History of Denbigh
|Denbigh (“Dinbych” in Welsh, meaning small fortress) is one
of the most historic towns in North Wales. Denbigh’s name is
derived from the word ‘din’, a fortified hill and the
diminutive, ‘bach’, which together give the Welsh form – Dinbych.
The town is first mentioned in records in the years following the Norman Conquest when it became a border town guarding the approach to the Hiraethog Hills and Snowdonia. Denbigh was also probably the location of a fortified settlement during the Roman occupation and in the twelfth century, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the brother of Llewelyn, the last Prince of Wales, had his headquarters here. Following the Norman Conquest in 1282, the Lordship of Denbigh was granted to Henry de Lacy who authorised the building of Denbigh Castle. The Constable of the Castle granted the town’s first Charter during Edward I’s reign and several others followed through the years. Denbigh remained a Borough in its own right until the local Government changes of 1974.
The mediaeval town developed hand in hand with the building of the castle and was contained within town walls. Over the next few centuries Denbigh was fiercely contested between the Welsh and English and in 1563 Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was granted the castle and Lordship of Denbigh, becoming virtually the Governor General of North Wales. He was responsible for commissioning the Shire Hall, which now houses the Town Library.
In 1643 Denbigh became a refuge for a Royalist garrison during the Civil War between Charles I and Cromwell’s Roundhead troops, but was forced to surrender in 1646. After this date the castle was slighted and the town walls were allowed to fall to ruin. The townsfolk had long since abandoned their inconvenient fortress-borough and moved to easier conditions outside the town walls. Amongst the largest and richest towns in Elizabethan Wales, Denbigh was at the time a powerful centre of renaissance culture and enterprise, and flourished subsequently as a prosperous market town. After the beginning of the 17th Century, the town developed as a centre of several crafts and these survived until the coming of the industrial age in the19th Century. In 1848 the North Wales Mental Hospital opened just outside the town, and at its peak had 1500 patients and provided employment for many townspeople. It remained open until 1995 and is now privately owned as a site awaiting development. By the 1860s Denbigh had become the main centre of the Vale of Clwyd and was on the railway network.
Denbigh and its prominent people
Denbigh was the birthplace of many prominent people – a plaque being erected by the Town Council in May 2001 to commemorate many of them. During the Tudor and Stuart periods, Denbigh was the birthplace of several Welshmen of eminence: Humphrey Llwyd who was associated with Ortelius, the Dutch geographer and produced the first printed map of Wales; Richard Clough, who with Thomas Gresham founded the Royal Exchange; Hugh Myddleton who constructed the New River to ensure a water supply for London; his brother Thomas, founder of the Chirk Castle dynasty and who financed the printing of the first portable Welsh Bible, and Hugh Holland the poet and associate of Shakespeare.
The 18th century saw the emergence of several notables; Thomas Edwards (Twm o’r Nant) the author; Thomas Jones the poet and author, Thomas Charles the leading figure in the secession of the Calvinistic Methodists from the Established Church; Edward Jones (Maes y Plwm) the Welsh hymnist and John Parry (Bardd Alaw) composer and instrumentalist.
Others include David Griffith (Clwydfardd) the first Archdruid of the Gorsedd; William Williams (Caledfryn) a poet and leading Eisteddfodic adjudicator of his time; John Williams (Glanmor) the historian; Thomas Gee who, through the medium of Gee’s Press formulated and developed political thought in Wales; Henry Morton Stanley, the great African Explorer who found David Livingstone at Ujiji; David Erwyd Jenkins, author of the three volume treatise on the life of Thomas Charles; Judge Artemus Jones who pioneered the recognition of the Welsh language in Courts of Law; T Gwynn Jones the doyen of Welsh Literati; Kate Roberts the novelist; Gwilym R Jones, Mathonwy Hughes and Dafydd Owen, each of whom gained the highest honours at the national Eisteddfod; Lord Emlyn Hooson who led the defence in the infamous Moors Murders trial and Osian Ellis who from 1959 held the title of Royal Harpist.