Plas Du, Newtown Mountain, Penycae.
The remains/foundations of Plas Du Newtown Mountain can be seen near the Pen-y-cae Reservoir at TreFechan, previously forested but cleared during 2004. Approximately 8-12 ruinous buildings and their fields and trackways occupy a triangular plot of landIt is certain that PLAS DU has an old history and possibly it was a Monastery (or half way house) used by the Monks from Valle Crusis Abbey on way to Chester as they walked over the mountain.
Extract from Wild Wales by George Borrow (Country Quest, August 1989)
The author was out walking on the heath land above Eglwyseg Rocks on October 16th 1854 when he lost his way. He came across a community of squatters on the common land, known as Newtown Mountain. It was quite a chance: No-one else has ever mentioned them.
“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 that 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 bare-footed, 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 collier’s dress; he was a stout built fellow of the middle age, with a coal-dusty 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 … 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; aren’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.’
Extract from George Borrow and the heath squatters, Ifor Edwards, Country Quest, August 1989.
A few years ago I visited the Clwyd Record Office and, searching through the Bodelwyddan manuscripts, I chanced to come across a conveyance of 80 acres of wasteland on Ruabon Mountain from Sir Watkin Williams Wynn to Thomas Jones of Llannerchrugog Hall, and with it was a plan or map. I could hardly believe my luck, as here was a map of the squatters on the common land, which George Borrow had referred to.
There are twenty-nine names on the map plus Hen Tyddyn Humphrey, which suggests that this building had preceded this settlement of squatters. Also shown is a chapel, which belonged to the Primitive Methodists, as well as the stone quarries and the coal level.
The settlement was constructed mainly between the two streams, which now flow into the Penycae Reservoir, belonging to the Wrexham Water Company.
The 1851 Census returns show that there were fifteen cottages on this part of the mountain, one of which was uninhabited. The occupants were labourers and colliers born in Llandderfel, Bala, Llanuwchllyn, Glyndyfrdwy, Bryneglwys and Corwen, as well as the Penycae area locally, It was an old custom that people who could build their houses on the common, to which they could claim ownership if smoke came from the chimney by the next morning. The squatters were not to know that “in pursuance of articles of agreement made Stn November 1852, the Crown sold to the late Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, its right in the soil of 277 acres of waste land in the parish of Ruabon, and of 2091 acres in the township of Esclusham for the sum of £208 11s 10d, being a fourteenth part of their value.” This was finalised three years after George Borrow paid his visit, and three after that Sir Watkin sold 80 acres of this land to Thomas Jones of Llannerchrugog Hall.
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 Liandrillo, and his wife Catherine, from Llangwm. The other three families were labourers and a coal carrier.
Of those names, there was only Mary North shown on the 1860 map. She would have been 64 in 1860. Was she there in 1854 when George Borrow called? Was she the bare-footed, robust English woman who carried the immense lump of coal on her head?
The house of Bob y Go (Bob the Blacksmith) probably had a small smithy attached. It was obviously quite a thriving community — one which was to be short-lived after 1860 with Thomas Jones y Plas having acquired the site.
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 t9 bach (toilet) a short distance away. About that time, the Forestry Commission planted the inevitable conifers and now all has been obliterated in the jungle of trees. Perhaps, some day, when these have been cut down, someone will undertake the task of seeing how many foundations still remain.
Ifor Edwards, Country Quest, August 1989
Plas Du Newtown Mountain