THE STREETS of Holywell will soon be walked by citizen tour guides.
Organisers of the Holywell Heritage Trail put out a call for residents to sign up as volunteer tour guides.
More than a dozen people turned up for the free one-day training course, which taught potential guides to look at their high street with fresh eyes.
Martin Fearnley, community support officer from Holywell, helped organise the event, bringing together local historian Brian Taylor and Carole Startin, a self-employed tour guide, to give the trainees hints and tips.
Mr Fearnley said: “I came to Holywell and learned about the local history and heritage, and we got the BBC Weatherman Walking team here. They were just blown away. They said there should be buckets of people walking through here on their way to Snowdonia and other places – and I agree.”
Mr Fearnley said up to 40,000 people a year visited Holywell as a site of religious pilgrimage, thanks to St Winefride’s Well, but many visitors did not spend time on the high street.
“The idea is to link up everything about Holywell – the sites of religious and historical interest, industrial heritage, Greenfield docks and the town itself,” he said.
Mr Taylor, chairman of the Holywell and District Society, has written and researched extensively on the town.
His interests extend to ancient history in the area – Holywell’s lead mines pre-date the arrival of the Romans, and the copper produced by entrepreneur Thomas Williams – who died in 1802 – became a pivotal part of British maritime history when it was used to “copper bottom” sections of the naval fleet.
But the tour was all about the high street, often neglected but a fascinating place.
Mr Taylor advised: “Don’t walk along as though you’re at a supermarket. In supermarkets they put the things they want you to buy at eye-level. If you want to see the history, look upwards.”
Holywell’s high street has evolved over time.
The walk started at Tower Gardens, now a plaza. It used to lead to the pleasure gardens which gave it its name but now leads to an underpass and then Tesco car park. A series of water pipe covers set into the ground gave a hint to how many dwellings used to sit there until they were levelled in later years.
One of the biggest changes is just how many shops started their lives off as pubs. The Flower Shop, which sits near the Town Hall, used to be the Cross Keys – the cross keys are still visible in the mosaic by the entrance.
“There were a lot of pubs,” said Mr Taylor. “They used to say there were more pubs here than on Scotland Road in Liverpool.
“We had the Queen’s Head and the King’s Arms – at one time there were bits of royal body parts all over the town. The Cross Keys used to be where the Catholics met. The building is far, far older than it looks.
“The site was used from the 1600s. There’s evidence many arrests were made on site here after the reformation.”
The current post office is built on the site of an old seminary created as part of a later attempt by the Catholics to secure ground lost to the Anglican and Conformist Churches, which were winning converts in Wales as they preached in Welsh. The Catholics preached exclusively in English and Latin.
“Archbishop Mostyn saw the Catholic Church was falling down when it came to language, so he built a seminary to teach the clergy in Welsh. A priest from here became chaplain to the Royal Welch when they served at Galipoli,” said Mr Taylor.
The buildings hold evidence to the social, as well as religious structures dominating people’s lives. The side of the Natwest building holds the faint shadow of a bricked-up doorway.
“That would have been the posh people’s entrance,” Mr Taylor said. “They’d have used a different way in to the rest of us, trooping in with our ha’pennies.”
A little way down the road he indicated an old brick building, studded with a tiny window about one foot by one foot.
“That’s how much light a servant would have had in their quarters,” said Mr Taylor.
Holywell has played host to a number of illustrious visitors, from a pre-coronation Princess Victoria, who paused during a cross-county trip to take some tea and seemed quite charmed by the town, to novelist Daniel Defoe, who was less impressed.
“The high street was cobbled and paved back then,” said Mr Taylor.
“Defoe said it was a dirty little town and people didn’t wear socks or shoes, and that most of the houses were given over to accommodating pilgrims.”
Some high street landmarks have stood the test of time, but not without some challenges.
The red lion atop the Llew Goch pub is visible on a photo taken almost 150 years ago – but it has been replaced after “someone nicked the lion” according to Mr Taylor.
I think the lion had the last laugh,” he added.
“If you look at his expression when you’re walking past, you’ll see he finds something funny.”
The high street is dotted with clues, visible in the red Ruabon bricks in the walls to records of high-class balls and dances held in the building now holding Cafe Bellis, to stories about the venues that used to host cockfights.
To find out more, you’ll have to book onto a tour yourself – once organised, the volunteers will offer free bespoke packages for anyone interested in the town’s history.
For news on when they will be available, email mfearnleyhtc@ btconnect.com.