The village of Halkyn first enters recorded history in the Domesday Book of 1086, as Alchene, a small settlement noted together with Brynford and ‘Ulchenol’. It has been largely accepted that the village is of Saxon origin. The name has caused some scratching of heads, and has been variously explained as referring to a willow tree, a holy site, a nook or perhaps even an obscure reference to its mining heritage. But while the village may have a Saxon origin as a centre of settlement, its history stretches much further back.
The strategically sited stronghold of Moel y Gaer hillfort at nearby Rhosemor dominated the route ways to the south and along the coast. This suggests a considerable presence in the Halkyn area in the late Bronze and early Iron Ages. But there is also evidence here, of a Neolithic long house, where some of the very first farmers living in the Halkyn area settled. But while farming was, and still is an important part of Halkyn life, the village became far better known for its role as a centre of ore mining - lead and zinc.
A wander upon Halkyn Mountain makes clear the size and scale of the long history of the mining and quarrying industry here. Evidence is literally dotted about the mountain, with the very many conically capped mineshafts and limekilns. It is a history which stretches from the Bronze Age to the present. At its peak, Halkyn Mountain became second only to the Pennines in importance as an area of mining.
Early mining would have taken the form of shallow surface workings and later with open cuts and bell pits. The lead would have likely been smelted locally, on the Mountain itself. Roman involvement is thought to have begun soon after the north of Wales came under Imperial control in the early AD60s, with private investors exploiting the existing seams. An ingot of Halkyn lead found at Carmel is evidence of this early industry. Stamped C NIPI ASCANI, it was likely produced by the known private producer, C.Nipius Ascanius. Other lead ingots found at Deva (Chester) have been found stamped DECEANGL - a clear reference to the Deceangli, the British tribe of the area at the time of the Roman invasion. The growing importance of the area for its ores led the Romans to take direct military control of lead production in the area, creating a sizable industrial complex at nearby Flint. A section of what is thought to be a Roman road was found close to the Old Hall in the 1980s. Halkyn was probably the centre of a group of small villages, settled by those that worked the mines on the Mountain.
Little is known of Halkyn after the Roman withdrawal in the early 5th century, and despite its appearance in the Domesday Book, little more until its reappearance as a vital part of the Edwardian conquests of the later 13th century. Vast amounts of lead from the mines about Halkyn was used to roof Rhuddlan and Flint Castles, as well as those further afield. It seems improbable that Halkyn did not remain as a centre of mining in the area, though evidence is sadly lacking. Edward Lhuyd records 8 or 9 houses at the end of the 17th century.
It seems likely that that the size of the village increased significantly through the 18th century, since it was at the very end of the 17th century and through the 18th century that the arrival of the London Lead Company, known also as the Quaker Company began to change the nature of industry, both in the Halkyn area and throughout north east Wales. The success of their enterprise in extracting lead from ever deepening shafts, using modern technologies, including steam engines, must have had a dramatic impact on the villages about the mountain, including Halkyn, of course. Migration into the area increased, especially from Derbyshire. The names of lead shafts on the mountain reflect this, with Long and Old Rake being examples. Buxton Lane in Halkyn Village illustrates the impact of this movement from one huge mining area to another.
Halkyn Area was hugely important to the Grosvenor Family, who owned much of Halkyn Mountain, earning considerable amounts from the leasing of lead mines to various interested parties, including the London Lead Company. Their presence is felt keenly in the area, as it is throughout north east Wales. Between 1824-1827, Halkyn Castle was built, the grounds of which included the old church and graveyard. Much of the old village was swept away at this point, with the church, rebuilt at the end of the 18th century, closed and demolished. The new church, described by Hubbard as, ‘one of the best Victorian churches in Clwyd’, was built 1877-78.
Today, Halkyn stands as testament to a hugely important mining heritage, an industry which continues to this day on the mountain. A sense of this history is still evident with a wander about the village. It is a history of graft, a history of the origins of the Industrial Revolution, of wonder and beauty in curious places.