Rhuddlan - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
RHUDDLAN, a borough, sea-port, and parish, in the union of St. Asaph, partly in the hundred of Prestatyn, and partly in that of Rhuddlan, county of Flint, North Wales, 11 miles (W. by N.) from Holywell, 16 (W. by N.) from Flint, 21 (N. W. by W.) from Mold, and 220 (N. W.) from London; containing, with the chapelry of Rhyl, 2415 inhabitants. This place, which is of very great antiquity, is supposed to derive its name from the red colour of the soil on the banks of the river Clwyd, on which it is situated. It appears to have been of considerable importance from the earliest period; and the adjoining marsh, called by the Welsh "Morva Rhuddlan," is distinguished as the scene of a memorable battle that occurred in the year 795, between the Saxons under Offa, King of Mercia, and the Welsh, in which the latter, after a severe and obstinate conflict, were defeated with dreadful slaughter, and Caradoc, King of North Wales, with many of his principal chieftains, was slain. Such of the Welsh as escaped the sword of the enemy, perished in the marsh from the influx of the tide; and those who had been taken prisoners were inhumanly massacred, without much regard to age or sex. In commemoration of this disastrous event was composed the well-known Welsh air of "Morva Rhuddlan," which is so deservedly admired for the plaintive sweetness of its melody. According to the Welsh Chronicles, it would appear that Offa himself fell in the engagement; but the Saxon annals place his death a year earlier.
In 1015, Llewelyn ab Seisyllt, King of North Wales, erected a fortress and a palace at Rhuddlan, which he made his principal residence, and which, after his death by assassination in 1021, continued to be the abode of his son and successor, Grufydd ab Llewelyn. This prince having given offence to Edward the Confessor, King of England, by sheltering Algar, Earl of Chester, one of his refractory nobles, that monarch sent Harold, with a powerful force, to subdue the Welsh prince's dominions; and Grufydd, surprised at this place by the sudden approach of the English army, which he was not prepared to oppose, privately embarked with a few of his attendants in one of the vessels then lying in the harbour, and, setting sail immediately, effected his escape. Harold soon made himself master of the fortress, and, mortified at the unexpected flight of the Welsh king, burnt his palace and destroyed all the ships of war and other vessels remaining in the harbour; after which he returned into England, to make more extensive preparations for subduing the prince. Towards the end of the Confessor's reign, Rhuddlan seems to have been possessed by Edwin, Earl of Chester.
The castle was afterwards held by the Welsh, who appear to have retained it for some time, during which they rebuilt and fortified the town, and rendered it one of the most flourishing places in North Wales. At length, Robert, nephew of Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, laid siege to the place, and compelled the garrison to surrender. William the Conqueror, perceiving the advantageous situation of Rhuddlan, near to the sea, and its importance as a border fortress, issued orders to Robert, surnamed from this place "de Rotelan," to repair the castle, to strengthen the fortifications of the town, and to make it his principal residence; and the square towers still standing, evidently of Norman origin, were probably erected at this time, and in obedience to the royal mandate. The additional works raised by this nobleman, with the facility of procuring supplies of men and provisions by sea at any time from England, rendered it a military station of great consequence, and a powerful means of keeping the Welsh in subjection. In 1109, Grufydd ab Cynan, who had previously visited Robert at this place, and had obtained from him assistance against his enemies, on account of some quarrel which had arisen between them, attacked the castle of Rhuddlan, burnt the outer ward, killed many of the soldiers, and compelled the remainder to retire for safety within the towers.
Henry II., on his invasion of North Wales, in 1157, advanced to Rhuddlan without any resistance, repaired the castle, and strengthened the fortifications with additional works; and, previously to his return into England, garrisoned it with a strong body of his own forces. The Welsh chieftains having, in 1165, entered into a confederacy to throw off the allegiance which they had sworn to this monarch, Henry, aware of the importance of Rhuddlan Castle as a grand border fortress, and judging that it would be the first object of their attack, advanced hastily to protect it; but the enemy retiring upon his approach, the king, not being in sufficient force to pursue them, remained here only for a few days, and, having reinforced the garrison, returned to England. Notwithstanding its strength and the number of its soldiers, the castle, being invested by the Welsh forces in 1167, though valiantly defended, was taken, after a siege of two months, by Owain Gwynedd, sovereign of North Wales, who dismantled the fortifications, and put the garrison to the sword. It appears, however, to have been soon restored to the English, for it is named in conjunction with two other fortresses given by Henry II. to Davydd, son of Owain Gwynedd, on his marriage with Emma, natural sister of that monarch; and, in 1178, it was held for Davydd by an English force, in opposition to a body of his own subjects, who had risen in disgust at his tyrannical conduct. In 1187, Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, attended by Giraldus Cambrensis, in his progress through Wales to preach the crusades, was hospitably received and nobly entertained by Davydd, in his castle at Rhuddlan; which this prince probably at a subsequent period surrendered to the English, in whose possession it for some time remained.
Towards the close of the reign of Richard I., Ranulph de Meschines, surnamed Blundeville, Earl of Chester, being suddenly besieged in this fortress by a body of Welsh, at a time when the garrison was quite inadequate to its defence, was reduced to a state of extreme peril, from which he was at length relieved by his lieutenant, Roger de Lacy. This officer, with great promptitude assembling a vast number of idle persons and vagabonds of all descriptions, who had congregated at the fair at Chester, placed himself at their head, and marched towards Rhuddlan; and Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, who had succeeded Davydd in the principality of North Wales, and commanded the besieging forces in person, perceiving at a distance an immense crowd of people, imagined it to be an English army advancing to the relief of the castle, and immediately raised the siege and retired with precipitation. The earl, in gratitude for the timely assistance, conferred upon his lieutenant the "magisterium omnium peccatorum et meretricum totius Cestreshire," which grant was, by one of his sons, partially assigned to his steward, Hugh Dutton, his heirs and assigns. In the reign of Henry VII., the descendants of Hugh Dutton preferred their claim, in right of this grant, to an annual payment of fourpence from every woman of ill-fame within the county of Chester, and to the power of summoning all minstrels exercising their calling within the said shire, to appear annually on the festival of St. John the Baptist, before themselves or their steward, and to present each a lance, four flagons of wine, and fourpence halfpenny, as the price of their licences. These claims, being annexed to certain estates, continued to descend with them for a series of ages, and the annual procession of the minstrels to the church of St. John the Baptist at Chester was continued till the middle of the last century.
King John, on his invasion of North Wales, in 1211, advanced through Rhuddlan into Carnarvonshire. In the following year the castle was attacked, but without effect, by Prince Llewelyn; who, however, succeeded in capturing it in 1214. From this time it appears to have been alternately in the possession of the English and the Welsh, till the year 1277, when it was finally wrested from the latter by Edward I., who, fully aware of the importance of its occupation, in the prosecution of his schemes of conquest, made it the principal rendezvous for the forces which he had assembled for the subjugation of Wales. It likewise formed the grand dep�t of arms and provisions for the supply of his invading army. Having strongly fortified the place, Edward took up his residence at Rhuddlan, while conducting the conquest of the country, and here entered into a treaty with Llewelyn ab Grufydd, who submitted himself almost entirely to his mercy, consented to repair hither to take the oath of fealty to him, and paid him the sum of two thousand marks. About the year 1282, Anian, at one time prior of the monastery of Rhuddlan, but elected to the see of St. Asaph in 1268, petitioned Edward, as the seat of his diocese had been in a great measure destroyed by the contending armies, to remove the episcopal chair to Rhuddlan, where the bishops and the church might, under shelter of a strong castle, be protected from the furious attacks of both parties, to which they still continued exposed. This the English king would willingly have done, even making an offer of land here, on which to build a new cathedral, together with a thousand marks to defray the expense of its erection; but the consent of the pontiff was never obtained, and the cathedral was at length rebuilt on its former site.
Llewelyn, repenting of the submission he had made to the English monarch, and aware of the danger of leaving so important a place as Rhuddlan in the hands of his enemy, in conjunction with his brother Davydd, whom a sense of the common danger had reconciled to his cause, captured all the fortresses of the English in North Wales, and at length invested the castle of Rhuddlan, and slew all the workmen engaged in strengthening the fortifications. Edward, relying on the strength of this fortress, and making every preparation for finally conquering the Welsh, immediately issued summonses from Worcester, commanding that all his military tenants, including the military services of the prelates, and of the twenty-four abbots holding of the crown, should meet him at Rhuddlan, in the ensuing month of June, 1282. On the approach of Edward, about the middle of this month, the Welsh princes raised the siege; and in the following July, the English monarch, during his residence here, issued orders to the sheriffs of the adjacent border counties to raise each a certain number of hatchet-men, to act as pioneers for the safe passage of his army into the interior. From this place, too, it was that the ineffectual negotiations between Edward and the Welsh princes, through the medium of the Archbishop of Canterbury, were conducted. All conferences being at length broken off, King Edward advanced, in the beginning of November, from Rhuddlan to Conway; but returned on the 24th of the same month, after the defeat of a body of his forces near Bangor, and hence issued writs for assembling a parliament to grant extraordinary supplies for the maintenance of the war. After the unfortunate death of Llewelyn, in the following winter, and the entire dispersion of the Welsh forces, his brother Davydd, with his wife, two sons, and seven daughters, was brought prisoner to Rhuddlan, where the English king had now taken up his residence to settle the affairs of his newly-conquered territories; and having been kept for some time a close prisoner in the castle, Davydd was removed in chains to Shrewsbury, and was there ignominiously put to death as a traitor.
During his residence at Rhuddlan, Edward instituted the celebrated body of laws, for the government of his new subjects, called "the Statute of Rhuddlan," which introduced the English system of judicature into the extensive territories which, on account of their remote situation, had escaped the usurpation of the lords marcher. He likewise issued from this place a proclamation to all the inhabitants of Wales, that he would receive them under his protection, and assure to them the enjoyment of their liberties and estates, under the same tenures as they had heretofore held them of their native princes. It was here also that Edward, while sitting in council, at which the Welsh chieftains attended, promised to them for their sovereign a native of their own country, one who knew not how to speak a word of English, and whose life and conduct had been hitherto irreproachable. On their acclamations of joy, and promise of obedience, he invested with the principality his infant son Edward, who had just been born at Carnarvon: the prince, however, was not actually raised to the dignity of Prince of Wales till some years afterwards.
In order to guard Rhuddlan against any future attempts of the Welsh, Edward resolved upon rebuilding the castle, and rendering it impregnable by the strength of its fortifications; and more than fifteen years were employed in the accomplishment of this work, which was conducted on a scale of splendour and magnificence, of which striking evidence is preserved in its present stately ruins. Although not completed during Edward's sojourn here, one of that monarch's children, the princess Eleanor, was born in the castle. In the mean time the town rapidly increased in population and importance; it was principally inhabited by English settlers, and soon became the chief town in this part of the principality. The inhabitants had been invested with many immunities by Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester; and the number of burgesses, which in his time amounted only to eight, was extended to eighteen by Robert de Rotelan, who augmented their privileges, making them equal to those enjoyed by the men of Hereford. By a charter dated at Flint, on September 8th, 1284, in the twelfth year of his reign, Edward made the place a free borough, ordaining that the constable of the castle should be mayor, to be assisted by two bailiffs, chosen annually from the burgesses, and by other municipal officers. He granted the corporation also a guild; a prison, with power to hold courts for determining all offences not extending to life or limb; a forest and free warren, and numerous other privileges and immunities, all which were subsequently confirmed by Richard II., at Leicester, and again by the same monarch at Westminster. By a writ issued by Edward from Bristol, in 1285, Rhuddlan, in common with some other Welsh towns, was declared to be free for ever from paying the taxes called talliages.
Sir Grufydd Llwyd, who had received from Edward I. the honour of knighthood, on bringing to that monarch tidings of the birth of his son at Carnarvon, rebelling against Edward II., assembled a large number of native troops in 1322, and assaulted the castle of this place; but, after many fruitless attempts to reduce it, he was taken prisoner, and, having first been confined here for some time, was executed. Rhuddlan Castle was granted by Edward III., in the seventh year of his reign, to his son Edward the Black Prince, as forming part of the earldom of Chester; and, according to a survey of the revenues of that earldom, made about forty years after this time, it appears that the town of Rhuddlan paid to the Earls of Chester a chief-rent of �72. 9. 2. per annum, and that the emoluments of the constable of the castle, who was accountable for the payment of that rent, amounted to �8. 14. per annum. On the return of Richard II. from his expedition into Ireland, whence he was recalled by the distracted state of his government at home, the king was brought to this town by the Earl of Northumberland and a large body of retainers, by whom he was held in a state of honourable captivity; and having stayed here for a short time, for the purpose of refreshment, he was hurried forward by that nobleman to the castle of Flint, where he was betrayed into the power of his rival Bolingbroke, afterwards Henry IV. From this period, little is recorded of the history of the castle, which appears to have fallen into neglect, and to have become dilapidated: for, on the breaking out of the parliamentary war, a very great expense was incurred in putting it in proper condition for receiving the troops by which it was garrisoned for the king. In 1645, it was besieged by a powerful body of parliamentarian forces under the command of Sir William Brereton: the garrison made a valiant and successful defence, and Sir William, after many fruitless efforts to reduce it, was compelled to retire to Chester. In the following year the castle was besieged by General Mytton, to whom it surrendered, and it was soon afterwards dismantled by order of the parliament.
The Town, now comparatively little more than a village, is pleasantly situated in an extensive and lovely vale, on the east bank of the river Clwyd, about two miles above its influx into the Irish Sea. It consists principally of one good street, intersected by several smaller thoroughfares; the houses are neatly built, the streets indifferently and only partially paved, and the inhabitants but scantily supplied with water, which, in dry seasons, they are frequently obliged to bring from a spot a mile distant. Over the river Clwyd is an ancient bridge of two arches, built in the year 1595, by William Hughes, Bishop of St. Asaph; near which the water was formerly only deep enough, even at high tide, to enable boats of seven tons' burthen, or "flats," as they are here called, to approach the town. Great improvements have in later times been made in the navigation of the river. Among these may be more particularly noticed a large embankment, raised at the expense of the trustees for the inclosure, under an act of parliament, of the Morva Rhuddlan; by which means the river is prevented from inundating the contiguous grounds, and much valuable land has been gained. A commodious harbour has also been formed, which is accessible at all states of the tide for vessels of one hundred tons' burthen: vessels of fifty tons' can come up to the bridge, at high water. Spacious quays and wharfs have been constructed, and warehouses erected, for facilitating the trade of the place, which has become a central dep�t for supplying the several towns in the Vale of Clwyd and the adjacent parts of North Wales. In the spring of the year 1841, permission was obtained to make Rhuddlan a bonded port for timber. The principal trade consists in the exportation of grain and timber, of which great quantities are shipped to Liverpool and the neighbouring ports, and of lead-ore from the adjacent mines of Talar G�ch; and in the importation of coal, groceries, and shop goods of various descriptions, to be distributed hence throughout the surrounding country by land carriage. The port is formed by the mouth of the river Clwyd, at a place called the Voryd, or "sea ford." Steam-packets ply regularly between this place and Liverpool, and brigs and sloops sail frequently both to that and other ports: the old turnpike-road from Holywell to Abergele passes through the town, and the Chester and Holyhead railway has a station at Rhyl, in the parish. Rhyl has of late years risen into repute as a bathing-place, and during the summer is much resorted to by visiters, for whose accommodation three hotels have been erected: for a detailed account, see the article on that place. Fairs are held at Rhuddlan annually on February 2nd, March 25th, and September 8th.
The charter granted by Edward I., which was confirmed by Richard II., has been in disuse ever since the period when the castle was dismantled by order of the parliament; no constable has since been elected, and consequently the borough has had no mayor: the appointment of the bailiffs, however, which is vested in the lord of the manor, still annually takes place. The corporation no longer exercise any magisterial authority, and the courts formerly in existence under their charter have been discontinued, those now held being only the courts baron and leet of the lord of the manor, at the latter of which, in October, the borough officers are chosen. But though reduced in extent and importance, the place still retains its privilege, as one of the parliamentary boroughs within the county, of contributing in the return of a member to parliament. It is also one of the polling-places in the election of a knight for the shire. The limits of the borough are co-extensive with the Rhuddlan franchise, which extends over five townships of the parish of Rhuddlan, a part of that of St. Asaph, and portions of those of Cwm and Dyserth. Until the passing of the inclosure act already alluded to, in the 34th of George III., the inhabitants enjoyed very important rights of common, which they had exercised time immemorially, turning their cattle, sheep, and horses on all the wastes within the borough, without restriction; but at that period the privilege was taken away, and, as no right of the burgesses was recognised by the legislature, no allotment or compensation was made to them in respect of their interest in the soil. The parish comprises 4110 acres.
The living is a vicarage, rated in the king's books at �11. 10. 5., and in the patronage of the Bishop of St. Asaph. The great tithes were granted by Edward I. to the Dean and Chapter of St. Asaph, in 1284, and are still a source of revenue to that body. The whole tithes have been commuted for �991. 1. 10., of which �649. 17. 2. are payable to the dean and chapter, �264. 1. 10. to the vicar, �71. 2. 10. to a certain impropriator, and �6 to the Bishop of Bangor. A good glebe-house was built in 1820; and there are 12 acres of glebe, valued at �24 per annum. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is an ancient structure, partly in the early style of English architecture, consisting of a nave, chancel, and north aisle, and containing some interesting monuments to the family of B�dryddan: one of these, of white marble, is to the memory of the Very Rev. W. D. Shipley, Dean of St. Asaph, who was buried in an elegant mausoleum adjoining, erected by himself during his life. At Rhyl is a separate incumbency. There are places of worship for Baptists, Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists, and Independents. Through the exertions of the Rev. Thomas Wynne Edwards, a National school was established, in 1829, by subscription, aided by a grant of �50 from the parent society in London; the building is capable of receiving 180 children, and there are at present about 60 boys and 10 girls. In another National school are 60 girls, 15 of whom are paid for by Lady Mostyn, of Pengwern, who allows �8 per annum, and the rest by Mrs. Yonge, of B�dryddan, from whom the mistress receives a salary of �15. There is a Church school at Rhyl, and the parish has altogether seven Sunday schools. Various charitable donations and bequests have been made, all of �10 each, amounting to �80, which sum, in 1718, was secured by a rent-charge of �4, annually distributed in clothing on St. Thomas's day among the poor.
The ancient castle occupied an elevated site on the bank of the river Clwyd, commanding the harbour, and the pass above Morva Rhuddlan. Its walls inclosed an octagonal area, and were defended by six round towers of great strength, of which those at the east and west angles were double, and those at the north and south were single; the steep acclivity towards the river was defended with high walls and square towers, and the whole was encircled by a broad and deep fosse, faced with stone. This fortress was built of limestone, freestone, and red sandstone, and of its original splendour and magnificence a striking memorial is presented in its venerable and stately ruins, which are among the most interesting and extensive in the principality. They consist chiefly of the walls, which are seventeen feet in thickness, and on the south side nearly entire; three of the round towers, of which one called Twr y Brenhin, or "the king's tower," is in tolerable preservation; the remains of various state apartments within the area, in one of which it is said the princess Eleanor was born; one of the square towers that defended the acclivity from the river, which is still entire; and the ruins of another, named Twr y Silod. To the south of the castle is an artificial mound, styled Toothill, surrounded by a deep fosse, and once probably the site of the fort and palace built by Llewelyn ab Seisyllt, and destroyed by Harold: the fosse comprises a quadrilateral area, in which was also anciently included the priory of Rhuddlan.
The priory was founded in the year 1197, by Ranulph de Blundeville, Earl of Chester, for brethren of the Dominican order; and in the year 1268, as already observed, Anian de Schonan, prior, was made Bishop of St. Asaph. The establishment suffered greatly during the wars of Edward I., but it still continued to flourish till the Dissolution, when its revenue was estimated at �197.19.10.: the site and buildings were granted, in the 32nd of Henry VIII., to Harry ab Harry. The remains, now converted into a farmhouse and stables, consist chiefly of some part of the dormitory and domestic apartments, which are tolerably perfect. Many stone coffins have been dug up on the site of the ancient buildings, which appear to have been very extensive; and among the monumental stones found near the spot is one to the memory of some archbishop, on which is his effigy, holding the crosier in the left hand, the right hand raised as if in the act of benediction, and the head crowned with a mitre: this stone is now built up in the wall of a barn. In the cemetery many human skeletons have been discovered, and numbers of human bones are yet frequently thrown up by the spade. Not far distant from the priory stands a farmhouse called Spital, or "Yspytty," formerly an hospital belonging to the Knights Templars, founded by Edward I., in 1279; and near it is a fine spring, from which the priory derived water, conveyed to it by leaden pipes, that were taken up not many years ago: from this spring the town of Rhuddlan is now supplied during seasons of drought. A full description of the priory and hospital, with illustrations, is given in the numbers of the Arch�ologia Cambrensis for July 1847 and January 1848. On the east side of the principal street is still remaining a portion of the house in which Edward I. sat in council, while superintending the erection of the castle, and legislating for the future government of his Welsh subjects. In commemoration of this circumstance, a stone was placed in the building by the late Dean Shipley, with the following inscription;�"This fragment is the remains of the building where King Edward I. held his parliament, A.D. 1283, in which was passed the Statute of Rhuddlan, securing to the principality of Wales its judicial rights and independence." About a mile from the town, in the hamlet of Cricin, is a large tumulus, heaped over the remains of St. Eurgain, or Cain, daughter of Maelgwyn, and niece of St. Asaph founder of the see of that name: on the tumulus is the shaft of a cross, the head of which is now in a pool on the farm adjoining. B�dryddan, in the parish, has been the property and residence of the family of Conway from the time of Edward III., by whom it was bestowed upon John Coniers of Conway, then governor of Calais, to whom also belonged the castle and manor of Rhuddlan, by a grant from Edward the Black Prince. The estate now belongs to William Shipley Conway, Esq. The mansion is spacious; and the grounds, which are very extensive, are enriched with some of the finest timber in North Wales.