Cymraeg / English
Your Community - Flint
Archaeology and early history of the town
Flint between 1500 and 1700
With its gradual distancing from agriculture and the waning military significance of its castle, the continuing existence of the town was perhaps beginning to be called into question, but Flint clung doggedly to its status as a borough and county town and as a judicial centre on the Chester circuit despite a population of no more than 35 men over the age of 16 by the late 1530s. In common with many other Welsh castles, Flint Castle had ceased to be maintained as a defensive structure from the mid 16th century onwards. In his Richard II, written in about 1595 but describing events of 1399, Shakespeare anachronistically puts the words ‘this castle’s tatter’d battlements’ into the mouth of Henry Bolingbroke. Shakespeare based his play on the chronicles of Holinshed and Froissart, which were published in the 1520s to 1580s respectively, suggesting that the castle’s ruinous state was already familiar by the end of the 16th century.
The history of both the town and castle of Flint and their role in the Edwardian conquest of Wales had largely faded from the public consciousness by the 14th and 15th century, remaining lost until the story was gradually pieced together by historians in the late 19th century and 20th centuries through the study of royal charters, decrees and accounts of expenditure. However, from the age of the Elizabethan Enlightenment onwards there emerged an interest and concern about the relics of the past that were visible in the landscape, such as the observation on Atiscros by John Dee in 1574 and by Edward Lhuyd in 1699 which are noted above.
In a similar way, John Speed’s plans of the town in 1610, showing the medieval castle and the distinctive and unusual town plan with great clarity, were intended by him as much a record of the town’s historical remains as they were of what it looked like in the first decade of the 17th century. Like Thomas Pennant in the 1790s, Speed perhaps had the suspicion that like Chester –which appears on his map of Cheshire – its regular layout indicated a Roman origin. Speed – an historian as well as a famous map-maker – was born in Farndon just to the south of Chester and was very familiar with the ancient roots of what he describes as ‘that most ancient citie’. By the early 19th century the Roman origins of Flint had become the established view, as expressed in Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Wales published in 1833: ‘The origin of the town, though undoubtedly remote, is involved in the greatest obscurity. Although it cannot be identified with any Roman station mentioned in the Itineraries, it was nevertheless either of Roman or Roman-British origin, as is proved by the circumstance of its even now occupying a rectangular intrenched area, like that of a Roman place of defence, and by the discovery, at various times, both here and in the neighbourhood, of a vast quantity of Roman coins, fibulæ [brooches], &c.’.
Speed’s field drawing of Flint of 1607 shows about 100 buildings inside the defences, including the town hall and the church, with a number of buildings lying on subsidiary lanes immediately behind the inner rampart. The town was still largely contained by the medieval defences but about 15 other buildings are shown just outside the defences, some on lanes which skirt the outer rampart but mostly close to the three main entrances leading out of the town. Commerce is symbolized by the market cross shown in the central square, Justice by the stocks in the town square and by the gallows to the north-west, probably close to the shoreline in the area now occupied by the Castle Park Industrial Estate. Other judicial associations are the Sessions House in Church Street, which was probably first built in the early 17th century, and the former gaol, also in Church Street and referred to as ‘an ancient loathsome place of confinement’ on the dedication stone of the former Flintshire county prison in the outer ward of castle which replaced it in 1785. The non-parochial medieval stone church of St Mary’s which an illustration of about 1800 suggests had been extensively remodelled in the later Middle Ages survived until it was replaced on the same spot in the middle of the 19th century. The possibly late 15th to 16th-century town-hall or market hall was likewise replaced on a new site in 1840. Otherwise the town still appears to have the appearance of a rural village, with few other prominent civic or industrial buildings, with about half of the potential building land apparently occupied by fields, gardens and orchards.
A survey of the state of the royal castles in Wales between 1618–24 noted that three of the towers of Flint Castle were in ruins whilst the roof of the Great Tower, by then called the ‘Thieves’ Tower’, would not keep out the rain. Both castle and town suffered many depredations during the course of the English Civil War in the 1640s. The castle was garrisoned for the Royalists under the command of Sir Roger Mostyn. Despite its condition, the castle was described as being of ‘exceeding great strength’: it was besieged for several months in 1646, before finally surrendering to the Parliamentarians, led by General Thomas Mytton who on the authority of Parliament slighted the structure in 1647 with the exception of the Great Tower which was to be reserved as a gaol. A warrant for the joint appointment of the constable of the castle and keeper of the gaol in 1705 suggests that the tower continued in use as a gaol into at least the first decade of the 18th century. In the aftermath of the war in the early 1650s John Taylor paints a bleak picture, noting that ‘surely war hath made it miserable; the sometimes famous castle . . . is now almost buried in its own ruins, and the town so spoiled that it may truly be said of it, that they never had any market (in the memory of man). They have no sadler, taylor, weaver, brewer, baker, botcher, or button maker; they have not so much as a signe of an alehouse’.
Although no timbered buildings survive to the present day, there seems every likelihood that, as noted above, Flint like many others in the borderland areas was essentially a town of timber-framed houses until the use of stone became more commonplace in the 17th and early 18th centuries. One of the last timber-framed buildings to survive may have been the town hall or market hall, shown by Speed, but replaced on a new site in 1840. Most of the timber-framed buildings of this period have also disappeared from the surrounding countryside, though there are occasional rare survivals such as Oakenholt Farmhouse, which originated as a possibly 16th- or 17th-century cruck-framed building. The demand for timber for both building and industry would have continued to have an impact upon the surviving local woodlands, and as early as the 1570s concerns were being expressed about the shortage of wood in this part of Flintshire.
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