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Dyserth - History


All the following is extracted from
“Dyserth. An Historic Village”
By Ronald & Lucy Davies
with the kind permission of their family


From the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror, 1086

Ad hoc manerium ROELENT jacent hae berewiches, DISSAREN BODUGAN CHILVEN et MAENEVAL. In his est terra i carrucata tantum et silva i leuva longa et dimidia lata. Ibi est francigena et ii villani habent i caracutas.

To this manor of RHUDDLAN belong these berewicks, DYSERTH BODEGAN (1.5 m ENE of St Asaph) CHILVAN (?) and MAENEFA (?). In these the land is 1 carucate only, and there is a wood 1 league long and a half wide. One foreign woman and 2 villeins have 1 carucate there.

From ‘Tours’, the well known work of local historian Thomas Pennant (1726-98)

The road from hence (Prestatyn) to Diserth is extremely pleasant, at the foot of high hills, rich in lead ore, with a fine and fertile flat to the right. The white rock makes a conspicuous figure on the left and its sides appeared deeply trenched by the miners in search of ore. Near this place is the beginning of the Vale of Clwyd, and the termination of the range of mountains which bound it on the east. At a small distance from hence lies the church of Diserth, in a picturesque and romantic bottom, beneath some rude rocks: The church overshaded with great yews, and the singular figure of some tombs form a most striking appearance. A waterfall in a deep and rounded hollow of a rock, finely darkened with ivy, once gave additional beauty to this spot; but of late the diverting of the waters to a mill has robbed the place of this elegant variation. The stream, which is little inferior to that of Holywell, flows principally from a single well, called Fynnon Asa, or St Asaph’s Well, in a dingle in the parish of Cwm about a mile distant. The fountain is enclosed with stone, in a polygonal form, and had formerly votaries, like that of St. Winefride.

Above Diserth church, on a high rock, stand the remains of its Castle. We cannot trace the foundation of this fortress, which went by the names of Din-colyn, Castell y Ffailen and Castell Gerri. It probably was Welsh and the last of the chain of British posts on the Clwydian hills...

The castle occupied the summit of the rock, whose sides are escarped, or cut deep, to render the access more difficult...


The earliest inhabitants are not only nameless; we do not know their language either. They have left no inscriptions. At least they can tell us no lies, but our imaginations can fill that gap only too well. For instance, it has been suggested that the Gop, which can now be shown to date from around 2000 BC, was built as a burial mound for Queen Boudicca (misspelt 'Boadicea')of the Iceni who committed suicide after failing in a particularly bloody rebellion against Roman rule in 60 AD. There is absolutely no evidence of her ever having been in this area, alive or dead. She lived a few hundred miles away and several hundred years later.

In Dyserth, as in most places, the first human beings who have left traces were of the same species as ourselves. They lived not only by hunting, fishing and gathering edible fruits and roots as did their human predecessors and many other quite different creatures, but also by keeping domestic animals and by growing corn, though there is very little evidence of cultivation around Dyserth, where refuse tips of sea shells suggest that tidal lowland was an important source of food They had the use of fire, and because they used shaped stone tools their period is known as the New Stone Age, or Neolithic Period. This followed a long period when the ice of the last Ice Age (so far) was melting and so causing the seas to rise and eventually to separate the British Isles from the continent of Europe and from one another. Traces have been found at Gwaenysgor of people of that time who lived especially on fish caught in shallow waters

In Dyserth New Stone Age remains are all along the dry valley. Dincolyn has been occupied in every period. Excavations in 1911 showed the remains of two circular huts. Around one of them were several shallow pits which had evidently had fires in them. In these and nearby were found some stone tools, partly burnt nut shells, the stones of wild plum and wild cherry, cockle, mussel and oyster shells, and the bones of fish, sheep, pigs, oxen, horse, dog and deer. In addition there were fragments of a kind of Neolithic pottery which archaeologists have found at many other places. These remains tell us something about the animals they kept or hunted and about what they ate. Unlike many less rocky Neolithic sites there is no evidence that crops were grown. At most such places 'querns' have been found - stones shaped for grinding corn into flour, but none in Dyserth.

Further up the dry valley near its waterless fall is a cave which has shown signs of occupation by Neolithic people, but still further up is the Gop cave which has shown much more. The Gop itself, the large mound on top of the hill north of Trelawnyd was probably constructed towards the end of the New Stone Age. That seems to have been the time when the only bigger mound in Britain was made, Silbury Hill in Wiltshire. People used to suppose that these mounds were graves of important people, but in spite of repeated attempts nothing of the kind has been found in either of them.


After so little evidence of activity in Dyserth itself in the Bronze Age, just two axeheads and a needle, the Iron Age provides a great and brutal change. The use of iron begins at different times and different places, but it seems to have come to be used in the fourth century B.C. by people in South Germany and Switzerland who were already highly skilled artists working in bronze. Their movements across Europe can be followed by archaeologists, but also by their dropping similar names on some of the areas they settled: Gaul, Galicia, even Galatia in modern Turkey where St. Paul had reason to send the Christian communities one of his Epistles. Their languages too, generally known as 'Celtic', have persisted in use as Welsh, Breton, and Scottish and Irish Gaelic, and have left their mark in place-names. 'Paris' starts as the name of the local Celtic tribe, the Parisii. 'Dover' on the River 'Dour' signifying "waters" and "water" respectively, dyfroedd and dwr in modern Welsh.

Iron weapons gave rise to groups of well-armed warriors, able to make others work to provide them with food, equipment and luxuries, such as the beautifully ornamented objects like the Cirencester bronze mirror, of which the reverse is chased all over in flowing curves. Each group was able to use local people in this way in return for protection against other, similar and rival armed groups. Norman barons did precisely that around 1100 A.D., and Chicago gangsters in the nineteen twenties.

The warriors with their iron swords were obviously privileged, but there was another privileged class, the Druids. They were a learned minority, providing priests, judges and educators. They left no writings or buildings, but seem to have relied on memorising and on sacred groves of oak where mistletoe had some religious significance. What little is known about them is recorded by writers of the Roman Empire against which they stirred up resistance. It cannot, therefore, be wholly trusted. It seems certain, however, that the greatest centre of the Druids in all western Europe was in Anglesey, and people in Dyserth must, like the other subjects of Celtic tribes in France, Spain, Britain and Ireland, have shared in the religion or culture that the Druids promoted.

Each group of armed Celtic warriors made sure of a stronghold where they and their possessions, especially cattle, could easily be moved into safety. Dyserth had a splendid such hill-fort, one of a series along the Clwydian Range. Moel Hiraddug hill-fort required very little defence on the west as one of the geological faults which caused the great rift valley of the Vale of Clwyd gave an escarpment which could be relied on to slow any attack to a halt. Still there are lines of scree on that hillside which suggest that they may have started as lines of defence.