‘About a mile from Mold, and on the right hand side of the road from thence to Nerquis, stands a venerable yet desolate looking mansion, partly of ancient, partly of modern date, amidst the remains of ‘tall ancestral groves’ and proud even in its decay.’
Archaeologia Cambrensis, (1846), p. 55
Fortified tower-houses are rare in Wales, and rarer still in north Wales. In fact, as far as we know, the striking and ironically romantic looking 15th century Tower, some three miles south of Mold, is the only example to be found in north east Wales. So unique was it, that from the time of its building its name has always reflected its architectural rarity - known variously as The Tower, Rheinallt’s Tower and Broncoed Tower. Tower it has always been.
Rheinallt's Tower - scene of the 15th century hanging of the Mayor of Chester.
The reasons for this scarcity are not entirely clear, but it has been suggested that this reflects a more settled age in the area, in which the Edwardian conquests of the late 13th century had smoothed to a pacific calm. This theory is not altogether satisfying, it must be said, given that the 15th century had begun with Owain Glyndwr’s revolt and saw the dynastic turmoil of what later became known as the War of the Roses, drawing in the gentry of Wales, and certainly North Wales to some considerable extent. It is also possible that gentry, or at least some of them were denied the licence to fortify their homes - and given the history of Tegeingl politics, this would seem on the face of it to be more likely.
Whatever the reasons, the Welsh gentry of the 15th century were more likely to build homes than towers, comfort before military austerity - and that does suggest a certain confidence in calm. So it really rather begs the question as to why The Tower was actually built, or indeed allowed to be built. Given what we know of the history of The Tower, it becomes terribly hard to separate the fortified nature of The Tower from what we learn of the extraordinary man whose home it was - Rheinallt ap Gruffudd ap Bleddyn.
The Tower was likely built in 1445, probably by Rheinallt’s father, some 30 years after the Glyndŵr Revolt and a good decade before the outbreak of the Civil Wars. Little is actually known of Rheinallt, other than the astonishing narrative gleaned from the work of Welsh poets of the 15th century, many of whom he was patron to - all of whom describe a man of quite extraordinary vim, vigour and violence. In fact, the works as read, within which he wades are awash with shed blood and shattered bone.
The wonderful & grotesque at The Tower.
The background to the events of early 1465 are not wholly known, but they would seem to revolve around Rheinallt’s unswerving support for the Lancastrian side in the so-called Wars of the Roses, evidently tying himself to the fortunes of Jasper Tudor, uncle to the later Henry VII and a constant thorn in Yorkist flesh. Indeed, Rheinallt is named by Yorke as being one of the ‘six gallant Welsh captains’ under Dadydd ab Ieuan ab Einion, that based in Harlech Castle caused the Yorkist King of England, Edward IV so much inconvenience until its surrender in 1468. By the time of Harlech’s end, however, Rheinallt had been dead for three years.
Sometime in 1464, Edward IV had instructed the mayor and sheriff of Chester to demand the allegiance of the defenders of Harlech Castle, on pain of death. This allegiance was to be made by the 1st January 1465. It would seem from Parliamentary records, that Rheinallt was separately found guilty of treason and informed that his lands would be forfeited to the Crown should he not swear loyalty to Edward before Ascension Thursday 1464 - several months before the defenders of Harlech were called to do so. This would suggest that Rheinallt was seen as someone rather dangerous. It would seem fairly obvious that Rheinallt refused to do so, and according to Fulton, this resulted in the men of Chester and Cheshire plundering Rheinallt’s lands in the area around Mold.
Rheinallt’s response was both astonishing and brutal. Showing a considerable lack of either sense or understanding of Rheinallt’s character, Robert Bryne (possibly Byrne), one time mayor of Chester, along with a considerable number of Chestarians, attended the fair in Mold on 1st January, dydd Calan - New Year’s Day. Rheinallt and his men swept into the town and butchered a number of the Chester men, taking Bryne captive. The ex-mayor was taken to The Tower and summarily hung from the rafters of the large ground room. Brutal and decisive. It can hardly have been a coincidence that this attack took place on the very day that the surrender of Harlech Castle had been demanded.
‘Spear of Rheinallt, of Oswald, may Jesus welcome it,
wild fire on the attack;
it was a bloody spear against the whole world,
and the spear of Ambrosius for Wales.
Welshmen upon the host from the parish, the task
of those who attacked on New Year’s Day;
on a field - the place was trusted -
guarding and chasing, they held the Battle of Camlan.’
Tudor Penllyn, quot. H. Fulton, To Rheinallt ap Gruffudd ap Bleddyn of the Tower - Tudor Penllyn, Mapping Medieval Chester
The men of Chester vowed revenge, and at some point in early 1465 attempted to attack Reinallt in The Tower. Rheinallt seems to have been given some forewarning, and retired into the woods about his home as the attackers broke into The Tower. Rushing from the woods, Rheinallt and his men barricaded the men of Chester in The Tower and set the place afire - killing many of the trapped men. Those that escaped were harried on their flight back to Chester (one source claims, ‘the seaside’), where Rheinallt, not for leaving the matter go, burned down much of Handbridge on the Welsh side of the City. Is it any wonder that Rheinallt has been remembered in the works of the bards?
‘Dead men were the Saxons after their trouncing,
The blood of aliens, and the sword of Fulke striking them.
Woe to Chester for giving them birth, complaining fools,
Woe to the offspring of Rhonwen, woe and weeping;
Woe to the Englishmen, in a crumpled coat, who weighs down the earth,
Woe indeed, he’ll be killed, the devil kill him.’
Tudor Penllyn, quot. H. Fulton, To Rheinallt ap Gruffudd ap Bleddyn of the Tower - Tudor Penllyn, Mapping Medieval Chester
If Tudor Penllyn’s words are harsh, Lewis Glyn Cothi’s invective directed at Chester, Cheshire and its inhabitants is utterly astonishing in its fierceness. It has been said that Rheinallt’s attack on Chester and the men of Chester was as a direct result of the poet’s attack on the City, a result one must suppose from the violence directed at Chester by both Cothi and Rheinallt with verse and sword. Still, the tensions between York and Lancaster, the English and Welsh are more likely to be the reason. In fact, Cothi had a bewilderingly huge grudge against Chester. Having married an English woman of the City without the knowledge and permission of authorities there, Lewis lost his possessions and was thrown out of Chester. It’s also possible he was exiled for favouring the Lancastrian cause, though it must be said Cothi was not against working for Yorkist patrons should the need arise. Pennant quotes Cothi with understandable relish, so effusive is the satirical vehemence, in which the poet,
‘summons the ministry of angels and devils to his assistance and pours a profusion of curses on Caer Leon and its people. He wishes water to drown, fire to burn and air to infect the hated place; and that grass might grow in every part, except the sacred edifices of this habitation of the seven deadly sins.’
Thomas Pennant, Tours in Wales Vol II, p. 43
For a bright blinding moment, Rheinallt ap Gruffydd ap Bleyddyn explodes into the headlights of history - and then disappears just as suddenly. It is thought he died sometime later in 1265 - the same year as his assault on Chester, the Chestarians and the burning of his own home in his single minded intent on the killing of ‘the Saxons’. He was thought to be no older than 27.
On Rheinallt’s death, The Tower came into the hands of his brother Sion and entered into what has been called a ‘gentle status’. By the time of Leland’s writing in or around 1535, The Tower was in the ownership of the Wynnes, related to Sion and his brother through marriage. But it was still known, unsurprisingly for its association with Rheinallt.
‘John Wynne ap Roberte dwellid at a stone tower caullid Broncoit, alias Regnaultes Towre, 3 quarters of a mile from Molesdale towne.’
L. T. Smith, The Itinerary in Wales of John Leland, p. 73
Thomas Pennant, writing at the end of the 18th century was apt to visit and ‘enjoy the witty, the lively, and agreeable conversation of the Reverend Doctor William Wynne’ at The Tower. The patriarchal line of the Wynnes ended with Roger Wynne and continued through his widow and to her niece, Margaret who married the Rev Hope Eyton (who took on the Wynne name after the marriage, becoming the Rev. Hope Wynne Eyton) - their son, William Wynne Eyton served as a 12 year old volunteer 1st Class at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The Tower remains in the Wynne family to this day, now as a luxury bed and breakfast.
The building has undergone some considerable work over the centuries, as you would expect, but by and large the tower itself has remained remarkably unchanged. Hywel Cilcan, another 15th century poet whose patron was Rheinallt, speaks of a ‘kitchen range’ to the right of the Tower, suggesting that the Tower probably had a hall alongside it at the time of its building in around 1445. It has been suggested that The Tower was built as a ‘barmkin’, a fortified enclosure within which it would have stood with its hall alongside. Other than The Tower, there is now no trace of this barmkin.
During extensive renovations, the hall was removed and replaced with a front facing range with dormer and mullioned windows, end chimneys and gabled sections, all of which point to a late 16th, early 17th century date, at least in North East Wales where the fashion for such things came early, on the heels of Richard Clough and his European connections. It remains a possibility, however, that these changes were made in the mid 17th century. This is The Tower as seen by Moses Griffiths (his work can be seen at the top of this article), working with Thomas Pennant in the 1770s.
Said to be the hook from which the Mayor of Chester was swung - unlikely, but still, there was a little thrill.
However, The Tower seems to have fallen into decline sometime after William Wynne’s death, for whatever reason, since by the time of the Archaeologia Cambrensis article in 1846, the building was being described as ‘proud even in its decay’. In decline then but not decrepit, and its restoration to glory came quickly. Having come into the ownership of Rev. Hope Wynne Eyton, it is believed that he and his eldest son, John brought The Tower back to life with some alterations. Further alterations were made in the later 19th century, with some refenestration taking place within the house adjoining the tower - the dormer windows being removed and a parapet installed - an attempt to what has been described as ‘ancientizing’ The Tower in a Gothic style.
Still, with all this renovation, the tower itself has, externally at least, remained remarkably unchanged. What you see of the tower today, is what the unfortunate ex mayor of Chester and draper, Robert Bryne would have seen as he was dragged within and hung from the ceiling. Pennant claims that the staple from which Bryne was hung remained in his day, and while it is tempting to see the hooks remaining as those that were used for Bryne - it's unlikely. Internally, the first floor room has been divided into two - from the plaster coving, this would seem to have happened in the 18th century.
It is also worth noting that on visiting The Tower you will enter the grounds through the famous Black Gates of Leeswood Hall, removed from the 18th century house and re-sited here. These gates, often called the Black Gates of Hell to the Heaven of the White Gates at nearby Leeswood Hall, were famously fashioned by the Davies Brothers of Croesfoel in Wrexham - noted for their resplendent metalwork. As well as these Black and White wonders, further glorious examples of Davies work can be seen at Chirk Castle, St Giles Church in Wrexham and at St Peters in Ruthin.
The Black Gates - genius in iron fashioned by the Davies Brothers of Croesfoel, Wrexham.
The Tower then, has evolved from what was probably a small but significant military structure in 1445 to the rather wonderful bed and breakfast. And to visit with the knowledge of its brief violent past, is to be rewarded with a delightful frisson of thrill. Here, 550 years ago, Rheinallt ap Gruffudd ap Bleddyn slaughtered and burnt the men of Chester. But I assure you, the welcome today, even to those of Chester, will be very different.
W. Bell Jones, Excursion to Mold and District, Publications of the Flintshire Historical Society Vol 11, (1925)
A.D Carr, The Gentry of North Wales in the Later Middle Ages, Cardiff, (2017)
ed. H. Fulton, To Rheinallt ap Gruffudd ap Bleddyn of the Tower - Tudor Penllyn, Mapping Medieval Chester
ed. I. Jones, Gawith Hywel Cilcan, Cardiff, (1963)
J. Jones, Poetical Works of Lewis Glyn Cothi Vol II, Oxford, (1837)
G. Ormerod, History of the County Palatine and City of Chester Vol. I, London, (1882)
Thomas Pennant, Tours in Wales Vol. II, ed. J. Rhys, (1883)
Royal Commission Flintshire
L. T. Smith, The Itinerary in Wales of John Leland, London, (1906)
P. Smith, Houses of the Welsh Countryside, RCAHMW, (1988)
P. Smith & P Hayes, Llyseurgain and The Tower, Publications of the Flintshire Historical Society Vol 22, (1965-6)
J. Williams (Ab Ithel), Archaeologia Cambrensis, (1846)
P. Yorke, The Royal Tribes of Wales, J. Painter, (1799)