Each week we will be visiting some of our towns in North East Wales and delving into some intriguing facts from the past which has made them what they are today.
Today we are looking at Llangollen.
Llangollen takes its name from the Welsh llan meaning “a religious settlement” and Saint Collen, a 7th-century monk who founded a church beside the river. St Collen is said to have arrived in Llangollen by coracle. Llangollen is a popular town with visitors,with its picturesque setting on the River Dee and surrounded my mountains and the overlooked by Dinas Bran. It’s not just us that thinks so and it has more than a few accolades, as the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB is all around Llangollen as well as being part of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal Word Heritage Site.
Did you knows?
Llangollen has its own motor museum which is housed in an old slate-dressing works at Pentrefelin, (one mile north of Llangollen on the A542 towards the Horseshoe Pass) – it houses about 50 cars and motorcycles dating from 1912 to 1970 including a Model T Ford.
During the second world war the mountains around Llangollen were set alight to confuse the German Luftwaffe and lure them away from bombing Liverpool. Since then local farmers have reported finding unexploded bombs hidden among the heather.
Llangollen Railway once offered steam train funerals, in the form of a mobile wake. However this practice was stopped by local opposition who feared that the ashes would be distributed via the fire box and then spread all over the valley.
In 1739 a barber called Thomas Edwards lived in a cottage near the site of the Hand Hotel garden. He was also the schoolmaster and was not known for his sunny disposition. One day after an argument about his wife Maria’s cooking he drew his razor across her throat, leaving her bleeding to death. She was discovered later by the schoolchildren. The barber made his escape via Cross Lane to the open fields but was caught washing his bloodied hands at the workhouse spring and condemned to be hanged at the top of Moel y Geraint. On his way to the gibbet, he was given a jug of ale by Mrs Parry the landlady of the Hand and as the locals ran up the Geraint to view his hanging he turned to them and said in Welsh: “You need not hurry, there will be no sport until I am there”. Moel y Geraint has since also been known as Moel y Barbwr, or Barbers Hill.
Llangollen has many interesting features, here are just a few.
Valle Crucis Abbey (Valley of the Cross) is a Cistercian abbey located on the A542 towards the Horseshoe Pass. Built in 1201 by Welsh ruler Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor, Prince of Powys Fadog bbut was closed in 1537 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Large parts of the original structure still survive under the care of Cadw. It is easy to imagine the quiet contemplative place it must have once been as there is a peaceful resonance to the ruin. Turner has painted Valle Crucis and the picture is now resides in the British Museum.
The 11 mile corridor of World Heritage Site which stretches from Horseshoe Falls in Llantyslio along the canal across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct which lifts the canal across the Dee Valley to Chirk. The aqueduct is quite a feat of engineering at a height of 126ft and 1007ft long. Its 18 tapering piers are built from Sandstone quarried from nearby Cefn . The 19 cast iron arches each span 45ft and carry a narrow cast iron trough which is only 1 inch thick. Giving it the name of the canal in the sky. The whole site consists of a continuous group of civil-engineering features built between 1795 and 1808. It is a masterpiece of historic transport development and the greatest work of two outstanding figures in the history of civil engineering: Thomas Telford and William Jessop.
Castell Dinas Brân is a medieval castle ruin occupying a prominent hilltop site above the town. The castle was built in the 1260s by the Welsh Ruler Prince Gruffudd ap Fadoc, on the site of several earlier structures, including an Iron Age hill fort dating back to 600 BC. The castle only had a short active life, being burnt by Welsh defenders in 1277 in the face of threatened English attack. Briefly held by English forces until abandoned in 1282. It has been the focus of many legends and is still visited today by those who can manage the climb. During the late Victorian times a refreshment hut and a Camera Obsucra (which projected an panoramic view onto a screen within) was present, but all now long disappeared.
Plas Newydd was the home of the famous ladies of Llangollen. Eleanor Butler’s family wanted her enter a convent whilst Sarah Ponsonby was fending off the unwanted attentions of her guardian. All that both women wanted was to devote their lives to each other, and in 1778 they ran away from their aristocratic homes in Ireland to settle in Plas Newydd. Devoting themselves to ‘delicious seclusion’ and ‘romantic friendship’. Eleanor with her forceful personality, French education and crippling migraines, and Sarah, much younger and more retiring, but quietly assertive as well as caring. Their chosen path was not an easy one: their families disowned them, and, accustomed to a comfortable life, they were soon in debt. This did not stop them transforming Plas Newydd, the little cottage they chose, into the Gothic residence of their dreams, complete with well-stocked library and decorative gardens, while trying their hand in a little farming, and carrying out rigorous correspondence and self-improvement. Their determination to live away from the glare of society was compromised by their growing celebrity, and prominent guests often found their way to Plas Newydd to enjoy their company and wit and to admire their achievements. The Ladies lived into devoted old age, caring for each other to the last, and became a local legend.
*Please remember under current restrictions only essential travel allowed and exercise is only allowed within walking distance. This post is to pique interest for future visits when restrictions allow and to provide some historical insight to our area.