The Evil Practices of Rhos

by dave edwards

In today’s world, many of us go into shops and pubs on Sundays and children play freely in the streets and parks.  Here is a little glimpse into the Rhos of 1892, when such things were seen by a few people to be sinful and even worthy of intervention by the police.

On Wednesday, 9th November 1892, a meeting, convened by Mr. Isaac Smith of Bank Street, was held in the Vestry Room of Penrhos Baptist Chapel, Pearson Street, Rhos.  Those participating were representatives of the various Nonconformist Sunday Schools of the neighbourhood.

The meeting was opened by Mr. Benjamin Williams (of Mona Stores), who read a portion of Scripture and engaged in prayer.  After Mr. Isaac Smith had been elected secretary to the committee, the Chairman said it was a source of great grief to him to see so much Sabbath desecration in their midst.

Not only were people obtaining alcoholic drinks on a Sunday, but milk was being sold on Sundays as well.  It was considered shameful to see milk carts on Sunday morning when people were going to their various places of worship.

The Rev. Robert Jones wanted something done to put an end to such things.  He believed they should form a Vigilance Committee as he felt that the powers that be had been paralysed.  The Sunday Closing act was being breached and people were to be found drunk in the streets on Sundays.  The “disgraceful” practice of people going on trips on Sunday was increasing.  Not only was milk being sold on Sundays but potatoes and turnips could also be purchased.

The Rev. E. Mitchell believed it was good that they should publish these facts.  The Rev. Thomas Roberts (Wesleyan Methodist) spoke of how public houses were distributing drink as a “present” on Sundays and receive payment for it the following day.

A deputation, consisting of the ministers present, along with Mr. Benjamin Williams, Mr. T.J. Davies and Mr. C. Morgan of Ponkey, was to ask Sergeant Roberts if he could enforce a better observance of the Sunday Closing Act in future.

The following week, a Wrexham Advertiser reader, using the name Skylark, wrote a letter strongly criticising the Committee meeting held at Penrhos.  Skylark described Rhos as “a Christian village” and drew readers’ attention to the fact that on Sunday 13th November 1892, two drunken strangers were seen in Rhos trying to purchase alcohol.  Two police officers followed them and on seeing that no-one would supply them with drink the officers forced the men down Gutter Hill and out of Rhos.

On Wednesday, 23rd November, the “Evil Practices Committee” was back in the Vestry Room of Penrhos, presided over by Rev. Robert Roberts.  The secretary, Mr. Isaac Smith, reported that a letter had been sent out to all the Nonconformist Churches of Rhos, Ponkey and Johnstown asking for their cooperation in putting an end to the practice of buying milk on a Sunday.  The letter also mentioned “the laxity shown by parents in allowing their children to play on the Lord’s Day”.

The Rev. Thomas Roberts was concerned lest the Committee should become, “the laughing stock of the whole neighbourhood”.  He felt it was their duty to assist the police and he also expressed concern over the practice of selling books on a Sunday.

Mr. John Roberts of School Street suggested that the police should visit suspected public houses in disguise.  Mr. Jonathan Jarvis of Bank Street claimed that when the police received information about a public house the publican concerned was often told who had informed on him. Mr. Edward Edwards of Campbell Street was sorry to see that there were no members of Capel Mawr present at the committee meeting.

Mr. Evan Evans of Hall Street said he did not wish to run the police down too much but then commented that many of them were unprincipled men – in fact, “mere rubbish”.

Mr. Samuel Roberts of Mountain Street claimed that the police were more afraid of the publicans than the publicans were afraid of the police.

Four shopkeepers were appointed to visit Sergeant Roberts again and to let him know the feelings of those present at the meeting.  The deputation consisted of Mr. Daniel Roberts of Cambrian House; Mr. Jonathan Jarvis of Bank Street; Mr. William Edwards of Stanley House and Mr. John Williams of Ponkey.

It was resolved, on the motion of Mr. Jonathan Dodd that “the Committee should do its best to see that the Sunday Closing act was properly observed.”  Mr. Zachariah Dodd of Church Street closed the meeting with prayer.

The Wrexham Advertiser of Saturday 3rd December 1892 contained two letters which were written by “Anti-Humbug” and “Skylark”.   “Anti-Humbug asserted that Rhos was one of the most civilised places he had ever been in.  He stressed that there was no foundation whatever for the allusions made by “those bigoted fanatics at Penrhos Chapel”.  He considered them to be “a handful of meddlers who like to interfere with other people’s business,” but who were in fact “injurious to the social, political and religious feeling of the district.”  He went so far as to suggest that they abandon “their evil practices.”

“Skylark” criticised the Committee for condemning the “clean village of Rhos.”  He criticised those ministers who received £3 a week for “one day’s work and a little visiting.”

Mr. Evan Evans of Hall Street had said at the Committee meeting that he “did not wish to run the police down too much” but also said that “many of them were unprincipled men – in fact, mere rubbish.”  This statement was dismissed by Skylark as, “soaping them over with one hand and stabbing them with the other.”  Skylark considered that rather than pursuing such unimportant matters the committee should concentrate on getting Rhos a railway, a recreation ground and a public bath.

In the Wrexham Advertiser of 3rd December 1892, T. J. Leadbetter, Chief Constable, Wrexham, issued a statement regarding the Committee Meeting’s comments.  He quoted from a report made by Acting-Sergeant Roberts, who had questioned Mr. Jonathan Jarvis over his allegation that the police let out secrets.  Mr. Jarvis had claimed he was referring to a Ponkey police officer whose name he could not remember.

Sergeant Roberts said that when he spoke to Mr. Evan Evans about his statement that the police were “mere rubbish,” Mr. Evans had claimed he was referring to Manchester Police. The sergeant had also spoken to Mr. Samuel Roberts about his claim that the police were afraid of the publicans, but Mr. Roberts denied having said anything of the kind.    

Chief Constable T.J. Leadbetter stated that such remarks as those made by the committee were calculated not only to “irritate the police”, but to “blunt their energies”.

On Thursday, 1st December 1892, the Licensed Victuallers held a meeting of their own at the Public Hall committee room in Rhos to protest against the language used by some of the speakers at the Penrhos Committee Meeting.  The Chairman was Mr. E. Tunnah of the Eagles Inn. Most of the local inn keepers were present.  They took exception to Rev. Thomas Roberts’ insinuation that publicans were giving alcoholic drinks away as “gifts” on Sundays and then being paid for them later.  They called upon Rev. Roberts to prove his words or withdraw them.

They observed that by suggesting police should visit the Rhos pubs in disguise Mr. John Roberts was implying that Rhos publicans did not observe the law.  They also asked that Mr. Samuel Roberts explain what he meant by the police being afraid of the publicans.

Mr. Kyffin of the Talbot Inn explained to a representative of the Wrexham Advertiser that Rev. Thomas Roberts (Wesleyan Minister), Mr John Roberts (of School Street) and Mr. Samuel Roberts (of Mountain Street) had been invited to attend the meeting but none had come along.    

Mr. Tunnah (Chairman) stated that the licensed victuallers wished to uphold the good character and name of Rhos.  He felt that the members of the “Evil Practices Committee” at Penrhos were blackening the good name of the place, which stood high in the estimation of the outside world.

Mr. Kyffin said that Rhos was looked upon as an enlightened place, but that such words as had been discussed would cause people to look down on Rhos and its inhabitants.

A vote of thanks was proposed to the Chairman by Mr. John Adams of the Sun Inn, seconded by Mr. Kyffin and the meeting came to an end.

It is not known what the reaction of the “Evil Practices Committee” was to this meeting of the Victuallers, but it is recorded that on Wednesday, 11th January 1893 another meeting of the Rhos Vigilance Society took place at Penrhos Baptist Chapel, presided over by the Rev. Robert Roberts (Independent minister).  Familiar names at the meeting were, Rev. E. Mitchell (Baptist), Mr. Isaac Smith (Hon. Sec.), Mr. John Roberts of School Street and Mr. Jonathan Jarvis.

WRITTEN BY – Dave Edwards. 2014

SOURCES – Wrexham Advertiser (12th November 1892; 19th November 1892; 26th November 1892; 3rd December 1892; 14th January 1893).