He speaks – and listening to his voice,
New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts, rejoice!
The humble poor believe.
– Charles Wesley
(Large Hymn Book for the Use of the Primitive Methodists (1824), Hymn 7)
The Wrexham Leader of 6th January 2009 states that, “It is probable that many people in the area have never even heard of the Wrexham ‘village’ of Newtown Mountain. The settlement has long been abandoned and almost forgotten.” The article continues:
Today, the only visible remains of the ‘village’ of Newtown Mountain are a few ruins, barely distinguishable as anything more than piles of stones, as much of what survives has been swallowed up by the nearby dense forest planted in the middle of the last century.
A publication entitled Wrexham Landscape Character Area Guidance (Wrexham County Borough Council 2007) points out that “At Newtown Mountain the conifer plantation contains significant archaeological remains of an abandoned upland lead and coal mining village and smallholdings and there are other remnants of historic mining activity in the area.”
Much of the research for this article, concerning the squatters’ settlement on Newtown Mountain, in the old parish of Ruabon, Denbighshire, was undertaken by Vic Tyler-Jones of Chester, apart from the Primitive Methodist material. Vic then kindly gave me his entire archive arising from it. It would be tediously repetitious to state every time which pieces of information are from Vic, and which from me, but if the reader assumes that at least 85% of non-Primitive Methodist archival material is from Vic’s researches, this is not likely to be far wrong.
In consulting archives, it is worth noting the in 1879 Dynhunlle Uchaf, which included Newtown, became part of the newly formed parish of Penycae, having previous been in the parish of Ruabon.
There are public footpaths on the mountain which take the walker to the edges of the settlement. The current owner of the plantation requests that visitors to the site stay only on those rights of way: please refrain from going among the trees in search of residual rubble.
The beginning of settlement on the mountain
The settlement is included in the decennial population censuses within that part of the parish of Ruabon called Dynhunlle Uchaf. No one knows what the name Dynhunlle means; two other sites not far away contain the element, variously spelled at different times, and the best etymological guesswork seems to be to fall back on the customary suggestion that it must include a corrupted form of a person’s name. A more literal attempt would lead to a shortening of Dinas Hunllef (for final -f often disappears in Welsh), which translates as Nightmare Camp, or even Nightmare City: readers might not deem this too inappropriate as they read on.
No one knows when the first squatters arrived. The 1841 census for the parish has been lost or destroyed, so the first we have is 1851. The 1845 tithe map does not show any dwellings on the land, but as it was unenclosed common or ‘waste’ land, tithes would not have been payable. The maps were intended to provide a means of reference to the apportionments of tithes, and each piece of land liable to tithes was represented with a plot number by which it could be identified. Extensive common lands were not liable to tithes, so squatters usually escaped. Surveys of land ownership from earlier times and down to the tithe maps of the Victorian period often failed to notice the small, marginal holdings of squatters, for the simple reason that most of the surveys were undertaken to register taxable land or produce. Parliamentary enclosure of land incurred loss for people who subsisted on common land, and squatters were often evicted from land which had become private property. We cannot therefore date the beginning of Newtown settlement from the tithe map: it may or may not have been there already.
The only clue as to when squatters may perhaps first have settled there is that the 1851 census begins to report births there from 1848 with the birth “on the mountain” of Mary Jones, 3 years old in 1851, daughter of Edward and Mary Jones from Bala, now living in a “cottage on the mountain” in Dynhunlle Uchaf; four years earlier her sister had been born in Bala.
There is an apparent but misleading ‘clue’ in an obituary of one resident, Mary North, in the Wrexham Advertiser of 26 Oct 1895 entitled Death of a Denbighshire Centenarian:
On Sunday morning the death took place of Mrs Mary North of Afoneitha, who on the 10th July last attained her 105th birthday.
She … she lived for over fifteen years with her daughter Margaret Evans … The deceased … for over fifty years lived in a small hut on the Ruabon Mountains.
However, this cannot be correct, for it means that William and Mary North settled on the Mountain more than 65 years prior to her death, that is by around 1830. But in 1841 they were still living in Higher Kinnerton, Flintshire, with their daughters Caroline and Margaret, where William was working as an agricultural labourer.
The character of the settlement
What were the area and the hamlet like? The Wrexham Leader (6th January 2009) offers this description of the place: “the site, in the hills above Penycae, is as exposed a place as you could imagine in the county and an unlikely place for any settlement,” and refers to “its harsh landscape … as well as its short but colourful history … this rugged environment.”
In 1854 George Borrow happened across the settlement when he was lost in the area. In Wild Wales he describes the dwellings as “small grimy-looking huts”. A leaflet used to be available from Wrexham Library entitled Walks around Wrexham Maelor: Route 9 – Pen-y-cae  which led walkers through the area of the settlement and which states: “It was once possible to claim as a free right a plot of land on Newtown Mountain on which to build a home. All one had to do was to build a recognisable house which had smoke coming out of its chimney before nightfall.”
In newspaper articles to be quoted below, reference is made to a ‘clod hut’, and to ‘huts’ or ‘hovels’.
Eurwyn Wiliam, in his book The Welsh Cottage: building traditions of the rural poor 1750-1900 (Aberystwyth: Royal Commission, 2010) describes the system whereby tai unnos (“one-night houses”) were built. Their inhabitants did not own the land on which they built but encroached on common land or Crown property, often moorland, and sometimes land that had been illegally enclosed. They would choose a location close to where they worked, with a supply of clean water from a stream or well and a supply of materials nearby for the building: reeds, rushes, gorse, heather, turf, stone, slate, wood or clay. Sometimes they would steal materials from derelict buildings. By throwing an axe as far as they could in all four directions, they would stake a claim to a plot of land and enclose it. Items would be prepared beforehand, and gathering family members, friends and neighbours, they might assemble thirty to forty persons to work from dusk till dawn to build the ty unnos, with someone posted on the look-out in case obstructive authority arrived. The building was considered safely theirs if smoke was coming from the chimney by sunrise. Payment for the work would be in the form of help in return when needed. Such dwellings had few windows, if any, and any there were would be small.
If they lived there for a year it became their freehold. The first squatter would usually be followed by many more. After that first year of living on their site, if they had the means they would pull down the building and erect a better one, perhaps turning the original ty unnos into a cow house or shed. Wiliam gives additional information in his 1988 Home-made Homes:
It was commonly believed, by the cottager class if not by their betters, that if a person could erect a house during the hours of darkness and have smoke arising from its chimney by morning, then he would become the owner of the cottage and land around it – as far from its door as he could throw an axe is one widely-quoted version. The squatter would have prepared the roof, doors, windows and so on beforehand, and would then, on the night, rely on the communal help of friends and neighbours. Several thousand cottages were erected in this way, others in a more leisurely fashion if far from the prying eyes of the law. However, they all used materials available locally. … True ‘one-night’ cottages were usually designed to last only a few months until a more permanent house could be built on the site. …
Earth-walled cottages, of course, were only common in those areas where suitable clays occurred naturally …. Much of Wales was not so favoured, and in those parts, cottages had to be built of glacial boulders gathered from the fields, or slabby slate or sandstone waste piled together to form walls. … Turf, on the other hand, was widely used in both upland and lowland alike and easier to work than earth. Most one-night houses were erected of turf. …
The tai unnos, the one-night houses so important in illustrating the social history of Wales from 1750 to 1850, have all disappeared, whilst their successors, because of their location on land of marginal agricultural use, are either abandoned or turned into holiday homes. … All memory is being swept away under the tides of depopulations and repopulation, and the orally transmitted history associated with individual buildings is being lost. …
The 1861 census description of Newtown Mountain is of “a number of small houses scattered here and there on the mountainside.” The Wrexham and Denbighshire Weekly Advertiser (Saturday May 30th 1863 p8), describing a Primitive Methodist camp meeting on the mountain, refers to “the rough houses.”
In a leaflet produced for equestrians entitled Newtown Mountain Forest Trail (I have not discovered who published it), the section on Historical notes and places of interest states that “In the centre of the woods are the ruins of the squatters‘ homes, built on common land under the ancient custom of ‘Ty unos’ (one night houses).” A similar leaflet for walkers, produced by the Countryside Council for Wales, entitled Newtown Mountain Forest states quite plainly that, “It was once possible to claim as a free right a plot of land on Newtown Mountain on which to build a home. All one had to do was to build a recognisable house which had smoke coming out of its chimney before nightfall.” Despite the error that the smoke should appear “by nightfall” rather than by sunrise, the leaflet does seem to confirm that these dwellings were genuine tai unnos.
According to Ifor Edwards (Country Quest, August 1989), “In 1962 the remains of these small tai-siamberi (cottages each with a living room and chamber) were clearly visible. The rooms generally measured nine feet by nine, with a ty bach (toilet) a short distance away.”
I referred to George Borrow’s brief visit to the hamlet. In Chapter LXI of Wild Wales, which narrates travels in 1854, he wrote:
I … came to a cart path up a heathery hill which I followed. I soon reached the top of the hill, and the path still continuing, I followed it till I saw some small grimy-looking huts, which I supposed were those of colliers. At the door of the first I saw a girl. I spoke to her in Welsh, and found she had little or none. I passed on, and seeing the door of a cabin open I looked in – and saw no adult person, but several grimy but chubby children. I spoke to them in English, and found they could only speak Welsh. Presently I observed a robust woman advancing towards me; she was barefooted and bore on her head an immense lump of coal. I spoke to her in Welsh, and found she could only speak English. “Truly,” said I to myself, “I am on the borders. What a mixture of races and languages!” The next person I met was a man in a collier’s dress; he was a stout-built fellow of the middle age, with a coal-dusty surly countenance. I asked him in Welsh if I was in the right direction for Wrexham, he answered in a surly manner in English, that I was. I again spoke to him in Welsh, making some indifferent observation on the weather, and he answered in English yet more gruffly than before. For the third time I spoke to him in Welsh, whereupon looking at me with a grin of savage contempt, and showing a set of teeth like those of a mastiff, he said, “How’s this? why you haven’t a word of English? A pretty fellow you, with a long coat on your back and no English on your tongue, an’t you ashamed of yourself? Why, here am I in a short coat, yet I’d have you to know that I can speak English as well as Welsh, aye and a good deal better.”
It is easy enough to this day to follow the route Borrow describes from Craig y Forwyn (at World’s End) over the mountain, and down what he called the “deep ravine” which carries the Trefechan Brook with a “quagmire” at the bottom. Today’s path peters out part-way before appearing once again further down and leading the walker into the hamlet area at the point where, in 1860, the dwellings and land assigned to the four Edwards squatters stood. Ifor Edwards also comments that, “The 1851 Census returns show that there were fifteen cottages on this part of the mountain, one of which was uninhabited.”
The Trefechan Brook as it flows towards the settlement
The ruins on Newtown Mountain, photographed on Christmas Eve 2008 and visible today in a much decayed state, suggest the use of dry-stone walling, which would seem to be confirmed by the comment in the Primitive Methodist chapel schedule in 1862 (CR 78/53) that the chapel “wants sealing”: that, it would seem, became their manner of building.
Ownership of the land
In 1852 the Crown sold Sir Watkin Williams Wynn the right in the soil of 277 acres of waste land, and five years after that Sir Watkin purchased the land itself from the Crown for £208/11/0 and the sporting rights on the same land for £2000. As Palmer adds, “the commonable rights on the mountain were not defined but left to be fought out.” In 1860 he sold 80 acres of this land to Thomas Jones of Llannerchrugog Hall. Edwards’ article continues:
What chance had the squatters against the powers-that-be? Thomas Jones had little concern for them. They had their orders to pay rent or quit. The 1871 census returns record the occupants as Peter Gibbons, aged 60, coal miner from Hanley, Staffs, with Sarah his wife of Ruabon; Mary North, pauper, aged 75, from Melverley, Salop; Thomas Davies, aged 22, lead miner from Buckley, and his wife, Elizabeth, from Ruabon, and their two daughters; Margaret Davies, aged 42, a nurse from Oswestry; William Charles, aged 57, a coal miner from Llandrillo, and his wife Catherine, from Llangwm. The other three families were labourers and a coal carrier.
Although the area which included the hamlet was sold by the Crown to Sir Watkin Williams Wynn in 1857, mainly for grouse shooting, the Wrexham Leader (6th January, 2009) suggests that “the squatters … probably wouldn’t have found out until the portion of land which included their homes was sold to Thomas Jones in 1860, and he demanded that they either pay rent or quit their homes. The 1871 census shows a significantly depleted community, many of whom were single women or elderly men.”
In 1884 George Rooper of Nascott House, Watford, acquired the Llanerchrugog Hall estate from Thomas Jones.
The first population census which includes the hamlet is the 1851 census. The 30 adults were from the following places:
England (West Felton) 1
Penycae, Ponciau, Acrefair, Ruabon, Erbistock 11
Elsewhere in North Wales* 8
Mid Wales (Llansantffraid) 1
* Llandderfel, Bettws, Llanuwchllyn, Cerrigydrudion, Glyndyfrdwy, Llangollen, Bryneglwys,
This makes it highly likely that the original population was principally Welsh-speaking, a proportion of them monoglot. Including the children, the population amounted to 70. It should also be noted that the majority of the children George Borrow met in 1854 spoke only Welsh.
On 27th October 1905 the Llangollen Advertiser published an article about “a venerable resident of Penycae”:
there lives in the mining village of Penycae, on the Ruabon hills not more than half a dozen miles from the English border an old man whose long life of nearly ninety years has been spent in the observance of Welsh customs, who has never spoken a word of any language but that of his native country. His name is Mr. John Evans, and for forty years he has lived at the Groes, in the centre of the thickly-populated village of Penycae. Prior to 1866 he spent several years on the top of Ruabon mountain. He was born among Merionethshire hills – at Ty’n y rhyd.
The 1871 census has the man and wife of each household (or the ‘head’ if only one) from the following places:
England and Erbistock 7
Buckley and Ruabon 3
It is thus apparent that only three would almost certainly have had Welsh as their native tongue; the three from Buckley and Ruabon might have had.
It is not possible to track the growth or decline of the hamlet’s population, as the 1841 census is missing and we cannot know whether there were already squatters there; and the 1861 census does not differentiate the various parts of the wide-spread parish of Ruabon.
However, for 1861, a process of following the census registration by starting at Humphrey Hughes and ending at William and Margaret Davies, all of whom we know from other references to have lived at Newtown, seems to yield the possibly inflated figures of 155 inhabitants spread among 32 households, though a member of staff at Denbighshire archives assured me that if houses were listed together, they usually stood together. The 1860 map shows 29 plots, not 32, but the additional ones may have appeared between the making of the map and the taking of the census. The Primitive Methodist chapel schedules for 1861 (the year the chapel was built) give the population as 130, or as from 100 to 150, but the question which asks for the population specifically includes the wider neighbourhood as well as the squatters’ hamlet itself, thus maybe all of Dynhunlle Uchaf with Tai Nant, Drefechan, Mountain Lodge and perhaps more may be included in the estimated figure of 130. Nonetheless, perhaps it is best to abide by the Primitive Methodist estimate.
From the decennial censuses which do specify the hamlet, plus this estimate for 1871, we can glean the following possibility:
1851 80 15 households
1861 130 32 households
1871 22 8 households
1881 14 5 households
1891 17 7 households
1901 27 6 households
It thus seems clear that the hamlet began in the late 1840s at the latest, grew to its highest population in about 1860 or soon after, and then, following the sale to Jones of Llanerchrugog Hall, went into decline. In the 1881 there were five households, with a population of fourteen; in 1891 when the census began recording the languages spoken by the population, all seventeen of the population spoke English, with only four speaking Welsh in addition.
After George Rooper of Watford acquired the estate from Jones in 1884, a brief resurgence seems to have followed, for in 1901 there were six households, with a population of 27. In 1911 the enumerator moved from Tai Nant to The Clock (now called Frozen Clock), then on to Tyddyn Ucha Farm, Dryll Farm, Buarth yr Yd, and Mountain Lodge. Newtown seems to have disappeared altogether.
Life in the settlement
Some idea of the character of the dwellings has been given above, and these dwellings themselves shed some light on the way of life of their inhabitants. The following events provide sporadic glimpses into the life of the people.
The following report appeared in the Wrexham and Denbighshire Weekly Advertiser on Saturday Jan 15th 1859:
Monday January 10th 1859 Before Thomas Edgworth Esq., Mayor, Alderman Williams, Captain McCoy
Mary Owen an old woman, who resides at Newtown Mountain near The Rhos, was in custody charged with stealing a shawl from the shop of Mr Charles Richards of this town [Wrexham?].
After cautioning the prisoner in the usual way, the Mayor asked her if she pleaded guilty or not, to which the prisoner gave all kinds of answers but refused to plead guilty. She said, ‘My head was so bad after the penny worth of gin that I did not know what I was doing. If he says I did take it then I must have done.’ Then again, ‘I suppose I am rather guilty’.
No kind of hint would induce her to plead guilty so as to enable the magistrates to deal with the case here. She was consequently committed to take her trial.
Violence and perhaps injustice were not unknown. The Wrexham and Denbighshire Weekly Advertiser of Saturday July 26th 1862 ( p7) carried this report:
County Magistrates Court 1862
Monday July 21st before Capt. Panton R.N. chairman. J.H. Foulkes and Michael Humble esq [and others]
The difficulties of ejectment
Humphrey Humphreys was in custody charged with refusing to quit a clod hut on Newtown Mountain near Rhosllanerchrugog. Mr Owen who appeared for the prosecution called Mr Richard Clarke, who produced the warrant of ejectment, which had been served by John Wild.
Thomas Salisbury said he remembered going to Newtown mountain with Wild to serve a warrant of ejectment. The warrant was read to the prisoner in his own house. Nadin was with them. Prisoner hit him (witness) with a shovel. He was then removed by police. They took possession and pulled the building down – made it so that no-one could live in it.
John Hewitt said he was gamekeeper to Mr Jones, the owner of the land in question. He (witness) received possession of the house from Wilde, after which it was pulled down. Prisoner then built it again. He cut the turf to rebuild it doing about a pound’s worth of damage. He heard the prisoner promised Capt Panton that he would give up the house. (Prisoner had been brought before Captain Panton previous to his appearance to-day, when he promised, it appears, to leave the house).
Sentenced to two months imprisonment with hard labour.
Charge of assault against the same prisoner.
A charge of assault was then preferred against the same prisoner. William Jones said he was one who was engaged in pulling down the prisoner’s house. When they went there first, his wife threw hot water upon them then the prisoner threw a piece of panmug at them. When he was on the roof prisoner pushed a crowbar through and knocked him senseless, inflicting serious injuries upon his leg.
Prisoner admitted he had pushed a piece of iron through but he did not know who was on the roof. There were large stones coming through, one struck his wife on the breast, and he had six children in bed.
James Humphreys, from the office of Messrs James and Owen, said he saw the prisoner knock the last witness with a crowbar. He saw him aim at him. The stones that fell through were from the falling down of the chimneys.
Sentenced to one months’ imprisonment, to commence at the termination of the two months’ imprisonment to which he has been previously sentenced.
It is likely that “Humphrey Humphreys” was really Humphrey Hughes, and that the newspaper got his surname wrong. The 1861 Wales census lists no one in the parish of Ruabon called Humphrey Humphreys. The 1860 map is dated 22nd November, and the 1861 census was taken about 4½ months later on 7th April. Humphrey Hughes, who appears on the 1860 map, was living there with his wife Mary and their nine children, aged 4 to 22. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the attempted eviction, legally and morally, may have been, it is hardly surprising that Mary sought to defend her family and their home, and it does seem that the law officers acted with a callous lack of consideration for the people within.
Conflict and disharmony were not unknown in the community. The Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser (4.6.1864) reported two cases before magistrates:
A NEWTOWN MOUNTAIN ROW.
Stephen Riley v. Evan Evans
This was a charge of assault made by a tinker upon a neighbour, caused by a row about a donkey. The defendant said he did not hit the complainant at all, he only went to defend his mother from the attacks of Riley. He had two witnesses to prove that he had not hit him.
Sarah Gibbons said she lived at Newtown Mountain. Had seen the row. Riley hit the defendant on the ground. The defendant had picked up a stone, but it was to throw at a dog. Her husband had picked the complainant up. The defendant did not throw a stone before they were on the ground. Riley followed the old woman (defendant’s mother) down to their house with his fist in her face, and was pushing her. The son came up and asked what he was doing to his mother, and Riley closed in with him and they wrestled and fell. The dog was brought by Riley’s son and set at the defendant. The dog was a bitch (laughter). It did not bite any one. The case was dismissed.
THE TABLES TURNED. Margaret Evans v. Stephen Riley
The complainant, who was the mother of the defendant in the other case, charged the defendant with an assault. The facts were the same as in that case, and originated in a dispute about a donkey. The complainant called Mary Procter, who said she saw Stephen Riley fetch complainant’s donkey and abuse it. She told the complainant, who went to the children and remonstrated with them, when the defendant came out and pushed her and threatened to strike her.
Sarah Gibbons give the same evidence as she did in the previous case.
The defendant denied the charge, but had no witness.
The defendant was let off on the payment of costs.
In 1885, a charge of housebreaking was reported by the Wrexham Advertiser 10th January:
County Magistrates Court
WEDNESDAY Jan 7th
Before Charles Hughes. Esq. CHARGE OF HOUSEBREAKING. A man named Christmas Griffiths was charged with breaking and entering the dwelling-house of Catherine Charles, a widow residing on Newtown Mountain, Penycae, on the previous afternoon, and stealing therefrom a pair of mittens and a knitting hook. Evidence was given by the prosecutrix, and the prisoner, who was apprehended by P.C. David Jones, was committed to take his trial at the Quarter Sessions.
On 9th May 1891 the Wrexham Advertiser reported outbreaks of scarlet fever in the area. Then, on 5th March 1892, the Wrexham and Denbighshire Weekly Advertiser (p5) reported that, “Dr William Jones Medical Officer for the Ruabon Division reported that during February he had visited every part of his district with his sanitary inspector and had condemned two huts or houses at Newtown in Ruabon Mountain, as unfit for human habitation.” Then, in a subsection entitled “Hovels”, the report explains that, “Reference was made to the houses alluded to in Dr. Jones’ report. The inhabitants were both over eighty years of age, and their children had promised to take them from the hovels which they were anxious to leave. The huts were built with dry walls, and the roof was of turf, and was very defective.”
In 1895 (12th January) the Wrexham Advertiser reported an attempted house-breaking:
On Friday night, January 4th, some person attempted to enter into the house of Mrs Elizabeth Jones, a widow and invalid, residing by herself in a solitary place at the foot of the Ruabon mountains, known as Newtown. About midnight she was startled by some peculiar noise, and looking out of the window, she noticed a. man endeavouring to open the door, upon which she exclaimed, If you come in here you will soon be a dead man.” He, however, walked away without doing much harm, and left behind him a saw, which is now in the possession of the old lady. The man has not yet been identified. This being the second case of attempted robbery here during the last fort night, it has caused some sensation in the neighbourhood.
The local villagers collected heather to make besoms (a type of broom). According to Julie Bunting (The Peak Advertiser, 1st June 1998) in the Derbyshire Peak:
The method of manufacture involved making a head from a bundle of heather, packed at one end in the centre with smaller twigs to provide a firm bed for the shaft. This end of the bundle was tightly bound with sugar cane or the more readily available hemp cane then a ready-tapered shaft was driven and packed into the tightly bound head. A strong nail was knocked into the cane binding, the business end of the head trimmed with an axe
The leaflet entitled Walks around Wrexham Maelor: Route 9 – Pen-y-cae which led walkers through the area of the settlement states:
Many of the villagers were employed in the coal pits and sandstone quarries, and the decline of these small local industries eventually led to the desertion of Newtown by its inhabitants.
The two Chapels: top chapel
On a hand-drawn map of the estate, dated 22nd November, 1860, namely document D/BD/72 at Flintshire County Record Office, Hawarden, a building is marked labelled “chapel”.
The Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser of 6.1.1866 carried a report of the opening of the new National School rooms at Penycae. It relates that, in their search for suitable premises, they had considered the purchase or rent of the chapel marked in the 1860 estate map. The vicar of Ruabon, Rev. E. W. Edwards, in reviewing past progress towards the new school, said:
In arranging about the different districts at that time with Mr Wickham, who was then curate of the parish … the great difficulty was, what was to be done for Penycae. I remember one time particularly, and I have no doubt Mr Wickham remembers it himself, his returning from the district with very good news. He had heard of a public building on the mountain which was to be let and perhaps might be bought for a trifle. It had been used at one time for a chapel, but for a few pounds could be had for a school. We were delighted to hear this, and went to see the building. At a distance it looked very respectable but on a more minute inspection we found that the walls were anything but perpendicular, and the roof was in such a state that there was strong probability that it would soon fall in and might be the means of extinguishing both children and teachers, and perhaps both parsons and congregation. This plan was therefore abandoned.
It is noticeable that the newspaper report does not refer to “a chapel” but to “a public building on the mountain which … had been used at one time for a chapel.” It raises the question whether it was never specifically a chapel, but rather that the squatters built themselves some kind of community hall and used it among other purposes as a chapel; or the other way round – a purpose-built chapel also used for other community gatherings. This might explain why it does not appear in the 1851 census or (as far as I have been able to discover) in any Nonconformist records at Ruthin or Aberystwyth. If it was Welsh, it may perhaps have been linked with Tai Nant Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, less than a mile away ‘as the crow flies’, but it would require a researcher who reads Welsh to pursue this possibility in the appropriate archives.
The ”Mr Wickham” who was curate of Ruabon was curate there from 1860 to 1863; he is not the same person as Archdeacon Robert Wickham, whom the article also, confusingly, mentions, but he was Thomas Vowler Wickham, who became vicar of Rossett in 1863 and Diocesan Inspector of Schools from 1866 to 1872. As he visited the old chapel during his curacy, this gives 1863 as the last possible year in which it was already decaying.
The 1873 Ordnance Survey 2500 series map marks it without any shading, which is commonly assumed to denote a building that is unroofed, disused or decayed; the 1899 map shows the same. It still appears at grid reference 260460 on the 2013 OS “Explorer” map, Sheet 256.
We saw that it is highly likely that the original population was principally Welsh-speaking, a proportion of them monoglot. A study of the tenants’ names in the 1860 estate map of the hamlet and of the birth places of the same people in the 1861 population census, and excluding the ones that are too vague (i.e. stating only a county) or illegible, we arrive at the following:
almost certainly Welsh-speaking 39%
probably English-speaking 52%
The “probably English-speaking” were born in England, Monmouth, Ruabon, Wrexham and Chirk. I did not include people born in Buckley, Mold, Minera and Holywell, who might well have all be Welsh-speaking.
The village was located on a steep hill with a paved path leading up to the heart of the village was. On the 1860 map, all the non-Welsh surnames (Jervis, Proctor, North, Shone, Rhyley) are at the bottom of the hill, whilst the top, the heart of the community, has only Welsh surnames: Edwards, Jones, Williams, Evans, Ellis, Griffiths, Hughes, Owen. Of the children whom George Borrow spoke to in 1854, one did not speak Welsh, and the “several” others did not speak English. The language of children is a good pointer to the language of the home. This suggests to me that Welsh people settled on common land at the top of the hill, and were later joined with English-speakers, who settled at the bottom, beside the paths that lead towards Penycae.
This in turn suggests that the first chapel, or public building used as a chapel among other uses, and already decaying by 1863, probably served a Welsh-speaking congregation. Methodist historian Dr John Vickers suggests “the guess that it may have been a short-term private venture which failed to get taken up by any of the denominations. If Methodist, then almost certainly Welsh rather than English.” Perhaps its use as a chapel stretched only for a few years within the period 1852 to 1862.
Here I am visiting ‘top chapel’, part of the wall of which is seen behind me. Please remember the owner’s request not to stray from the public rights of way. He has kindly granted me permission to visit this site.
The two Chapels: the Primitive Methodists
A search of Anglican baptisms for children living in Newtown, performed in Ruabon in the period 1853 to 1872, brought to light only one possibility, namely Elizabeth, the daughter of David and Elizabeth Jones, whose abode is given simply as “mountain”, in 1863. We know that children from the area which included Newtown were being christened at Ruabon at that time, for there was a good number from nearby Drefechan, Tai Nant, and Mountain Lodge.
In contrast, a search of the Primitive Methodist baptisms of children living at Newtown in the period 1860 to 1874 discovered fifteen, of whom twelve were girls. After 1874 no further Primitive Methodist baptisms are recorded, and the records end at 1883. There is reason to believe that Primitive Methodism first penetrated the hamlet in 1860, and thus a comparison of the baptismal records of both churches from 1860 till 1872 would suggest that the hamlet was neglected by the Anglican Church, and served – perhaps only – by the Primitive Methodists. Not dissimilarly, Johnson (1989) writes of another area that “The North Midlands was a case book area of Anglican pastoral weakness. … Primitive Methodism’s primary appeal was to miners, factory workers, as well as agricultural labourers; in other words, those members of the labouring people previously neglected by existing denominations.”
The Primitive work in Newtown was in the Chester Circuit first, then in the Wrexham Circuit. The reference in the Chester archives to Newtown as a place of worship with no Sunday School in 1843 probably refers to that part of Chester also called Newtown, where the Superintendent minister of the Circuit was living in 1845.
In 1847 and 1848 the Wrexham branch of the Chester Circuit contains eleven preaching places, but not Newtown, after which the reports cease for a while. The Wrexham Mission preaching Plan for January to March 1856 still does not include Newtown, and it remains absent in 1858 to 1860. There are no chapel schedules or society accounts for Newtown prior to 1861 in the Chester Circuit records, which lack the Wrexham branch from 1850 to 1860. It appears in 1861 as a place of worship with no Sunday School.
In 1859 a new Primitive Methodist minister settled in Wrexham, and stayed till 1862. He was Philip Maddocks (1816-1906). During his time new chapels were opened at Caergwrle, Minera and Newtown Mountain, and a Baptist chapel was purchased in Rhosllanerchrugog. The circuit enjoyed an increase of about 100 members during those years. Maddocks was a local man: born in 1816 at Sarn Bridge in Flintshire. His father opened his house for preaching when the Oswestry Circuit missioned Sarn Bridge, and Philip was converted at his own home. He became a local preacher, then, in 1836, he entered the ministry.
Here is a taste of the kind of religion which Maddocks embraced, as shown in the 1833 Primitive Methodist Magazine (pages 434-8), which gives selections from the Journal of William Fitzgerald for that year:
Wednesday 9th January 1833 Preached at the Sarn. A large congregation. A good time. Held a prayer meeting: many wept. One professed to be made happy.
Sunday 24th February At the Sarn. These people have formed a prayer meeting on the Sabbath morning. Sometimes one of the brethren gives a short exhortation. I went to the meeting and gave a short exhortation. This was a glorious time amongst us. In the evening was assisted by Brother Eaches. We had a powerful meeting and many wept because of their sins. At night led the lovefeast. The people spoke with great liberty. The converting power of God came down, and many were brought to the ground. Some of the friends told me there were six converted to God. Praise the Lord, in this place he is laying hold of our persecutors; in particular one young man who has been a great despiser of our people. It had pleased God to convert one of his sisters… and he said that if ever he should see her down, he would kick her… On Sunday night he went to the meeting; he cried to God for mercy; the praying labourers prayed for him, and in a little time God, for Christ’s sake, set his soul at liberty. In this place we have hundreds coming to hear us. Our preaching house is not near large enough for the people; but our kind friend, Mr Holland, has fitted up his barn, which will hold some hundreds.
Philip Maddocks continued his Journal with the words: “Wed 27th February At the Sarn. I arrived at the place before the time, and it was crowded with people. [After the meeting] the people would not go away, so we formed two praying companies; the people prayed, and sinners cried for mercy; and the friends told me that many were converted to God. Truly this was a powerful meeting.”
The Primitive Methodist Magazine of 1907 relates that he was “converted in the midst of a great revival” and that his “ministry was marked by much fervour.” One aspect of his style of work which may have endeared him to the people in Newtown was that he “was a great power in the homes of the people. He was a most successful family visitor.”
There is a comment in the 1861 account book concerning the recently purchased chapel at Rhosllanerchrugog, which also gives a pointer to the kind of religion and worship in the circuit in Philip Maddocks’ time and a contrast to what would have been experienced in some other denominations: “We fear there will be a falling off in the number of hearers here. Many Welsh attend from the lively nature of our worship. When the novelty is over they will leave.”
The Wrexham Circuit account of June 1860 recorded nothing for Newtown. But in September, although there were as yet no full members, there were eight on trial, making an increase of eight over the previous year. The quarterly collections had amounted to 4/5d, plus 3/6d from lovefeasts. In December there were eight full members, and three on trial. Quarterly collections had been 5/3d. A further pointer to 1860 as the start of the work in the village is the baptism by George Stacey of Samuel, the son of Samuel and Mary Jervis; Samuel père was a collier. Reports, from which the following details are drawn, were compiled both by the Chester Circuit and by the Wrexham Mission Station.
Membership from the account book over the first two years is tracked as follows:
March 1861 10
June 1861 11
June 1861 10
March 1863 14 + 2 on trial
In March 1861 the Wrexham Circuit account (document CR 78/55 at Cheshire Record Office) recorded collections of 1/5d and from lovefeasts 4/6d. The Chester “station” Chapel Schedule for 1864 (CR 78/2 Part 1) lists Newtown chapel as having been built in 1861 at a cost of £23. It was leasehold, not freehold, but the society did not know how long the lease was for: “We will try to know.” The chapel schedule 1862 (CR 78/53), looking back, reports that “We got stone and carriage given.” This also shows that it was a stone, not brick building – doubtless the stone was from the nearby quarry.
The Chapel Schedule filed by the Wrexham Station in on 3rd March 1862 (CR 78/53) said the chapel was leasehold, and added, “We are geting it made over to the Connexion” – “it” of course being the lease, not the freehold. There were eleven members. The report included the comment about the chapel that “It wants sealing.” This may be the explanation for the newspaper’s observation that the chapel was still unfinished in 1863. In addition, £3.0.0 had been borrowed from Mr Hopley to pay for the forms for the congregation to sit on, and the pulpit. A sum of £0.7.8 had been spent during the year on repairing or painting and 6/- on light and cleaning. There remained £4.13.5 in hand. On average forty people attended the principal Sunday services, with an average of twenty on week days. The chapel had some spare land attached which had not yet been measured. Its estimated value was now £30, and the chapel was uninsured. It was still not known how many years remained unexpired on the lease. A Sunday School had just begun, and had as yet no receipts. It had three male teachers, one female, seven male scholars, and nine female. (But in 1863 there was again no Sunday School.) The principal Sunday services were attracting an average of forty people, with an average of twenty midweek. The population at Newtown or in the immediate neighbourhood was estimated at from 100 to 150.
The 1863 chapel schedule says the number of unexpired years on the leasehold is still “not known positively.” No money had been spent in the previous year enlarging, altering or improving the building, and a debt of about £10 was outstanding on it. It had 16 members, with average attendances at the principal Sunday services of 40 and weekdays of 25. The spare land attached to it measured 15 by 23 yards. The chapel was not insured or enrolled in Chancery. Income for the year ending 31st December 1862 had been £7.7.3.
The local newspaper, the Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser, of for 30th May 1863 (page 8) has an article on Newtown Mountain:
On Whit Monday a tea meeting was held in the Primitive Methodist chapel, Newtown (the mountain), three miles distant from Ruabon. The wild precipices, the rough houses, the uncultivated people, and the unfinished chapel (all of which reminded us of the days of yore) attracted a large assembly to the rustic scene. At half part four about 140 gathered round the social board, and did ample justice to the rich and abundant fare provided for them. After tea, a public meeting was held, and addresses delivered by Messrs Stacey, Jones, and Miss Bennett.
One wonders to what the writer was referring by the wild precipices, for there is only bleak, rolling moorland. Perhaps he meant the little steep valley down which the Trefechan Brook flows, though that would require a lot of poetic licence. Maybe some of the party walked to the top of the mountain – a good hour’s walk to the top from Newtown – from where they would have seen the Llantysilio Ridge, Moel Fferna, and Cyrn y Brain.
In April 1864 the Chester Circuit received the Wrexham “station” as part of the Chester Circuit. That year there was a Sunday School of three male teachers, one female, nine male scholars and fourteen female.
During the previous year, i.e. 1863-4, they had spent £4.14.9 on a new floor, the debt on the chapel stood at £11.8.0, and they estimated the value of the chapel at £50. It had seating for 80, all free, that is, with no pew rents. The Chester Station chapel schedule dated 3rd March 1865 lists it as a place of worship with no Sunday school.
In the schedule for the year ending December 1864 (Document 78/2 Part 1), dated March 1865, the space where the treasurer usually signed is blank, and only the President, Rev. William Rowe (1817-88), has signed the document. An explanation may lie in the following year’s document, as the next paragraph suggests.
The chapel schedule for the year ending 1865, dated March 1866 (document CR.94.22), reports that income for the year ending 31st December 1865 included £4.10.0 from tea meetings, and adds: “The interest has been paid and there is some money in hand, but the treasurer has run away and taken the accounts and some money, how much we do not know. We are trying to get all straight.” Once more, as in 1862-4, William Davies is signing as treasurer. This implies that whoever the absentee treasurer was, it was not William Davies, who must have laid down the office, and taken it up again when the new person absconded with some of the money.
In 1866 the Chester Circuit Report includes Wrexham, Llay, Ffrwd, Caergwrle, Minera, Rhosllanerchrugog, and Newtown. Newtown has three male Sunday School teachers, one female, ten male Sunday School scholars, and ten female, making an increase of three over the previous year. The chapel schedule dated 13th March 1865 (Document 78/2 part 1) records that during the year 1864-5 £4.14.9 has been spent on a new floor – and the society is running a Sunday school. A debt of £11.8.0 remained. There were – it says – ten members when the chapel was built, and now, in 1866, there were again 10. Average attendances had declined somewhat, being now 30 at the principal Sunday services, and 15 midweek. The building was not insured, but it was enrolled in Chancery.
The quarterly accounts (document CR 94.13) track the membership, quarterage and the income (from quarterly collections and lovefeasts) from September 1864 to December 1867. The total varies erratically from 10/2 (December 1865) to triple that sum at £1.12.3 (March 1868) and the full members (with sometimes up to three ‘on trial’) run as follows:
It was in the final three quarters (September 1867 to March 1868) that both membership and income were at their best. In June 1868 the minute book notes a plan to hold a camp meeting the following quarter at Newtown, and it was agreed in September 1869 that missionary meetings should be held the following quarter at various places including Newtown. The focus of a ‘missionary meeting’ was home missions, or evangelism within Britain. A similar meeting was planned for Newtown again in 1870, 1871 and 1873. In March 1872 the Branch’s quarterly meeting voted unanimously to apply to be made into a Circuit and Chester’s quarterly meeting unanimously approved the request.
The 1873 OS 2500 series map shows the chapel as a stone or brick building. It was, in fact, as we have seen, stone. But strangely it is not identified as a chapel, perhaps because it was only leasehold, not freehold.
The Wrexham Advertiser of 31st July 1880 (page 4) carried this report:
Primitive Methodist Camp Meeting. A camp meeting is to be held at Newtown Mountain on Sunday 1st August 1880. Mrs Fletcher and others are to speak. Service to commence at 10 a.m.. On Monday 2nd August 1880 (Bank Holiday) a tea meeting is to be held in the chapel at 3:30, tickets 1s each. After tea a public meeting will be held and will be address by Mrs Fletcher, Rev J. Calvert, and others. A tram is to start from Wrexham at 11:30, to run to Johnstown, on the way to the mountain, and return in the evening at 10. Fare 2d each way.
A week later, on 7th August 1880, the same Advertiser reported thus:
The Primitive Methodists of Newtown Mountain held a camp meeting in the open-air near the chapel. The services were conducted by Mrs Fletcher, Connah’s Quay, and others, and were very impressive. On Monday (Bank Holiday) the annual tea meeting was held, after which a public meeting was addressed by Mrs Fletcher, the Rev J. Calvert, Wrexham, and others. During the interval outdoor games were enjoyed in a field near to. There were a large number of people present.
That is the last reference I have been able to find to the Primitive Methodists of Newtown Mountain. When their surviving documents begin again, we find a list of society stewards for the Wrexham Circuit in 1884: ten places, but no Newtown. There is a list of chapels and society stewards also for 1890, and the record which the finance committee supplied, but again no mention of Newtown. The Circuit’s baptismal register stretches from 1843 to 1883, and lists christenings for people living in Newtown from 1860 to 1871, then, after a gap, in 1874 one child called Alice is christened, whose father’s surname is illegible and whose mother is not mentioned at all. A preaching Plan for 1891 has survived, but does not include Newtown.
In 1896, George Senior of Wrexham, a pawnbroker’s assistant aged 32, who was born in Lincoln, took out a lease on the chapel, which was already ruinous, on condition he repair it and convert it into a dwelling. This is document DD/RO/13 at Ruthin archives. His wife was Mary Senior. We shall look first at the possible family connections, then at the building itself.
The 1896 lease was between George Rooper of Nascott House, Watford, Hertfordshire, and George Senior of 1, Charles Street, Wrexham, “for rebuilding and repairing the premises … formerly a chapel but now in ruins on the north side of and fronting on an unenclosed road leading from Penycae to The Clock and Penybryn.” It ran from 24th June 1896 for 21 years, in exchange for a yearly rent of £1.10.0 and required that “the lessee will on or before 1st August next at his own expense well and substantially rebuild and repair the said building and convert the same into a dwelling house. It was “lawful for the lessee to take and use for the purposes of rebuilding and putting into habitable repair the said messuage any loose stones lying on the surface of any of the adjoining waste land the property of the Lessor.”
However, the 1912 2500 series OS map marks no building at all where the chapel had stood: it has vanished completely. Nonetheless, on a 2008 Ordnance Survey aerial photograph, when some of the trees had been removed (or not yet grown), the outline, presumably foundations, are still visible as a crop mark, and can still be found today among the re-grown trees.
The Family who leased and lived in the chapel
It is apparent that the family who leased and lived in the chapel already had connections with it when it was a Primitive Methodist chapel, but Mary Senior is somewhat of a mystery. For one thing, she only aged by five years between 1891, when she was 23, and 1901, when she was 28.
George Senior married Mary on 7th May 1890 at St Thomas’ Church, Penycae. Mary Senior sadly died at the early age of 35, and George emigrated to America. Eileen Baynham, to whom I am indebted for the following probable identification of Mary, writes: “Quite soon after her death her husband and 3 of their children went to Rhode Island arriving in USA on 9th July 1903. In October 1916 aged 43 he applied for naturalisation and had to give some details of his background which included the fact that he was married to Mary Downes and she was deceased. So we discover that she was Mary Downes.”
The mystery includes the puzzle, why George Senior should take a lease on a ruinous chapel in 1896 in order to convert it to a dwelling, but never live there, for he and Mary did move, but only to a different address in Wrexham. A little boy called Samuel, son of John and Mary Elizabeth Downes, was christened in 1898 whilst living at “Chapel House, Newtown”. By 1901 the family had moved down from Newtown to Afoneitha Road, Penycae, so their residence at the restored and converted chapel was brief.
Samuel and John Edwin’s father John was a colliery labourer above ground. He was the third of that name, his father and grandfather also being John. His wife Mary Elizabeth was the daughter of Edwin and Sarah Proctor, and was baptised at the Primitive Methodist chapel in Newtown on 27th July 1868; they married by civil marriage in the final quarter of 1886, and it was they – John Downes and Mary Elizabeth née Proctor – gave birth to Samuel in 1896 and who moved into the chapel by 1898 when Samuel was christened.
John had a brother called Benjamin, a labourer who married Ann Evans, born in Ruabon. Benjamin and Ann Downes gave birth to a daughter Elizabeth, who was baptised at the Primitive Methodist chapel in Newtown on 19th July 1869; they also gave birth to the Mary who married George Senior. Little Samuel (living in the old Primitive Methodist chapel) was thus Mary’s cousin, and John and Mary Elizabeth Downes were George Senior’s uncle and aunt by marriage. No doubt George Senior, becoming their nephew by marriage, decided to help them out by leasing and restoring the old chapel for them to live in. Mary Elizabeth Proctor, wife of John Downes, had as grandparents Thomas and Mary Proctor (‘Prodger’ in 1861) who lived over the path from the Primitive Methodist chapel in Newtown, and Mary gave a donation of 1/6d to the chapel for evangelistic work in 1864. Their garden was right next to the old ‘unenclosed road’, today a muddy footpath. Their son Edwin, a collier, and his wife Sarah gave birth to Mary Elizabeth, which explains why Mary Elizabeth named one of her sons John Edwin. She was born in 1869 when the chapel was still thriving.
This can all be summarised in this chart, but if anyone – such perhaps as a descendant of the family – want a fuller discussion of the family’s identities and relationships, I would be happy to send a longer and rather more complicated explanation.
Some Individual Primitive Methodists
The Wrexham Circuit minute book begins in 1866, and some individuals are named in it. We have also mentioned the baptismal register and the decennial censuses. This section looks at some details concerning the people who are found in the Primitive records.
William Davies was the society’s treasurer. He signed the 1862 chapel schedule (document CR 78/53) with his mark, a cross, being presumably unable to write at the time. The following year, 1863, he provided a somewhat shaky signature as Willim Davies. By February 1864 he signed as William Davies.
The 1861 population census shows two men called William Davies living at Newtown. Here they are:
William Davies 31 born Corwen, Merioneths. labourer
Sarah (wife) 34 born Ruabon
Elizabeth (daughter) 3 Born Ruabon
William Davies 38 born Southam, Warwicks. coal miner
Margaret (wife) 36 born Oswestry
Thomas (son) 13 born Buckley coal miner
John (son) 12 born Buckley lead miner
Hannah (daughter) 9 born Buckley scholar.
Hannah Davies gave the society 8/6 from a collection box in 1864, for evangelistic work, as part of a public collection. This suggests which head-of-household William was the Primitive Methodist, as does his wife’s future, as we shall see.
William was appointed trustee of the chapel at Moss in 1867. But in June 1869 we read this resolution:
That Bro W Davies Newtown be writen informing him that we regret very much the course he as taken viz withholding Plas y wern mony and continuing to do so after being requested to forward it to Mr Goodman or to attend the meeting tonight and that this meeting have resolved that as Bro Davis is not the society steward and no right whatever to withhold the society’s money that if the money be not given up by the 25 of June the case will be sent to Chester.
Nor was that the end of the troubles surrounding William Davies. On 6th June 1869 the meeting agreed “That Bro W Davies Newtown be requested to be more attentive to his appointments.” But it gets worse. The minutes for 6th December 1869 contain this:
That a deputation consisting of Bros Goodman, Jackson, Jones, Hughes and Lealy
wait upon see Bro W Davies of Newtown and that he be questioned respecting the reports or rumers, which if true effects his moral character in circulation in Newtown detrimental to his character and other things stated to this meeting.
One form of discipline for local preachers was to sink to a lower number in the list of preachers in the Plan. In March 1870 it was resolved “That Bro W Davies sink two figures in the plan for neglect of Crab Tree Green on September 26th and Rhostyllen on October 3rd of 69 … and that he have no appointments on the next plan.” The same resolution mentions his neglect of Poolmouth, Rhostyllen and Crabtree Green on three consecutive Sundays in February.
Worse and worse: for in March 1870:
This meeting is very sorry to find that Bro W Davies has refused to show a letter which he received from a gentleman enclosing £5, which it is said was given for Newtown Chapel and which has never been handed over to the treasurer of that chapel; we therefore resolve that Bro Davies be informed that unless that letter be sent to Mr Goodman on or before Saturday next the case shall be laid before the Chester Quarterly Meeting.
On 6th June 1870 the minutes note that “William Davies has been expelled from the Connexion – having received £5 towards one of our societies he refused to say who the donor was or for what purpose the money has been applied.” However, on 18th June 1870 it was minuted that:
Chester quarterly meeting recommend William Davies be restored to his former position. William Davies has expressed his regret for the course he has pursued, and having given to this meeting a written pledge that he will work harmoniously with his brethren and be submissive to the rules of the Connexion, he be restored to membership and office. This meeting is perfectly satisfied with William Davies’s explanation respecting the £5 received by him.
But that was not the end of the troubles. On 5th December 1870 it was resolved that “Bros Samuel Jeffery and Thomas Jones see Brother William Davies of Newtown respecting the report brought to this meeting.” We are not told what the report was about. Then on 2nd April 1871 the decennial population census was held, and four days later the circuit minutes record that:
That William Davies (Newtown) Local Preacher and Leader be expelled from the Primitive Methodist Connexion for the neglect of his family, and he having left the country with a woman who has left her family and in the opinion of this meeting they are living in adultery. That his case be sent to the District Committee.
In the next census (1871), Margaret Davies is still living at Newtown Mountain, is still married, and is a nurse, but is living alone. I have been unable to find her in the 1881 census: perhaps she had died, or remarried. This would seem to confirm which William Davies was the errant Primitive.
Another possible adulterer called William Davies, born in Corwen in about 1830, was married to Sarah and living with her and their daughter Elizabeth, aged 3, in or near Newtown in 1861. By 1871 William Davies, born in Cynwyd (a small village just outside Corwen), is a widower living with his daughter Elizabeth, now aged 13 (born in Buckley), another daughter called Sarah aged 6, and a son called Edward aged 9. The last two were born in Ruabon. This implies that this William did not lose his wife by adultery, but by death at or after the birth of their son Edward in 1865.
The 1861 population census lists Edward Shone, aged 31, a coal miner (born in Buckley), living with his wife Caroline (32), their son Thomas (4) and daughter Alice (1). The children were both born in Ruabon, which probably means at their home on the mountain. Nearby is Mary North (64), head of the household, with her granddaughter Anny Shone, aged 7, presumably Edward and Caroline’s oldest child. Thus Edward had married his near neighbour on the Mountain, Caroline North, who appears in the 1841 census aged 5 (remember ages were rounded up or down to the nearest 5.
In April 1869 Margaret, daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Shone, was baptised by William Goodman. Edward is recorded as a labourer. He was appointed to preach a trial sermon at Newtown on 23rd June 1870, with a view to being accredited as a local preacher. By 2nd April 1871 – the date of the population census – he was still working as a collier, but they had moved out of Newtown down to Pentre, Ruabon. After 1871 I have been unable to locate them.
1861 Henry Lealey was living alone, head of his one-person household, aged 55, working as a besom-maker, and listed as Henry Leily in the census. He was born, says the census, in Hampshire – presumably either Henry Liley born on 12th December 1804 and christened in Basingstoke the following month, or Henry Lailey, christened in Burghclere in August 1802. He is recorded as having been lost to the society in the June 1862 record, having moved away. In I have not discovered where he went to when he left Newtown.
He seems however to have come back, for in December 1869 the name Lealey (with not initial or forename) denotes one member of a deputation appointed to visit William Davies concerning rumours about his moral character.
A Henry Leley, aged 71, resident of Newtown Mountain, was buried at Rhosllanerchrugog on 13th June 1870. This is presumably the same man.
The Downes family
The 1867 Chester Circuit report records the loss of Elizabeth Downs, who had moved to Rhosymedre, Oswestry, and Silas Downes, who had moved to Oswestry. The juxtaposition of Rhosymedre and Oswestry is odd, as the two are some seven miles apart, one in Wales and one in England: perhaps Elizabeth moved twice. Anyway, it shows that this branch of the Downes family had a least some connection with the chapel.
Jane Bycut gave 2/2 (two shillings and tuppence) for evangelistic work as part of a public collection in 1864. This contributed to a total of £1.7.0½ for that offering.
“Brother” Bycott was given a note to preach in December 1867. Being put “on note” was, and still is, the first step towards becoming an accredited local preacher. The next step is to be “on trial”. His note was renewed three months later in March 1868. Then in June 1868 J. Boycott was awarded his credentials, as he had moved to the Birkenhead Circuit.
Three months later, in August 1868, Bro Jno [John] Boycott was furnished with a note authorising him to take preaching appointments in the Branch during the next quarter, accompanying Brother [S?] Hughes, probably Samuel Hughes. Either he moved back promptly from Birkenhead, or there were two men called John Boycott.
There were! It runs like this:
1861, living in Rhydallt, in the District of Ruabon
John (33) born Hanmer
Anne (wife) (33) born Shocklach
John (son) (13) born Shocklach
Jane (daughter) (11) born Hanmer
1871 living at Bryn Adda, in the parish of Ruabon, and no other Boycott family in Ruabon
John (43) smelter born Hanmer
Anne (43) born Shocklach
Jane (21) born Talwrn Green
Charles (19) born Bilston, Staffs.
John Boycott (son-in-law) (23) railway stoker with GWR born Talwrn Green
Sarah Jones [his wife]
1881 Plas Issa, Ruabon
John (cousin) (79_ born ‘Wourmbury’ (Worthenbury)
In 1891 John Boycott, born in Hanmer and now aged 64, was still living in Newtown, and still there in 1901, as a retired labourer.
Sarah Griffiths, Ann Jones
These gave, respectively, 4/9 and 1/10 for evangelistic work as part of a public collection in 1864. This contributed to a total of £1.7.0½ for that offering. I could find no likely resident, child or adult, in Newtown named Sarah Griffiths, though there were five possibilities in Moreton Below (1), Rhos (3) and Ruabon (1) being respectively the wife of a farmer, the wife of a coal miner, the daughter aged 7 of Margarett Griffiths, the daughter aged 6 of a miller, and the daughter aged 16 of a coal miner. As the 1861 census lists about eighty people called Ann Jones living in the parish of Ruabon, I made no attempt to identify the donor to Primitive Methodist evangelism.
Thomas was given a note in June 1868 to accompany William Davis to his preaching appointments the following quarter. A preacher ‘on note’ accompanies an accredited preacher. In June 1868 Thomas Jones junior was re-elected as society steward at Newtown. In August 1868 he was given responsibility for “a circuit strenuous effort to collect money to furnish a house for Mr Goodman.” Minister William Goodman (1842-1901) was stationed in the Wrexham Circuit from 1868 to 1870. Thomas Jones was appointed steward at Newtown “for the next quarter” in August 1868. He may be presumed to be the same man as “Bro. T. Jones of Newtown” who was appointed at the preachers’ meeting on 1st March 1869 to preach his trial sermon on the evening of the next quarter day at Wrexham. But at the full board meeting on same 1st March meeting Thomas Jones’s resignation as both local preacher and member was accepted. The mystery thickens! Three months later on 1st June a committee of four men was appointed to “consider the trial sermon of Thomas Jones Newtown.” Maybe there were two men called Thomas Jones – or maybe life among the Newtown Prims was somewhat erratic. Anyway, the trial sermon must have gone off all right, for on 6th September 1869 it was agreed that Thomas Jones should come on full plan the following quarter.
There was a coal miner named Thomas Jones in Newtown in 1861, aged 30. It is hard to know why the minutes refer to Thomas Jones “junior”, as there was only one person of that name in the hamlet in 1861. The name was very common in Ruabon at the time, making it difficult to identity a particular person, but as the minutes refer to “Bro. T. Jones of Newtown”, it is most likely that the coal-miner and the preacher were the same person. The use of the word junior remains a mystery.
In July Sarah Ann, daughter of Samuel and Sarah Hughes, was baptised by William Goodman. Samuel was recorded in the register as a watchman. It was noted in the minutes of March 1870 that Samuel Hughes would be the society steward at Newtown. It is apparent that he also preached, for on 5th September 1870 the meeting recorded that “Samuel Hughes of Newtown requested only one appointment next quarter, at Newtown.” In 1871, Kate, daughter of Samuel and Sarah Hughes, was baptised by John Aspinall. The minutes for June 1873 record that “This meeting deeply sympathizes with Bro Samuel Hughes under his heavy losses and protracted family affliction.”
The censuses suggest that he led a fairly changeable life. Born in Bunbury, near Burwardsley, Cheshire, in about 1827 by 1851, aged 24 and already married to Sarah, he is an agricultural labourer. In 1861 they are living in Boughton, Chester, and he has become a licensed tea hawker. In 1871 they are living at Newtown Mountain, and he is a game watchman. In 1881 and 1891 they are still at Newtown, and he is now called a game keeper. By 1901 Sarah has died, and Samuel is living in Marchwiel with his daughter Sarah and three grandchildren, and working as a domestic gamekeeper.
We encountered Philip Maddocks in an earlier section. Other ministers whose names appear in the records include the following. As Primitive Methodist ministers were moved from circuit to circuit with such frequency, there will have been others, but these are selected because they are mentioned by name in the archives of the Newtown society.
George Stacey (1813-1870)
George Stacey was born in Soham, Norfolk, and was stationed in Chester and Wrexham 1858-64. His father, a Wesleyan, was a cooper. George walked seven miles to hear the Primitive Methodists when they were in his home district, and another four to a love feast. He was converted at a prayer meeting held after a sermon, and became a minister in 1834. He records, “I was often opposed by the baser sort, and pelted with rotten eggs.” His obituary in the Minutes for 1870 says, “His great aim was the conversion of sinners, and the prosperity of the Church. … he sought to teach clearly and diligently her doctrines, especially those connected with a sinner’s salvation.”
William Rowe (1817-1888)
William was born in Wootton, Staffordshire, to parents who were farmers, and was stationed in the Chester Circuit 1863-6. The 1888 Minutes of Conference tell us a little about him. In April 1834, when he was still a lad, “thinking that a Primitive Methodist service would furnish him with materials for mirth,” he made his way to a barn in Willaston where a preacher from the Chester Circuit “was calling upon sinners to repent and believe the Gospel.” It proved to be the turning point of his life, for “he gave himself to God, and realised the blessedness of those who are born again of the Spirit and have entered into the kingdom of God.” He was not a learned man, but his preaching was well received, and “amid all his popularity he never forgot that his chief business was to save the souls of those who heard him.”
William Goodman (1842-1901)
Goodman was stationed in Wrexham 1868-70. The Magazine of 1900 and 1903, and the Minutes of 1901, tell us that William’s conversion “was no formality but a great fact of which he was conscious, and of which a devoted life was the best evidence.” He “made no pretence to great scholarship, and he never attempted brilliant oratory, but … the Word of God was a precious mine in which he had dug for his own enrichment, and … he had the rare faculty of ‘opening the Scriptures’ to others, thereby confirming the faith of Christian hearers, and wisely winning souls.”
John Aspinall (1818-1892)
John Aspinall was stationed in Wrexham 1870-1. He was born in Bolton, Lancashire. The Primitive Methodist Minutes of Conference for 1892 tell us that, “At the age of 13 years … he was led to give his heart to God and his hand unto His people.”
He became a minister in 1838, and “His work was dearer to him than mere duty … and he did it with a pure heart fervently to the glory of God and for the wellbeing of his fellow man.
Jonathan Calvert (1833-1908)
Jonathan Calvert was born in Acomb near York, and stationed in Wrexham 1879-81. He “had no aloofness about him – he was remarkably approachable” and exercised a “quiet and effective ministry” including, when needed, “courage in dealing with difficulties that would have daunted other men” (Conference Minutes 1909).
Charles Rumfitt tells us in the Primitive Methodist Magazine of 1901 that Jonathan’s wife Elizabeth was a child of some of the first members of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, and that she “recalled with delight conversations she had held with Clowes, Bourne … and the mighty prayers of Atkinson Smith… She made herself acquainted with her husband’s work in every circuit, and by prayer and counsel took her part of the burden … In the … Circuits she laid herself on the altar of sacrifice” and believed firmly that the Connexion had been raised up by God for an appointed work in the century.
The circuit’s baptismal register does not differentiate between members of the society and inhabitants of the village with little or no link to the chapel who wanted their children christened, especially if , as surmised earlier, the Anglican Church largely or entirely neglected the hamlet. This list of additional names, which includes John and Elizabeth Downs who were mentioned earlier, thus adds six more families who had some link, however tenuous it may or may not have been, with the chapel:
Date Child father mother father’s work
19.2.1871 Sarah Elizabeth Thomas & Elizabeth Davies miner
10.8.1868 Martha Jane George & Ann Phillips collier
18.1.1869 Margaret Jane Thomas & Elizabeth Davies miner
19.7.1869 Ellen John & Elizabeth Downs labourer
27.9.1869 Thomas Isaiah & Elizabeth Jones labourer
20.2.1870 Margaret Matilda John & Hannah Jones labourer
12.5.1870 William John & Elizabeth Downs labourer
17.9.1871 Mary Elizabeth Lemuel & Mary Elizabeth Ferguson general dealer
17.9.1874 Alice — — [surname illegible] labourer
The Hamlet today
The leaflet entitled Walks around Wrexham Maelor: Route 9 – Pen-y-cae which led walkers through the area of the settlement states:
The village was purchased by the Ruabon Water Company and most of the stone from the houses was used to build the reservoir. Just a few stones and the trees are all that remains.
This is confirmed by the Countryside Council for Wales’s leaflet quoted above, which states that, “In 1902 increased demand saw the construction of the upper reservoir.”
Coloured photographs of the ruins as they were in December 2008 may be viewed on this website http://eveningleader.newsprints.co.uk/search/bykw/b/f/0/1 under the reference SWT241208A.
The website wrexham-history.com/plas-du-newtown-mountain-penycae/ produced by the almost biblically named Wrexham History yesterday, today, forever observed that the area of the hamlet was “previously forested but cleared during 2004. Approximately 8-12 ruinous buildings and their fields and trackways occupy a triangular plot of land.”
Today there is little to see among the dense conifers, especially in summer when the undergrowth is riotous. But there are paths, and remains of walls. Top chapel is still marked exactly on grid reference 260460 on the 2013 OS “Explorer” map and can be located, and a little of the wall of the Primitive Methodist chapel can be discerned in winter opposite Thomas and Mary Proctor’s home and land. The remains of some buildings can also be discerned. The photograph below shows me in Thomas and Mary Proctor’s plot, over the footpath (formerly ‘unenclosed road’) from the site of the Primitive Methodist chapel.
The eye will see little in the ruins today: but with a little romance and imagination one can look back to those harsh and arduous days of poverty, and picture the old Prims struggling against their temptations, sometimes succeeding with God’s help (which is the only way any of us can), and sometimes failing. A work of grace was done, and in the words of the 1611 Bible which they preached, “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his son that serveth him.”
Some Texts from which Information has been culled
Johnson, W. J. (1989). In Triumph of Faith: Primitive Methodism and the labouring People in the N. Midlands, 1812-1862. (Doctoral thesis, University of Keele)
Palmer, A. N. (1992) A History of the Parish of Ruabon (Wrexham: Bridge Books)
Wiliam, Eurwyn (1988) Home-made Homes: dwellings of the rural poor in Wales (Cardiff: national Museum of Wales)
Wiliam, Eurwyn (2011) The Welsh Cottage: building traditions of the rural poor (Aberystwyth: Royal Commission)
Young, David M. (2016) The Primitive Methodist Mission to North Wales (Wesley Historical Society (Wales branch) in association with Tentmaker Publications, Stoke-on-Trent)
 panmug: an earthenware crock or vessel in which butter is sent to market; it contains about half a hundredweight – The Encyclopædic Dictionary, Cassell, London 1889
 Edward Shone was from Buckley. An Internet search suggests the origin of his surname was Irish, German
(schön), or Welsh (Siôn); he married Caroline, the daughter of his neighbour, Mary North.
 Two others were baptised in 1852 from two other families each living in a “booth near mountain” in Moreton Above, but in the 1851 census Newtown is included in Dynhunlle Uchaf, not in Moreton Above, so we should conclude that their “booth cottages” as the census has it were not in Newtown. The fathers were a farm labourer and a besom-maker.
 A meeting with a simple meal of perhaps bread or cake and water, for fellowship, testimony, prayer and worship.
 Shocklach and Talwrn Green (spelled Tallant Green) are some distance apart in different counties, but this is clearly a mistake: it often appears as Tallarn, Tallon, Tallen, Talwrn.