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Maelor Saesneg Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

Maelor Saesneg

Industrial Landscapes

Extractive industries


Exploitation of naturally-occurring salt from underlying Triassic rocks exposed along the Wych Brook in the north-eastern part of the area forming part of similar deposits occurring though on a much larger scale in Cheshire at Nantwich, Northwich and Middlewich. Exploitation during the medieval period is indicated by the salt pit or (salinae) valued at 24s recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 in the manor of Burwardestone, possibly the same one as that noted as being in the possession of Haughmond Abbey in 1291 at Wiche in Iscoyd. Salt was an important commodity in the earlier Middle Ages, being regulated by a system of tolls, which accounts for its appearance in early documentary sources, the place-name element -wich being derived from the Old English wic (‘trading settlement’, itself derived from the Latin vicus) which was often applied to salt-producing settlements. By contrast, little appears to be recorded about salt working in the area at later periods though Thomas Pennant refers to a brine spring and salt works near Sarn Bridge over the Wych Brook in his A Tour in Wales published in 1794 and there is some evidence to suggest that the Upper and Lower Wych Salt Works were in operation in the 1830s. A brine pit about 7 metres in diameter is still to be seen at Lower Wych (Bronington).


Deposits of glacial sand deposits were exploited on a small scale in various parts of Maelor Saesneg, perhaps from early times up to the early 20th century, some of which are shown on early Ordnance Survey maps and some of which can still be seen in today’s landscape. Several are recorded in the area of Bettisfield Park (Maelor South) and Hanmer, and one near Bryn-y-Pys (Overton).

Rights for the getting of sand to repair designated roads leading from the mosses were granted the enclosure award for Fenn’s and Bettisfield mosses were enacted in the 1770s, and though extraction generally remained at a modest scale, relatively large quantities of sand were being extracted in the 1860s when the bed of the Oswestry, Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway was being laid across Fenn’s Moss.


Peat cutting has formed an important industry on Fenn’s Moss in the south-east corner of Maelor Saesneg for many centuries, exploiting deposits which exceeded a depth of 8 metres in certain areas. There are few surviving early records of peat cutting on the Welsh side of the border, though it is evident a well-developed system of turbary — the right to cut peat or turves — had emerged by the 1570s, having probably developed from much earlier times. These early common rights had finally become extinguished by the 1770s as a result of the enclosure acts covering Fenn’s Moss and Bettisfield Moss. This gave rise to a commercial peat-cutting industry, beginning in the 1850s under leases issued by the Hanmer Estate, which continued with increasing intensity until production was finally brought to an end in the last decade of the 20th century following the purchase of the mosses by the Nature Conservancy Council.

There have been distinct changes in the purposes for which peat from Fenn’s Moss has been used over the centuries. The earliest uses were most probably as a source of fuel though, although seemingly unrecorded on the Welsh side of the border, peat appears to have been quite widely used as a building material in conjunction with timber-framing for the construction of peat houses or turfcotes at least in the late medieval and early post medieval periods, examples of which survived on Whixall Moss up to the 1940s. From the middle of the 19th century onwards the peat was used for a much wider variety of purposes, being used in compressed form for a variety of metalworking and manufacturing processes, for the production of charcoal and for distillation, and being developed for use with munitions during both the First and Second World Wars. It was becoming used for horticultural purposes by commercially nurseries from as early as the late 1930s and on a much larger scale following the boom in popular gardening from the 1960s onwards.

The history of peat cutting of the moss can be clearly recognised on the ground — by the linear old hand cuts in certain areas, by the old commercially areas hand-cuts by the ‘Whixall Bible’ method (with reference to the shape of peat blocks), and by more recent mechanised cuttings methods. Commercial exploitation gave rise to the development of machine processing in later 19th century, with steam-powered grinding and bailing machinery installed by the 1880s and as noted in the following section several different stretches of tramroad were used in peat extraction on Fenn’s Moss, to link with either the canal or railway systems, the tramroads on the mosses being subsequently replaced by narrow gauge railway and finally by tractor and trailer. The surviving peat works known as Fenn’s Old Works, thought to be the last such works in mainland Britain, are protected as a scheduled ancient monument. The works are of steel girder construction of the late 1930s, formerly clad in corrugated iron, with a stationary engine (containing the only National Heavy Oil Engine still in situ), which provided power for machinery for milling and baling the peat.

Manufacturing and Processing Industries

Water corn mills

The milling of corn produced by the abundant arable land in Maelor Saesneg was once one of the major processing industries to be found in the area but has entirely disappeared today. Here as elsewhere the most readily available source of energy for grinding the corn was water power, harnessing rivers as well as smaller streams. The earliest mill known in the area was at Worthenbury, recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 and described as a new mill within the manor of the baron, Robert FitzHugh, and therefore possibly constructed soon after the Norman conquest. The site of the mill is unknown, though it may be represented by an earthwork platform on the Wych Brook, just to the south of the village of Worthenbury. There were undoubtedly other medieval mills in the area, though they too have been little studied. A mill at Overton was said to have been destroyed during the revolt against the English crown led by Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294. The site of the mill is unlocated, but it likely to have been on the Dee to the west of the town, perhaps in the vicinity of the present weir. The mill was evidently rebuilt within a few years, being referred to again in 1300 when it was valued at £12. Other early mills may be represented by place-name evidence. Mill Brook, which gives its name to Millbrook Farm, Millbrook Lane and Millbrook Bridge to the south of Bangor Is-y-coed, is first recorded in 1290 as Milnbrook. The place-name ‘Caer Felin’ (Welsh cae’r felin ‘mill field), recorded in the vicinity of Emral Hall, may represent a further early mill site which is now missing.

Later water-driven corn mills are known at a number of sites throughout Maelor Saesneg, including five brick-built mills with slate roofs of late 18th- to early 19th-century date on the Wych Brook – Wych Mill, Llethr Mill and Wolvesacre Mill in Bronington (the latter only partly surviving) and Dymock’s Mill and Sarn Mill, Tallarn Green (Willington Worthenbury). Dymock’s Mill, a good example of a Georgian watermill, survived with most of its original machinery until the late 1980s, with a sluice from a former mill pond fed by the Wych Brook which drove an undershot water-wheel pit. Sarn Mill is again a brick-built watermill, rebuilt in 1827, which was later converted to run on electricity.

Three mills, again of late 18th to early 19th-century date, were established on tributaries of the Emral Brook – Halghton Mill, Halton New Mill and at Hanmer Mill at Hanmer Mill Farm (Hanmer), both on tributaries of the Emral Brook. Water still flows from the mill race and leat of Halghton New Mill, and the wheel pit and millpond survive at Hanmer Mill, though all three mills are now disused. Two further mills were established on tributaries of the Emral Brook to the west and north-west of Penley – Penley Mill and Cross Mill (Maelor South), Penley Mill again being a brick structure of 19th-century date, the original French burrstone millstones surviving in the nearby stream. Knolton Mill (Overton) was a further watermill, established on the Shell Brook, a tributary of the Dee which forms the boundary between England and Wales along the south-western boundary of Maelor Saesneg.

Most of the waterpowered mills within the area had ceased production by the later 19th and early 20th centuries due to often unpredictable waterflow and competition with more commercial mills elsewhere, though some, like Sarn Mill, had been converted to run on electrical power. Cadney Corn Mill, a two storey red brick corn mill to the east of Bettisfield (Maelor South), likewise was formerly driven with steam-powered diesel engines installed in 1925.


The surviving base of a round, 18th-century brick-built windmill just to the east of Cadney Corn Mill (Maelor South), may perhaps have been built to help to drain the moss. Windmills are known to have been used to drain marshy arable land in neighbouring areas of Shropshire, including those built at Prees in the early 16th century and Ellesmere in the early 17th century.

Fulling mills

Water power was also used for driving a number of fulling mills, used in the finishing of woollen cloth produced in the district in the medieval and post-medieval periods. Two fulling mills are recorded at Halghton (Hanmer) and Tybroughton (Bronington) in the early 15th century though no archaeological remains of these mills have yet been identified. The Halghton fulling mill was probably on the tributary of the Emral Brook at Pandy (Welsh pandy ‘fulling mill’) which has given its name to Pandy Farm and Pandy Bridge. The location of the Tybroughton fulling mill is unknown, though it seems likely to have been on the Wych Brook or one of its tributaries, in the vicinity of Tybroughton Hall.


Most communities had ready access to a local smithy, often sited on one of the main roads or near a road junction, including those recorded at Redbrook, Higher Wych, Henrwst, Bronington, Eglwys Cross and Stimmy Heath (Bronington), Bettisfield, Penley and Street Lydan (Maelor South), Three Fingers, Worthenbury, and Sarn (Willington Worthenbury), Halghton, Hanmer (Hanmer). Many of the smithies appear to have come into existence in the late 19th and earler 20th centuries, and represented by small brick-built structures. Few if any of these local workshops, once vital to the local agricultural community, have survived intact to the present day, most having either been demolished, retained as sheds, or converted into domestic accommodation. One of the few which has survived is the remains of the 19th-century forge in the rear wing of Gwaylod House, Overton Bridge (Overton) which includes a double forging hearth apparently formerly open to the rear and later enclosed by a lean-to.


Little has been written about the history of brewing in Maelor Saesneg, though this was evidently of at least local importance until perhaps towards the advent of the larger commercial breweries towards the end of the 19th century. The production of cider is indicated by a number of farm and house names based on ‘crab mill’ indicating a cider press for crushing apples, normally powered by horse or pony. Three former cider presses are indicated by place-name evidence — Crab Mill, on Green Lane (Bangor Is-y-coed), Crab Mill near Little Green (Bronington), and Crabmill Farm (Overton), south of Overton, though little or no tangible archaeological evidence of the industry appears to have survived.


We are likewise largely dependent upon place-name evidence for the small breweries scattered across the area which produced local ales and beers, including the late 18th to early 19th-century Malt House in Worthenbury, Pen-y-llan, an early 19th-century brick-built house in Overton, listed as a malt kiln and shop in the 1838 tithe survey, and Maltkiln House in Bronington. A former malthouse in Tallarn Green (Worthenbury Willington) is shown on maps editions of the Ordnance Survey maps published in the 1870s and 1880s, in opposition to which the purpose-built Methodist Temperance Room of 1890 in Tallarn Green may have been established. The small brewery known as the Dee Brewery survived intact until the 1980s, following closure some years before.

Brick and tile works

Local small-scale brick production probably started in the area in about the mid 17th century, mainly for a small number of gentry houses such as Halghton Hall (Hanmer), built in 1662. At the end of the 18th century, Thomas Pennant, amongst others, drew attention to the potentially important sources of clay to be found in Maelor Saesneg, but it was generally not until the later 19th century that relatively small commercial works became established at various centres to feed the increasing demand for building materials and pipes for land drainage. The works that were established during this period included those at Lightwood Green (Overton), Fenn’s Hall, Fenn’s Bank, Tilstock Lane near Brickwalls (Bronington), and at Pandy (Hanmer). Products included pipes, bricks, copings and window sills at the Overton Brick and Tile Works at Lightwood Green, pipes at the Pandy Brick and Tile Works. The Fenn’s Bank and Lightwood Green works were strategically sited on the railway, the former on the Ellesmere-Whitchurch line and the latter on the Wrexham-Ellesmere line. Each of the works were based on local supplies of clay dug from clay pits near the works which were up to forty feet deep in the case of the Fenn’s Bank works, and which here as elsewhere are now represented by flooded hollows, clay being transported to the works by tramroad at Fenn’s Bank and Pandy. The works at Fenn’s Bank had a circular 14-chamber Hoffman kiln built 1860 and a tall chimney, 175 feet high, both demolished when the works were abandoned in the early 1960s. Few other traces of the works still survive, these local production centres failing to compete with the more successful brick and tile works which became established in the Wrexham area during the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries, notably at Ruabon. The works at Lightwood Green were set up by the Bryn-y-Pys Estate probably in the 1880, with engine house and machine shed, which closed during the Second World War. The Pandy works, with two beehive kilns, machine and drying sheds was established in the 1870s.

Limekilns Following the construction of the Whitchurch branch of the Shropshire Union Canal in 1797 lime kilns were established alongside the canal at Bettisfield, fed by limestone and coal from the coalfields of north-east Wales, unloaded by means of the ramp that still remains visible just to the west of Bettisfield Bridge. The chief product of the kilns was probably agricultural lime, marketed to local farms within the district, replacing the practice of marling which probably died out early in the 19th century. Dependence upon liming for maintaining soil fertility itself declined in the later 19th century as chemical fertilizers became more readily available.


Place-name evidence, notably Tan House just to the east of Overton, suggests that tanning was once carried out on perhaps a small scale in Maelor Saesneg, though there is again little surviving physical evidence.

Modern industries

Maelor Saesneg remains a predominantly agricultural and non-industrial area, though the site of the former Fenn’s Bank brick and tile works is now occupied by a modern aluminium works, itself replacing a metal reclamation works established during the Second World War.

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