Llanrwst (Llan-Rwst) - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
LLANRWST (LLAN-RWST), a markettown, the head of a union, and a parish, partly in the hundred of Nantconway, county of Carnarvon, but chiefly in the Uchdulas division of the hundred of Isdulas, county of Denbigh, North Wales, 20 miles (W. by S.) from Denbigh, 26 (W. by N.) from Ruthin, and 217 (N. W. by W.) from London; containing 3905 inhabitants, of which 3524 are in Denbighshire, and 381 in the Carnarvonshire portion, consisting of the township of Gwydir. This town is of very great antiquity, and in the year 952 was the scene of an important battle in the contests maintained at that period, for the sovereignty of Wales, between the sons of Hywel Dda and those of Edwal Voel. The former, assembling their forces in South Wales, laid waste the territory of North Wales as far as the river Conway, but were opposed by the latter at the town of Llanrwst, where, after an obstinate conflict, in which many of considerable rank were slain on both sides, the sons of Edwal Voel were victorious. These, pursuing their enemies into South Wales, retaliated upon their territories for the ravages which had been inflicted on their own.
The town is pleasantly situated on the eastern bank of the river Conway, which here forms the boundary between the two counties, four miles to the north of the road to Holyhead, and in the spacious and beautiful Vale of Llanrwst, environed by majestic and well-wooded hills, the land at the foot of which is well watered, and exceedingly productive. It is large, well built, and amply supplied with water, but consists principally of small houses and shops; the streets are spacious and well paved. Over the river is an elegant bridge of three arches, built about the year 1636, under an order from the privy council of Charles I., from a plan by Inigo Jones, who is erroneously stated to have been a native of this place: the expense of its erection, amounting to about £1000, was conjointly defrayed by the two counties which it connects. Two of the arches are strikingly handsome; the third, having been rebuilt in 1703, is somewhat inferior: the central arch, which forms a much larger segment of a circle than the other two, is nearly sixty feet in span. Excellent roads have been made, communicating with the London, Liverpool, and Holyhead roads, and also with Denbigh and St. Asaph; the improved state of which has caused a considerable increase of visiters, during the summer months, to the picturesque and much admired scenery of this neighbourhood.
Llanrwst was formerly noted for the making of harps. At present the spinning of woollen yarn, and the knitting of stockings, constitute the principal trade, the town being situated at the north-western extremity of the hosiery district of North Wales, and forming, next to Bala, the principal market for that article; the first of these branches, however, is in a very low state, there being only one mill, in which not more than four or five persons are employed. The river Conway is navigable from its mouth to Trêvriw, about two miles from this town, for vessels of sixty tons' burthen, which bring coal, lime, timber, and grocery for the supply of the inhabitants of Llanrwst and the neighbourhood, and carry back the produce of the slate-quarries and mines of the adjoining parishes. The market, held on Saturday, is well supplied, particularly with corn, which is not sold by sample, but in small quantities suitable to the circumstances of the purchaser: it is the general mart for the inhabitants of the surrounding district, to a distance of twenty miles in some directions. Fairs, chiefly for the sale of cattle, corn, and wool, take place on the first Tuesday in February, on March 8th, April 25th, June 21st, August 10th, September 17th, October 25th, on December 11th, and the second Tuesday after that day. At the June fair a great quantity of wool is sold to the clothiers of Yorkshire, and at the September and October fairs great numbers of cattle are sold to the English drovers. The market-place is a spacious square area, in the centre of which stands the town-hall, lately rebuilt. The old town-hall was a plain substantial structure, erected at the expense of Maurice Wynne, Esq., of Caer Melwr, as appeared from a stone over the principal entrance, bearing the arms of the Wynnes, and the initials of the founder, with the date 1661: above this was a clock, with a cupola, containing the market bell, and surmounted by a large gilt eagle. This edifice has been rebuilt by Lord Willoughby D'Eresby, with an additional floor for a corn-market. The general quarter-sessions for the county were formerly held here, but the practice has been discontinued since the removal of the assizes from Denbigh to Ruthin. The powers of the county debt-court of Llanrwst, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Llanrwst. The petty-sessions for the Uchdulas division of the hundred of Isdulas are held here; and under the Boundary Act, Llanrwst is a polling-place in the election of knights for the shire.
The parish is upwards of forty miles in circumference, and comprises, in the Denbighshire portion, 15,000 acres, of which 8300 are arable, 6000 pasture, and 700 woodland; and in the Carnarvonshire portion 7694a. 3r. 22p., of which about 293 acres are arable, 6588 pasture, 693 wood, and the remainder water, roads, and waste. The soil of the lower grounds consists principally of a mixture of argillaceous earth and vegetable mould, the latter generally diminishing in quality as the elevation of the land increases. Some parts of the surface rise into lofty hills and mountains, including Moel Siabod and Moel Seiviog, the former reaching an elevation of 2878 feet above the level of the sea; on the summit of the latter three parishes meet. The chief agricultural produce is wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, and the various grasses; and in the spring, summer, and autumn months, the higher grounds afford abundant pasturage for horses, cattle, and sheep. Clay-slate and greywacke are quarried for fences, for building purposes, and the repair of roads; and there are leadmines in each division of the parish. The forest-trees consist principally of oak, of larch, spruce, and Scotch firs, of ash, beech, sycamore, birch, and alder.
Llanrwst being situated in the rich and fertile Vale of Llanrwst, the environs of the town partake very largely of the beautifully picturesque scenery for which the district is celebrated, the most prominent and striking features being the precipitous woods and lofty cliffs of Gwydir. The surface is diversified with hill and dale, woods, rocks, and water, together with moors, pastures, and arable land; uniting, in their perpetually varying combinations, to produce pictorial scenes of the highest order. The Vale of Llanrwst, which is neither so widely extended as the Vale of Clwyd, nor so contracted as that of Llangollen, is regarded by the admirers of scenery as exhibiting the most varied assemblage of beautiful features which the pencil could delineate. The prospect of the dense woods and towering hills that inclose it on each side, is enlivened by the river Conway, which every where presents an animated scene, either of small vessels arriving at, and departing from, the village of Trêvriw, or of the diminutive boats called coracles, used in fishing for salmon and smelts, both which, together with various kinds of trout, eels, &c., are supplied to the neighbourhood.
The gentlemen's seats in the vicinity and more remote localities contribute to the powerful effect of the different views. They comprise Gwydir, the Abbey, Cyfdŷ, Belmont, Plâs Madoc, Penloyn, the Cottage, Hêndre House, Oaklands, Beaver Grove, and Tan-y-Celyn, a neat residence on the banks of the Conway. The ancient mansion of Gwydir, finely situated amongst woods of oak, which clothe the rocks projecting between the rivers Conway and Llugwy, near the foot of a lofty precipice called Carreg-y-Gwalch, or "the rock of the falcon," was erected, according to some initials and a date over the gateway, by John Wynne ab Meredydd, in 1555, and comprised an extensive but somewhat irregular pile of building, ranged in a quadrangular form, and consisting of an inner and an outer court. This edifice was taken down in 1816, since which time the present structure, on a much smaller scale, has been built: a portion of the former mansion still remains, and has been fitted up in an antique and elegant style. Above this stood another edifice, called the Upper Gwydir, erected in the year 1604, by Sir John Wynne, which was pulled down a short time ago.
The living comprises a sinecure rectory and a discharged vicarage, united by act of parliament passed in 1678, and in the patronage of the Bishop of St. Asaph; the former rated in the king's books at £12, and the latter at £6. 5. 5. The tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £900, and there is a glebe-house, with appendages, valued at £50 per annum. The church, dedicated to St. Grwst, Rhystyd, or Restitutus, and situated close to the river, is said to have been originally erected on ground given by Rhûn, son of Nevydd Hardd, a chieftain of one of the fifteen tribes of North Wales, to expiate the murder of Prince Idwal, a son of Owain Gwynedd, by order of Nevydd, to whom Owain had entrusted him to be fostered, according to the custom of the country. The present structure, supposed, from its style of architecture, to have been erected early in the fifteenth century, was thoroughly repaired, and a tower added to it, at the sole expense of the late rector, the Rev. H. Holland Edwards, prebendary of Westminster. It contains 743 sittings, and is ninety-two feet long, and thirty-three broad.
Adjoining it, on the south side, is the Gwydir chapel, a handsome square castellated edifice, the interior of which is decorated with a profusion of carved work. It was built by Sir Richard Wynne, from a design by Inigo Jones, in the seventeenth century, as a burial-place for his family, the deceased members of which had previously been interred in the chancel of the church, and contains several elegantly engraved brasses, exhibiting portraits of members of the family. It has a carved and fretted roof, said to have once belonged to the conventual church of Maenan Abbey, situated about three miles distant. On the eastern wall is a slab of white marble, recording the pedigree of the founder, and tracing his ancestors to Owain Gwynedd, Prince of North Wales. On the southern wall is a monument to the memory of Sir John Wynne, Bart., a learned antiquary, and an indefatigable gleaner of materials for the illustration of Welsh history, which were published under the title of the "History of the Gwydir family;" also to that of his great-grandfather Meredydd, and his wife Sidney, daughter of Sir William Gerard, Chancellor of Ireland. In the centre of the chapel, upon the floor, lies the stone coffin of Llewelyn the Great, who died in 1240, and was interred in the abbey he had founded at Conway, whence the monks afterwards removed to Maenan: at the Dissolution, the coffin was brought from Maenan to the parish church of Llanrwst, where it remained obscured by rubbish until placed in its present more appropriate situation. The same attention has been paid to another piece of antiquity, placed near it, viz., a recumbent armed effigy of Howel Coytmor, grandson of Davydd, brother to Llewelyn ab Grufydd: he was owner of the Gwydir estate, which was sold by one of his descendants to the family of Wynne.
There is a separate incumbency at Garthgarmon, a parochial chapelry in the parish; and at Gwydir, half a mile distant from the town, is a private chapel belonging to Lord Willoughby D'Eresby. An additional church, dedicated to St. Mary, and in the early English style, capable of seating 350 persons, was commenced in 1841, by subscription, on a site given by his lordship, for the accommodation of those who do not understand Welsh, in which language the service is exclusively performed in the mother church. This edifice, which, being situated on an ascent, forms an interesting object at the entrance to the town from Pentre-Voelas, was consecrated October 28th, 1842; and the necessary endowments for the minister, repairs of the church, and general purposes, were provided by the Rev. H. H. Edwards. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists; a Church school, a British school, and a number of Sunday schools.
An old foundation in the parish, called Jesus' Hospital, is supposed to have been originally endowed with the impropriate tithes of Eglwys-Bâch, a parish of eight townships, of which the rector had tithe from but one, called Bodnod township, the other seven paying to an impropriator. It appears that the hospital was founded by Sir John Wynne, Knt., of Gwydir, in 1612, for the support of a warden and twelve poor men; and that a free school within its walls was established by the same benefactor, the master of which was to have £20 per annum, and an usher £10, with a house and garden each. The allowance to the warden was £20, and the salaries of the teachers were subsequently augmented to £25 and £15: the remainder of the tithes was to maintain the almsmen, and to provide them every other year with warm gowns. Another history of the charity however is, that the true founder was a gentleman of the name of Williams, and that Sir John Wynne was merely an instrument for carrying his benevolent intentions into effect. The endowment of the hospital and its school with the tithes of Eglwys-Bâch, which were even then of considerable amount, is believed to have been the intention of Sir John Wynne; but this, it is said, has always been denied by his descendants and by the heirs of Gwydir, who have contended that this disposition of the tithes is not sustained by deed or other legal writing. The present Lord Willoughby D'Eresby, to whom the impropriation of Eglwys-Bâch has devolved as the representative of the family, also resists the claim of Jesus' Hospital to the endowment; and the question now at issue is, whether these tithes, of which the annual amount has exceeded £600, were settled to maintain the hospital, or are a lay impropriation in the Gwydir family in its own right, out of which certain payments were charitably, but gratuitously, made for nearly 200 years. The almshouses have ceased to be occupied by the poor, as rent-free tenements, since 1811; but it should be mentioned that Lord Willoughby D'Eresby distributes different sums of money annually to a certain number of needy persons, in the parish, though these payments are claimed to be voluntary, and wholly unconnected with the proceeds of the tithes. The houses are still standing; they are built of stone, and in tolerable repair, consisting of five tenements on the ground-floor and the same number above. About the year 1812, one of the ground tenements was destroyed to make a passage to a house then sold by Lord Willoughby to Mr. Evan Pritchard, which house is said to have been the property of the hospital, and former residence of the warden: the old house has since been taken down and rebuilt. On a stone tablet in the wall that separates the almshouses from the churchyard is this inscription: "Jo Winn de Gwyder Fil Mauricii Miles et Baronnetta fundavit A°. 1610." A salary of £40 per annum is paid out of the endowment to the master of the hospital school, one of the three day schools in the parish.
Among the contributors to the other charities of the parish have been Dame Mary Mostyn, John Salusbury, Morris Hughes, and Evan Davies, of whom the last-named, in 1766, left it property amounting to upwards of £600. About £800 have been invested in the funds and in turnpike-trusts, producing annually £35. 8., and among other charitable uses, a portion of this income is distributed to the poor between Michaelmas and Christmas. The poor-law union of which this town is the head, was formed April 29th, 1837, and comprises the following seventeen townships and parishes; namely, GwernHowell, Gwytherin, Llanddoget, Llangerniew, and Pentre-Voelas, in the county of Denbigh; EglwysBâch and Maenan (in the parish of Eglwys-Bâch), Tîr-Ivan, Eidda, and Trêbrys (in the parish of Yspytty-Ivan), and Llanrwst and Gwydir (in the parish of Llanrwst), in the counties of Denbigh and Carnarvon; and Bettws-y-Coed, Dôlwyddelan, Llanrhychwyn, Penmachno, and Trêvriw, in the county of Carnarvon. It is under twenty guardians, and contains a population of 12,322.