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Denbigh - Overview

Denbigh is a small market town in Denbighshire. Its origins lie in the twelfth century, appearing in a poem of 1160, though the earliest charter dates to 1211. Documentary evidence indicates a castle of the Welsh princes existed in the vicinity of the current town, though its location is unknown. The current castle was established by Henry de Lacy, Lord of Denbigh, in 1282 after being granted the land by Edward I.

It received its first Town Charter in 1285, and this, together with subsequent charters, indicates that the town was divided into an ‘English’ walled borough on top of the hill, and a ‘Welsh’ town ‘without the walls’. Throughout the fourteenth century, the town outside the walls expanded, overtaking the borough which eventually declined in importance. During this time, the first, and only, Carmelite Friary in Wales was established along with the great double-nave church of St Marcella.

In 1400, Owain Glyndŵr’s forces attacked, damaging the town, but ultimately failing to take the castle. The town status was increased when, after the 1536 Act of Union with England, it was made one of four administrative capitals in Wales. This was cemented in 1563 when Elizabeth I made Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and her closest confidant, Baron of Denbigh. He set about transforming the town with an ambitious building public building programme including the Shire hall and St David’s Church – the first major Protestant church to be built after the Reformation in Great Britain.

Denbigh was again the scene of activity during the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War where it was held for the Royalists. Following their surrender to Oliver Cromwell in 1646, the castle was abandoned and subsequently fell into decay. The eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were a period of great economic prosperity for the town, and the Georgian and Victorian architecture of the town reflects this.

Situated along the main road linking Llangollen and St Asaph, the ruins of Denbigh Castle attacked many visitors especially during the nineteenth century. Whereas Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau appeared impressed by the tri-annual national meeting of competing Welsh harpists inside the castle ruins, Franz von Löher was glad to give the spectacle a miss as he found the Welsh supremely lacking any musical talent. He did, however, spare a moment of praise for the supreme quality of the dinner on offer at his inn in Denbigh town.

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