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Castle Hotel—a brief history

The splendidly refurbished Castle Hotel on St Peter’s Square would be an adornment to any town. It dominates the south side of the square where its Georgian elegance sits at ease with the surrounding older buildings. Here at Ruthin’s former Market Place, for almost 600 years, twice weekly markets were held, driving the town’s economy. In and around Market Place, prime property sites housing storage cellars, workshops and taverns developed. The first buildings had mud walls with roofs of branches covered with stones and primitive thatch. Easily and quickly built, they equally easily and quickly disappeared, leaving no obvious traces. Market Place attracted property speculators such as Galfridus Clerk otherwise known as Gruffydd ap Madog, whose daughter Luce vetch Geoffrey owned the Castle Hotel site in 1465. Around this time the first durable building was erected—later described as three shops, a cellar and a loft. The only building on the east side of Market Place with an upper storey, it stands taller than its neighbours in a 1715 drawing. Parts of the ground floor shops and the cellars survive in the present Castle Hotel, as do the rear buildings. No evidence for a tavern in Tudor times exists but the owner in 1594 had a licence to sell wine. The hotel appears at the Restoration as the White Lion with William Walker as the owner and he leased fields around Ruthin to supply fresh milk, meat and vegetables for customers and hay for horses. The hotel continued to grow much of its own food until the end of the nineteenth century. Walker was active in Ruthin from the end of the civil war and like many of his successors became an important figure in the town. During the 1670s the business struggled and Walker had to sell the hotel in 1679 for £200 to the Myddeltons who owned the Castle estate.
The seventeenth century White Lion had four bedrooms on the upper floor and beds in the garret and on the ground floor where reception space could be converted into bed space, if needed. The building survived until after 1746, but with the growth in travel following road improvements, the Myddeltons pulled down the old White Lion front building and built today’s fine Georgian structure. The White Lion prospered and expanded taking in its neighbours—all the property on the north for new bedrooms and part of that on the south for dining space. The White Lion became the town’s leading hotel and a magnet for the local gentry, tradesmen and politicians, where elections were arranged over convivial meals and social functions, cock- fighting, licensing meetings and dinners were held. A succession of successful landlords,Povah, Roberts, Green and Owen, added lustre to the reputation of the White Lion and Green modernised the hotel in the 1870s. Functions mushroomed: land sales, a posting centre, a revenue office and a coaching hotel were accommodated. It was the town’s main point of arrival and if you could afford it the Lion was where you stayed in Ruthin. The nineteenth century brought fresh challenges and opportunities The large assembly room in the new town hall competed for functions. The revival of Ruthin Castle attracted wealthy visitors and business callers. The train came, and customers were collected from the station, and cars and buses followed. From the 1870s, the hotel began to be known as the Castle Hotel and by 1883 the “Whiate Lion” had gone. The last tenant landlord, Tegid Owen, bought the hotel in 1913 for £1,200 and Owen sold out in 1919. It was by then a large hotel with reception rooms, 15 bedrooms and stabling for at least 20 horses, as well as garaging. In 1933, Trust House Group, who rescued coaching hotels, bought it. They refurbished it as an exclusive hotel and sold it in 1971; the hotel continued to trade well attracting wedding parties and clients to its excellent cuisine. By 2003, the Castle Hotel was split from its northern neighbour. Its fabric deteriorated alongside declining visitors and it has been rescued by Wetherspoon’s, who are in a sense taking the hotel back to its origins as a centre of hospitality. It has come full circle.
GARETH EVANS relates a fascinating tail, coinciding with the opening of J D Wetherspoon’s Castle Hotel in January 2012