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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

New history of Llangollen has some interesting little nuggets

It’s now more than 30 years since the last history of Llangollen was published.

Now there is a fascinating new version written by Peter Jones, a trustee of the town’s museum.

Its 48 pages are packed with basic historical information about almost every important aspect of local life, liberally interspersed with some marvellous nuggets that are probably less well known.

For instance, while detailing the rich past of Valle Crucis Abbey the author notes that back in 1535 many monasteries had become so corrupt that their inhabitants had been forced to turn to crime, including Robert Salisbury, Abbot of Valle Crucis, who was arrested for having been part of a highway robbery.

Another iconic landmark highlighted in the booklet, Castell Dinas Bran, has its own interesting little tale which centres on one of its medieval occupants, Myfanwy, daughter of tenant Iorwerth Ddu ap Ednyfed Gam.

Her unrequited love for a man named Hywel ap Einion is celebrated in a famous poem penned by John Ceiriog Hughes. Published in 1858 and entitled Myfanwy Fychan, the work was later set to music and became a staple of Welsh male voice choirs.

The booklet, produced thanks to the extensive use of the resources of Llangollen Museum with suggestions from David Crane, has compact and easily digestible sections on the town’s pre-historic beginnings, the bridge – one of the Seven Wonders of Wales – the canal, the Chain Bridge and the steam railway which Dr Beeching failed to kill off in the 1960s.

We also learn about the gradual development of the town centre, illustrated by some absorbing maps, and the area’s transition from a rural to an industrial economy facilitated by the building of the canal, the railway and Telford’s new road now the A5.

On the local industrial front, how many knew that the Llangollen Hide & Skin Company once based in Church Street from 1885 had during the Second World War produced leather jerkins for the army and, earlier, bindings for the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

It’s also interesting to note that the opening by a Manchester company of the Lower Dee Mill as a spinning and weaving factory in 1805 met with some local resistance.

However, its opponents did grudgingly concede that it was, at least, “a source of employment to local children who otherwise would have been a burden to the parish”.

* The Ladies of Llangollen.

That opposition to the new mill, we are told, was actually led by the legendary Ladies of Llangollen who get their own dedicated section of the booklet, which reveals that, although they were by far the most famous inhabitants of Plas Newydd they were not actually the only two ladies to occupy the town’s mini stately home.  

When the property was sold in 1832 following the deaths of both Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler, the buyers were two ladies who had long lived in Llangollen.

Amelia Lolly, had been born Liverpool 1783, the daughter of Walter Lolly a distiller, and Charlotte Andrew who was born in Harpurhey, Manchester in 1791, the daughter of Robert Andrew, a dyer. They were mockingly referred to by Eleanor Butler as the “Lollies and Trollies” because they had long tried to emulate the life style of the Ladies, but with little success.

Having bought the house for £1,400 they proceeded to embellish it, although one visitor of the time commented that “the whole place had a vulgar and commonplace appearance”.

And just as he shows that the much more famous duo weren’t the only ladies of Plas Newydd the author also describes how the international event staged since 1947 wasn’t the only eisteddfod to be sited in Llangollen.  

Back in 1858 a large eisteddfod was held in the town which was a precursor of what was to become the National Eisteddfod.

Some of the competitions were a little bizarre, such as “The day labourer whose weekly wage does not exceed £1 with the greatest number of children present at the Eisteddfod able to read and write in Welsh”.

The Flannel Mill generously provided a woollen tent on the bowling green of the Ponsonby Arms. Unfortunately, there was heavy rain before the event, which caused the tent to collapse.

The National Eisteddfod was held here in 1908 at a site off Vicarage Road and was attended by both David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill.

* A Brief History of Llangollen by Peter Jones is available from Llangollen Museum in Parade Street for £4.50. 

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