‘Neere unto Hope a certaine gardiner, when I was first writing this worke, digging somewhat deepe into the ground happened upon a very ancient peece of worke, concerning which there grew many divers opinions of sundry men. But hee that will with any diligence read M. Vitruvius Pollio shall verie well perceive it was nothing else but a Stouph or hote house begunne by the Romans, who as their riotous excesse grewe together with their wealth, used bathes exceeding much.’
William Camden, ‘Britannia’ 1586
The tiny, beautiful village of Ffrith resides, serene and tranquil amongst the woods of the valley where the Nany-y-Ffrith stream flows into the River Cegidog. Overlooked by nearby Hope Mountain, its relative isolation and beauty belies a busy industrial past, stretching from the small-scale Mesolithic production of flint knapped tools, through a considerable Roman occupation and on to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries. Only with the closure of the Wrexham & Minera branch of the Great Western railway in 1952, did Ffrith begin to return to the trees, from which it definitively emerged with the arrival of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix and the building of the Roman road between Deva and Caer Gai in the 1st century AD.
The village’s Roman past was first brought to light by William Camden in 1586, writing in ‘Britannia’, describing the accidental discovery of what was clearly a hypocaust. In the many years since, finds of Roman coins, jewellery, pottery, the possible cremations of military personnel and a rather fascinating, ‘votive altar with a mutilated inscription’ have been unearthed. It would seem the construction of Offa’s Dyke in what is thought to be the 8th century disturbed this past somewhat. But, it was with the ironic reduction of this Mercian earthwork in the 19th century to make way for the approach of the Industrial Revolution that many of the Roman finds were made.
And it is the Industrial Revolution that has left the greatest visible marks upon Ffrith. The village today is largely of the 19th and 20th centuries. The village church was built in 1842, and it is thought that by 1850 only a handful of houses made up the village. The scars of the Industrial Revolution lay in the collection of lime kilns, the last closing in the late 1960s, and the impressive and imposing viaduct. A late medieval packhorse bridge, broadly following the old Roman road from Deva (Chester), through Caergwrle (with its own packhorse bridge) suggests that Ffrith remained an important thoroughfare for much of its history.