Chirk - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
CHIRK, a parish, in the union of Oswestry, hundred of Chirk, county of Denbigh, North Wales, 5¾ miles (N.) from Oswestry, on the road from London to Holyhead and Dublin; containing 1611 inhabitants, of whom 475 are in the township of Chirk. This parish is remarkable in history as the scene of a conflict between part of the forces of Henry II. and the Welsh, which took place in 1165, in a deep and picturesque valley, along which runs the river Ceiriog, on the west and south sides of Chirk Castle. Henry, with a view to the conquest of Wales, collected an army at Oswestry, whilst the Welsh prince, Owain Gwynedd, mustered his forces at Corwen; and being eager to decide the struggle, the English monarch hastened to meet the enemy, but was interrupted in this valley by almost impenetrable woods, which he commanded his men to cut down, in order to secure himself from ambuscade, posting the pikemen and flower of his army to protect those at work. When thus engaged, a strong party of Welsh fell upon the English with indignant fury, and a battle ensued, which, while it ended in the retiring of the former, so reduced the strength of Henry, that although he contrived to advance to Corwen, yet, harassed by the activity of Owain, who cut off his supplies, he was at length compelled to fall back into the English territory, and relinquish his design. This encounter, in which numbers of men were slain on both sides, is called the battle of Crogen, and the place where it was fought Adwy'r Beddau, "the pass of the graves."
The exact period of the erection of Chirk castle is uncertain. John Myddelton, Esq., in a communication to the Society of Antiquaries, in 1729, says, that "it was begun 1011, and finished 1013: the repair of one of the wings, in Cromwell's time, cost £28,000. The front is 250 feet long, the court 165 by 100, and five round towers 50 feet in diameter; Adam's tower, 80 feet high, the wall near the dungeon nine feet deep, and the dungeon as deep as the walls of the castle are high." But, though the description applies to the present structure, the period is more probably that of the erection of a prior edifice, called Castell Crogen; since both Bishop Gibson in his additions to Camden, and Mr. Pennant, ascribe it to Roger Mortimer, in the reign of Edward I. Mortimer, on the death of Grufydd ab Madoc, lord of Dinas Brân, on which lordship the territory around Castell Crogan, called Trêv-yWaûn, was dependent, was appointed by Edward I. guardian of Llewelyn, one of Grufydd's sons, the other, named Madoc, having been entrusted to John, Earl Warren. These noblemen are stated, after having given orders for putting the youths to death, to have seized upon their possessions, Mortimer taking the lordships of Chirk and Nanheudwy, and Earl Warren those of Bromfield and Yale. John, the grandson of Roger, sold the lordship of Chirk to Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel, whose descendants possessed it for three generations, when it was conveyed by marriage to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, on whose disgrace and exile, in 1397, it was forfeited to the crown, and soon after granted to William Beauchamp, lord of Abergavenny, who had married the other heiress of the Fitz-Alans. His grand-daughter, sole heiress of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Worcester, having been married to Edward Neville, afterwards Lord Abergavenny, in the reign of Henry VI., it became the property of that family. It came afterwards to the Stanleys, and at length to the crown, and was conferred by Queen Elizabeth on her favourite, Dudley, Earl of Leicester. At his death it passed to Lord St. John, of Bletso, whose son sold it, in 1595, to Sir Thomas Myddelton, Knt., who served the office of lord mayor of London, in 1614, and to whose descendants it has ever since belonged. On the decease of Richard Myddelton, Esq., who died unmarried in 1796, it was divided among his three sisters and co-heiresses, of whom the late Mrs. Myddelton Biddulph, after a protracted suit in Chancery, succeeded to that portion on which the castle and village are situated. The present lord of the manor is Robert Myddelton Biddulph, Esq., lord-lieutenant of the county.
During the civil war of the seventeenth century, Sir Thomas Myddelton, son of the purchaser of the estate, having espoused the cause of the parliament, orders were issued by Charles I. in 1642 to Col. Robert Ellyce, to take possession of the castle, and apply the money and plate found in it to the payment of his regiment, and then deliver it up to Sir Thomas Hanmer, who was appointed governor. The following notices of the castle, relating to this period, are extracted from a manuscript account of the civil war in North Wales, by William Maurice, preserved at Wynnstay: "1643, Jan. 15, Chirk Castle taken and plundred by Colonell Ellis." "1644, 20 March, Prince Robert (Rupert) cam to Chirk Castle, and so went to Chester." "20 Nov., Sir Tho. Midleton and Coll. Mitton attempted suddenly in the night to surprize Chirke Castle, but were disappointed." "1655, Feb. 5, Prince Maurice cam to Shrewsbury, and having stayed there 9 dayes in ordering his forces, advanced towards Chester: the first night he lay at Chirk Castle; from thence went to Ruthyn." "22 Sept., the king marched from Llanfyllin by Brithdir (where he dined, and gave proclamation among his soldiers that they should not plunder any thing in Denbighshire), and thence passed through Mochnant and Cefnhirfynydd, and so along the topp of the mountains to Chirk Castle, where he lay that night." Afterwards, "from Chester the king retreated to Denbigh Castle, and having layed there two or three nights, returned to Chirk Castle. The next morning, viz. 29 Sept., he advanced from thence with his army through Llansilin." "1646, 23 February, the Montgomeryshire forces (parliamentary) began to fortifie Llansilin churche, for the straightninge and keeping-inn of Chirk Castle men, where Sir John Watts was governor, who shortly after deserted the castle." "13 June, Sir Thos. Mydleton cam first to Chirk Castle after it was deserted." The manuscript containing these notices has been printed in the Archæologia Cambrensis, from which the above extracts are taken. Sir Thomas Myddelton, lord of Chirk, had exerted himself with great zeal for the parliament; but being disgusted at the events of the war, he passed over to the other side, and, in 1659, joined Sir George Booth, in attempting to restore the ancient constitutution. Sir George, however, having been defeated by Gen. Lambert, Sir Thomas was obliged to seek refuge in his castle, which was besieged by Lambert, to whom it was surrendered after a defence of two or three days, in which the western side and three of its towers were demolished, the victor, it is said, plundering the estate to the amount of £80,000. The injury sustained by the castle in this siege was soon after repaired by Sir Thomas Myddelton, in the course of one year. The lordship of Chirk, otherwise "Chirkland," includes the parishes of Chirk, Llangollen, and Llansantfraid-Glynn-Ceriog.
This parish is bounded on the north by Ruabon, on the east and south by St. Martin's in the county of Salop, and on the west by Llangollen; the river Dee runs along the boundary on the north and northeast, and the Ceiriog, which takes its course along the southern and south-eastern limits, unites with the former on the eastern side of the parish. It lies at the foot of the Berwyn range of mountains, and comprises by admeasurement 4635 acres, of which 3050 are arable, 1150 pasture, and 435 woodland, in the last of which oak predominates; the soil in general is a loam incumbent on gravel, and the chief produce wheat, barley, potatoes, and turnips. The surface is undulated and hilly, rising from the village to an eminence on which the castle is situated, on the western side, with the Berwyns beyond, and on the eastern side to another elevation. From the brow of the latter is a delightful prospect of the plain of Salop, in the one direction, and in the other a nearer view of part of the Vale of Llangollen, including the celebrated Pont-y-Cysylltau aqueduct, which conveys the Ellesmere canal over the valley of the Dee, with the meanderings of that river between its wood-fringed banks towards the grounds of Wynnstay. This hill also embraces a complete view of Chirk Castle, towering on its elevated site, and the princely grounds that surround it, which, adorned with noble plantations, and interspersed with clumps of trees tastefully arranged along the side of the mountain, combine to present, with the picturesque village of the Cevn, and the woody scenery of Newbridge and Nant-y-Belan, on the right, the beautiful grounds of Brynkinalt and the village of Chirk on the left, and various intermediate objects of picturesque beauty, a home view highly diversified, rich, and cheerful. The village is pleasantly situated on the northern bank of the river Ceiriog, which, flowing along a small vale of great beauty, here separates the counties of Denbigh and Salop, and consequently Wales and England. It is exceedingly clean and neat, and contains some highly respectable houses and wellbuilt cottages, having been greatly improved by the late Mrs. Myddelton Biddulph, who, on coming into possession of the Chirk Castle estate, pulled down several dilapidated buildings, and erected others of uniform appearance for her tenants, on more eligible sites. The Holyhead road, on both sides of the village, has been widened and altered within the last few years, so as to avoid the inequalities and windings in its course. Chirk Hill, which was previously very abrupt, has been partially levelled, and the road conducted more circuitously across the vale by means of an embankment. On the north side of the village, also, its course has been diverted; but these improvements, though greatly conducive to the convenience of passengers, have probably lessened the picturesque character of the route.
There is a valuable mine of coal in the parish, at Black Park, which is worked on an extensive scale, by Mr. T. E. Ward, who holds it on lease from the owner of the Chirk Castle estate, and employs here about 200 workmen; the pits are 240 yards deep, and the annual sale exceeds 50,000 tons: a tramroad leads from them to the Ellesmere canal, where is a wharf for loading barges. At the Vron, within the parish of Llangollen, and on the banks of the canal, are extensive lime-works, belonging to the same estate, affording employment to about one hundred persons. Pont-y-Blew forge, in the township of Halton, and on the river Ceiriog, was erected in the year 1710, for making charcoal iron, and was enlarged in 1795, when the manufacture of puddled iron was introduced: about twenty tons are now made weekly, and about ten men are employed. The Ellesmere canal enters the parish from Shropshire, and is conveyed across the Vale of Chirk and the river Ceiriog, by means of the Chirk aqueduct, 232 yards long, consisting of ten arches, the piers of which are 65 feet high. It then immediately enters a tunnel, 220 yards long. On emerging from this, it proceeds in its course through the parish, passing near the village, and then enters another tunnel, soon after which it is carried over the Vale of the Dee by the stupendous aqueduct of Pont-y-Cysylltau, noticed under the head of Llangollen. The Shrewsbury and Chester railway also enters the parish from Shropshire, crossing the river Ceiriog by a viaduct parallel and almost close to the Chirk aqueduct; this viaduct is at least 850 feet long, upwards of 129 feet high, and has ten arches of 45 feet span, and one arch of 120 feet span. The line thence passes through the parish, and crosses the Dee valley, into the parish of Ruabon, by a grand viaduct above 1530 feet in length, which is about half a mile lower down the river than Pont-y-Cysylltau: see the article on Llangollen. There is a grist-mill, which is turned by water-power. Fairs are held at the village annually on February 10th, June 10th, August 12th, and November 12th, for the sale of live-stock and pedlery; and a court leet for the manor of Chirk takes place once a year.
About a mile and a half to the west of the village is Chirk castle, proudly situated on an eminence backed by the Berwyn mountains. It is a venerable quadrangular embattled structure, defended by a low massive tower at each corner, and another in the centre of the north front, where is the principal entrance, under an arched gateway guarded by a portcullis, leading into a square area of considerable dimensions, round which the various apartments are ranged. On the east side of this area extends a low embattled corridor, conducting to the principal apartments, which were greatly altered, modernised, and embellished by Mrs. Biddulph: the old entrance to the hall is by a flight of steps on the north side of the area. The picture-gallery, at the south end of which is the ancient chapel, is one hundred feet in length, by twenty-two in width, and contains several good portraits and other paintings. The park is extensive, and is disposed with picturesque effect, the inequalities of its surface, and the declivity of the hill extending behind it and toward the north, having afforded a favourable scope for the arrangement of the trees and plantations. A new road, also, leading to the castle, in a winding direction through the park, so as to embrace a view of much interesting scenery in the valley of the Ceiriog, and avoid a steep hill, has been made of late, in lieu of that which formerly led from the village. Near New Hall, which is described as an old seat of the Myddeltons, rebuilt many years ago as a farmhouse, and surrounded by a moat, stands a pair of iron gates of the richest and most delicate and exquisite workmanship, designed and executed by a common blacksmith; they originally stood immediately in front of the castle, and now form the entrance into the park from Llangollen and Wrexham. The summit of the castle embraces a wide prospect of great beauty and magnificence, offering to the naked eye, on a clear day, it is said, an uninterrupted view into seventeen different counties. Brynkinalt, in the parish, the seat of Lord Viscount Dungannon, passed in the female line to his lordship's family from the Trevors, whose great ancestor, Ednyved Gam, was a descendant of Tudor Trevor; it was built in 1619, from a design by Inigo Jones, but has been enlarged and embellished by the present noble owner, and stands in a beautifully secluded spot on the western bank of the Ceiriog, surrounded by fine plantations.
The living is a discharged vicarage, rated in the king's books at £6. 11. 5½., and endowed with £200 royal bounty; patron, the Bishop of St. Asaph; impropriator, Viscount Dungannon: the vicarial tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £565; and there is a glebe-house, with a glebe of about two acres and a half valued at £2 per annum. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a handsome edifice, with a square tower containing a ring of bells, and measures fifty-seven feet in length and thirty-nine in width. It has been renovated and embellished, in the later style of English architecture, by subscription among the parishioners, and has received an addition of 173 sittings, of which 133 are free, the Incorporated Society for Building and Enlarging Churches and Chapels having granted £100 for that purpose. It contains divers marble effigies of the Myddeltons of Chirk Castle, mostly ill-executed, with the exception of a bust of Sir Thomas Myddelton, the active parliamentary commander, represented with a peaked beard, long hair, and armed; near which is another, of his lady, of the Napier family of Luton. Here was interred Dr. Walter Balcanqual, a Scottish divine of some note, who represented his country at the famous synod of Dort, in 1618, and was successively raised to the deaneries of Rochester and Durham. Having, in consequence of his loyalty, rendered himself obnoxious to his countrymen, he was, in 1645, obliged to seek an asylum at Chirk Castle, where he died on Christmas-day ensuing; and a small mural tablet was erected to his memory in the church by Sir Thomas Myddelton, at whose request an elegant epitaph was composed for him by Dr. Pearson, then Bishop of Chester. A school for boys was founded in the village by Mrs. Myddelton Biddulph, in 1820: the master receives the interest of £20 left by Mrs. Mary Bennett, of £20 by an unknown benefactor, and of £5 by Major Charles Myddelton; he likewise receives some school-pence, but is principally supported by Colonel Myddelton Biddulph. In 1843, a handsome school for the instruction of girls was built by subscription of the vicar and some of the parishioners, aided by the National Society, on a site given by Col. Biddulph: it is supported by subscription, and a few school-fees. There are also two or three Sunday schools. In 1698, Mrs. Catherine Trevor bequeathed an estate in the parish of Llantysillio, and another in the parish of Llanrhaiadr, to the churchwardens and overseers of "Cherque," the rental of which, amounting to £46, together with £17 per annum received by bequest from the Chirk Castle estate, is regularly distributed at Christmas and Easter among the poor. Another charity, a charge on the same estate, consists of a measure of corn annually, made into bread, and distributed every Thursday, except the two Thursdays in the Christmas holidays, to twenty poor persons of the parish. Also a sum of 36s. is paid quarterly to six widows, being 6s. to each, on the 29th of March, June, September, and December.
Offa's Dyke, crossing the river Ceiriog, enters the parish, and passes through it in a direction from south-west to north-east; it runs through Chirk Castle park, where it is plainly visible, and soon afterwards crosses the Dee. In a garden immediately on the right of the entrance into the village from Oswestry, on the verge of the vale, is an artificial mound of earth, opposite to which, on the other side of the road, was another: these Mr. Pennant supposes to have been constructed by the Saxons, at the period of the formation of Offa's Dyke, as exploratory camps, and also to command the pass through the valley. Black Park is said to have been anciently an inclosed park, noted for its deer, but it has for ages been disparked, and there are now no vestiges of its appropriation to this purpose, except in the name.