Seven Wonders of Wales
It is a short distance by modern super highway from the English city of Chester to the Welsh market and industrial center of Wrexham, by far the largest town in North Wales. The steeple of the famous rhyme, which can be seen for many miles as the tallest building in the town, turns out to be not a steeple at all, but the 16th century tower of the Church of St. Giles. The impressive church may look familiar to many American visitors, for an exact replica is found on the grounds of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
Yale is the anglicized version of the name of a prominent Welsh family from nearby Plas yn Ial, (near Bryn Eglwys) among whose members was Elihu Yale, one of the benefactors who helped found Yale University.
The richly-decorated tower, 135-feet high, with its four striking hexagonal turrets, was begun in 1506. It is graced by many medieval carvings including those of an arrow and a deer, the attributes of St. Giles. The interior of the church also contains many late medieval carvings and monuments. On a window you can find the words of the 1819 hymn by Reginald Heber, "From Greenland's Icy Mountains." Just outside the church, west of the tower is the grave of Elihu Yale, with its long, fanciful epitaph containing the following lines:
Born in America, in Europe bred,
To commemorate the 250th anniversary of Yale's gift, his tomb was restored in 1968 by the university bearing his name. An interesting epitaph to a Daniel Jones, found within the church, tells us that not only his flesh was buried there, but also his beard.
In Africa travell'd, and in Asia wed,
Where long he lov'd and thriv'd;
At London dead.
To enter the churchyard, you pass through the magnificently-carved wrought-iron gates, completed in 1719 by the Davies Brothers of nearby Bersham, who were also responsible for the even more elaborate gates of Chirk Castle, perhaps the finest example of wrought-iron work in Britain. It is well worth a short diversion to the little village of Chirk to view these gates; their painstaking detail makes us wonder why they were not given an honored place as one of the so-called seven wonders of Wales. The only comparable ironwork is found in two other sets of Davies Brothers' gates: at Sandringham, one of the English monarch's residences and at Leeswood Hall, near Mold in Flintshire. Near Wrexham,too, is the village of Acton, where Judge Jeffreys, the infamous hanging judge of the Bloody Assizes of 1685 was born in 1645.
Bersham is a small village that holds special importance for historians, for not only did it house the workshops of the Davies Brothers, it was one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution. This is the place where British iron making began in 1670 and where John "Iron-Mad" Wilkinson set up shop in 1761. For many years the area was one of the most important iron manufacturing centers in the world. Today, the Bersham Industrial Center tells the story of the man who bored cannon for the American War of Independence and cylinders for James Watts' revolutionary steam engine.
Two miles south of Wrexham, and well-marked on all the major highways, is Erddig, a mansion owned by the National Trust, who consider it one of their most important properties. Though badly damaged by mining operations nearby and by neglect of the owners, the eccentric Yorke family, the house has been beautifully restored. Erddig was built in the 17th century, with additions in the 18th. As the Yorke family never seemed to throw anything away, the house and grounds are an antiquarian's (and antique collector's) delight, full of the most curious and fascinating objects, a treasure-trove of a family's interests, hobbies, work-tools, and curios. Apart from the huge kitchens, filled with the labor-saving devices of their time, of special interest is the basement hallway (the Servants' Hall), the walls of which are lined with portraits of the staff, accompanied by verses honoring them and their work.
Philip, the last squire of Errdig died in 1973, bringing to an end 250 years of continuous occupation by the Yorkes. Not too far from Erddig is Chirk Castle, still inhabited by descendants of the Middleton family who have been living in the gloomy pile for four centuries. The castle, situated in magnificent parklands, is entered through the famous Davies Gates; it may have been begun around 1290 by the architect responsible for so many masterpieces of castle-building in Wales -- the Savoyan James of St. George. The castle and its grounds, offering a glimpse of aristocratic life through three or more centuries, are open to visitors. From Chirk, it is a quick trip back to home base and time to rest before starting out on our journey to the next, and
most spectacular of the seven wonders, Snowdon's Mountain.
Next Stop: Snowdon's Mountain