WHILE the weather wasn't great, it still proved to be a successful annual event for Vale of Clwyd history buffs.

The annual summer visit of Cymdeithas Hanes Lleol Llandyrnog and Llangwyfan Local History Society was a great success recently, despite the unsettled weather.

A total of 39 members, friends and family met at Capel Pendref in Ruthin for a comprehensive talk and tour led by Heather Williams, a Blue Badge tour guide and deputy mayor of Ruthin.

The grade II* listed chapel was built in 1827 for the Congregationalists / Independents and it is in an ornate classical style with an elegant three-bay bow front constructed from large even blocks of limestone masonry (ashlar).

It has two storeys of round headed windows, a balustrade and a Tuscan porch.

Inside the chapel, Heather pointed out the gallery running on three sides under an exquisite ornate floral ceiling, the central position of the pulpit on the rear wall to emphasise on preaching the word of God, the clock at the back behind the congregation, which is important for anyone giving a sermon and the unadorned communion table in the “sêt fawr” area below the pulpit.

She also shared the history of the building, including how, in 1883, a warm water heating system was installed, a house was purchased for the minister in 1922, repainting of the chapel took place in 1927 in time for the centenary, major renovations and repairs were needed by 1963 and how in 1987, the vestry was re-modelled.

She explained how currently, as with many places of worship, members / congregations have declined and the main services for the 30-or-so members are currently held in the vestry rather than the main chapel building.

The group then moved on to the Old Court House, on St Peter’s Square (the former Natwest Bank) and there, members were given a talk on the history of the building by Heather and a presentation on the plans for the future by Gavin Harris, the current mayor of Ruthin.

The 600-year-old Old Court House, which is also is a Grade II* listed building, was previously the main courthouse of the Lordship of Dyffryn Clwyd (the Vale of Clwyd).

It probably dates from between 1401-1426, the time when many Welsh towns were rebuilt after being burned by the forces of Owain Glyndwr.

His dispute with Reginald Grey, Lord of Dyffryn Clwyd, sparked a revolt which spread across Wales and lasted from 1400 to 1410.

It was built on the remnants of a building destroyed by Owain Glyndwr's troops.

In 2004, tests on timber from the courthouse by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales established that it was felled in spring 1421.

It was originally four-bay and timber-framed with cells in the basement, and with gallows on the outside corner, where convicts were hanged.

The last person executed there was probably Father Charles Mahoney, an Irish Franciscan who was shipwrecked off Pembrokeshire in 1678 but managed to swim ashore.

He made his way to North Wales in the hope of completing his homeward journey to Ireland, but was arrested near Denbigh. Following his conviction of being a Catholic priest, he was killed in 1679 by being hanged, drawn and quartered.

The courthouse and cells remained in use from 1420 to 1785 when the new shire hall was built in Ruthin.

The Old Court House was in commercial use during the 18th century. In 1741, a petition was raised by butchers of the town and given to the owner Richard Myddleton complaining their meat was exposed to all elements of weather.

This resulted in the building of “the shambles” or “Pendist” a lean-to on the north face of the building.

At one point, there were 15 different types of shops at the Old Court House, all under one roof.

In 1914, the National and Provincial Bank was in part of the building and in 1926, the bank bought the building, knocking down the extensions and restoring it to its original state.

It was a branch of the National Westminster Bank until its closure in 2017.

Gavin Harris explained how Ruthin Town Council has now bought the timber-framed premises for £120,000 with reserve funds and a moderate 15-year mortgage and how, now the building has been secured, further funding has been gathered from a combination of reserves, grants, business sponsorship and community crowdfunding to help complete the project.

Following an open day and consultations with the public, they aim to refurbish the building and re-open it to the public this year as a community hub.

The building will be flexible for the benefit of the town, host meetings of the town council and of community groups, events and functions, small music concerts and film screenings, promote local businesses and attractions, showcase products sold by shops, host exhibitions, house some of the historic artefacts belonging to the council and it will tie in with other attractions in the town, such as the castle and the old gaol.

It is planned that the building will have modern interior design, with freestanding exhibition screens, historical exhibition displays, lighting and signage, however the building will only be changed where necessary, in order to preserve its character.

Other spaces will include a flexible office space for the town clerk and town manager, as well as hot desk workstations available to hire.

Additionally, it could serve as an arrival and information point for tourists and coaches and it is hoped that the initiative could help to improve footfall in the town and to help sustain the shops, restaurants and businesses.

The group then travelled to the Grade II Leyland Arms, in Llanelidan, which dates back to 1354, and is by the church and village hall, overlooking the cricket pitch with the Clwydian Mountains as a backdrop.

There was a warm welcome for all and the group was served a two-course lunch before moving onto their final visit of the day, which was to Nantclwyd Hall, a 17th-century Grade II* listed mansion near the village of Llanelidan.

The society was pleased and thankful to have received consent from Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland to visit the gardens at Nantclwyd Hall, which are not open to the general public.

The hall has been listed as Grade II* since July 16, 1966 and in addition, has a number of other features which are Grade II listed, such as an archway with clock tower at the entrance to the service yard, the bridge on the main drive, lakeside rotunda, stag and hounds sculpture, the west and east gateways, gates, the walled garden with gazebos and pavilions, and the west entrance lodge.

A Llandyrnog resident who was a builder, the late Walter Archibald Davies, was involved with the building of one of the gateways on the estate.

The original house, re-built in 1622, was owned by the Thelwell family, but it became the country seat of the Naylor-Leyland baronets when they bought it in the mid-19th century and it was the private residence of Herbert Naylor-Leyland (1864–99), followed by his son Albert Naylor-Leyland, 2nd Baronet (1890–1952).

The family enlarged it with Victorian extensions, leaving only the original oak sitting room and bedroom untouched, and they also kept the name Nantclwyd, which means “the brook over the river Clwyd”.

It later became the residence of Sir Vivyan Edward Naylor-Leyland, 3rd Baronet (1924–87), who made alterations.

He hired the architect Clough Williams-Ellis (1883–1978), of Portmeirion fame, to enhance its integration with the gardens and the surrounding park landscape by making the main house smaller, removing wings at the back, adding a new south elevation facing a new formal garden, gates and gazebos on the site of the demolished parts, with a fibreglass temple, stables with a clock tower, a ceremonial arch, a bridge carrying the drive over the river, and a dovecote.

A subtly pink-hued facade facing the garden front was also added. Nantclwyd Hall is currently the residence of Sir Philip Vyvyan Naylor-Leyland, 4th Baronet (born 1953) and his family.

Heather, the Blue Badge guide, assisted by one of the Nantclwyd Hall gardeners, led the group around the gardens and grounds surrounding the hall, explaining the history and pointing out the spectacular features.

The group also heard how, in 1873, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield (1833–1912) introduced friends at the estate to lawn tennis, calling it "Sphairistike" (an ancient Greek term, meaning skill in playing at ball).

The rules of modern tennis were created there and then and he patented the recreation in 1874.

There is a plaque on a wall at the estate (erected in 1973) to remember the centenary of that historic occasion.

Everyone had an excellent day with the three visits and lunch, and thanks were given to all involved, but particularly to Cymdeithas Hanes Lleol Llandyrnog and Llangwyfan Local History Society secretary Hywel Davies for all the organising and arrangements before and during the visit.

The next meeting of the society will be on Wednesday, October 16 in Llandyrnog Village Hall.

The annual meeting takes place at 7pm, Gwynn Matthews speaking at 7.30pm on the history of Humphrey Llwyd - poetic licence in the Vale.

For further details or to join the society, e-mail llangwyfanhistory@hotmail.com