• The History of Acton Park

    The Acton Park Estate is located in Acton Township to the north of the current town centre. During the 13th century the land may have been the property of Vale Crucis Abbey and later part of Bromfield and Yale. In the late 16th century it was the property of the Jeffreys family.

    In a survey of 1620 John Jeffrey’s son of Jeffrey ap Huw, a judge, lived here and it was at Acton Hall that his grandson, the infamous Judge George Jeffreys 1st Baron Jeffreys of Wem was born. Better known as Judge Jeffreys or “The Hanging Judge” he became notorious after the severe punishments he handed down at the trials of the supporters of the Duke of Monmouth during the reign of King James II.

    Judge George Jeffreys

    In 1680 he became Chief Justice of Chester, and later Lord Chief Justice of England, despite Charles II reportedly damning Jeffreys’ character:

    “He has no learning, no sense, no manners and has more impudence than ten street walkers.” In 1688 when James II fled the country, Jeffreys also tried to flee, but was arrested in Wapping and placed in the Tower of London “for his own safety”, because the mob was outrageous against him. He died there the following year.

    Acton Hall, at that time was one of the largest houses in the Wrexham area. The last member of the Jeffreys family to live here was Robert who died in 1714 when the property was passed to his sister Elizabeth. For some years the house was occupied by her brother-in-law Philip Egerton. By 1747 the estate’s financial affairs led to it being sold by act of parliament (1745). It was bought by a family member Ellis Yonge of Hope, the High Sheriff of Flintshire.

    At that time Acton Park included a large area surrounding the house and some further additions were made to the estate. Yonge then appears to have become financially embarrassed, and was obliged to put the estate up for sale in October 1782 at the Eagles Hotel (now the Wynnstay Hotel), Wrexham but it does not appear to have been sold until shortly after his death in 1785 when Sir Foster Cunliffe bought it for £27,000. The house was in a state of disrepair and referred to as “ugly and disagreeable” at that time but the surrounding countryside beautiful. Much alteration, completed in 1787, was made before he rented out at £1100 per year.

    Sir Foster and Lady Cunliffe – Acton Hall

    At the time of the sale the house the land totalled about 194 acres. In 1801 Sir Foster purchased a small field in Acton ‘at the south west corner of little Acton farm between the two roads from Chester to Wrexham for £195’. It was this purchase that led to the realignment of box lane. At the same time he bought two fields in Wrexham Regis from Mr. Jones of Belian Place for £1164. This was a very expensive purchase but as the land lay within sight of the house and may have been built upon it would have not been prudent to have refused it. These two fields were almost certainly those shown in Palmer’s map of Wrexham Regis and Wrexham abbot in 1844 as fields 388 and 399 running along the north side of Rhosnesni Lane from Chester road to the present day Central Avenue.

    Acton Park – Early 19th Century

    Some time after 1801, Sir Foster had a sandstone wall constructed around the boundary a total length of 23 miles. Some sections of this sandstone road have survived.

    A ha ha or sunken fence designed to prevent animals entering a park or garden which was constructed right across the park from Chester road to Jeffreys Road (opposite Warrenwood road).

    The lake in Acton Park is shown on 19th Century maps as a fish pond. The lake was original much longer and extended as far as Jeffrey’s road almost as far as Warrenwood road.

    Acton Park: Ordnance Survey 1872

    At its narrowest point it was crossed by a Chinese style footbridge and at its widest point at the northern end it had a small island.

    Today the surface area of the lake is much reduced although the dried out section can still be seen by a hollow in the grass roughly parallel to Jeffreys Road and a number of old trees still lean over awaiting the return of the water.

    The narrow strip of water between the northern end of the lake and the island has now been filled in although occasionally during periods of heavy rainfall the ground is still prone to flooding.

    Chinese Bridge

    The Four Dogs gateway was erected in 1820 designed by Thomas Harrison.

    In October 1969 WBC made an application to demolish the gateway despite the fact it was a grade II listed structure. After much deliberation the application was rejected.

    The original dogs that sat atop the gateway were made of wood carved by James Edwards of Lavister and represented the greyhound crest on the Cunliffe arms.

    One dog disappeared when the US army left Acton hall in 1944 and a second was destroyed by vandals in 1964. The surviving wooden dogs were used to create moulds by students at Wrexham College of art and four new dogs were made of glass fibre and concrete. The refurbished gateway was officially opened in April 1982. One wooden dog survives in the Wrexham museum collection.

    Current ‘new’ Four Dogs

    General Sir Robert Cunliffe made several repairs and decided to build nurseries over the back entrance. He also converted the large entrance hall into the library and changed the chief entrance from the south to the west and entering into what had been the library. He also added a terrace on the south side.

    By the time of the 1872 ordnance survey lodges had been built at the gates on Chester Road (Greyhound lodge), Box Lane (for many years this served as the home for the caretaker for Acton Park School and stands just inside the school main gate), Dean road, Borras Road (Rhosnesni lodge). The latter bears the inscription RA-C-ESE (Robert Alfred and Eleanor Sophia Cunliffe) 1876. In addition a fourth lodge stood close to the site of the present day Cunliffe arms. Known as the bailiff’s lodge this was adapted into Home Farm, part of the Acton Park holdings scheme and was demolithsed in the 1960s.

    A number of estate houses were built on Acton Road (now Dean Road) and Borras Road during the latter part of the 19th century.

    Wrexham FC – 1878

    On the 30 March 1878 Acton Park played host to the first ever FA of Wales cup final.

    The most likely venue would seem to be the field now used as the playing field of Acton school. Wrexham beat Druids 1-0.

    On the 24 august 1889 Queen Victoria visited Acton Park the mayor and local dignitaries received the queen at the specially built enclosure in Acton Park, while wealthy donors, who had paid for the decorations, enjoyed the best seats. She then heard a 400-strong choir, accompanied by over 10,000 Sunday school children, sing a special version of the National Anthem.

    Queen Victoria in Acton Park

    All the children received a commemorative medal to mark the occasion, while three days later, Queen Victoria knighted the mayor for organising such an impressive reception.

    Poster Announcing Visit of Queen Victoria

    The photographs below are images of rooms within Acton Hall at the beginning of the twentieth century.

    Library – circa 1900

    Another view of Library – circa 1900

    Entrance Hall – circa 1900

    Unknown Room – circa 1900

    Acton Hall – circa 1935

    During World War 1 the house was used for training by the military most notably the 3rd battalion Welsh Border Mounted Brigade (Denbighshire hussars imperial yeomanry).

    Following the death of Sir foster H E Cunliffe in 1917 the estate was put up for sale; 224 acres (roughly the area bounded by Chester Road, Rhosnesni Lane, Borras Road, Jeffreys Road, and Box Lane) were bought by the Belgian diamond merchant sir Bernhard Oppenheimer who immediately sold 60 acres along the north side of Rhosnesni Lane to WBC for housing – the Acton Park Housing estate. He then gifted an area of 125 acres to a trust called the Sir Bernard Oppenheimer trust for discharged soldiers and sailors and 11 small holdings were laid out within the park as housing for ex-servicemen part of the so-called Lloyd George’s homes for heroes.

    An area bordering along box lane he retained as the site for a national diamond factory where disabled service men could be employed in diamond polishing. The factory was not a success and was sold along with Acton park house, stables and some of the parkland to Denbighshire county council. They converted the factory building into Acton Park School and sold 23 acres including Acton Park House, stables etc. to local business man William Aston for £1500. Aston opened the grounds including a rock garden to the public.

    Rock Garden

    The house was used as a furniture store and occasionally members of the public were permitted inside to view the furniture. In 1938 Aston conveyed part of the gardens (including the walled garden) to Denbighshire CC in return for a peppercorn rent, retaining only the Acton Hall itself and Acton grange and stables.

    There was a small farm located just inside the main gate on the site of the Four Dogs Public House. In the 1930s this was tenanted by Sam Jones who lived in the lodge where he had an ice-cream stand in the garden and a butcher’s shop on the corner of Box Lane.

    In 1939 the War Office requisitioned Acton Park and Nissen huts were erected in the grounds for the soldiers while the officers were billeted in the house. The Lancashire Fusiliers, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the South Wales Borderers and the Gurkhas were just a few of the regiments who stayed at Acton during the Second World War.

    In 1943 the American 33rd Signals Construction Battalion and 400th Armoured Field Artillery Battalion were billeted at Acton Park. Wrexham was host to men from Kentucky, Ohio,West Virginia and Indiana. Eagles Meadow became their vehicle store, the Butter Market their canteen, Acton School Hall the venue for their dances and chewing gum was sold at the US Army store in Garden Village. The US Army was still segregated and the black soldiers were billeted at ‘The Studio’ by the junction of Chester Road and Grove Road.

    The house just survived the US Army, but in a very poor state. The north wing was demolished just after the war. People plundered the park for firewood in the tough years of rationing in 1945-47.

    By 1952 Sydney Aston son of Alderman William Aston was considering the demolition of Acton hall and opposed efforts to have the building listed. In June Sydney Aston wrote again to messrs Edmund Kirby and sons ‘it has always been the intention to give the site of Acton Hall to the corporation to add to the park which my father gave some years ago and in the course of conversation the other day with the borough surveyor he made it clear that he would personally favour our giving the hall in its present condition to the corporation for them to demolish and keep the land’. In a letter dated 28 July 1950 Messrs Edmund Kirby that there was little of merit in the building. The council agreed in principal to the demolition in June 1951 subject to the condition that they might preserve the older portion of the building on the south. As things transpired however, they decided not to preserve any part of the house. All trace of the building has now disappeared and the site, is occupied by a private housing development, Acton Hall Walks.

    In 1958 the Ministry of Pensions sold to WBC for £35,000 the 119 acres that had previously been utilised by Acton park holdings thereby completing the transfer into public ownership the whole of the block sold to Oppenheimer in 1918.

    In the mid 60s work commenced on a substantial expansion of the Acton Park housing estate covering much of the land previously owned by the ministry of pension and in the late 60s some 12 acres were sold for Box Lane building estate officially known as the Acton Farm Estate which was then described as a private building estate of £6,000 + executive houses. These were to be built at a density of 5-6 plots per acre and today comprise Ffordd Elan, Tudno, Elwy and Heol Dinas as well as the houses facing onto Box Lane between Jeffreys Road and Acton Gardens.

    Even though the area was not initially designed as a ‘park’, it now features a bowling green, tennis courts, children’s play areas, a Japanese garden and a lake with abundant wildlife.

    Childrens’ play area

    The declaration ceremony for the 1977 National Eisteddfod was held in Acton Park and the Gorsedd stones remain.

    Sandstone Block

    Close to the stones is a carved sandstone block removed from the Parish Church during the restoration programme during the early twentieth century. There are rumours that has magical powers…………….anyone climbing onto it will be unable to get off!

    The Friends of Acton Park are grateful to the W.Alister Williams Collection for permission to use images and parts of text from The Encyclopaedia of Wrexham (2nd Edtion), available from www.bridgebooks.co.uk.

    The Friends of Acton Park