Border dispute that became cause célèbre

Published date: 17 December 2013 |
Published by: Rhian Waller 
Read more articles by Rhian Waller  Email reporter


EVERY so often you hear a ‘neighbour-from-hell’ story where a person starts encroaching on someone’s property with unpleasant results.

Nowadays, disputes are usually limited to the perils of light-blocking leylandii or an inconveniently placed poplar.

But what happens when the warring parties actually own huge chunks of a county?

The Grosvenor family and their legal battles with the Lords of Mold in the 1700s have made their mark on Flintshire and Denbighshire.

Last week the Leader told of how a boundary stone near Loggerheads Country Park, set in place 250 years ago this year, is being renovated after cracks appeared in the stone following years of weathering. It will be repaired over the next few months.

It was a sneaky bid for resources that created the  dispute over the boundary, which lies near the current county boundary between Flintshire and Denbighshire.

Mold historian David Rowe did a little research, turning to material collected by Mold Civic Society and to a book by Bill Pritchard.

He said: “The Lords of Mold go back to 1650, where the mineral rights of Mold were divided between three purchasers. They controlled the ‘manor of Mold’ and had a hand in the manors of Hawarden and Hope.”

They would have been gentry, he said, powerful men with influence.

He said: “The men involved in the legal battle with the Grosvenors were John Trevor of Glynde, Edward Lloyd of Tyddyn and Anthony Swymmer. They were Bristol merchants and they became the Lords of Mold.”

Trouble started when they noticed their land appeared to be shrinking, a little at a time.

Ken Lloyd Gruffydd, who worked on The History of Mold with author Bill Pritchard, said: “It seemed the Grosvenors had some secret sympathisers in the parish.

“The vicar of Llanferres had his son move some boundary stones, and others joined in.

“There were quite a few stones shifted about. There were lots of shenanigans.”

The shenanigans exploded into a full-blown lawsuit, with the Grosvenors and Lords of Mold issuing claims and counter claims.

Cllr Diane Johnson, who chairs Mold Civic Society, says it is  the “most famous legal action” involving the Grosvenors, whose heirs include the Dukes of Westminster.

In an essay on mining in the area, she wrote: “By 1752 the easily accessible lead veins on Halkyn had been worked out.

“The demarcation of these lordships and ownership of these mineral rights had long been in contention. The county boundary had always been obscure, hence the uncertainty.

“This had not proved very important whilst the land was regarded as unenclosed waste but as soon as mineral extraction was being contemplated and royalties could be paid to the owners, clear definition of the land was necessary. This whole area was called Mold Mountain.

“Decades of legal argument followed.”

Finally, two of the Lords, Edward Lloyd and John Trevor, lodged a bill of complaint which culminated in a hearing at the High Court of the Exchequer in 1763.

The court found for the Lords and the monument was put up to mark the boundary.

Oddly, although regarded as the official boundary between Flintshire and Denbighshire, the actual monument has since been repositioned.

Fortunately, current residents don’t seem worry about where the line lies but walkers in the woods still stumble across boundary stones which remained stationary even as the map was redrawn around them.

A mistier version of history is embedded in the stone below the boundary marker.

Named Carn March Arthur, the stone is marked with a hoop-like dint, said to be the hoof of King Arthur’s horse.

Writer Richard Holland, of nearby Gwernaffield, researched the legend years ago and is sceptical.

He said: “One of the most dispiriting things when you research myths, legends and the supernatural is when you realise just how many of these stories have been made up recently.

“By that, I mean that a lot of Welsh myths don’t have the provenance they originally seem to. They were collected or written around 100 or 200 years ago by enthusiastic antiquarians, but there’s no evidence they go back further than that.”

That said, there are a fair few hints of Arthurian connections in the area: the stone lies not far from Moel Arthur and historian Elias Owen wrote of a very old track that ran through Loggerheads and came out in Cilcain – a back way that could have been used by Welsh warriors in their fights against the Saxons.

According to a possibly apocryphal local story, the hoofmark was made when Arthur climbed on to his horse and made it leap from the summit of Moel Famau.

Mr Holland said: “It’s a small footprint but horses were small back then. It’s the part of the myth that I doubt the most. It seems to be a relatively modern invention.

“There’s a tradition of heroes leaving their footprints in North Wales. There’s another Carn March Arthur in Snowdonia, where Arthur was said to have pulled the Avanc, a monster, from Llyn Barfog. The dent is supposed to be where his horse strained against the monster.

“There’s meant to be a footprint from Owain Glyndwr in Corwen. He definitely existed but as for whether he made the footprint...”

The border dispute was famous enough to have been worth a mention in Tours in Wales by 18th century writer Thomas Pennant, born in Flintshire, who described it as “a most expensive law suit”.

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