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Stories, Myths & Legends

The Barber of Llangollen

The tale of the Barber of Llangollen starts in what is now the garden of the Hand Hotel and ends on the top of Moel y Geraint, one of the hills that rise above the town. The story tells of how the hill acquired another name, which is still in use today.

Over 250 years ago there was a row of small houses on the site of the Hand Hotel garden. In one of them lived the Barber. He was also the Schoolmaster of the village and was apparently an irritable character. One day, in a dispute between himself and his wife about the boiling or roasting of a neck of mutton, he drew his razor across her throat and killed her. He ran out and shut the door. The schoolchildren did not know what was the matter, but seeing their Mistress bleeding and staggering ran out and told their neighbours.

The barber ran up the street and turned up Cross Lane. This now leads up to the A5 road, but 250 years ago it ended in open fields, across which the barber ran. A lot of men were mustered and followed him across the fields to the old Workhouse. The men caught him washing himself at Pistyll y Workhouse – the Spring of the Workhouse. The barber was condemned to be gibbeted on the nearest hill overlooking the town of Llangollen. At the gib, he was regaled with a pint of ale, and seeing people and children running and climbing up the Geraint, he turned to them and said in Welsh 'You need not hurry, there will be no sport until I am there.' The story goes that a Mrs. Parry, the landlady at the Hand, gave him a jug of ale as he was passing.

He was hung in Gibbets at the top of the Hill and ever since the hill has been known as 'Moel y Barbwr', or 'The Barber’s Hill'.

This is a true story and is recorded in documents at the Record Office. The barbers name was Thomas Edwards and that of his unlucky wife Maria. The murder took place in 1739 and the tale has now become local folklore.

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Mary Had a Little Lamb

Mary had a little lamb,

Its fleece was white as snow,

And everywhere that Mary went,

The lamb was sure to go.


It followed her to school one day,

Which was against the rule,

It made the children laugh and play,

To see a lamb at school.

This piece of Llangollen folklore concerns the heroine of this well known nursery rhyme. Mary Thomas was born in 1842 at Ty Issa Farm, Llangollen. She came here, to what was then the British School, with over 200 pupils. With her she brought her pet lamb Billy who apparently caused mayhem in class and had to be put out into the playground. Mary’s schoolmates used to pat the lamb through the railings of the playground. In 1861 Mary married Thomas Hughes, a mining engineer from Cefn Mawr and they went on to have 11 children before Thomas died at 47. Mary lived to be 89 years old and died in Worthing.

She is buried in Worthing but comemmorated on a grave in Fron Bache cemetary, Llangollen, along with her father, John Thomas. One face of the tombstone is inscribed in memory of John Thomas. On another side is the inscription 'Also in affectionate remembrance of his daughter Mrs Mary Hughes who died in Worthing in 1931, aged 89 years old. Heroine of the nursery rhyme Mary had a little lamb'.

This is a lovely folklore story, but sadly Mary Thomas of Llangollen was not the heroine of the nursery rhyme. Why she died believing she was is not clear. She was given a copy of the poem by visitors from London – did this copy lead Mary to believe that she was its heroine? The Mary of the rhyme was Mary Sawyer and the school was the Redstone Schoolhouse in Sterling Massachusetts, U.S.A. The original nursery rhyme was written in America in 1815 by John Roulstone, and was first published in a magazine called Juvenile Miscellany in 1830, 12 years before Mary Thomas of Llangollen was born!

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St Collen's Well

St Collen's Well lies in a field at the top of the Horseshoe Pass. The legend goes that there was a giantess that was terrorising the people of Pentredwr. Hearing of this, St Collen, the founder of Llangollen, took up his sword and went to do battle with the giantess. After much struggle St Collen killed the giantess and washed the blood from his sword in a nearby spring, which afterwards became known as St Collen's Well.

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The Legend of Brân

The ruins of Castell Dinas Bran overlook Llangollen from their hilltop position. The word Dinas once denoted a fortress, although now is used to mean city. Bran is generally taken to refer to a ‘raven’ or a ‘crow’, but apart from this literal interpretation there is an alternative from the mythological past for the naming of the castle.

A duke of Cornwall in ancient times won the crown by conquest and on his deahbed left his kingdom to his twin sons, Beli and Bran. The two heirs quarrelled and were about to clash in battle when their mother, Queen Corwena, made a plea to them for peace. Her sons obeyed and Beli settled in New Troy (London) whilst Bran journeyed north to build the fortress Dinas Bran. Legend has it that the Queen founded the small nearby town now known as Corwen.

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Myfanwy Fychan

Oh fairer thou, and colder too,

Than new fall'n snow on Aran's brow.

Oh lovely flower of Trevor race,

Let not a cruel heart disgrace

The beauties of thy heavenly face!

Thou art my daily thought; each night

Presents Myfanwy to my sight.

So wrote the bard Hywel ap Einion in the mid 14th century. The object of his desires was Myfanwy, daughter of the tenant of Dinas Bran Castle when it was owned by the Arundels of Chirk. Legend says that Hywel hid his verses in the cleft of an oak tree on the slopes of Dinas Bran. His passion seems not to have been returned, but he did not write in vain. The poem Myfanwy Fychan won the Silver Crown at the 1858 Llangollen Eisteddfod and has been sung many times since by male voice choirs across the country.

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Thomas Jones' will

Thomas Pennant, in his tour of 1773, refers to the House of Llantysilio as being the seat of Thomas Jones and in 1750 and again in 1792 we find that Thomas Jones of Llantysilio Hall was the Sheriff of Denbighshire. Pennant says that the 'previous possessors were the Cupers or Cuppers – styled even so early as the time of Henry II the ancient Cuppers of the north'. Thomas Cupper purchased the estate and built the original Hall at the beginning of the 18th century, and his daughter and sole heiress conveyed it to the Jones family by marriage with Thomas Jones, then of the county of Montgomery. Thomas Jones’ son and grandson, both also called Thomas, continued to own the estate, with the last Thomas Jones dying in 1820 leaving no will. In 1822 the housekeeper of the vicar of Oswestry dreamt that the will of Thomas Jones had been buried with him. Because of this dream a party of seven or eight people, including a lawyer and a surgeon, broke into the tomb and opened the coffin. Although it would appear that the will was not found.

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Croes y Gwenhwyfar

W.T. Simpson in his account of Llangollen in 1827 remarks that 'On the north side of the river, nearly opposite the place where the wooden bridge stood, was another pilliar, called Croes Gwen Hwyfr. It stood on the road to Wrexham and has been removed only a few years'. Who Gwenhwyfr was remains a mystery, but the name was common in the area in the13th to 15th centuries and it is likely that the cross commemorated a member of one of the local families. One possibility is that it was put up in memory of Gwenhwyfar, daughter of Iorworth Ddu of Pengwern in the 14th century.

People still remember what was taken to be the base of this monument being in the corner of a field by the road. The base was just over 2 feet square and 10 inches high, with a socket cut into the top (for the cross) measuring 9 inches square. The location of the top part of the monument has never been discovered and now the base has also disappeared.

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King Arthur

There are a number of links that have been proposed between the Llangollen area and this famous mythological character. The presence of Craig Arthur (Arthur's Rock) to the north of the town in the Eglwyseg Valley and Ffynnon Arthur (Arthur's Well) on the south side of the town have led people to suggest that the area around Llangollen formed his home. The presence of a number of place names in North Wales that bear similarities to the names of characters found in the Arthurian legends has caused some authors to suggest that Arthur was a leader of the Britons in Wales rather than king of the English and connections with Dinas Bran castle (or presumably some kind of fortification that stood on the same site in the Dark Ages) have been proposed. However, there is not (and most likely never will be) any substantial proof of such claims and for the present time Arthur will have to remain in the realms of legend.

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