Holt - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
HOLT, a parish, in the union of Wrexham, hundred of Bromfield, county of Denbigh, North Wales; comprising the borough of Holt, and the parochial chapelry of Is-y-Coed, in which latter are the townships of Cacca-Dutton, Dutton-y-Brân, Dutton-Difieth, Ridley, and Sutton, each of which is separately assessed for the maintenance of its poor; and containing 1634 inhabitants, of whom 1058 are in the borough of Holt, 5½ miles (N. E.) from Wrexham, 29 miles (E. S. E.) from Denbigh, and 191 (N. W.) from London. This parish is the only portion of the grant made to the see of Chester by Edward the Confessor, of all the lands on the western side of the river Dee, now remaining to that see. It is supposed to have contained, under the Roman dominion in Britain, an outpost to the station Deva (Chester); and the fortress erected here, according to some antiquaries, was called, from that circumstance, Castra Legionis, or "the castle of the legion," preserved in its synonymous Welsh name of Castell Lleon, which, on the fortress coming into the possession of John, Earl Warren, in the reign of Edward I., was, probably by mistaking Lleon for the plural of Llew, changed into "the Castle of Lions" or "Lyons," which it continued to bear for some time. Its présent name may be derived from a family of the name of Holt, who are said to have held it before this period, perhaps under a lord paramount.
Warren, after the death of Madoc ab Grufydd (who had been entrusted to his guardianship by Edward I., and whom he caused to be drowned under Holt bridge), obtained from King Edward a grant of Dinas Brân and all Bromfield, and, in order to secure his possession, began to erect the castle of Holt, for which this parish is chiefly distinguished, and which gave rise to the present borough; but dying soon after, he left the completion of it to his son William. The castle afterwards came by marriage into the possessions of Edward Fitz-Alan, Earl of Arundel. On the attainder and execution of Richard, Earl of Arundel, in the reign of Richard II., it reverted to the crown, and that monarch deposited here, during his expedition to Ireland, plate and jewels to the value of 200,000 marks, and 100,000 marks in money; all which treasure, together with the fortress, was delivered up to Bolingbroke, in 1399, prior to the deposition of the king. In the following reign the estates were restored to the Fitz-Alans; and Thomas, Earl of Arundel, in the year 1410, granted the inhabitants of the place a charter of incorporation, but, jealous of the Welsh, who were ever on the alert to throw off the English yoke, precluded all but Englishmen from participating in the privileges and immunities which he then bestowed.
In the reign of Henry VII., the lordship and castle of Holt were granted to Sir William Stanley, who repaired and altered the castle at a great expense, and on whose subsequent attainder for high treason, Henry not only resumed the lordship, but confiscated to his own use the treasures found in the castle, which, exclusively of jewels, amounted to more than 40,000 marks in money and plate. Henry VIII. bestowed this lordship on his natural son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, on whose decease soon after, at the age of seventeen, it reverted to the king. In the reign of King Edward VI., Thomas Seymour, Lord Admiral, and brother of the Protector, had possession of the lordship and castle, the latter of which he made subservient to the promotion of his ambitious projects, collecting in it a large magazine of warlike stores and ammunition; but being attainted of high treason, and found guilty, he was beheaded on Tower Hill, London, in 1549, when Holt once more reverted to the crown. During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., this castle was an important fortress, and was alternately in the possession of each of the contending parties. In 1643, it was besieged and taken for the parliament, by Sir William Brereton and Sir Thomas Myddelton; but it was shortly after retaken by the royalists, and in 1646 valiantly defended by Sir Richard Lloyd, of Esclusham, near Wrexham, against the parliamentarian forces under Major-General Mytton, until, after an obstinate resistance, it was finally surrendered to that commander upon honourable terms, in January 1647, and was immediately demolished by order of the parliament.
Though anciently a place of some note, the borough at present constitutes only an inconsiderable village. It is situated on the road from Wrexham to Nantwich, on an eminence rising gently from a spacious vale, and on the western bank of the Dee, in the navigable part of its course, and immediately above the point where this river is joined from the west by the powerful stream of the Alyn. The parish comprises 2726 acres; the soil is clayey, and appropriated chiefly to the growth of wheat. The scenery is not of the most pleasing character, owing to the flatness of the country and the scarcity of timber; the Dee, in this part, flows smoothly through a tract of meadows unadorned by any beauty, and which in rainy seasons are sometimes flooded. The river is here crossed to the village of Farndon, in Cheshire, by a stone bridge of ten arches, of very curious and ancient construction, which appears, from an inscription formerly to be seen over a portion called the Lady's Arch, to have been built in the year 1345. The Chester and Shrewsbury railway runs a few miles on the west of the village, passing through the parish of Gresford. A market formerly held at Holt, has long been discontinued: there are two annual fairs for cattle, on June 12th and October 29th.
By virtue of the above-mentioned charter of Thomas, Earl of Arundel, granted with the royal sanction, and dated from his "castle of Lyons," the place is still governed by a mayor, two bailiffs, and a coroner, who are elected annually. By the 27th of Henry VIII., Leon, otherwise Holt, was made a contributory borough, to share with Denbigh and Ruthin in the return of a member to parliament. The right of election here belonged to the resident burgesses, in number at present about 100; and serious quarrels concerning the election of a burgess have at different times arisen, from great numbers of strangers being made burgesses of Holt, for the express purpose of voting at the elections. By the act for "Amending the Representation of the People," passed in 1832, the town of Wrexham was added to this district of contributory boroughs; and the privilege of exercising the elective franchise was extended to all male persons of full age occupying, either as owner, or as tenant under the same landlord, a house or other premises of the annual value of not less than ten pounds. The limits of the borough are co-extensive with the township of Holt, and comprise an area about nine miles in circumference: the present number of houses of the annual value of not less than ten pounds is about fifty. The mayor of Denbigh is the returning officer.
The living is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £200 private benefaction, and £200 royal bounty; net income, £130, with a glebe-house; patrons, the Dean and Chapter of Winchester. The church, dedicated to St. Chad, is a handsome structure, erected in the reign of Henry VII., in the later style of English architecture, with a good square embattled tower; the interior consists of a nave and aisles of equal height, without a clerestory, and is ninety-two feet in length and fifty-three in breadth, containing 340 sittings. There are places of worship for dissenters. A school was founded in 1664, by Griffith Roberts, who endowed it with property now producing £45 per annum; one or two other schools are supported in the parish, and three Sunday schools. Mr. John Brown bequeathed the interest of £200, and Mrs. Gartside the interest of £50, to be annually distributed in bread to the poor of the borough; and there are some other bequests for charitable purposes.
The castle was a strong pentagonal fortress, occupying the summit of a rock, environed on three sides by a broad moat excavated in quarrying stone for its erection, and on the fourth by the river Dee, which now flows under its ruins. It was defended at four of the angles by massive circular bastions, from which rose slender embattled turrets; and at the fifth angle, and also at the entrance, by square towers, of which that at the former was the "donjon," or keep, while the approach to the latter was protected by a drawbridge and portcullis. Coins of Antoninus and other Roman emperors have been found here; and slight traces of earthworks, supposed to be of Roman construction, are yet visible near the castle, and on the opposite side of the river.