1876 – A “Year of Wonder”

Resources for the 150th Anniversary of this Annus Mirabilis
A message for teachers in NE Wales.

 

Welcome to the Wrexham Carnival of Words web pages about 1876, a true “Year of Wonder” for North-East Wales. The Carnival is an annual literary festival – a celebration of great storytelling in all its forms, and for all the family – which began in 2015. It is organised mainly through Wrexham’s Library Services and, in 2023, published the handbook Wrexham Revealed to encourage self-guided walking tours of the area’s history.

he guidebook has sparked huge interest especially in the events which took place here during 1876 itself, and particularly in the run-up to the 150th anniversary. Here is a brief list of some key 1876 highlights:

    • The establishment of the Football Association of Wales
    • Visits to the area by Pinders Grand Continental Circus
    • Horticultural Shows
    • The opening of Wrexham’s very special Ruabon Road Cemetery
    • The 4-month Art Treasures and Industrial Exhibition of NE Wales
    • The first (and very memorable) National Eisteddfod to be held in Wrexham
    • The opening of Wrexham’s first tram system

The following tabs contain “scripts” which schools may wish to use to spark interest in one or more of these themes and perhaps to inspire creative projects among schoolchildren and older students as we approach the 150th anniversary of this remarkable year.

The scripts can obviously be adapted to suit different key stages.

Each tab also includes an image which might be useful.

Selina Ord Pinder (35). The lady ringmaster.

Roll up! Roll up! The circus is in town. Wrexham town. And I am Selina Pinder. It’s my circus. With elephants, lions and tigers. Here to help celebrate Wrexham’s Year of Wonder. 1876. A long, long time ago. But not so long. Not really. And the newspapers have been filled with all the wonderful things happening here. The very start of Welsh football. The opening of a brand-new cemetery. That’s a bit sad, I suppose – but the people of Wrexham have been very excited about it, all the same! And then, a magical and enormous exhibition. For four months. Right in the middle of town. In a great pavilion built just for this. A thousand paintings. Thousands of rare treasures. Choirs and concerts. Tens of thousands of people pouring into Wrexham from all over the place to see the exhibition. Oh, and to see the Eisteddfod too, of course. Because here’s another thing. 1876. The first time that the National Eisteddfod has come to Wrexham – though this has a bit of a sad ending as well! But still, all those visitors. The poems, the music and the songs. What a show! And then, to cap it all, the town shall have its very first tram service – buses pulled by horses along iron tracks. Such a wonder!

So, I wonder, can you write a newspaper article to tell everybody about this magical year, 1876, for this part of Wales? Maybe about my circus – Pinder’s Grand Continental Circus. Or a poem, perhaps. Even a song.

But maybe you’d like to hear a bit more about some of these things that happened. If so, I have some friends who can help.

 

Alfred Davies (26). 1876-style football kit, playing with an old-style football.

Yes, it’s the Racecourse. It didn’t look quite like this in 1876 – but Wrexham was big in the news back then. Just here, a few years back, at the Turf, me and a whole bunch of people got together and decided we should have our own Wrexham Association Football Club. That makes us the oldest football club in Wales. One of the oldest in the world. And I was proud as punch to play for Wrexham. Of course, the game wasn’t quite the same then as it is now. Bigger teams sometimes. Sixteen or seventeen on each side, like. And the goal posts connected together by tape. No net or nothing. Friendly matches mainly, this year – against Ruabon, the Plas Madoc Druids, Oswestry, the Volunteer Fire Brigade, Chester College and the like.

Then, this year, our own national Welsh football team – and the Football Association of Wales was born. Made it official at the Wynnstay in town, we did. Grand, right? But imagine my surprise when they picked me – Alf Davies – to play for Wales. Me and my other Wrexham mate, Ed Cross. And we went off to Scotland to play our first international match. OK, so we got hammered. Lost the match four-nil. But we’ll do better next time. And Wrexham FC – that’s what we are now, in 1876. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll win the Welsh cup or something even better.

But enough about me. What about you lot? Fancy writing something about the early days of Wrexham football? About 1876 at the Racecourse. What about a good song to cheer us along? Or a picture, maybe? Did we look funny back then in our long shorts?

 

Sarah Pritchard (33), mother of little Ethel (11).

The new cemetery on Ruabon Road wasn’t even finished when my little Ethel Irene died. Only eleven. Poor mite. And why was she taken from us? I’m her mother, Sarah Pritchard, and I suppose I’ll never know. But she’ll be in Heaven now and I come here often to visit the place where she’s buried. It was lonely at first, but then the cemetery was officially opened. July 1876, three months after we lost Ethel Irene. And when it was opened, the Bishop of St. Asaph came to bless the grounds and a great crowd turned up for the ceremony. The Mayor and Mayoress came, and me and my husband were there as well. Then there was a long procession, and we all sang the hymns. The cemetery is very beautiful, laid out like a park – the first we ever had in Wrexham. Laid out by a man called Yeaman Strachan. He’s famous, he is. And in the evening, at the Old Swan Inn on Abbott Street, there was a big feast – really for all the workers, though we were there as well. There was fine food and a choir. And now, I think, all the important people of Wrexham will be buried there, as well as all the other folk of the town. Ethel Irene will be in good company, I think.

Do you think little Ethel’s story is sad? What sort of serious illnesses did children catch in those days that we maybe don’t have today? Could you write about what Victorian funerals like? Or draw a picture? Since 1876, which famous people have been buried at the new cemetery?

 

William Low (62), bearded Scotsman

My name is William Low. Engineer. I had a plan, to build a tunnel under the English Channel all the way to France. But it wasn’t to be – not then. Now, though, as well as owning one of Wrexham’s big coal mines, I have this love of art. So, me and a few others had this idea – to bring a big Art Treasures Exhibition to Wrexham. We built a huge pavilion of metal and glass, just behind my Westminster Building on Hope Street. And we filled it with a thousand famous painting, tens of thousands of priceless art treasures. Jewellery once owned by kings and queens. Beautiful porcelain. Gold and silver ornaments. Precious objects from India, China and Japan. Antiquities – like the Caergwrle Bowl from the Bronze Age. Apart from the art treasures, all the Wrexham businesses displayed the goods they made. But that’s another story.

The Exhibition ran every day for four months and 80,000 people came to see it. They came from everywhere. And every day there were concerts, choirs, marching bands. It was one of the greatest events ever to take place in Wrexham.

Can you make a model of the Exhibition? Or draw a map? Might you write a newspaper article or a poem? What do we know about the Caergwrle Bowl? Can you name some famous painters whose pictures were on show at the Exhibition?

 

Mrs Elizabeth Williams (53), sits writing by candlelight and we hear her voice reading the words as she sets them down.

July 1876
My dearest Lynette
I cannot make this a long letter, but you have been so interested in James’s coverlet from the start that you have to be the first to hear the news. I am so excited! For the coverlet itself is now on display in the art treasures exhibition being held here in Wrexham!
Well, in truth it hangs within the exhibition’s industrial annexe. Exhibit Number 46, with a sign declaring it to be a Table Cover, produced by the hand of military master tailor James Williams. My James, Lynette!
It hangs alongside all the other wonderful things produced in our wonderful town. From the ironworks, the breweries, the coach builders and wheelwrights, the tanneries and leather works, the mines and the brick factories. So many others.
Yet you remember how James began the coverlet? Using scraps of material left over from the military uniforms which have made him so famous. And stitching them to make a picture of our favourite bible story – Jonah and the Whale, of course. Then Noah’s Ark. All the animals which our boy loves so much. But whatever possessed him to start on the viaduct at Cefn or the Menai Bridge I shall never know. Ten years it took him. More than four thousand pieces of cloth. Every evening for ten years, James stitching while I read the bible to him – or Pilgrim’s Progress. Our favourite time of the day together.
I wonder what everyone will think of it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it inspires a new style of patchwork and quilting? Who knows what amazing and strange things people will depict on their coverlets and quilts of the future!
Your loving sister
Elizabeth

Can you design a quilt of your own? Or draw and paint some images about life today or famous places where you live? Or write about James’s quilt?

 

Reverend Thomas Lloyd (Estyn), Chief Druid (56).

Well, yes, the Art Treasures Exhibition may be important, but it’s the Eisteddfod that interests me more. The first time the National Eisteddfod’s been held here in Wrexham. Great honour, it is. And a great honour for me, the Reverend Thomas Lloyd, rector for the Parish of Hope, to serve as Chief Druid for the event. Of course, as Chief Druid, I have another name – my bardic name, Yr Estyn. A great pavilion of canvas had been erected, at a cost of £800, to hold the 8,000 visitors, on the fields alongside St. Mark’s. Some wonderful singing and instrumental performances. Personally, I should have preferred more performances in Welsh but the whole programme was well received. Of course, its climax was a particularly sad affair. The award for the best Welsh poem. A prize of £20 and a golden medal, as well as being enthroned on this year’s Bardic Chair. Yet the winner, the Llangollen poet Thomas Jones – better known to the Welsh by his pen name, Taliesin o Eifion – had tragically died on the very day he sent his poem to be judged. So, on the day myself and the others made the award, we had to drape the empty chair in black cloth and Madame Edith Wynne tried to sing the old melody, Dafydd y Gareg Wen – The Dying Bard. But she broke down, she did. Floods of tears. And then the whole audience started crying as well. And our 1876 Eisteddfod – it’s been known as the Eisteddfod of the Vacant Chair ever since. And the Bardic Chair? Famous, it is. The Cadair Ddu, the Black Chair.

Has there ever been another Eisteddfod with an empty Bardic Chair? Can we write a story or a poem about Taliesin o Eifion? Where is the 1876 Bardic Chair now? Can we make a model of the 1876 Bardic Chair? Can we find whereabouts in Wrexham the 1876 Eisteddfod was held?

 

Mrs Minnie Edisbury (34).

My husband James – James Edisbury – is the most important pharmacist in all of Wrexham. Or so he tells me, anyway. His shop is on the High Street, right by the Town Hall, so I suppose he’s right. At Number Three. It must be important because it’s still there! There are such fine shops on the High Street. And here we are, in this fine big house on Grosvenor Road with our four daughters and our little boy. He loves to visit the shop. He says it looks like a sweet shop, bless him. All those shelves and cabinets. Rows and rows of jars. Pills and potions, gels, ointments and medicines. Paraffin oil and kerosene. Skin soaps and respirators. Camphor balls and chest lozenges. Perfumes. Brushes for nails, teeth and hair. And now James has his own stall at the Art Treasures Exhibition – in the Industrial Annexe. And doing such good business with all those visitors in town. Specially for the occasion he has been selling bottles of Wrexham Exhibition Pomade – hair oil for gentlemen. It’s been very popular. And the bottle factory has made some very special jars, souvenirs of the Exhibition, of course. But mainly? The thing he has sold most is our famous Wrexham Sauce. As he says, it is a relish both tasty and good for one’s digestion. A secret recipe, of course – and nobody, nobody in the world, has the recipe except my James.

Well, I wonder if you can work out what the recipe might be? What things might both be good for our digestion and tasty in a relish? And what do you think a Victorian pharmacy might look like – can you imagine it? Can you write a little song about Wrexham Sauce? And what about the other shops on the High Street – what could you buy in town?

 

Miss Elizabeth Davies (33), School Mistress.

My name is Miss Davies and I’ve been the Principal Teacher here at the Bersham School for a while now. It’s a great responsibility with all these children to think about. Three schools really. One for the boys. One for the girls. And then the new infants’ school. This year hasn’t been easy, either. All that knocking and banging, building the hall for the little ones. Then the new desks failed to arrive until weeks after they should have done. The sewing machines for the girls, as well. Then so many of the children missing through sickness – and the teachers too. Scarlet Fever, you know? It’s been difficult. But I press on – teaching Grammar and Composition, Arithmetic and Geography. And for one of our lessons, I agreed that some of the older children could have a trip into Wrexham to see the Art Treasures Exhibition there. So many wonderful things for them to see and they all enjoyed going on the omnibus together from Johnstown – and the driver even let them feed the horse! The town was so very busy, though. Hundreds of people arriving on the excursion trains. That was a geography lesson in itself, learning about all the places those steam engines had come from. And in a few months we’ll have our very first tram service running from Johnstown into Wrexham – they’ve already finished laying the rails. Oh, this wonderful age of learning and travel. They say it broadens the mind, you know.

What can you tell me about Bersham? Why is it so very famous? And do you think you would have liked coming to my school? Would it have been very different from your own? How might you have got to school in those days? How was transport different back then?