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Lower Clwyd Street & The Star

What better place for GARETH EVANS to explore the importance of lower Clwyd Street and its mysteries than in The Star itself, during December 2017’s packed RADCA social
The bottom of Clwyd Street was no ordinary street. It was an important mediæval thoroughfare. Clwyd Street formed part of the mediæval Pilgrims’ Route linking South West & North Wales. Locally, it ran through Derwen, Efenechtyd, over the longford at Clwyd Street to the Square, Prior Street, Park Gates and Wernfechan. The longford was one of few river crossing points. Mediæval Period Clwyd Street was therefore part of the link between the junction of five roads at Llanfwrog and the five at Anchor Corner. With the development of the princely court at Ruthin and later lordship markets & fairs, trade developed at the bottom of Clwyd Street. It was as busy there as the Square. Activity was further strengthened by the mill which, from 1284, benefited from the millpond and leet enabling all year operation. Does the mill’s east gable cross suggest a religious link? Since the mill was in the castle precinct, it was likely the lord’s not the prior’s mill. As the former, its use was compulsory, generating footfall.  The Burgess’ Tower or Turrun is of unknown origins but was built on the town side of the mill leet probably in the 1280s. It defined the main access point into town and probably resulted in the stopping up of Mill Street: why go to the expensive of a tower but keep a second entry nearby? Why, though, did the tower remain outside the Edwardian and Glyndŵr defences? It was probably in the late 15th century that the tower had fallen into disuse. In Tudor times, the tower had become a prison. John & Carol Smith of Porth y Dŵr suggest that, from c.1460, adjacent Porth y Dŵr was an open two-storey building with a fine timbered ceiling from a managed forest which, they think, suggests it was de Grey’s. He was the patron of a local school of carpenters then working on the nave at St Peter’s. Was the open space an inspection & weighing space for goods? If so, the fine ceiling suggests they would have been of high value. The tanners of Mwrog Street were probably not producing enough leather to command such a building. The only possible alternative was wool. The 1447 guild of weavers brought together the specialist wool trades and the lord as backer would have ensured it was centred on Ruthin and its fairs. The 17th century collapse of the de Greys would have ended this Ruthin initiative. The Stuarts From about the 1660s, the town built Pont Howkin and a number of properties at the bottom of Clwyd Street. Indeed, some new buildings replaced demolished older properties. Why build on such a scale? Was this the result of military action? Was it here that the Parliamentary forces assaulted Ruthin? The result was a reshaped street of new properties. There was also a house of correction there and from 1661 a new county gaol. Was the site
chosen because of the earlier destruction, making it easy to build on? It was at this point that we see the 17th century purpose-built Star, though parts may pre-date this period. In 1756, it was named the North Pole, becoming the Star in 1775. It was ideally situated and offered food, drink & accommodation. 18th Century During this period, overcrowding resulted in the Gaol expanding by displacing a tannery and devouring mediæval streets for buildings & additional walls. All of the pre-1775 buildings were soon replaced. The last of the mediæval gateway was cleared by the spring of 1787. Mill Cottage, 65 and 67 Clwyd Street probably have more to reveal about the Burgess tower and may even have developed out of it once its defensive function became obsolete. John Williams’s Star—19th Century During the Star’s restoration—which resulted in the 2011 Quayle Award—builders discovered old documents relating to John Williams’s time from 1837 as publican. During his time, the Star would have watched the comings & goings at the gaol. With a population in 1841 of 2,431, the Star competed with 50 other hostelries, nine of which were on Clwyd Street with a further two beer retailers. The Star’s unique feature continued to be stables to its rear, an important source of income. At this period, the Star had its own field for barley for malt and brewing would have been a constant process. The Star originally supplied the gaol with beer probably till the Home Office took the gaol over in 1878. Weak though it was, beer was safer to drink than water. The Star served breakfast, lunch, evening meals as well as “servants’ eatings”. The parlour would have been comfortable. Kept pigs ate the scraps. Williams sourced groceries locally but spirits and malt from as far afield as Chester, Chirk wharf and Liverpool docks. Thrift—the repair of fittings and features—was constant, involving local craftsmen. This was probably at the Star’s zenith. 20th Century The gaol closed in 1916. The motor car hit the stable & carriage business. A steady decline in beer consumption towards the end of the 19th century followed a complete collapse in 1914. Passing trade diverted at the 1960s re- designation of Park Road as the trunk road. The Star Today It’s fair to say that the Star has had its ups and downs. 2010 saw a refurbishment and re- opening after a period of closure. The Star continues to provide similar services to those which it did some 400 years ago. It is the sole- surviving public house in this part of town.