Caerwys - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
CAERWYS, a borough and parish, formerly a market-town, in the union of Holywell, Caerwys division of the hundred of Rhuddlan, county of Flint, North Wales, 6 miles (S. W. by W.) from Holywell, on the road from that town to Denbigh; containing 987 inhabitants. The name is thought to be derived from Caer, a fortress, and Gwys, a summons, denoting that this place was originally a Roman station, and subsequently a seat of judicature. Caer is a term applied by the Welsh to a Roman station or defence; and previously to the conquest of Wales by Edward I., Caerwys appears to have been, together with a neighbouring town called TrêvEdwyn, long since decayed, and the borough of Rhuddlan, one of the chief tribunals for this part of the principality. Others derive the name from Caer, a fortress, and Rhôs, a moor; and the flat ground to the north-west of the borough is now called Y Rhôs; and Rhôs Gôch, the red moor. In 1244, the Welsh abbots of Cymmer and Conway, having been constituted by the pope a court of inquiry, to ascertain whether Davydd ab Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, had been under the influence of terror or force, in concluding a late unfavourable treaty with Henry III. of England, and, if so, to absolve him from the obligations of fulfilling it, summoned King Henry to appear before them in the church of this town, to answer to the complaints of Davydd. The king, however, incensed at the indignity offered to his authority, immediately applied to the pope to annul the commission, which was accordingly done. Llewelyn ab Grufydd, the last native sovereign of North Wales, prior to his accession to the throne, resided at Maesmynan, nearly adjoining, and possessed, as his patrimonial estate, the circumjacent cantrêvs of Tegeingl, Dyfryn-Clwyd, Rhôs, and Rhyvonioc. Shortly before the entire subjugation of Wales by the English, one of the grievances complained of by the inhabitants, and submitted by their prince Llewelyn to Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had constituted himself mediator between him and the English monarch, was, that the privileges of the men of Tegeingl, or Englefield, comprising the greater portion of the county of Flint, had been grossly infringed by the justiciary of Chester, who compelled them to go to that city, or other places, to procure justice; asserting their right to be tried by the laws of Wales, and at the usual places, viz., Rhuddlan, Trêv-Edwyn, or Caerwys. On the introduction of justiciary courts into Wales, under the sanction of the English law, Caerwys recovered its former importance, and the assizes for the county were held here till the year 1672, when they were removed to Flint, and thence at a later period to Mold, where they are now held. The gaol remained till 1840, when it was pulled down, and a dwellinghouse erected on its foundation, which is called "Yr hen gaol," the old gaol: the market-house yet remains, though converted into a dwelling-house; there are likewise some fragments of the town-hall, and the site of the last gallows is shewn upon a common, close to the road side, a little south-eastward from the town. In 1356, the grant of a weekly market and two annual fairs was procured for the inhabitants, at the instance of John Trevor, Bishop of St. Asaph, and others.
Caerwys was long renowned for its Eisteddvodau, or sessions of bards and minstrels, which for some centuries were held triennially, and in later times at irregular intervals. It was the resort of the bards of a certain district, as Aberfraw in Anglesey was of those of that island and the adjacent county, and Mathraval of those of Powys; these places having been selected on account of being the residences of princes. At these meetings none but bards of superior merit were allowed to rehearse their compositions, nor any but minstrels of acknowledged skill to perform on their harps: of their respective merits judges were appointed by the Princes of Wales, and, after the conquest of the country, by the Kings of England. A commission from Queen Elizabeth, dated at Chester, the 23rd of October, 1567, for holding an Eisteddvod at Caerwys in the following year, was till lately in the possession of the Hon. Edward Mostyn Lloyd Mostyn, of Mostyn, together with the silver harp which it was the privilege of his ancestors to bestow upon the best performer on that instrument: this badge of distinction, which is still preserved at Mostyn, is about six inches long, and is furnished with strings of silver, corresponding with the number of the Muses. The Eisteddvod accordingly took place on May 26th, 1568, when fifty-five persons were admitted to their respective degrees, as vocal and instrumental performers, and the prize of the silver harp was adjudged to Sion ab William ab Sion. The commissioners, in the course of this year, published a notice that another Eisteddvod would be held on the next anniversary of that day; but of this assembly no particulars have been preserved, further than that it was the occasion of a poetical contest between the bards of North and South Wales, in which some of the most beautiful stanzas in the Welsh language were produced extemporaneously. From this period the Eisteddvodau did not enjoy any share of royal favour, none being convened by the successors of Queen Elizabeth; but in the year 1798, an attempt to restore them was made by the Gwyneddigion Society in London, and after the usual notice of a year and a day had been given, a numerous meeting, under extensive and highly respectable patronage, was held in the town-hall here, which had been especially fitted up for the occasion; the usual contest of talent and skill took place, and prizes were awarded to the successful candidates. The town, however, had been for some time declining; and, notwithstanding these and similar efforts for the restoration of the Eisteddvodau to their original splendour, the Welsh poetry was rapidly waning in character, and the high patronage by which it was previously cherished had declined, till about the year 1819, when a grand Eisteddvod was held at Carmarthen under the patronage of Bishop Burgess and Lord Dynevor, in the month of July. Several other Eisteddvodau were held in subsequent years in North and South Wales, under high patronage; and in the year 1828 a most splendid Eisteddvod was held at Denbigh, on the 16th, 17th, and 18th September, at which his royal highness the late Duke of Sussex attended. Another took place at Beaumaris in 1832, which was honoured with the presence of her Majesty the Queen, then Princess Victoria, and her royal highness the Duchess of Kent.
The Town, which now presents only the appearance of a village, is situated at the junction of two vales, and consists of two streets intersecting each other at right angles, and corresponding with the cardinal points, in the manner of a Roman town. From this arrangement of the town, and the discovery of ancient foundations and other relics, it has been considered by some writers the Varis of Antoninus; but this station has with equal probability been fixed in the parish of Bodvari, the name of which, added to the discovery of numerous Roman remains, especially in the plantations of Pontrifith, in that parish, would appear to entitle it to a claim of identity with the Roman settlement. Caerwys has but little trade: a small quantity of woollen cloth is manufactured. Lead-ore has been found at different times, in small quantities, mixed with the limestone strata, in the eastern part of the parish, and a considerable quantity of iron-ore exists on the western side of the town, but at present there are no works for procuring either. The parish comprises 2575 acres, the surface of which is flat from the town northward, but undulated and more elevated towards the east and west; in the vicinity of the town and for about a quarter of a mile southward, the ground is level, after which the declivity to the boundary is considerable. The soil in some parts of the northwestern extremity of the parish is very poor, being composed of a thin covering of vegetable earth over a barren yellowish clay, but in other parts is well adapted to the culture of barley and oats; about 1200 acres were inclosed in the 49th of George III. The market, which was held on Tuesday, has long since fallen into decay, in consequence of the establishment of a market at Holywell. Fairs for the sale of cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs are held on the first Tuesday after January 13th, on February 11th, March 5th, the last Tuesday in April, the first Thursday after Trinity-Sunday, the first Tuesday after July 7th, on August 29th, November 5th, and the second Tuesday in December: they are the most considerable in the county.
The Borough has received from various sovereigns charters conferring upon its inhabitants numerous privileges; but these are almost extinct, having nearly fallen into desuetude. The only charter that at present remains is one of the 9th of Henry IV., in which those of the 18th of Edward I., of Edward the Black Prince (temp. Edward III.), and the 2nd of Richard II., are confirmed: that of the Black Prince granted to the burgesses such customs as were enjoyed by the free burgesses of Conway and Rhuddlan. The style of the corporate body, according to the charter, is "the Bailiffs and Burgesses of the borough of Caerwys, in the county of Flint;" and the officers are, two bailiffs, a recorder, a crier, and two constables, of whom, however, the crier alone appears to exercise any duty which may be considered as materially connected with municipal government. The bailiffs are appointed annually by the recorder, on the nomination of the crier, and have merely to examine weights and measures, and present nuisances to the court leet: the recorder, who attends to hold the annual court for choosing the bailiffs and constables, is, with the crier, appointed by the lord of the manor; and the constables are chosen by the jury at the leet. Caerwys is one of the eight contributory boroughs within the county, which are united in the return of one member to parliament; the number of electors here in 1848 being sixty-five, that is, thirty-six scot and lot voters, and twenty-nine in right of property occupied within the borough. The limits of the borough, which were not altered by the act for "Amending the representation of the People," comprise parts of the townships of Caerwys and Trêv-Edwyn. The mayor of Flint is the returning officer.
The Living formerly consisted of a sinecure rectory, and a vicarage, each rated in the king's books at £9. 10., which were united by an act passed in the 29th and 30th of Charles II.; net income, £320, with a glebe-house and about five acres of land; patron, the Bishop of St. Asaph. The church, dedicated to St. Michael, is a neat edifice, consisting of a nave and north aisle, with a square embattled tower, and appropriately accommodated to the use of the parishioners. There are places of worship in the town for Wesleyan and Calvinistic Methodists, and one for the latter also at Pen-y-Cevn. A National school, containing above 100 children, is partly supported by the rent of a plot of land, amounting to £2. 2., partly by voluntary contributions, and partly by payments from the children: a new school-house was erected north of the churchyard, in 1833, by subscription, aided by a grant of £100 from the National school society. There are also four Sunday schools, conducted by gratuitous teachers, and affording instruction to about 400 children and adults; one belongs to the Established Church, two to the Calvinistic, and one to the Wesleyan Methodists. Several small bequests have at various times been made for the benefit of the poor, the principal of them being a bequest by Griffith Jones, in 1729, producing £28, and a grant by Abraham Edwards, of £15; the whole amounting to £69. 10., of which £55. 10. 6. were expended in 1757 in the purchase of a tenement called Tŷ-Hîr, and about four acres in Brŷngwŷn Caerwys: with the proceeds a poor boy is placed out as an apprentice every year. Under the inclosure act for Caerwys, an allotment of half an acre was made to this property, but it was subsequently claimed by, and allowed to, the tenant in possession.
In a field near the village, called Erw 'r Castell, was anciently a fortress, the history of which is unknown, and of which there are no remains. On almost every side of the village, but more particularly on the plains towards Newmarket, are tumuli, several of which, having been opened, were found to contain urns of clay rudely formed: some of these have been converted by the neighbouring farmers into limekilns. About a mile from Caerwys to the north-west, in the place called Rhôs gôch, formerly stood a large stone, nearly five feet high, bearing the inscription "Hic jacet mulier bo . . . obiit:" it was for some time used as a gate-post, but was removed, about the close of the last century, to the gardens of Downing, in the parish of Whitford, then the seat of Mr. Pennant, the antiquary and naturalist. In the field in which this stone was situated, a considerable number of copper coins of different Roman emperors was discovered some years ago. At Forddwen, or "white road," near this place, regularly formed spars, stalactites, and coarse mineral agaric are found; and in a wood in the vicinity is a well, called St. Michael's, the water of which has obtained, among the superstitious inhabitants of the neighbourhood, the reputation of possessing a peculiar miraculous efficacy: the spring was formerly much resorted to by the credulous on the morning of Easter-day, for the purpose of drinking it. Dr. Wynne, Bishop of St. Asaph, and afterwards of Bath and Wells, was born at Maes-y-coed, in the parish of Caerwys; and the Rev. John Lloyd, an eminent antiquary, and the friend of Pennant, was rector of the parish; he died in 1793, and was interred in the church here.