Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ruthin - From King Arthur to the Beatles in 528 ft

by Annie Whitehead

Packing to stay at Ruthin Castle Hotel, my plan was to write a piece about the history of that building, and the medieval castle ruins in the grounds. As history goes, it packs a punch: the 'modern' castle, built in 1828, was owned by the Cornwallis-West family who entertained Lady Randolph Churchill and Edward VII, who in turn entertained his mistresses, including Lilly Langtry and Patsy Cornwallis-West, the chatelaine, whose daughter married the Duke of Westminster.


Outside, the crumbling walls of the original castle bear testament to the onslaught of Owain Glyndwr in 1400. Created originally by Dafydd, brother of the last native prince of Wales, (and who was executed in 1282, the first high-profile recipient of Edward I's hanging drawing and quartering), the castle was granted to Reginald de Grey, ancestor of Lady Jane Grey.

In 1923 Ruthin Castle opened a clinic for "Internal Diseases" run by the wonderfully named Dr Sir Edmund Ivens Spriggs.

So far, so interesting. But stepping through the archway that takes you on a short walk to the market square, I found a beautiful street with astonishing architecture.


And on almost every house, there was a plaque. I hadn't initially realised, because the first house caught my eye only because it was for sale (alas, well out of my reach.)

The house belonged to Sir John Trefor, one-time speaker of the House of Commons. It seems that Sir John lost his position after an accusation of bribery, but my admittedly limited research points to some aspect of decidedly unfair play on the part of his accusers.

I walked on, thinking little more than how lovely and quaint this street was.

But at the end of Strydd Castell (Castle Street) are the buildings that make up the outline of Ruthin Square. Here I found the old court house, now a bank. At first glance, it is notable for having been the first building subjected to attack by Glyndwr. But a plaque on the wall told me a little bit more about its history:

Here, it seems, a Franciscan Friar, Charles Mahoney, was hanged from the gibbet in 1679. Why was a Friar hanged? I discovered that he had been on his way home to Ireland having been preaching in Europe when he was shipwrecked off Milford Haven and tried to make his way north on foot, in hope of finding passage back to Ireland. Alas, he was arrested, charged with being a catholic priest and hung, drawn and quartered.

He'd had the misfortune to be caught at a time when Titus Oates was having success with his anti-catholic 'smear campaign', the Popish Plot.

On the other side of the square is another building (also now a bank).

Outside this bank is a stone where King Arthur reputedly slew Huail, the brother of Gildas the historian.

According to the life of St. Gildas, written in the 12thc by Caradoc of Llancarfan, when Gildas heard the news of his brother's death, he came from Ireland and was able to kiss Arthur and forgive him.

Walking back towards the castle on the other side of the street, I came upon the 'oldest timber-framed building in Wales'. Nantclwyd y Dre dates from 1435/6 and belonged originally to a wealthy weaver named Goronwy ap Madog. The house was extended throughout the centuries and each room inside is decorated to show the different periods during which the house was inhabited.


Work will begin next year to extend the Tudor garden, to which I was allowed access, even though the house was shut for the winter.


This section of Strydd Castell is a tenth of a mile and by the time you get to Nantclywd y Dre you are almost back at the castle gateway. One last building brings us almost up to date, though. For this is the home occupied until recently by Cynthia Lennon, wife of John. She ran a restaurant in the town for a number of years.

I spoke to a local estate agent who pointed out that Ruthin is practically unique, in that one can drive straight from the countryside into a medieval town centre - there is no modern 'urban sprawl'.

On other streets in Ruthin you will find Siop Nain, a grade II listed building which, as a print shop in 1850, was used to print the Welsh national anthem, for the first time, in Welsh. In the square is a house which was bought by Hugh Myddleton in 1595. He, apparently, provided London with its first clean water supply.

Further down the hill is Ruthin Gaol, the 'only purpose-built Pentonville style prison open to the public as a heritage attraction' (Ruthin Gaol official website.)

Should you wish to venture a little further away from Ruthin, the abbey of Valle Crucis is unusual in having an upper floor dormitory complete with roof and partially remaining inner walls. At Llangollen is the famous Pontcysyllte aqueduct, an example of the work of engineer Thomas Telford. If you can manage the climb you can ascend 1818 ft up Moel Famau to see the - alas, never completed - Jubilee Tower, planned in honour of George III's golden jubilee in 1810.


I'm never surprised by the wealth of history and historical sites in Wales, but for me, there was a joyous astonishment to discover how much history is contained within that short walk between Ruthin Castle and the town square. 528 ft only, but 16 centuries. I came looking for a medieval castle; I found so much more.

All photos taken by and copyright of the author.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Annie Whitehead's novel To Be a Queen is set in 9th/10thc Mercia, and her characters interact with the Welsh across the border. Her second novel, due out next year, also contains many scenes set in medieval Wales. When she's not writing, she is to be found frequently holidaying 'over the border' or trying (and mostly failing) to learn the language.

You can find her at: Casting Light upon the Shadow

13 comments:

  1. I live 29 miles from Ruthin and have done for 35 years and I'm ashamed to say I've never been there. After reading this excellent article, I must put that right asap.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I had only been once before, John - and at that time we approached the town from the other side, tried to use the high-tech loos in the car park, and failed, so we drove on. I had no idea what Ruthin, or more properly Rhuthun, was really like. It really is a little hidden gem :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are so many of these enchanting little places an easy drive from where I live (north Shropshire, right up against the Welsh border -- I actually lived for 16 years three miles from here in a place called Gwern-y-Brenin, which none of my Welsh friends could believe was actually in England) and I feel ashamed at the number I haven't visited.

      Delete
  3. It's probably a question of being too near - I live in the Lake District and am equally ashamed by the high number of places round here that I've never visited!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Annie I have tried a few times to leave a comment but your blog does not like my WordPress address http://wp.me/2dg55 and keep preventing me. I wanted to say, and hope this remains here, that it is a wonderful piece which I really enjoyed and I love the photos. My kind of blog I do something similar now and again so can really appreciate the hard work put into this. I shall not visit with a Catholic Priest - seems a little unhealthy, but would love to see this place, thanks so much. :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for your lovely comments Jane - I can certainly see them at the moment - I think that Blogger and Wordpress dislike 'speaking' to each other, for some reason. Glad you enjoyed the piece - I was only in the area for two nights and three days but it will stay in my memory for a long time :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love Wales. It never disappoints! And it's very true about not investigating what's on your doorstep. We always look outwards to voyage for adventure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Elaine - I love Wales too! But this was my first foray into the Clwydian Range and surrounding area. Thoroughly enjoyed the adventure

      Delete
  7. Wonderful post. I felt like I was there. Thank you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Anne - I really appreciate your lovely comment :)

      Delete
  8. Aha! We visited Ruthin this August as we have family living there. the first time for 15 years. Lovely place, and one of a handful we would chose to live in if returning to UK.

    Thank you for writing about it so beautifully, you've captured exactly the atmosphere there!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks - it really is a special place, isn't it? :)

      Delete
  9. Aha! We visited Ruthin this August as we have family living there. the first time for 15 years. Lovely place, and one of a handful we would chose to live in if returning to UK.

    Thank you for writing about it so beautifully, you've captured exactly the atmosphere there!

    ReplyDelete