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The 1829 sale catalogue of the Brymbo estate is a fascinating document, especially so given that relatively few other good records of the Hall and its grounds survive, and that there is no archaeological evidence left. Several of the features recorded on it are very helpful in rounding out the evidence of the maps, deeds, one or two pictures, and various court cases which remain. Among these features is a reference to a “cold bath” which demands further investigation, perhaps hinting at an elaborate garden design.

The relatively brief vogue among the 18th-century upper classes for cold, outdoor bathing gave rise to a distinctive architecture, explored in an interesting article by Dr Clare Hickman. Bath-houses, spring-fed pools and pseudo-rustic grottoes provided a congenial environment for the gentry of the time to pant and splash around in ice-cold water, while surrounding gardens allowed space for a leisurely stroll beforehand, as recommended by fashionable physicians. Even Denbighshire grandee Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 4th Baronet, Hickman notes, had a cold bath built at Wynnstay. While Brymbo, several hundred feet up on its windy, damp hill, might not seem an ideal spot for outdoor bathing (even for those hoping to toughen themselves into Spartan healthiness) records suggest that one of the house’s owners had, at some point, had the same idea as Sir Watkin.

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The demolition of John Griffith’s 1624 house at Brymbo. (Copyright NWN Media; used under their licence; downloading or commercial reproduction prohibited).

Many of the gentry houses of Britain failed to survive the 20th century. Even the old mansions of Wales, often very different buildings to those attached to the large estates of England, proved in many cases to be just too impractical or expensive to maintain.

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In the previous post, we saw how the main estate of Brymbo – consisting of the Hall and its lands, as well as the tenanted farms of Penrhos-isaf, Mount Sion, and Mount Pleasant, adding up to around 500 acres – developed through the 1500s and 1600s. We left it in the early 1700s, when the estate’s owner, Robert Griffith, suddenly found himself without a male heir. A 1709 indenture, by virtue of an earlier recovery, confirmed that his daughter, Mary Griffith, would inherit her father’s estate (subject to his wife’s jointure) on his death. This would have raised her standing considerably: heiresses were a valuable commodity in the society of the time.

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Arms of the Gruffydd or Griffith family of Brymbo. From J. Y. W. Lloyd, “The History of the Princes, the Lords Marcher, And the Ancient Nobility of Powys Fadog”

Most townships or manors were the home of at least one wealthy or influential family, whose estate would form the core landholding of the area. For several centuries up until the early 1700s, this position was filled in Brymbo by a family called Griffith. Although not in later years among the great or most powerful landowners of Denbighshire, their position in the gentry brought certain rights and responsibilities, and like others of their kind their names often appear in local administrative records. When John Norden surveyed the manor of Esclusham in 1620, John and Robert Griffith headed up the manorial ‘jury’, a mixture of minor gentry, freeholders and prosperous yeomen.

Part of the family’s remaining prestige came from their history: the Griffith pedigree is often recited in the manuscripts of the 16th and 17th century Welsh genealogists. In common with other gentry, the Griffith family once kept a “card”, or detailed genealogical table, in their library: the scholar Robert Vaughan’s book of pedigrees, the Llyfr Achau Robert Vaughan or Peniarth MS. 287, lists “Gruff. of Brymbo his card” amongst its sources. Their claimed ancestor, Sanddef Hardd (“Alexander the Handsome”), was a twelfth-century member of a noble family from Bodafon, in the north of Anglesey. As related in this usefully detailed page, he may have followed the common path of hiring out his military skills, possibly during the “Anarchy” of the 1140s, the period of strife in England between the supporters of King Stephen and Matilda. Sanddef’s mercenary service was to pay off – handsomely. He was rewarded with land in Burton near present-day Gresford, and several of the landowners of the Wrexham area traced descent from him, including the later owners of the Brymbo estate.

History has not recorded the exact process by which Sanddef’s fifteenth-century descendant Edward ap Morgan came into ownership of this windy corner of rural Denbighshire, but by that time it seems clear that the family owned a substantial amount of land in the township. It is possible that a marriage (recorded in Harleian MS. 2299, compiled by the herald Hugh Thomas) between Edward’s grandfather Dafydd ap Madog and Mallt, the daughter of Dio ap Dafydd ap Madog Ddu of Brymbo bought the estate into his hands. Edward’s marriage to another local heiress, Margaret Whitford of Plas-y-Bold, would have added to the family possessions.1 The heralds and antiquarians also gave them Sanddef’s coat of arms: a gold lion rampant on a green field sown with sprigs of broom, a plant whose bright yellow flowers still cover the roadsides around Brymbo in late spring. It grows along the footpath running north-east from the old Brymbo road at Penrhos to the brow of the hill where the Griffith house once stood, from where you can see the whole of the eastern and northern part of the estate beneath you, along with a view over five counties.

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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.