The history of Rhug, can be split into different chapters – the first, being by far the largest and spans from earliest times to coming into the hands of the Salusbury family of Bachymbyd. Rhug was then left to the Vaughan family of Nannau and finally it came into the Wynn family in the 19th century, and so to the present Lord Newborough.
The earliest evidence of activity at Rhug is a bronze age burial mound. When Charles Wynn dug into it in 1875 at the centre was found a cist with burnt bones. The mound itself which is some 300 feet in the circumference at the base, and some 30 feet at the top, was subsequently used as a base for motte, and then in Victorian times, it was made into an ice house being adjacent to the lake. Interestingly, when we drained the lake a couple of years ago it was possible to access the lakeside tunnel and branching off from that was one which would have led to the original Rug house.
The Rug mound is only one of a few in the area, the best known being Owain Glyndwr’s mound to the east of Corwen. There is another bronze age mound close by near Gwerclas.
There is little evidence of what was going on in the Dee Valley, though we do have a rather good hillfort above Corwen, and there are a number of other archaeological sites close by, with some Roman graves found near Druids on the Bala road. Although not confirmed as to the exact route, there is a Roman road running through the Rhug park – and more recently there is a turnpike road – pre ThomasTelford and the present A5 road– cutting across the fields from the Ruthin Road to the A5.
The first documentary record for Rhug, dates from 1080, when Grufydd ap Cynan, Prince of Gwynedd and Lord of Rhug was imprisoned in Chester over a rivalry with Merion Goch of Lleyn. Grufydd’s daughter married Madog ap Maredudd, forming an alliance between Powys and Gwynedd. The borders of these counties, moved around with regular monotony until the creation of Merioneth in 1284 by the Statute of Rhuddlan.
But the history of Rhug really starts in the 12th century with Owain Brogyntyn, who, as the youngest and illegitimate son, of the last lord of Powys, was given Edeyrnion [which this part of the Dee valley is called].
The inheritance law of the time was gavelkind, where the ‘estate’ of the deceased was split between his sons. Owain had 3 sons – Iorwerth who inherited Cymmer and Llangar, Gruffydd inherited Hendwr and the Llandrillo area, and Bleddyn who inherited Dinmael, Maesmor and Rhug.
These families became known as the Barons of Edeyrnion, and led to a rather unique situation whereby the Crown gave them the sole control of the area. This lasted until the 17th century by which time because of gavelkind and marriages the original ‘estates’ had changed somewhat.
Anyway 6 generations down the line, and from one of these Barons, a descendant – Margaret Wen, lady of Rhug married in 1490 Piers Salesbury of Bachymbyd, one of the large North Wales families.
It could well be that it was Piers who added to the old house here adjacent to the mound. We have no idea really what was going on, but we do know that in 1666 the house had 14 hearths, which means it must have been a considerable place. As a comparison Richard Grosvenor of Eaton Hall only had 13 hearths. There is an inventory attached to a will of Robert Salusbury, dated 1601 which lists a hall, a great chamber, parlour and chamber above, study, gallery, a great and lesser parlour, kitchen, buttery, cellar, new gallery and 2 chambers adjoining. The contents of these rooms suggest a rather sophisticated and wealthy family home. This old house remained till the 18th century when the present house was built.
In 1637 John Salusbury nicknamed ‘old blue stockings’ built Rug Chapel just before the civil war broke out. [1642-1651]. At the start John raised a regiment of foot in support of the King, and was made a colonel and given the post of Governor of Denbigh Castle, at his own expense he repaired the castle for 3 years held out against Cromwell’s forces, though he finally had to surrender. Luckily for us the chapel at Rhug escaped the Roundheads’ plundering.
Today the chapel is under the custodianship of CADW.
Rhug stayed with the Salesbury family until Elizabeth Salesbury married Rowland Pugh of Mathafarn, Montgomershire, about 1720, and their daughter Maria Charlotta [who married a Thomas Pryce], inherited Rhug. She died  without issue and in turn left it to Edward Williames Vaughan, who then took the name of Salusbury in recognition of his inheritance, it is this Vaughan who is thought to have built the present house, he never married and when he died in 1807 left Rhug to his brother Gruffydd Howel Vaughan, who again remained unmarried and left the estate to his nephew to Robert Williams Vaughan of Nannau in 1848, who also died without children, so Rhug was left to Charles Henry Wynn of Glynllifon, who was aged 12 at the time. Charles Henry was the 3rd son of the 3rd Baron Lord Newborough.
The present house was built in 1799 and extended by Charles Henry Wynn when he reached 21 years of age when he became absolute owner – freed from his trustees. He also rebuilt several of the farms, using his 8 masons, 6 carpenters, 4 slaters, 2 smiths and 12 labourers.
In 1911 Rhug Hall had 60 rooms with 14 servants living in [of course there were more than this employed], as there were grooms, huntsmen and gardeners.
In the 1950s Rug became Highfield School for Young Ladies. When the school closed down the grandson of Charles Henry – the 7th Baron, demolished the east and west end and undertook a major refurbishment. The present Lord Newborough, the 8th Baron inherited the estate on the death of his father in 1998.
The Wynn family, are an old family of Boduan Caernarvonshire, descending from Collwyn ap Tangno 11thcentury lord of Eifionydd Ardudwy and Lleyn
JOHN WYNN , of Bodvel (which is near Boduan ), was high sheriff of Caernarvonshire in 1551 and 1560 , and standard-bearer for Edward VI in the fighting near Norwich against Ket and his co-rebels in 1594 ; he received Bardsey Island as a gift in honour of his bravery
John Wynn ‘s wife was a member of the Puleston family. He was followed by his son THOMAS WYNN(d. 1673 ), Boduan .
This Thomas Wynn ‘s grandson, became Sir THOMAS WYNN (d. 1749 ), 1st baronet , and it was he who married FRANCES GLYN , heiress of Glynllifon another old North Wales family ; their grandson was the Sir THOMAS WYNN (d. 1807 ) who was created ( 1776 ) 1st baron Newborough for raising a regiment in the Napoleanic wars.
Bit of a character, Thomas after his wife died, he spent heavily on building a new mansion at Glynllifon and 2 forts – one at Belan on the Menai Straight and one in the grounds of Glynllifon – both ready in case of invasion by the French. To escape pressing debts he decided to go abroad with his son John.
In 1774, Samuel Johnson and Hester & Henry Thrale were invited to dinner at Glynllifon, whilst on tour of Wales and Hester describes it thus “ in her chatty style – the house was stately and pleasing, a reflection on Sir Thomas’s good taste because he barely 20 yrs earlier had erected a new mansion. He has much elegance and some knowledge of books and life, has travelled and read; he has not showed much skill in the choice of his wife, who is an empty woman of quality, insolent ignorant and ill bred without beauty or fortune to atone for her faults. The dinner was vile on such linen that shocked one; no plate, no china to be seen, nothing but what was as despicable as herself”.
It was in Italy where Thomas met Maria Stella Chiappini, the daughter of an ordinary Italian family from Modigliana. She was on the stage where she caught the eye of the widowed Thomas, who promptly fell for the young girl and married her. Maria Stella received a letter from her father before he died, in which he said that she had been swapped for a son for Louis Phillip Orleans, the king of France so that he had an heir.
Whether she was or not remains one of history’s mysteries, but following the death of Thomas, Maria Stella went on the marry a Russian count and for the rest of her life claimed she was the daughter of the King of France. But pictures of Maria and her sons show a distinct likeness to the blue blood of France – so who knows!
Thomas’s financial improved, enabling him to return home with his son John and his young wife, only for son John to die in 1800. Luckily he and Maria had 2 boys, Thomas John who became the 2nd Baron, but as he did not marry the title went to his Brother Spencer Bulkeley. Who when he died was interred on Bardsey Island – a place he had a deep interest in –building the islanders cottages and a chapel and a monument to the 20,000 saints buried there
However Spencer’s eldest son pre deceased him, and the title went to his grandson William Charles, who though married had no heirs, his obituary records that he died as a result of catching a chill whilst serving in the trenches of the Western front in 1916. With the Welsh Guards.
‘Newborough was a big, dark man with a gentle voice and manner. So long as he had plenty of cigarettes which he smoked through a beautifully coloured meerschaum holder, he was, if not happy, at least filled with smoke and philosophic resignation.
“I shall never forget old Newborough’s first experience of the line” said Copland Griffiths “I found him in Elgin Fort, where he gone with an advance party. The dugout was filled with water, and only a sandbag table rose like an island from the centre of it. Sitting on the table was Newborough his feet in the water, a cigarette in his mouth and over him an air of complete resignation, as though he was saying ‘this is my home for two days, and it can’t be helped’”
What he liked was to sit quietly by a fire and yarn about old times – the men in the old Raleigh Club, his adventures in his yacht Fedora at Fiji and Singapore, and discuss the habits of the Chinese’
So his brother Thomas John inherited the title – all this time they were based over in Caernarfonshire. Until forced to sell Glynllifon after the second World War.
This Thomas John had no male heirs so the title went up and across through Charles Henry [who had inherited Rhug], to his son Robert Vaughan, who became the 6th baron. As a consequence of large death duties, a lot of the estate was put up for sale in 1912, things were not helped as Robert had taken up a military career,and away a lot of the time serving in the Boer War- being mentioned in despatches in this conflict and during WW1, but whilst away during WW1, his agent let the estate slip, and he returned to find a run down estate. He spent the rest of his life rectifying this – something that his son Robert Charles, affectionately known as ‘Micky Wynn’ carried on throughout his life time. During WW2 RV was the local commander of the Home Guard.
Micky, too took up a military career, firstly in his father’s regiment the 9th Lancers followed by a spell in 5thRoyal Inniskillen till followed by service with the 16/5th Lancers. He was however invalided out in 1940 and as a civilian took part in in the evacuation of Dunkirk, he then joined the RNVR– raid on St Nazaire the only port suitable for the Tirpitz.