History of the Local Area.

The town of Holywell takes its name from the fact that in c650 a young and beautiful maiden by the name of Winefride was walking in the valley, when she was approached by a group of men, led by Prince Caradog from Hawarden. The Prince attempted to seduce Winefride but was refuted, at which he drew his sword and struck Winefride’s head from her body. The legend states that her uncle Saint Beuno was called and he replaced her head and she was restored to life. The place where her head had fallen erupted into a great spring, thus the holy well. Holywell (known in Welsh as Treffynnon) has over the years been called Haliwell(1093), Halywelle(1254), Halywall(1320), Hollowell(1877) etc.,  and one quote states that ‘it is known by the Welshys as Treffynnon’ the town of the well.

It’s reported the Saxon name was Welston, again from the association with the well. It has also earned the name ‘The Lourdes of Wales’ with so many people from kings, queens, princes etc. to paupers making the pilgrimage to Winefride’s Well. This pilgrimage continues today, with many thousands visiting the Well, reputed for its healing properties.

Holywell is at the head a glacial valley, about 1.5 miles long, the water which feeds St. Winefride’s Holy Well comes from the hills above Holywell with their limestone and lead mines. The lead that has been mined in this area since pre-Roman days was greatly valued for the quantity and quality of silver found in it. This lead mining continued into the 18th. Century and lime stone is still quarried today on the mountains of Halkyn.

Although for many years the attraction to Holywell was St. Winefride’s Well, with many of the Pilgrims staying at Basingwerk Abbey, it was the water, which flows constantly all year at the same temperature that in the mid-18th. Century drew new industries to the Greenfield Valley. The water that comes from Halkyn Mountain is the power source for the valley. The water wheel was the greatest power in the Valley driving about 20 factories at one time.

When Dr Johnson visited in 1774 with Mr & Mrs Henry Thrale and their daughter Queenie (Mrs Thrale – Hester was a descendant of Henry VII by one of his illegitimate sons) – he said that the power of Holywell Stream was ‘one hundred tons of water a minute which within perhaps 30 yards of its eruption turns a mill and in the course of two miles drives eighteen mills more’.

Copper and brass mills were established in Greenfield Valley making household items, as well as, copper sheathing for ships, which were dealing in the ‘Africa trade’, together with items, such as, manillas (bright copper for armlets, ‘black jack’ copper and lead used as currency), neptunes – large shallow copper dishes, used to evaporate salt water, to leave the salt, used again in slave trade as currency. This trade with the West Indies brought great wealth, not only to Holywell but to Great Britain and established the country as a great trading nation. Lead mills, cotton spinning mills, paper mills, cement works and many other industries were drawn to Greenfield Valley, making it the most important industrial town in North Wales. Into the 20th. Century and chemical industries came into the region with Courtaulds making synthetic silks, nylon, rayon etc.

The Greenfield Valley today is totally different; it is now a heritage park, with a museum of buildings and a valley renowned for its birds and butterflies. In its 1.5 miles Greenfield Valley is the only place in Wales with 7 scheduled monuments, these include the conserved copper brass and cotton mills Watt’s Dyke. This earthwork believed to have been built in 8th.century by the Mercians, during King Æthelbalds reign, starts near Basingwerk Abbey and continues to near Welshpool.

Basingwerk Abbey was established in about 1132 and moved to its site at Greenfield in 1157. The original monks came from Savigny in France and were incorporated into the Cistercian Order in 1147. This area of North east Wales was a disputed region in the medieval period, with many battles between the English and Welsh. The importance of the Abbey may be seen by the deeds bestowed on it by both the English kings and the Welsh princes. The Abbey flourished until the dissolution in 1536, many of the walls and foundations can still be seen today. The Abbey together with the other schedule monuments is under the care of CADW.

With the wealth from the industrial activities in the Greenfield Valley, the town of Holywell grew, with the parish church St. James’ being rebuilt (until the rebuilding the church was dedicated to St. Winefride, the new St.Winefride’s church, built 1832 is a little farther up the Valley). A new portion of the town was built around this time, that being the High Street, this remains today near intact, with the old Town Hall built 1893-6 in the middle and Victoria Hotel at the end, making an imposing statement.


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