It is easy to assume that the two large seaside resorts of north east Wales, Rhyl and Prestatyn were largely Victorian creations. While it is true that after several centuries of slumber, the rise of the railways brought these two towns to wakefulness, for Prestatyn especially, this period of relative dormancy belies a fascinating past.
Mesolithic finds beneath the present day Bryn Newydd estate suggest a settlement of some kind, possibly in the Nant Hall Road area. The enthusiastic town surveyor, Gilbert Smith found much evidence indicative of the era, such as flint and chert arefacts, microliths and food waste, such as hazelnut shells, shellfish remains and even evidence of snail ‘farming’. Neolithic finds of pottery and axe fragments suggest a continuation of settlement, as does the Iron Age roundhouse found in the late 20th century.
The coastline of this part of North Wales has much changed over many centuries, and the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Iron Age finds would suggest a coastline which very roughly follows the modern day Fforddisa and Gronant Road. Certainly, the extensive Roman finds go some way to confirming this. The find of the Roman bath house complex in the 1930s and dated to the 2nd century AD, and extensive evidence of bronze smithying and industrial usage in the Meadows estate area of Prestatyn would seem to suggest that Prestatyn was an important part of the Roman control of this part of Britannia. There is even a suggestion that in this area of Prestatyn a harbour was constructed in order to export the lead and galena mined in the Meliden area. It is believed that Prestatyn was on the Roman road network linking the town to the forts at Varis, not yet found but believed to be in the St Asaph area, Ruthin and Corwen, and then onto Mid Wales.
With the end of the Roman occupation of Britain in the 5th century, Prestatyn fell into obscurity. The town is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, but even this is vague, since the entry is connected to information on Meliden. The church mentioned in the passage could well be St Melyd’s. What cannot be doubted is the presence of a motte and bailey castle (073835) between the railway and the A548 to the east of the town. What is unknown is the date of its raising. Suggestions that it was originally built by Llywelyn ap Seisyll (died 1023) at the beginning of the 11th century, before the Norman arrival are unsubstantiated. If indeed it was originally a native British foundation, it was almost certainly rebuilt under Norman rule, possibly by Robert de Banastre in around 1157. We know that the castle was destroyed by Owain Gwynedd in 1167 while Henry II, having had his nose bloodied on several occasions by this Prince of Wales, was otherwise engaged in northern France. The castle was probably then abandoned. It is thought the medieval settlement of ‘Prestetone’ would have centred around the castle, and it is possible that the old town and perhaps even the old church were lost to the sea, although there is little real evidence for this. More likely is the siting of the medieval village on the line of the modern day High Street.
From thence there is little, until an emergence on a John Speed map of 1610. By the 1870’s, Ordnance Survey maps still show Prestatyn as little more than a village in size, no bigger than nearby Meliden and dwarfed by the town of Rhyl a few miles further west. The arrival of the railways, however led to an astonishing rise in size, until today Prestatyn remains a popular destination for holidaymakers, including the poet Philip Larkin, who’s take on the town should not be regarded as wholly accurate.