Nantclwyd y Dre house is believed to be the oldest timbered town house in Wales, the timbers dated to 1435 or 1436. The date is important, since it has been suggested that it was raised as part of a considerable amount of new building in Ruthin after the attack of Owain Glyndwr during his rebellion against the English crown at the beginning of the 15th century. There is little real archaeological evidence of widespread destruction, but Nantclwyd y Dre House is fairly close to Ruthin Castle, which would undoubtedly have been a target to the rebels.
The attack by Glyndwr changed many things for Ruthin. Known for the apparent harmony between the native Welsh and English immigrants, the rebellion served to suppress Welsh influence in the town. During the later 15th century, Nantclwyd y Dre House was owned by a Goronwy ap Madog and his English wife, Suzanna. However, on their deaths, their children were immediately disinherited of the house they had been born and raised in, since as far as the new laws were concerned they were Welsh.
The history of the House is dark until we are told that the noted cleric, Gabriel Goodman was born there in 1528. Goodman was taught at Nantclwyd by a member of Ruthin collegiate church before attending Cambridge University and securing positions at St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. For unknown reasons, and despite support from Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury (which you might think would be telling), Goodman failed to secure a bishopric on four separate occasions.
He returned to Ruthin in 1574, although it is not known whether he lived at Nantclwyd House. He re-established Ruthin School and apparently a hospital and worked hard to ensure Ruthin was as successful as possible, consistently petitioning the local gentry and nobility for funds and their influence. He died in 1601 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, where there is a memorial to him, inscribed so:
‘To God the best and greatest. Gabriel Goodman, Doctor of Theology, fifth Dean of this church, which he headed with great praise for 40 years; and at Ruthin in Denbighshire, where he was born, he founded a hospital and instituted a school. Dear to God and good people for his holiness of life, he departed piously for the heavenly country on 17 June 1601, aged 73.’
Nantclwyd y Dre has gone through many periods of updating in its long history, so much so that investigating the house has very much proven to be like the peeling of an onion, as layer after layer continue to add to our knowledge of the house and the town it stands in.
The House is actually two burgage plots brought together, and the original 15th century cruck-framed house, was on the southern plot. On the uniting of the two plots, which shows the wealth of the owners, the hall was raised. There was enlargement during the late 16th century and early 17th century, before the distinctive pillared porch was built sometime in the late Stuart era, by Eubule Thelwall. During the 18th century the House was owned by the Wynne family who refurbished the property in order to live there, and is likely that it was at this time that it became known as Nantclwyd y Dre House. It was possibly known as Ty Nantclwyd before 1720. It became a girls school in the early 19th century, and a home for visiting judges after 1834.
In 1925 Clinton Holme, a retired civil engineer and the existing tenant at the time, bought the House outright and cleared the render, exposing the original timbers. His work was continued by a Samuel Dyer Gough, who also turned the House into a cultural centre for the Arts and Craft Movement. Gough’s widow sold the House to Clwyd County Council in 1984, before Denbighshire County Council converted the building into a museum displaying the House’s long history, with displays that show the life of the House from the 20th century back to its original build in the 15th century. Visitors can even watch Horseshoe bats which nest in the attic through a camera.
The House also boasts an inner and outer garden, the latter known as the Lord’s Garden. It is thought that the Lord’s Garden was actually originally part of Ruthin Castle’s formal gardens, becoming part of Nantclwyd Y Dre in 1691. A curious mound in the Lord’s Garden has been suggested as an artillery platform for cannon during the English Civil War and the siege of Ruthin Castle in 1644 and 1646, although archaeological investigations found that it was more likely to have been a garden viewing platform.
Nantclwyd Y Dre House is a fascinating insight into nearly 700 years of Ruthin life.