Last edited 28 Jan 2021

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Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

The work of Delyn Borough Council in rehabilitating Greenfield Valley Heritage Park

This article originally appeared in Context 20, published by the Association of Conservation Officers (now The Institute of Historic Building Conservation) in Autumn 1988. It was written by W.J. TWIGG, Conservation Officer Mrs.D.S.MORGAN, Archaeologist and Acting Manager, Greenfield Valley, Delyn Borough Council.



The Greenfield Valley lies on the North Eastern slope of the Halkyn Hills, connecting the market town of Holywell with the coastal settlement of Greenfield. Once a major industrial area, it is now peaceful parkland developed as a local and visitor attraction by Delyn Borough Council.


St. Winefrides Well

Apart from a very small section of Wat’s Dyke, and a mediaeval motte at the very upper end of the Valley, the earliest item of interest in the Valley is St Winefride's Well, the mediaeval healing well which is Holywell’s namesake.

A popular pilgrimage centre, Once known as the the Lourdes of Wales, it consists of the 16th century shrine with chapel above, built around the spring which legend tells arose at the spot of St Winefrides martyrdom and miraculous resurrection.

The legend states that in 660 AD, Winefride, a young virgin, was pursued by a local chieftain, Caradoc. His advances spurned, he cut off her head with his Sword. Where her head fell, a miraculous spring of great healing powers burst forth. According to the legend, Winefrides Uncle, St. Bueno, placed her head back on her shoulders, and restored her to life. Caradoc, however, was Swallowed up by the earth.

Winefride became a nun and was made Abbess of a convent at Gwytherin, near Llanwrst, where she died fifteen years later. Her relics were removed to Shrewsbury Abbey in 1138.

Basingwerk Abbey

The needs of pilgrims were met by the Abbey of Basingwerk, situated at the foot of the Valley. The Abbey was founded in 1132 by a strict Benedictine Order from Savignac, but transferred to the Cistercians in 1147. From the Dissolution, part became a residence of the Mostyn family until the beginning of the 18th century.

Holywell Town

The town of Holywell grew up as a result of the considerable pilgrimage traffic to the shrine.

Today, its earliest buildings are of 17th and 18th century date along Well Street, gradually progressing to 18th and 19th century date in lower High Street, and mostly Victorian and Edwardian date in upper High Street.

Early Industry

The copious flows of water from the Well at the upper end of the Valley were taken advantage of in the Industrial Revolution.

A succession of factories gained their power from a series of water wheels down the length of the Valley. A series of millpools of considerable area were constructed to feed the water wheels. These pools survive virtually intact, and provide One of the major attractions to present day visitors.

The cotton industry was brought to the area when John Smalley, a former partner of Arkwright, built four factories from 1777. Much of the labour was provided by orphan parish apprentices, until the Factory Act of 1833 restricted the employment of children. The loss of cheap labour, combined with a slump in the cotton industry, forced the mills to close in 1840, the buildings being transferred to other uses.

The first of the copper and brass factories was built in 1755 by Thomas Patten's Warrington Company. Thomas William's Pary's Mine Company followed in 1778, buying out the Warrington Company by 1785, and continuing production until the death of Williams and the exhaustion of the Parys copper mine in the early 19th century brought about a takeover by others. By 1897 all the copper works had closed.

Starting at the head of the Valley, and following the stream downhill, the visitor first comes to the cotton mills just below the Well. The first mills were unsuccessful due to lack of capital. In 1874 the Welsh Flannel Co., was established, manufacturing garments of sufficiently high quality to supply Queen Victoria's household. The mill machinery was converted to electricity in 1913, and the company continued to the present under the name of the Holywell Textile Company.

From the cotton mills, the stream then passed to the Battery Works, established in 1766. The works shaped pots and pans from brass ingots, by means of water-driven tilt hammers. Goods were exported via Liverpool to West Africa as part of the triangular trade, being exchanged for slaves who were then transported to America in exchange for cotton. The works, now in ruins, continued in various uses until closure in the 1960s.

Below the Battery Works, the next factory was Meadow Mill, built in 1787, which produced rolled copper sheets, copperbolts and nails used in shipbuilding.

Next the stream powered the Victorian Mill, formerly the Lower Cotton Mill, originally six storeys high and erected in only ten weeks in 1785. The last use of this building was as a corn mill, following the collapse of the cotton industry.

Below this came the Abbey Wire Mill, making copper and brass wire for the adjacent Pary’s Mine Company’s works. The Pary's Mine Company's factory, built in 1787, produced the copper sheathing which protected the hulls of wooden ships from attack by the Teredo Worm, together with the corrosion free copperbolts designed by Thomas Williams, the “Copper King, which were used in ship construction.

The last in the series of factories was the Abbey Paper Mill, where the Grosvenor Chater Company produced quality paper from 1854 to 1982.

The stream entered the Dee Estuary at the Greenfield Wharf, where from the 1780's onwards, the goods purchased in the Valley were loaded onto the small ships and coastal barges that plied between the Dee and the Mersey. A short lived ferry started in 1857, carrying passengers from Greenfield to Liverpool.

The wharf declined with competition from the railways. A branch line from the coastal line was constructed, linking Greenfield with the higher reaches of the valley. This was extended into Holywell in 1913. It was the steepest conventional passenger railway in Britain, with a gradient of 1 in 27.

The majority of the industries decayed over the 19th century, and apart from the Textile Mill and the Paper Mill, the buildings became derelict.

Inception of the Heritage Park

Shortly before Local Government Reorganisation in 1974, the former Holywell Urban District Council, concerned at the increasingly derelict state of the Valley, commissioned a report from Shepherd Fidler, which proposed a country-park type development. This was accepted in principal, and land assembly began.

Following the 1974 Reorganisation, Delyn Borough Council took the project in hand, and further land assembly continued.

A number of small land clearance schemes were implemented under the Job Creation programme, all within the format of creation of a local park. A number of the industrial sites were scheduled as Industrial Ancient Monuments in 1976, and an MSC funded archaeologist was appointed in 1978.

The Welsh Development Agency (WDA) took an interest in the land reclamation aspects, and a report was commissioned by the WDA from consultants W.S. Atkins, into possible amenity provision following poolside reclamation.

Archaeological excavation started in 1978-81, but had to cease on the start of engineering works.

The consultants report established that the condition of the dams to the millpools needed immediate attention. Only one dam was covered by the 1930 Reservoirs Act requirement for annual inspection. The rest had not been checked for at least a generation, and the consultant advised that in the event of one failing, a 'domino effect could occur, with the added loading causing the failure of the others.

Three of the five dams received major engineering works. The other two, in less serious condition, were given holding repairs, and are now being considered for more extensive repairs. Each dam was restored as near as possible to its original appearance.

MSC funded schemes were implemented for stabilisation of remaining standing structures, clearance of undergrowth and the construction of woodland walks.

The Farin Museum

Whilst the valley's role as a local park is probably sufficient justification alone for the effort of reclamation, Delyn felt that its full potential could only be reached by a wider ranging scheme with a greater emphasis on interpretation of its historic interest, and increased visitor provision attractive to a wider audience.

The Abbey Farm smallholding was purchased, and work started on provision of a visitor centre and farm museum as an additional facility and attraction.

The Farm Museum commenced with the assembly of a range of exhibits, by gift and loan, of early farm implements and machinery.

In 1981 the Kimberley Clark Company made an offer of a barn to the Council. This was situated on the disused Coleshill Farm, on land earmarked for a new factory, whose provision was a definite local need at this time of high unemployment.

The building turned out to be of 17th century origin, originally timber framed, but rebuilt of brick in 1753 under a ridgeless roof reusing the original oak trusses. The building was surveyed, dismantled and re-erected at Abbey Farm, together with a later but attractive, stone cartshed with storage loft over, from the same site.

The Farm Museum opened on completion of these buildings, the Coleshill Barn in use as a lecture theatre for an audio-visual display.

Following this, a further offer was received, of a 17th century stone vernacular, farmhouse, Pentre Farm, from Lixwm. Deserted since the late 1950's, the building was threatened by plans for new farm buildings on its site. Early investigation soon established that its position in the farmyard left it with no realistic future on its original site.

Again, the building was surveyed, with the assistance of Tony Parkinson of the RCAHM (Wales). The detailed survey established some eight phases of alteration of the building, back to the early 16th century. The alterations provided a fascinating illustration of the development of the typical local farmhouse.

It was decided to rebuild the house as it would probably have appeared around 1660, and construction was completed for the 1987 season. A generous offer of the loan of contemporary furniture was made by the Welsh Folk Museum at St. Fagan's, which together with a half tester bed donated locally made it possible to furnish the buildings.

Also moved at the same time were the detached bakehouse and pigsties associated with the house.

The nature conservation aspect had been highlighted by leaflets on plants and wildlife. The bird life is quite varied, including a family of swans, and the area abounds in wild flowers.

Present Situation

Three permanent staff, Urban Programme funded, are in post, with a further assistant on a two year post, three seasonal rangers, MSC staffing to development works, and volunteer help from the local “Friends of the Greenfield Valley group on the provision of guides and the running of the Visitor Centre.

Much of the work has had to be done under MSC schemes. The changes to MSC, and the proposed local government changes in 1992 have brought the need for assessment of the next steps. Proposals for extension of the Museum have been made, and further consultants reports commissioned, both on the future provisions in the valley, and on proposals for enhancing the setting of St. Winefride's Well. It is too early at present to say what the outcome will be, though by the time of the ACO Conference in September the picture may be clearer. However, visitor numbers are growing. Around 8,500 visitors per annum come to the Farm Museum, and assuming this is Only 10 percent of the total visits to the Valley, a present use around 85,000 p.a. and rising, can be reasonably claimed.

As publicity has purposely not been high it would be unwise to raise expectations ahead of progress — an acceptable level of success in achieving aims can be seen.

Certainly the Valley is being enjoyed, at a number of levels of interest. The public park aspect continues, with a simple walk a popular activity. For those interested in history, Basingwerk Abbey, St Winefride's Well and the stabilised factory ruins can be inspected. The botanist and bird-watcher find much to interest them. A cafe with an adventure playground beside it allow families to relax whilst the youngest play.

The Farm Museum buildings and implements are popular, whilst the decision to accommodate free range hens, ducks, geese together with sheep, a goat and the newly acquired carthorse, Benson, has been successful. The farmyard birds in particular, are popular due to the decision to sell henfood in small packets for visitors to feed them - the birds behaviour is a constant source of amusement.

This might be seen as a simplistic approach, but the value of learning in an enjoyable fashion should not be underestimated.

A considerable part of the visitor figure is School and other guided parties, and the increasing use as an educational resource must be heartening to all involved in conservation, as increasing the awareness of our heritage amongst the next generation, hopefully with benefits for the future.

This article originally appeared in Context 20, published by the Association of Conservation Officers (now The Institute of Historic Building Conservation) in Autumn 1998. It was written by W.J. TWIGG, Conservation Officer Mrs.D.S.MORGAN, Archaeologist and Acting Manager, Greenfield Valley, Delyn Borough Council.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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