It is entirely possible that Dyserth was one of the first, possibly the first centre of Christianity in North East Wales. If so, it is a past that is only slowly emerging from the mists of time. The term, ‘Dark Ages’ to describe the several centuries between the messy departure of the Romans and the arrival of the Normans to these Islands is a misnomer in most places other than, it seems North Wales.
The name of the village seems to indicate a site of early Christianity, a hermitage no less. It is possible that the name is derivative of the Latin, ‘desertum’, meaning desert, a recognition of the location for many hermits in early Christian times. Indeed, the word, ‘hermit’, comes from the Latin, eremita, which translates as, ‘of the desert’. It is thought that Dyserth could have been the site of the mother church for the region. A cross and a cross base near to the waterfall are likely to be contemporary to the famous Maen Achwyfan at Whitford and Penmon on Anglesey, and so dated to the late 10th, early 11th century. Edward Lhuyd mentions the holy well of St Cwyfan, a saint for which the site was originally dedicated, and who is possibly better known as St Kevin of Glendalough, famous as a hermit, which does rather lend itself to Dyserth's possible origins. The exact location of the well is now no longer known. This all adds to the possibility that Dyserth is a village of huge historical importance.
Dyserth appears in the Domeday Book as, ‘Dissard’. This in itself would suggest a pre-Norman conquest existence, and together with the name, would further point to a site of real religious importance. The village is named as ‘Dissarth’ in 1241 and ‘Dyssard’ in 1315, both of which again suggest that Dyserth was the centre of something very important well before the Norman conquest. In 1093, both the church and the manor of Dyserth came under the auspices of St Werburgh’s in Chester.
Dyserth is chiefly known today for its astonishing waterfall, though it was also the site of the first stone castle in North East Wales, begun in 1241 by Henry III and now quarried away. Yet, the castle was built upon what was undoubtedly a Neolithic hill top settlement. Shards of pottery and axe fragments have been found in the area, along with later Bronze Age pottery. Another question which lingers is what role the site played during the Roman occupation. Finds from the time have been found, perhaps enough to suggest more than a passing involvement.
Edward Lhuyd claims that in the last years of the 17th century the village had 35 homes by the church. This in itself is a considerable number, and it is interesting that later writers do not mention a village of any size when touring the area. Certainly, by 1839 and the Tithe Survey, it was a small settlement. However, the village became an important area for lead mining, and at its height in 1833 nearly 40 per cent of the population were involved in the business. The lead itself was taken to Rhuddlan and then onto Flint where it was smelted.
Dyserth was also a centre for the woollen trade. A fulling mill was certainly in existence here, and the name ‘Pandy’ and ‘Weavers Lane’, still in use today would suggest a trade of some size.
There are a number of interesting buildings in Dyserth, all of which are worth a look. The Old manor, once a vicarage, was restored in 1799, though a date tablet claims a 1584 foundation, when it was called, ‘Plas yr Esgob’, a residence, as may be gathered from the name, for the Bishops of St Asaph. Siamber Wen south of Dyserth Castle, is medieval in origin, perhaps 14th century, and now rather a roofless wreck. Dyserth Hall appears 19th century, but has a mullioned window of perhaps 16th century.
Hubbard, in his, ‘The Buildings of Wales Clwyd’ (1986) begins his entry for ‘Diserth’ rather dryly as, ‘Tourists come to see the waterfall’, but of course there is much more to see and certainly ponder. I feel sure that time will continue to see the fascinating history of Dyserth emerge.