Nantclwyd y Dre….Wales’ Oldest Timbered Town House
Nantclwyd y Dre is a timber-framed house in Castle Street, Ruthin. We know from tree-ring dating that the earliest part was built in 1435 or 1436. Its ownership can be traced from that date in the fine series of court rolls of the lordship of Ruthin or Dyffryn Clwyd in the National Archives. At the end of 1435 the plot of land on which the house now stands was held by a Welsh weaver, Goronwy ap Madog, and his English wife, Suzanna. Weaving was then an important and profitable industry in Ruthin, and was dominated by Welsh men. In 1441 the house was leased to a certain John Grey, probably an illegitimate son of a member of the Grey family that held the lordship. By 1456 it was the residence of Geoffrey the Clerk, a scribe or literate man able to write and speak both Welsh and English, who had risen to a position of importance. In the late 1480s it was occupied by another clerk, John Flixton, whose family had, like many Ruthin in habitants of this period, come from the Lancashire estates of the Greys.
George Grey, Earl of Kent, granted the house in 1490-1 to John Holland, a wealthy man who was coroner of the lordship. He extended the house by building on a cross wing into the street (later demolished) at its southern (castle) end. In 1571 the Hollands sold the house to Thomas Wynn ap John ap Harry, the ancestor of the Parry family of Nantclwyd Hall, Llanelidan. In the following year Thomas Wynn leased the Lord’s Garden, the land at the rear of the house, enclosed by massive stone walls that had formerly been the kitchen garden for the castle. Thomas Wynn’s son, Simon, a wealthy lawyer in London, took the surname Parry. Soon after 1600 he moved to Llanelidan where he built up the Nantclwyd estate. He added to the Castle Street house a north-west wing and a new south hall (replacing the 1491 extension), between about 1620 and 1627. He died in 1627, and in the time of this son, William, the house was, for a time at least, occupied by a tenant.
In 1653 William Parry’s only daughter and heiress, Mary, married Eubule Thelwall, another lawyer, Vice-Chamberlain of the palatinate of Chester and an important member of the Denbighshire gentry. He added a new projecting north-east range about 1662-3 and probably also a parlour on the site of the present one. In 1675, the house was occupied by a tenant, but a new rear porch was added a year or two later. Thelwall lived in the house in the later years of his life, from about 1688 to his death in 1695. He added to it about 1693 by building on the porch with chamber above, giving the house its present appearance. In 1691 he purchased the Lord’s Garden. In the next twenty-five years relatives and tenants occupied the house at times. Thelwall’s granddaughter sold Nantclwyd y Dre in 1722 to Edward Wynne of Plas Ucha, Llanefydd. He seems to have used it as a town house. His son, John Wynne, who married in 1733, succeeded him. The house was again enlarged when in about 1733-4 he extended the parlour and remodelled the bedroom above. He also built the gazebo in the garden. The house passed by marriage, in 1776, to the wealthier and more influential Wynne family of Coed Coch, Betws-yn-Rhos, who owned it until 1925. Only after 1722, it seems, was the name Nantclwyd y Dre given to the property.
From about 1798 the house was let to tenants for over a century, a fact that no doubt explains its survival relatively unaltered by improvements. Two of the mid-nineteenth century tenants were surgeons – Robert Roberts who left in 1851 and Thomas Prytherch who died there in 1862. Edward Edwards, an ironmonger with a shop in the Square who was mayor of Ruthin in 1871, succeeded them. In his time, in the early 1880s, Joseph Peers, the Clerk of the Peace for Denbighshire, lived as a lodger in the house. It was a girls’ school for some years until, in 1893, it became the rectory of the neighbouring parish of Llanfwrog and it was used as such to 1916. In 1925, the house was sold to the sitting tenant, Clinton Holme, a wealthy retired civil engineer. He removed the render that had covered the house in 1928 and sold it in 1934 to Samuel Dyer Gough who did a great deal of work on it. His widow sold Nantclwyd y Dre to the County Council in 1984. From 1834 to 1970, the house served as the lodgings for judges who visited the town to sit at the assizes.
If you would like to know more about this fascinating house you can purchase a guidebook for £3 or a full historical report by CJ Williams available at £5, both of which are on sale during opening hours.