Former County Hall, Denbigh

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Former County Hall, Denbigh

Denbigh Library occupies the former County Hall, which was also a courthouse and town hall. It was built c.1572 and enlarged in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, asked the Bishop of St Asaph to organise the hall’s construction. Dudley (1532-1588) was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and may have been her lover. She made him Baron Denbigh in 1564. It’s thought the hall stands on land he donated.

Gwen ferch Elis, a weaver and herbal healer, was found guilty of witchcraft here in 1594. She was questioned by the Bishop of St Asaph before a tribunal at Glan Conwy church concluded she was a witch and sent her for trial in Denbigh, where she was hanged in the town square.

Originally the ground floor was a market space. Above was the courtroom. The Victorians installed police cells for prisoners waiting to enter the courtroom, used by the county court (for civil disputes) and sometimes the quarter sessions (a precursor of today’s crown courts). The county council met here.

In December 1858, former slave James Watkins gave a lecture at the town hall. He was born c.1821 in Maryland, USA (he couldn’t be sure of the year). He escaped to freedom as a young man, and fled to England when American legislation in 1850 required the return of all fugitive slaves to their owners, even from states where slavery was outlawed.

While living in the Manchester area he published books about his experiences. His talks described the cruelty suffered by American slaves and by “free coloured people”, including the torment of slave mothers whose children were taken away. He returned to the USA after slavery was abolished in 1865.

Arrangements were made in 1868 for new gas lighting for the town hall’s clock, replacing a lamp which partially obscured the clock face. In March 1896 a local newspaper complained that the clock was unreliable, leading to townspeople arriving at the wrong times at the railway station, church and post office. It had recently been eight minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time!

A portrait of Dr Evan Pierce, a popular surgeon and physician, sparked a dispute here in 1882. The portrait was meant for the council chamber but was too big. Instead it was hung in the courtroom, but that contravened a ban on pictures in courts.

Denbigh's new town hall opened nearby in 1917.

Postcode: LL16 3NU    View Location Map

Website of Denbigh Library and One Stop Shop