Part 1: March 2020
April 2020 | May 2020
In March, the pause button was pressed on normality. In little over a fortnight, we saw
supermarket queues & stockpiling, a run on lavatory paper and on sanitising hand gel—even
before some of us knew we actually needed it. We witnessed schools close, then cafés &
pubs. Many people are now working from home and older & vulnerable people are self-
isolating. Sporting fixtures were all cancelled.
Then, all non-essential shops closed. Council
offices shut. And, even now, there are unwelcome
gaps on supermarket shelves. We were initially
restricted in terms of one daily exercise and we
could not associate outside the family in groups of
more than two, always provided we keep a socially
safe distance. Packages of financial support were
progressively available to companies, firms,
employees and self-employed people. Here, then,
we chronicle lockdown in Ruthin…
Wednesday March 4th
As film crews finish up, nothing suggests normality
than Netflix shooting in and around the Old Gaol.
They say that this may put Ruthin on the map.
Ruthin Castle begins to display posters for
Mothering Sunday—which later will be aborted. Meanwhile, for the past few days, just one thing
dominates the news. By the middle of the week, we find ourselves out of sanitising hand gel.
The sun brings out quite a number of early visitors and this
morning is particularly encouraging. But attitudes change by the
end of the week…
Saturday March 7th
The delight that is ‘Gwahoddiad’ rings out at 9a.m. over Ruthin
from St Peter’s. Only there are few in town to hear it. It’s
Saturday and it’s even quieter than usual. By the bank on the
Square are the usual two optimistic Jehovah’s Witnesses and
there’s a 20-something with ear-pods who callously coughs into
the open air. That’s it.
And, Clwyd Street is quite literally devoid of pedestrians—empty doesn’t come close. Try desolate.
Calls for self-enforced isolation and working from home become inexorable. This is social history in
the making—but for all the wrong reasons.
Even before coronavirus, the Myddelton is irregular.
The artist next to Harris Toys on Clwyd Street is gone.
J’s Barber Shop is a victim of a saturation of barbers.
The Conservative Club has its back against the wall.
Costa Coffee now closes daily at 5.p.m. Jan’s Cards
Tesco, Co-op and B & M have high stock levels but
there are signs of strain. You can still get liquid soaps
in Tesco but supplies in the Co-op or B & M are like
hand gel and are all snatched away. Long-life milk’s
evaporated. In a sense, it’s a bit like the rush of
Christmas... but without the promise of turkey or any
of the joy. Or, perhaps it’s more like the days after
Boxing Day, when those people around in Ruthin are
out not because they want to be but because they
have to be. In such an environment, even
Gwahoddiad struggles to lift our morale.
Wednesday March 11th
Italy announces lockdown. It’s the first country in Europe to do so. As Wales holds it breath, it surely
couldn’t happen here. Could it?
Friday March 13th
Toilet Roll Armageddon as
stockpiling intensifies. Is it the
news from Ruthin Town FC of a
suspected covid-19 case that
sparks today’s Tesco rush? Is
this enough to engender if not
alarm a mass wave of
customers? Or is it the prime
minister’s statement yesterday?
No one seems panicked, rushed
or ill-mannered but there is also
a steely resolve about shopping
in what is a very busy store.
There’s an underlying tension.
Certainly today seems to
escalate the importance and
significance of the outbreak. Overnight, it is suddenly more real, more undeniable, more immediate.
Ironic, really, that this is Friday 13th (for those who set store by such superstitions).
Ruthin FC cancels its game owing to the ill player. Then, Football Association of Wales suspends all
matches. Later, we hear that there is virtually no sport anywhere tomorrow. And so our world begins
Sunday March 15th
Town is quiet today—till you
reached B & M, the Co-op and
Tesco. B & M’s car park is full
(but that doesn’t take much)
and there is a buzz of customer
movement outside and within.
Tesco’s car park is not quite at
its peak but business is brisk.
The usual high profile
commodities people thus far
are hoarding continue in short
supply, as the number of empty
boxes on shelves increases.
Tesco sees few baskets and
mainly customer trolleys
stacked high. Tins, pasta, rice,
medicines, caster sugar, flour,
the usual and less usual are all
in short supply. Shelves remain
devoid of lavatory paper. There
seems to be a heightened number of older people out, perhaps as a result of media speculation that
those over 70 would shortly need to reduce dramatically their contact
with others. One wears what looks akin to a pair of medical gloves.
Everyone is congenial & affable yet at the same time purposeful and,
unlike in some places in the media, there is no hint of carnage, chaos or
anarchy. Anxiety levels rise.
By 3p.m., everything is quieter to something like a normal Sunday. A
number of far eastern students from Ruthin School take advantage of
the last hour of Tesco’s availability, wearing face masks, the first seen
There were plenty of people who claim never to have deployed panic buying tactics. Given the state
of some supermarket supplies, I wonder who these are.
Monday March 16th
Unofficial lockdown in all but name begins. The County Council clears its calendar of meetings for
the ensuing week. Some County Hall departments leave to work from home.
Meanwhile, both our governments advise us that we should avoid pubs, cafés and restaurants.
Tuesday March 17th
More staff leave County Hall to work from home. Ysgol Brynhyfryd
becomes the first school in Wales to close. It cites 23 vulnerable staff
and a further five who have vulnerable family members.
The supermarket situation is slowly deteriorating. Perhaps retailers
are concentrating on larger settlements and bigger stores. Now,
there’s no paper products in the Co-op or Tesco at all, with kitchen
roll and paper handkerchiefs joining lavatory paper. Bananas and
other fresh foods are in short supply—if people are indeed stock-
piling, let’s hope they eat everything before fresh food rots.
There are just three lonely people on the Square.
Wednesday March 18th
Brynhyfryd may be closed but the
town is absolutely devoid of children.
County Hall car park is busier than expected but still more than half
empty. More and more County Hall staff begin to work from home.
This will impact the town greatly. But, it’s necessary.
Many adhere to government advice: at lunchtime, Chatwin’s has
eight café patrons, Costa five and Bar Llaeth three. The Coffee
Cabin is closed. The two sat at a table in W & G Jones’s café are
slightly forlorn-looking staff. Early evening and I spot one head at
Wetherspoon’s window facing the Square, a handful in the Boar’s,
three in the Star and a similar number in the Feathers. How long
before these close for the duration?
Thursday March 19th
More and more signs appear on business doorways and in windows.
They inform patrons of revised hours, expected changes in customer
behaviour or complete closures, thanks to coronavirus or the school situation, as proprietors and
staff struggle with a new reality.
The oddest is at the entrance to the HSBC. It tells us that, from the weekend, all HSBC branches will
close at weekends. The Ruthin branch does not open
then. HSBC is using the epidemic to encourage
laggards to bank online. “Stay safe. Bank at home”.
Where is this likely to leave the branch & building when
we emerge out of the current crisis?
W & G Jones café has two patrons at lunchtime;
Chatwin’s three; Gail’s six; and there is no one in Bar
Llaeth. The Coffee Cabin is again closed. And, from
today, Costa effectively becomes a takeaway, with
shrunken opening hours, plastic crockery, takeaway
cups and no seating available. There is one person
Friday March 20th
The Craft Centre closes to the public from today.
Tonight, the town is shutting down. Distancing has just
got more distant. As some seem hitherto to disregard
the advice, we now have no more restaurants, pubs,
clubs, gyms, cafés and leisure centres. They’re all to
close. Our Prime Minister makes it very clear that
people should not be going out tonight and pubs should
close as soon as possible. Yes, tonight.
Every pub is open this evening as those inside enjoying
their last orders. Patrons are nevertheless few,
certainly at 8p.m. There is about half a dozen in the
Star; about a dozen in the Boar’s; a similar number in
the Vaults; and I’d put it at about two dozen in the Feathers.
Tomorrow, Saturday, will be a very different Ruthin. A number of local restaurants announce
permissible takeaway services, such as On the Hill, Ocean Pearl, The Myddelton Grill, the White
Horse Hendrerwydd and the Nant y Felin.
Sunday March 22nd
The first of Ruthin’s rainbows begin to appear in windows.
A chalked Mothering Sunday greeting appears in Bryn Eryl alongside various chalked rainbows
elsewhere. Long may the rain stay away, so that these can brighten our lives for days to come.
And, for the first time ever, there are no services in any of our town or village chapels or churches.
Last Sunday, they are defiant—though the number of those coughing is suddenly apparent and
noticeable. Today, they are shut.
Monday March 23rd
This morning, this man
opens Costa so he can
close it up completely. It is
as if Costa knows what is
Today in Ruthin, although
there are previous
changes among the
hospitality sector, shops
remain open. How many
feel or even know that this
is for the last time? Trefor Jones puts it well in its window notice that
appears yesterday: ‘Open as usual (until told otherwise)’.
Well, this evening, they are told.
Not that there are many customers
about today. At lunchtime, I see four
people on Clwyd Street, two on the Square and absolutely no one on
Well Street. Car parks are largely empty, with 39 cars parked in total.
A further 28 are parked on-street. There are 16 drivers parking at the
Co-op and there are fewer than 40 staff in County Hall. In fact, two
scallywags are taking advantage of a mostly deserted County Hall car
park to kick a ball around. We expect County Hall to close to the
public tomorrow—this is due even before the Prime Minister’s
This evening, we hear from our governments that full lockdown is
official—with immediate effect. We can shop for essentials as long as
it’s infrequently; exercise once a day on our own or as a family group;
travel only for work where there’s no
alternative; and otherwise stay at and
work from home. That is the stark
message and it is no doubt not helped by the shameful scenes over
the weekend of people queuing at beauty spots.
The message means that all shops other than pharmacies and
groceries are now shut; the library, too.
Tonight’s with-immediate-effect lockdown ratchets up this emergency.
In a sense, however, we are still in a phony war. As yet, we remain
very worried but we try to carry on as normal. So far, we are all fit and
With pubs now closed, the latest grocery shortages are alcoholic beverages. Wiped clean are the
Tesco alcohol aisles. I guess even those who don’t frequent pubs are stocking up in case those who
do take the lot.
Tuesday March 24th
Lockdown Day One. Our Chief Constable reports at lunchtime that traffic is down in North Wales yet
the morning commute is as busy as ever.
What I can say is that outside my house it’s been very quiet all day. Yesterday’s groups of children,
sometimes with groups of adults, are all vanished.
County Hall is now officially closed to the public. It’s still available for such staff as required.
And, Ysgol Brynhyfryd closes (again) this afternoon. It has previously opened on Monday to receive
its share of children of key workers or those deemed as vulnerable. I’m
not sure anyone actually turned up.
Loggerheads, Moel Famau and the leisure centre all close today, with
locked gates across car park entrances. The country park’s closure is
no doubt hastened by reports over the weekend of crowds in rural
There are now a significant number of local businesses laying staff off
or placing staff on furlough, as our American cousins might say.
Construction can continue but Taylor Wimpey announces with
immediate effect it is closing its Glasdir site and sales centre. This is
the second interruption there, the first following the November 2012
Builders’ merchants Richard Williams and Huws Gray also close today.
Wednesday 25th March
What strikes me this morning is the change in
commuter traffic volumes. Today, there are far fewer
cars on the road. Workers no longer need to bring stuff
back home, perhaps, after yesterday.
What a cruel twist, today, though. Throughout the day,
blue skies, sunshine, no breeze, temperatures nearing
20°c—and time on our hands. Yet, here we are,
confined to barracks. Three cyclists pedal by. The
occasional single walker enjoying their single shot at
exercise. A mother and young children. A few cars all
And, this afternoon, at once, the air is filled with the
fetor of the season’s first barbecues come early.
The broadcast news is compelling but also disturbing and disheartening.
Thursdays March 26th
Virtually no shops open and a solitary person this lunchtime on Well Street, three people on Clwyd
Street and one person on the Square retrieving money from the HSBC cash machine to use, well,
we aren’t sure where. Such businesses as still able to trade far
prefer contactless payments, to minimise risks. And those open
were Chatwin’s (not its café); Well Street Pharmacy; Ruthin
Wholefoods; Boot’s the Chemist; the Post Office; and the HSBC.
Plus B & M, Co-op and Tesco.
Chatwin’s is open for bread, confectionery and a takeaway service
and now accepts contactless payments only.
At lunchtime, there is a solitary car parked in Well Street plus one between Boot’s the Chemist and
the Old Courthouse. Eight were parked on Clwyd Street. Four cars and a motorcycle on Wynnstay
Road. The main car parks collect 18 cars between them.
County Hall car park holds 15 cars which indicates that there were likely just 15 people inside the
building. The rest of the staff work from home.
Tesco introduces a queuing and entry/exit system to its Ruthin store, with a combination of on-their-
side trolleys, barriers from Taylor Wimpey and cones & tape from Hunter & Lewis. You grab a trolley
from a shelter, queue outside, enter by the left and staff limit the numbers in the store at any one
time. You then leave on the right, go to your vehicle and return your trolley for disinfecting. The Co-
op has started something similar, in a smaller way, by disinfecting basket handles on entry.
HSBC changes its opening hours to 10a.m. to 2p.m. The bank isn’t able to open today, owing to
coronavirus-related staff shortages. Just after lunchtime, Ruthin’s sub-postmaster announces new
hours from next week.
Friday March 27th
This week’s weather is exceptional for late March but none of us has
been able to take full advantage of it.
One phrase sums this up: unprecedented. We live in truly
unprecedented times. Or, “unpresidented”, as one shop notice in
Ruthin put it. Another closed business asked us to phone if we have
an urgent inquiry (we assume they meant “enquiry”). No names, of
And yet, in spite of all this, it’s still the calm before the storm in
Ruthin… how fast the storm is approaching we do not yet know.
Tesco replaces the row of on-their-sides trolleys with more barriers.
Saturday March 28th
Here’s a new phenomenon. A couple of closed shops are clearing out their windows, in some cases
for a paint-up. You cannot blame them, even though, we trust, the likelihood of a smash ’n grab is
limited. Each of the empties nevertheless leaves a temporary chasm in town.
And a small number continue with blinds down.
Not only is Mococo heeding government instructions in closing its shop, it is longer fulfilling orders
on line: it’s website is also closed for a period.
Meanwhile, mayor Cllr Gavin Harris begins his weekly video broadcasts.
To assist queuing and physical distancing, Chatwin’s introduces hazard tape.
Sunday March 29th
The Eagle’s Bakery joins the long, long list of closed businesses in town. They cite government
guidance as the reason for the closure but suggest they’ll be back on April 14th—and they do. In the
meantime, bread is still available at Lôn Parcwr’s Bakehouse, W & G Jones, Duke’s Stores, as well
The empty Montecito window is transformed into a
joyous, boisterous pandemonium of colour. We very
much hope that the sentiment as expressed in the
lower panes will prove to be prescient and foresighted.
Monday March 30th
During these astonishing, bewildering and bizarre
times, Ruthin town centre is now usually almost always
devoid of people. You barely need one hand on which
to count those on the streets.
So, what’s going on here at Monday lunchtime? It’s for
the post office. As of today, it opens on Mondays,
Wednesdays and Fridays only, between 10a.m. and
1p.m. This shot is at 12.32p.m. and there remains a fair
number of customers still to serve. Most people obey
the call to stand 6′ 6″ apart. The post office has done
well to maintain a service, often solely relying on the
Bus services to Mold; to Denbigh via Llandyrnog; to Clawddnewydd & Cyffylliog; and to Graigfechan
are all slimmed down from today.