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Buckley Chamber of Trade Fair programme cover"

Hawkesbury Hall, Mill Lane, Buckley

September 1951

The following article was included in the programme (p.8, 10, 11, 12). It contains a general history of Buckley and an overview of the town and its organisations at the time of writing.


BUCKLEY By Dennis Griffiths, JP, CC


Buckley, as we know it, began to take shape towards the end of the 18th century. The district bore the name long before that time, for there are records of sales and leases of land and minerals in "Bukkeleye", or "Bokelegh" towards the end of the 13th century. The derivation of the name is generally ascribed to the reason that, standing some 500 feet above sea level and approached uphill on all sides, Buckley Mountain, as it was called until 100 years ago, provided a grazing area for the deer of the surrounding parklands. I am persuaded, however, that the more likely derivation arose from the Welsh "Bwlch clai", or clay hole: for as far back as the time when the Romans occupied Chester, Buckley clay was used for making earthenware - Buckley mugs, wine jars, milk pans, baking and stewing dishes, etc. I have some pieces of old Buckley earthenware which was excavated in Chester. Until the incursion of many Staffordshire, Lancashire and a few Cornish and Devonshire families into Buckley in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, much Welsh was spoken in Buckley. Hence, it is likely that the place got its Welsh name because of its products and the English gave it its nearest phonetic equivalent. That there were early settlements here is further evidenced by the fact that Bistre, a Buckley township, is named in the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror.


Until the middle of the 18th century, Industry in the Buckley district was confined chiefly to potteries and coal-mines. It was about 1737 that Jonathan Catherall expanded the clay industry to include the making of firebricks. The canalising of the River Dee in that year, as far as Chester; good local supplies of coal and labour used to clay working; the expansion of industry in lead, copper and iron smelting, all played their part in the rapid developments of the Buckley clay trade. From Ewloe, one of the first railways in this country was laid down to the River Dee, at Latchcroft, to convey "sea-coals" and in about the year 1800 this was extended about 5 miles to Buckley for the use of the Brickworks, Potteries, Collieries, Lead and Iron works. In the middle of the last century this railway was taken over in the Wrexham, Mold and Connah's Quay Mineral Line. The original Aston Railroad, as it was called, carried as much as 50 / 70,000 tons a year from the Buckley district and at one time some 250 small ships traded in the Dee, chiefly with Buckley goods. With the coming of iron track railways, shipments diminished. The great iron founder, John Wilkinson, of Bersham, had extensive interests in the Buckley area in those early days and it was he who built "The Smelt", still actively existing in Buckley, for the purpose of smelting Lead from his Mold mines.


Until 25 or 30 years ago, hundreds of miners were employed in the Buckley pits. The clatter of colliers' clogs is no longer heard on the Buckley streets and the Elm, Ash, Mountain, Dumpling, Willow, Lexham Green, Padeswood, Nant Mawr, Mare Hey, Ewloe Hall, Mount Pleasant, South, West Buckley and Bannel (to mention a few of the mines), now remain in memory and as fenced shafts only. Milk puddings, too, are not what they used to be, for the last of the Buckley Potteries (at one time there were more than 20 of them), closed down in the last World War. Ware made some years before, but not burnt until after the War, found ready buyers of the last "Buckley mugs".


The Buckley Brick Trade, however, continues to flourish and to all parts of the World. Buckley Fire and Acid-resisting goods are carried, maintaining their unrivalled reputation for quality. As well as Refactories, the Glazed Sanitary Pipe Trade still prospers in Buckley and Buckley Building Bricks have never been in greater demand than they are at the present time. Between 800 and 1000 male employees find employment in the Buckley clay industry, where the output would be greatly increased if sufficient manpower were available. Some of the most modern clay working equipment in the world has been installed here, but although mechanical production has largely replaced manual operations, the skill of succeeding generations of craftsmen continues to be a leading factor in the maintenance of the Trade. In Cement, Lime and Brick kilns; in Chemical, Acid and Alkali Plants; Iron, Steel, Lead, Copper, Nickel, Tin and Sulphur and other ore furnaces; in the Sugar extraction furnaces of British Guiana and Cuba, the Tin Furnaces of Malaya, Copper works in Portugal and Spain, Acid Producing Plants in New Zealand, South America, India, Japan, China, Canada, Burma, Iraq and Iran; indeed, wherever you may go in the world, you will find "a bit of Buckley" and you'll probably find it standing up to conditions where the products of other districts have failed. Two years ago, an important new Industry was brought to Buckley by the erection of a most up-to-date Cement Works at Padeswood, now in full operation. The old Buckley Foundry has also expanded its operations with increased staff.


There has been a significant change in the last forty years so far as industry is concerned, an increasing number of Buckley people finding employment in the neighbouring large and newer industries, e.g., Shotton Steelworks, Flint and Holywell Silk and Textile Works, Broughton Aircraft Factory and with Chester engineering companies. Good travelling facilities have encouraged this exit to other industries; many of the employees are females. The number of locally employed people is now overtaken by those who travel daily to work at the above factories.


In relation to Industry as a whole (reverting to conditions 100-150 years ago), Buckley was then a hive of industrial activity. It was natural that clay workers from Staffordshire and colliers from Lancashire and elsewhere, should make their way to this district in those busy times. The mingling of the various dialects with the existing Welsh and English gave birth to what is generally known as "the language of Buckley", a conglomerate of all, with a bit of Irish thrown in for good measure. It is a moot point whether it is more difficult for a stranger to acquire a use of the Buckley language, than it is for those of us who are natives of Buckley and have been reared in the local tongue, to speak English without occasional lapses into our own dialect. It contains many expressive phrases and a rich store of delightful words quite peculiar to Buckley. If I may be permitted to state a wish here, it is that future generations will not allow the local language to disappear. Its origin has historical and social value and no more arresting evidence of kinship on the native hearth can be produced than a mutual knowledge of it. I know of Buckley students of distant Universities who, when they met away from home, invariably conversed in their Buckley tongue. Truly, "the exile never leaves home".


In 1792, A Parliamentary Act was passed which permitted the enclosure of Common Lands in the Parish of Mold and the public sales which followed led to the building of houses along each side of Buckley Main Road. Until a generation ago, this was always called "The Roadside" and old Buckley folk use this name when referring to the stretch of road from Daisy Hill to the Square.


Many brick workers and colliers lived in the rows of houses owned by their employers, in the Trap, Lane End, Bucklet Row, Church Road, Parry's and Davidson's Houses. There are still left some of the old "house and chamber" type of cottages, many of which were built long ago on and near the Common. Of late years, they have been "rejuvenated", the original thatched roofs being replaced by slated ones, which, with stucco or roughcast walls, gives them a more modern, if less attractive, appearance. Like most industrial towns, Buckley suffered in its early years for want of better town-planning. However, its birth and death rates compare most favourably with those of other industrial towns and its good, fresh air is best enjoyed on the wide open spaces of the Chapel and Lower Mountains.


These have always been favourite playgrounds and it is typical of local character that the enclosure of part of the former some years ago led not to increased, but rather less use as a playing field. Buckley still bears traces of the time when every man was his own architect, but with the granting of Urban powers in 1897, a more orderly approach to town planning has been made. The last census returned a total population for the Buckley Urban District of 7,699 living in the 2,125 houses here, in the area of 2,677 acres, the population density being 2.85 per acre. By the end of this year, it is expected that the U.D.C. (Urban District Council) will complete the erection of the 411th council house and they are doing all they can to get further schemes sanctioned to relieve the present housing shortage.


The pioneer Jonathan Catherall, a man whose business industry was matched by his deep religious character, made an unforgettable contribution to the progress of the district and its people. He started the first Religious Cause in Buckley, the Congregational Church, in 1792 (Saint John's United Reformed Church). It was followed by the opening of Saint Matthews Church 1822, the Welsh Calvanistic Methodist Chapel 1834, Primitive Methodist (Mill Lane Schoolroom) 1841, Bistre Church 1842 , Brunswick Wesleyan 1867, Zion Presbyterian 1876, Bistre New Connexion 1877, Pentrobin 1877 (Cause started 1820), Daisy Hill Baptist 1878, Drury Lane 1880 and Square Wesleyan 1884. At present, there are 14 churches and chapels in Buckley and in addition to their religious service, it was largely due to their improving inspiration and influence that the seeds of Buckley's excellent tradition of cultural and social service were sown. Buckley Jubilee, the Annual Sunday School Procession, which takes place on the second Tuesday in July, has been an outstanding event since it started in 1857 and Buckley folk from far and near make it their annual pilgrimage.


Gone are the days when the Clubs, those long and colourful processions when the Oddfellows (The "Black Horse"), The Shepherds, The Druids, The Rechabites and others, paraded the streets in gorgeous array, headed by the Band and the Club Banner, begetting competitive loyalties proudly proclaimed at the final feast, the Club Dinner. Many of the old Inns still remain. Gone are the village shops we knew 40 or 50 years ago, where one could buy anything from vinegar and paraffin oil, laces and red flannel, to home-cured ham and orange-red cheese, all at the same counter. The memory brings back that wonderful smell which met one at the door. These shops have been replaced by modern business premises and service, of which the Buckley Trade Fair of 1951 is striking evidence.


Until a few years ago, Buckley was one of the worst towns in the county so far as the provision of premises and equipment for cultural and social activities was concerned. The formation of the Buckley Young People's Cultural Association in May 1944 and the purchase of Hawkesbury and the seven acres of land adjoining in October 1944, led to a remarkable transformation in this respect. Operating entirely voluntarily and comprising most such groups in the town, in the six years since Hawkesbury Community Centre was formally opened in July 1945, the B.Y.P.C.A. has realised almost the whole of its programme to provide facilities for young, middle-aged and old purposefully to enjoy their leisure time. Elsewhere, in the whole of Great Britain, there does not exist so remarkable a record of Community work within voluntaryism and Educational, Social and Welfare experts regard the Hawkesbury venture as the most successful of its kind. After altering the historic Hawkesbury house, the B.Y.P.C.A. erected an Assembly Hall and Little Theatre, with a well-equipped stage and portable balcony; provided two full-sized hard Tennis Courts, Sports Pavilion, a full-sized Football pitch and a Hockey pitch, which can be used for Cricket in summer and are now laying a Crown Bowling Green. The levelling of the field for these projects was a major job, 26,000 tons of soil and clay being excavated and formed into two banks on the exposed side and end of the field. Nearly 500 trees and shrubs have been planted as a surround and the whole lay-out is already assuming the delightful aspect it will bear when consolidated. By the end of 1951, the Hawkesbury Community Centre venture will represent a total outlay of £18,000, of which sum over £12,000 has been raised by the various Groups who are members of the B.Y.P.C.A. The "Fairy Godmother" of Buckley, the Buckley Amateur Pantomime Company, recognised as the leading Amateur Pantomime Company of Great Britain, has been its greatest benefactor. In the nineteen years since it started, the Pantomime Company has raised a gross sum of nearly £30,000 and each year the 15,000 seats for its fortnight's run of 16 Theatre (this is not a typing error! -ed.) from all parts of the country. The Buckley Garden of Remembrance, opened at Hawkesbury on September 9th 1951, is a beautiful and permanent Memorial, the Cenotaph bearing the names of all those from the Parishes of Buckley who fell in the two World wars.


Buckley still holds its reputation as one of the leading Flintshire musical towns. Started nearly 130 years ago, the Royal Buckley Town Prize Band (Royal Buckley Town Band)is still a favourite at many functions. The Choral Society, another old musical organization, continues its annual Oratorio performance attracting large audiences from the whole county. Recently, the Buckley Orchestral Society has been reformed at Hawkesbury.


Our local Schools will shortly have their new "big brother", the Modern Secondary School, now being built at a cost of nearly a quarter of a million pounds. The area it covers, with the school playing fields, Hawkesbury Community Centre and the Chapel Mountain adjoining, will provide a Town Centre to rival that of any town of its size.


The Buckley Cricket Club has long enjoyed success, both in competitive and other games. Extensive improvements to the Lane End ground are now to be followed by structural alterations and additions to the Pavilion and Refreshment room. The Wanderers' Football Club, playing at Hawkesbury in the Welsh League, are this season running a Youth team also. They possess an energetic Committee and a pitch, which, when consolidated, will rival any in North Wales. From the proceeds of the Miners' Welfare Fund, several years ago Swimming Baths were provided behind Buckley Council Chambers. They are most popular and the Buckley Swimming Club are holders of many national and other honours. A Ladies Hockey team carries on as Buckley Hockey Club and the provision of the Hawkesbury hard Tennis Courts has led to a keen interest in Tennis. Bowls, too, will doubtless regain their popularity when the new Green is opened next season. A comparatively recent interest has been introduced by the Buckley Angling Club, whose membership still increases.


The writer is deeply conscious of the inadequacy of this article to picture a place beloved by its sons and daughters and by many others who, tentatively taking residence here, have by adoption, joined the family of Buckley folk. Volumes could be written about the old "standards", the rugged old characters who, in succeeding generations, made their own contribution to this cosmopolitan community. Their peculiar sense of humour is exemplified not only in the countless yarns still told about them, many originating from the self-made entertainments and practical jokes in the brickworks' cabins long ago, but also in some of the place names, e.g., The Dirty Mile, Bucket Row, The Goodie, The Barracks, The Trap (and its College), Poverty, Strip-and-at-it and the plagiarised Belmont, Bunkers Hill, Lane End and Drury Lane. All have their own histories to add to those even more historic: Spitalfields, Bistre, Pickow, Cross Tree, Hawkesbury, Spon Green and the Smelt. Knowl Hill, Lexham Green and The Dinghouse, to name but a few, have names of special attraction.


Reflections on the past are, in a way, somewhat nostalgic. Yet it is to the Buckley of the future, now being shaped, that we must look and the vigour and energy of our youth in these difficult times provides the most convincing and inspiring evidence that they will take their full share in the march of progress.


Author: Griffiths, Dennis


Year = 1951

Month = September

Building = Public

Work = Shops

Extra = 1950s

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