A History of Wrexham

By Tim Lambert

Wrexham in the Middle Ages

In the 1990s evidence was discovered of a small Roman settlement at Wrexham. However, the modern town grew up in the Middle Ages. Wrexham was first mentioned in writing in the 12th century. At the beginning of the 13th century, the Lord of the Manor gave some of the lands in the village to an abbey. After that Wrexham was split into 2 parts. One part was Wrexham Abbot (which lives on in the name Abbot Street). The other part was Wrexham Regis (of the king).

However, Wrexham was no more than a village until the late 14th century when it became a small town. In the year 1391 Wrexham was given the right to hold a market and a fair. In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year. People would come from all over Clwyd and Cheshire to buy and sell at a Wrexham fair.

The population of Medieval Wrexham is not known but it was probably only several hundred. Wrexham would seem tiny to us but settlements were very small in those days.

The parish church of St Giles was built in 1492. Its famous steeple was completed in 1506.

The Market Town of Wrexham

In 1603 a grammar school was founded in Wrexham. Furthermore, in the 17th century, wool was woven and fulled in Wrexham. After the wool was woven it was cleaned and thickened by pounding it in a mixture of clay and water. This was called fulling. After it dried the wool was dyed.

In 1642 there was a civil war between the king and parliament. There was no actual fighting in the town of Wrexham. At first, the whole of Wales was in the royalist’s hands but on 9 November 1643, a parliamentary army captured Wrexham. There was no resistance.

In the 18th century, Wrexham was known for its leather industry. There were skinners and tanners in the town. The horns from cattle were used to make things like combs and buttons. There was also a nail-making industry in Wrexham. However, in the mid-18th century, Wrexham was no more than a small market town with a population of perhaps 2,000.

The Industrial Revolution in Wrexham

In the late 18th century Wrexham was transformed by the coming of the industrial revolution. It began when the famous entrepreneur John Wilkinson (1728-1808) known as ‘Iron Mad Wilkinson’ opened Bersham iron foundry in 1762. In 1793 he opened a smelting plant at Brymbo.

In 1801, the population of Wrexham was 2,575. By the standards of the time, it was a small market town. Wrexham grew rapidly in the 19th century. By 1841 the population reached 5,854. By 1881 it was 10,903.

In the early 19th century the old wool industry died out. However, Wrexham’s other industries boomed. In the 19th century, coal mining in the vicinity prospered. Bersham Colliery was sunk in the 1860s. In 1880 an explosion in the colliery killed 9 men.

In the 19th century, Wrexham was famous for brewing. A German first brewed lager in Wrexham in 1880. Wrexham also had a large leather industry in the 19th century. Other industries were steel and brickmaking.

Meanwhile during the 19th century amenities in Wrexham improved. Wrexham gained gas light in 1827. The first hospital in Wrexham opened in 1833. It was called the Dispensary but in 1838 it was renamed the Infirmary. In 1849 Wrexham was connected to the rest of the country by railway.

Wrexham gained its first newspaper in 1848. Market Hall was built in 1848. In 1863 a volunteer fire brigade was founded. (The corporation formed a professional fire brigade in 1895).

Wrexham Waterworks Company was founded in 1864 to provide the town with piped water. Also in the 1860s sewers were dug under the streets of Wrexham. (Although it was not until 1894 that all houses in the town had flushing lavatories connected to sewers). The first cemetery in Wrexham opened in 1876. Furthermore from 1876 horse-drawn trams ran in the streets of Wrexham. The first public library in Wrexham opened in 1878. Overton Arcade was built in 1868. Central Arcade followed in 1891.

Meanwhile, Wrexham was incorporated (given a mayor and corporation) in 1857. Wrexham was also given a coat of arms.

Wrexham in the 20th Century

In 1907 the council purchased Parciau and turned it into a public park. The first cinema in Wrexham opened in 1910.

The population of Wrexham continued to grow rapidly. In 1901 it was 14,966. By 1931 it had reached 18,567. In 1981 the population of Wrexham passed 40,000 for the first time.

The first electricity was generated in Wrexham in 1900. In 1907 electric trams replaced horse-drawn trams. They were in turn replaced by buses in 1927.

A Garden Village was built in Wrexham in 1913-17. In the 1920s and 1930s, Wrexham council began the work of slum clearance. At that time a new council house estate was built at Acton Park. In the 1930s other council estates were built at Spring Lodge and Maes Y Dre. The boundaries of Wrexham were extended in 1965. In the 1950s a council estate was built at Queens Park. Another was built at Bryn Offa. In the 1960s the Acton Park estate was extended.

Gresford Colliery opened in 1911. In 1934 an explosion and fire at Gresford Colliery killed 261 miners. Three rescuers also died.

In the late 20th century the traditional industries in Wrexham entered a steep decline. Coal mining in the area ended altogether. Gresford Colliery closed in 1973. Bersham Colliery closed in 1986. However new industries came to Wrexham including engineering, pharmaceuticals, electronics, chemicals, and food processing. During World War II a large ordnance factory was built at Wrexham. After 1945 it was converted into an industrial estate.

Bersham Heritage Centre opened in 1983. Maelor Hospital opened in 1985. A swimming pool was built in 1970. In 1998 it was refurbished and renamed Waterworld Leisure Complex. Then in 1999 two new shopping centres opened in Wrexham, Henblas Square, and Island Green. The first Wrexham Science Festival was held in 1998.

Wrexham in the 21st Century

In the 21st century, Wrexham is still developing. Border Retail Park opened in 2002. Eagles Meadow Shopping Centre opened in 2008. In 2022 Wrexham had a population of 63,000.