The village of Henllan is undoubtedly situated in an ancient landscape, stretching back thousands of years. The area about this pretty village just 2 miles north west of Denbigh is scattered with Bronze Age barrows, most notably at Plas Meifod (028682) and Plas Heaton (033686).
The name translates literally as, ‘Old Church’, or perhaps more accurately as, ‘site of the Old Church’. The obvious suggestion is that this indicates an early medieval Christian site, before the Norman conquest. This theory is further strengthened by the dedication of the church to St Sadwrn, the 5th century hermit whose name is often Anglicised to St Giles, and a holy well, Ffynnon Sadwrn to the south east of the village. It is notoriously difficult to establish clear evidence of early ecclesiastical sites in this area of North East Wales, and it is intriguing that Henllan was an area of religious importance. It is possible that, as at Dyserth, the identification of the site with a hermit is significant. Certainly, Henllan has been identified with St Windefride, as part of a pilgrimage route following her journey to Gwytherin from Holywell. Tristan Gray Hulse, a noted authority on holy wells and shrines of Wales, has noted that a record existed of a relic of St Windefride being held at Henllan into the 17th century.
In any case, it is not until the Norwich Taxation of 1291 that the village appears in documentation, with the name given as, ‘Helan’. Is it possible that the growing importance of the new Norman settlement at Denbigh at around this time, doubtless with its attendant church, led to the name of the much older village to the north west? By 1518 the name of the village is recorded in its modern form. According to the Clwyd and Powys Archaeological Trust, the lack of medieval documentation regarding Henllan is significant. John Ogilby in the 1670s mentions Henllan as a, ‘little village on an eminence’, while Edward Lhuyd at the very end of the 17th century reports on 13 homes centred on the church. Thomas Pennant, writing in 1778 mentions St Sadwrn’s church and, as he calls it, the ‘schism between church and steeple’, but nothing as to the size of the village at this time.
The layout of Henllan is extremely interesting. It is, in effect, a hodgepodge of lanes, most of which, rather curiously, do not centre on St Sadwrns. The result is a series of little, ‘islands’ if you like, and the reasons for their creation are not known. These lanes are certainly medieval, and were more than likely cut after the church was first built. Are they the remains of common land, cut through over time by ever more permanent lanes?
Llindir Inn in the village centre is claimed to be one of the oldest pubs in Wales and is discussed elsewhere in these pages. Plas Meifod (102747) retains some medieval features, while Plas Heaton (102807) is, according to Hubbard, a largely 19th century remodelling of the ancestral home of the Heatons, who arrived in the area of Denbigh with Henry de Lacy at the end of the 13th century. The fairly astonishing Foxhall Newydd is discussed elsewhere.