Neglected relic of area’s industrial past

Reporter:

Rob Bellis

THE area that once formed the Plaskynaston estate is once again the topic of discussion following the closure of the chemical works that has dominated the area for more than a century.

There are plans to use the site, in the village of Cefn Mawr, for tourism through an ambitious marina project, linking into the nearby Pontcysyllte Aqueduct’s World Heritage Status.

Whatever happens, the closure of the Flexsys works signifies a massive change for an area that has grown up around heavy industry.

In a quiet part of the village of Cefn Mawr stands a relic of this industrial past – the shell of Plaskynaston house, once home to some of the most prolific industrialists of the age.

The Plaskynaston estate actually dates back to about 1600 and the house itself was erected at some point in the 17th century, though it was extensively remodelled in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It was one of several similar properties in the area - Plasmadoc, Cefnybedw, Penybryn, Trefynant and also Watstay, which would later be known as Wynnstay.

At the time Plaskynaston was built the estate would have been at the centre of rural life in the area now occupied by the villages of Cefn Mawr, Rhosymedre and Newbridge.

As the historian Dennis Davies noted in his history of Plaskynaston (1951), a great deal of mystery surrounds the estate, primarily due to it having remained in the same family for some 300 years resulting in no conveyancing documents and very few records.

According to Davies, the first reference to the lands appear in a legal dispute of 1598 in which a man named Roger Eyton was cited as the owner of Cern y Carneddau – what would become Plaskynaston. When Eyton died, the estate passed to his daughter Catherine and her husband Roger Kynaston from whom the estate took its name.

Kynaston was succeeded by his son John, a nonconformist and staunch supporter of the Parliamentarians during the civil war.

Plaskynaston served as a refuge for the independents of Ruabon during the first year of the restoration.

John was succeeded by his eldest son Roger who also inherited his father’s nonconformist beliefs and, while the 1660s was a period of persecution for these independents, the house continued to be used as a hub of secret worship throughout this time.

When Roger died the estate passed to his brother Humphrey with whom the industrial development of the area began.

The 19th century brought significant changes as industry began to overtake agriculture as the main occupation of people in the area.

It is known that William Hazeldine, the Shrewsbury ironmaster who made the iron work for Telford’s world-renowned aqueduct at Pontcysyllte, had a colliery on Plaskynaston land as early as 1805.

A great many more enterprises sprang up over the course of the next 100 years and, as Dennis Davies notes, many of them bore the Plaskynaston name.

There was the Plaskynaston foundry, the Plaskynaston chemical works (the earliest incarnation of what would become Monsanto and Flexsys), Plaskynaston brickworks, Plaskynaston screw and bolt works and Plaskynaston potteries, among others.

As industry grew so did the population so that the red-brick and sandstone villages that can be seen today were built around the estate.

In the early 19th century Plaskynaston was home to the extravagantly named industrialist Exuperious Pickering and his son of the same name. It was the Exuperious Pickerings who constructed the first Chain Bridge spanning the Dee at Berwyn, Llangollen, to facilitate the transfer of coal and lime from his mines between Telford’s new road, the A5, and Llangollen canal.

Exuperious Pickering (the younger) was steward of the mines in which Sir Watkin Williams Wynn had an interest and was among those gathered at the Wynnstay Hotel in Ruabon on December 30, 1830, when a group of miners rioted and attacked the coal owners. Expuperious escaped to Wynnstay but his son John was attacked by the miners for apparently interfering.

John Pickering inherited the Cefn collieries from his father soon afterwards but, by 1843, he had debts of £20,000 (a very hefty sum in the mid 19th century) which was owed to the North and South Wales Bank.

The demand for industrial sites and the housing that was associated with them brought prosperity to the area but also brought about the end of the Plaskynaston estate. Some of it was eventually incorporated into the neighbouring estate of Wynnstay.

The last single occupants of the house itself were the Buckley family, Lancashire industrialists who developed an interest in the Cefn collieries in the 1860s. They sold their interests to the Wynnstay Colliery Company in 1893.

Sir Watkin Williams Wynn then divided Plaskynaston up and it was tenanted by a number of different families.

In the 20th century it became the headquarters of the local Tory party for several years before briefly returning to use as a private home. For a time it was then used as the offices of the parish council and, finally, as the Cefn Mawr library. This once great house has been neglected ever since.

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