Ruabon, known as Rhiwabon in Welsh, is a village in the county of Wrexham, North Wales. The Welsh name comes from the word 'rhiw', which translates to mean hill, and 'abon' which is a mutation from Mabon – 'the hillside of Mabon'. It possibly refers to the 6th Century St Mabon the Confessor, son of Tegonwy ab Teon and brother to St Llewelyn of Welshpool.
The nearby earthworks of Offa's Dyke and the lesser known Wat's Dyke not only set the historic boundaries of Wales and England, but of Ruabon itself. Between these boundaries we find the church of St Mary which has always acted as the town focal point.
Walks, Cycle Trails and Other Activities
Many pass close to Ruabon while walking the Offa's Dyke Path. The 177 mile (285 km) path stretching from Prestatyn in the north to Chepstow in the south is one of the most attractive and varied of National Trails.
Offa's Dyke, forming the western boundary of Ruabon, is an 80 mile (129 km) long ancient monument dating from the late 8th century AD, and consists of an earthen bank which can be up to 8 metres high with a ditch to the west. The Dyke was built by Offa, King of Mercia from 757 to 796 A.D. to protect his lands from the Welsh/British. The Dyke is the most impressive monument of its kind anywhere in Europe, and is one of the most dramatic built structures to survive from Anglo-Saxon times. A good example of the original Dyke can be found a few miles south of Ruabon in the Ceiriog Valley, but sections of the dyke are still to be found within the village of Ruabon and indeed some back gardens include sections of the Dyke.
However, to me as an ex-builder the most pressing reason to visit Ruabon is to visit the home of Ruabon bricks and tiles.
Ruabon quarry tiles, bricks, encaustic tiles, finials, chimneys and various terracotta adornments decorate many of the finest buildings in Great Britain - and indeed Ruabon was nicknamed terracottapolis in it's Victorian heyday.
Victorian architecture introduced the new material called terracotta - baked clay - pre-moulded in colours of deep red or cream to form decorative frontages. It had the added advantage that it was durable and could be wiped clean, useful qualities in the polluted Victorian cities.
The discovery of vast quantities of high quality Etruria Marl clay in the Ruabon area in the 19th Century heralded the beginning of tile, brick and terracotta production in the area on a vast scale. By the turn of the 20th Century, several factories in the area employed roughly 2,000 people. Workers produced massive amounts of terracotta, and the distinctive red bricks - especially from Ruabon - became famous. The material was so popular it was used to build schools, hospitals, universities, law courts, pubs and other key buildings in cities across the UK
There were several companies involved in the manufacture of clay products including: Monk & Newell; Ruabon Brick and Terra Cotta Ltd - or "Jenks' Terracotta Works"; Tatham Brick & Tile Works; and at Hafod, the Cornish engineer Henry Dennis founded a clay works that became world famous for its tiles and still operates today.
Henry Dennis founded the company in 1878 that would later become Dennis Ruabon Tiles Ltd. By 1893, a new factory which became known as the "Red Works", was constructed on the site where the present-day building still stands. There, workers produced ridge tiles, finials, chimney pots, floor tiles and other products using 24 coal-fired "Beehive" kilns. The "Red Works" became one of the region's most famous factories and although the end products were mass produced they have stood the test of time and are in demand to this day.
Ruabon clay products are to be seen throughout the length and breadth of Britain, from simple moulded cappings on garden walls in city streets to decorative features on some of Britain's finest buildings.
The terracotta murals for the side of the Victorian Pier Head building, the centrepiece of Cardiff Bay Waterfront, is typical of the quality and design of materials from Ruabon and they put to shame the adjacent building on the Cardiff Waterfront - the almost invisible modern Welsh Assembly Building.