertson and even Sir Watkin Williams-Wynne himself) encompassed all the main landowners and industrialists of the district.

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In the vicinity of Pentresaeson and Gwernygaseg there was once a field, and probably an attached house, called “Ty yn y Celyn” or “Tyn y Celyn”. It was part of the Brymbo Hall estate, owned by the Griffith family, but seems often to have been let out to tenants – around 1700 to a Lewis Thomas, and by 1716 to a “Mrs Elizabeth Holland”, possibly a relative of the Griffiths. A coal pit was dug nearby in the 1680s (with a Lewis Thomas again mentioned). It last appears on the land tax assessments shortly prior to 1800, at which time the tenant of Penrhos occupied it. I have, very tentatively, identified it with a field just across from the Smelt Wood at Pentresaeson.

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I have talked a lot, in previous posts, about the farmers of Brymbo and the surrounding area, but have said little about what it was they actually farmed. Up until around 20 years ago this was a largely dairying area, with most fields given over to pasture, but this sort of narrow specialism was a 20th century development. 19th century documents, like the tithe records, show the same fields being used to grow a variety of crops, although some of these would have also gone for animal feed. We also know about John Wilkinson’s efforts as an ‘improver’, which by heavy fertilisation of the clay soils of the township got the tithe values up quite substantially. But how about earlier still?

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Looking down the lane from Mount Sion, Brymbo, towards Glascoed in the middle distance and the higher ground of Pen-Llan-y-gwr beyond

The area known as the Glascoed lies between the Nant-y-ffrith stream in the north and the steep, wooded valley of another stream in the south, sometimes known as the Cefn Brook. The land slopes downwards to the north-east, towards Ffrith and the River Cegidog. Crossed only by one or two narrow, winding lanes, it is today perhaps the quietest and most isolated area of the old township of Brymbo. Palmer, who translated Glascoed as “greenwood” (glas is often translated as “blue” in modern Welsh) commented that few people from Wrexham then knew how beautiful this out-of-the-way place was, “especially after a spell of drought“. This is still true, though to some degree this rural feel is deceptive as Glascoed’s past history includes mining and other industrial activity, much like the rest of the area.

Between the ravines of the Nant-y-ffrith and the Cefn Brook, the land forms a sloping ridge that leads upwards and westwards towards Cefn Farm, whose name translates as “ridge”, appropriately enough, and towards Cefn Buchan. Further uphill is the Waen, and eventually the Gorse farm and Bwlchgwyn. In the later 18th century these farms were purchased by John Wilkinson as he added to the original Brymbo estate, but prior to this much of the land around them seems to have been common. There are two roads crossing it; the Cefn Road, running along the ridge itself, and the “Glascoed Road” on the edge of the Nant-y-ffrith valley, but there is supposed to have been a Roman trackway here too, leading up from Ffrith: the Glascoed Road may follow its alignment. Despite this, archaeological investigations have had trouble proving the road’s exact route. Later still there was a packhorse trail on roughly the same alignment, and in the 17th and 18th centuries the Waen farmhouse was a stopping point for pack trains heading for the markets of England.

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Bwlchgwyn is the ‘second’ village of the old township of Brymbo. It is supposed to be the highest village in Wales, and whether this is true or not, it certainly has some of the finest views, facing eastwards towards the flatlands of the Maelor and Cheshire and with its back to the fierce weather blowing over the hills.

As a settlement, in the modern sense, it is no older than Brymbo village itself and possibly much less so (though the moorland farm called Craig-Corn appears well back in the 18th century, when the Foulkes family tenanted it). One of the township’s main commons once surrounded the site of Bwlchgwyn, and it seems quite possible that like many such villages, it may have grown around small cottages and holdings encroaching onto the common land. Palmer suggests that the old one-night house custom was in operation in the area; if this was really the case, it is likely that the quarrymen and miners of the township would have carved small plots out of the common. According to Palmer, it also seems possible that this was the area of the township where its inhabitants cut turves, the common turbary: the name “the Gorse”, applied the nearby farm which was created out of common land by John Wilkinson in the late 18th century, may indicate this.

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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.