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The Old Deanery Story

On Saturday, November 11th, a fascinating new book from the pen of local author and historian, Meurig Owen, was launched at the Old Deanery telling the story of the lovely old building in its many guises.
In his foreward to the book, the Very Rev.Nigel Williams, Dean of St. Asaph, writes, “It is good to be reminded that these wonderful houses need to find alternative uses when no longer used for the original purpose. Here we have an account of determination and true commitment to save a house that was falling into rack and ruin”
The Old Deanery is one of our city’s oldest houses and CADW date it back to the 17th century although it may well be even older than that.
The present building is one remodelled around 1830 by Dean Luxmoore but there are earlier references. In his survey of St. Asaph B Willis says that Dean William Stanley, Dean of St. Asaph from 1706 to 173, rebuilt what was Deanery House, where he often resided.
Peter Roberts, Notary Public and Diarist of St. Asaph, wrote in his notebook “Cwtta Cyfarwydd” “….in the afternoon of xxxth day of October 1624 there fell such greate rayne that night that be Sunday morning the river Elwey did ov’flowe all the Ro’ or commons at St. Asaph and took away some part of the bridge of St. Asaph next the Deane his house and the bridge of yr allt gose and also the chappell bridge, the like water was nev’ seene or heard of.”
This entry shows clearly that the Deanery existed in 1624.
Like many of these old houses the colourful history ofmany years leave a legacy of speculation and it is possible that the Old Deanery may well have been caught up in the crossfire caused by Welsh patriot Owain Glyndwr in 1402 and the further desecration by Oliver Cromwell’s parliamentarians in 1646.
Another feature of speculation relating to the old house is evidence of a tunnel leading from the cellar in the general direction of the river Elwy, which poses many questions. Did it represent a means of access or escape during times of siege during St. Asaph’s turbulent past when the clergy feared for their lives?
The book contains fascinating details of the lifestyle enjoyed at the ‘Deanery’ by its various incumbents, it famous visitors, links with Benjamin Franklin, the links between Dean Shipley, Bodrhyddan Hall and Lleweni.
Its 20th century history saw the building used for various purposes and it was last occupied by an officer of the church, Dean Llewelyn Wynne Jones up to 1911 when the family moved to to Canonry (now Abbeyfield).
In 1950 the submission of ‘permission for resumption of use of building as an Hotel’ clearly implies that it started functioning as an hotel some time before 1950 an is remembered as a fashionable venue for wedding receptions and dances. In fact Bill Cowie, who represented the city’s West Ward as a Denbighshire County Councillor for nine years up to his retirement in May this year, celebrated his marriage to Maureen Vernon at The Old Deanery following their wedding ceremony at Penrhewl Wesleyan Chapel.
Today the Old Deanery is a well run care home for the elderly managed by the Mahon family since 1985.
Barry Mahon bravely took on the restoration of the Old Deanery but his ambitions to turn the decaying building into a care home ran up against early problems when the council turned down his application and two years went by during which he took his case to the Welsh Office and spent £10,000 just for a barrister!
Undaunted the work of restoration eventually began and by 1988 the first residents moved in and the Old Deanery entered its new phase in a long and colourful history.
The Old Deanery Story, price £5, is available through Meurig Owen, 10 Deans Walk, and at The Old Deanery and the entire proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to provide further Old Deanery amenities for the elderly.