Ffynnon Fair, Ysceifiog

There are, apparently,  some seven or eight Ffynnonau Fair, St Mary’s Wells, in Flintshire. So after hunting around for one at Halkyn we drove on a short distance to Ysceifiog to search for another.

The church at Ysceifiog was supposedly founded by St Deiniol, the first Bishop of Bangor. The present church however, dedicated to St Mary was built in 1835. The Dean of St Asaph had apparently neglected the village such that it was reputed to be “… one of the three worst and most unruly parishes in North Wales” and the church had deteriorated so far as to be unsafe for use. [1] Although the present church has incorporated several memorials from the earlier church, including a fine effigy of a 14th century priest who lurks spookily in the darkness behind the main door, little is known about the earlier buildings.

Ffynnon Fair, the village well, lies about two hundred yards outside the present centre of the village. It has the reputation for being, after St Winefride’s at Holywell, the most copious well in North Wales. It is reported that until the 1930s water was carried to the village from the well. In 1849 Samuel Lewis [2] noted

A considerable part of the parish is destitute of running water, and the inhabitants are supplied from ponds or from brooks situated at a great distance from their habitations.

although he also states that
“Near the village is a noted well, termed Fynnon Vair (St. Mary’s well), highly reverenced in popish times, but now entirely neglected.”

Walking from the village to location of the well involves going down a particulalry steep hill. We kept thinking about this fact about the well supplying the village and trying to imagine the daily climb, laden with bowls and buckets to provide water. The simple task of obtaining fresh water  would have been particulary treacherous in bad weather.

The well is supposed to be close to a house called Drovers Tumble, the name recalling the fact that the village was on the route of drovers roads between Chester and Denbigh. Drovers Tumble today is a large white house surrounded by a high wall.

At the bottom of the hill, is a fast flowing river. A footpath runs alongside it, and the river meanders through a fairly wide valley bottom, forming ponds and splitting to form islands in places. Cleary in the past this has been a much busier location, there are the ruined remains of a number of houses, and possibly of a water mill. About half a mile downstream the river was dammed in the early twentieth century by the Earl of Denbigh to form a fishing lake. The lake remains as a nature reserve.

We didn’t identify the well. there were a number of places alongside the river where marshy areas appeared to supply more water to the stream, but nothing indicating the reported copious flow. The best guess was immediately beside Drovers Tumble where a brick and stone built culvert emerges with water flowing out from it.

This is pictured below the location appears to be confirmed by a recent CPAT Report [3].

Ffynnon Fair – Ysceifiog

Further information
Since visiting, I have read about William Edwards, sometimes referred to as the “Bard of Ysceifiog”. He lived between 1790 and 1855, living in a house at Ffynnon Fair and working in the mill there. As I say above, there were the remains of a number of houses along the stream and what could have been the remains of an old watermill.

[1] Discover Ysceifiog Pamphlet
[2] A Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1849) http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=47892
[3}Medieval and Early Post-Medieval Monastic and Ecclesiastical Sites in East and North East Wales (2011) p59

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