At first it seemed like Wrexham might have been the wrong place to start this blog. A high street of ugly 20th century shop fronts stretched out in front of me and I found myself thinking, 'I'm screwed'.
First, a little background. I'm a professional stand up comedian, but that hasn't always been the case. For eight years I worked as a commercial archaeologist around London and the South East of England. Before that I was the nerdy kid in class who held a ruler in his hand to make sure his arm was the furthest up when the teacher asked a question about Romans. Unsurprisingly I was a well bullied youth, but they never did managed to shift my love of history, no matter how high the pulled the wedgie.
When I was working as an Archaeologist my thirst for history was being fulfilled on an daily basis. I've seen some awesome sights in my time; Neolithic tools, Roman bath houses, Saxon waterfronts, entire cemeteries of bodies, factories, houses and palaces. The whole fascinating history of Britain from the bottom up, but when I became a full time stand up comedian I lost all of that.
What I got in return was hours of driving to towns and villages I had never been to before, and if it hadn't been for the gigs I doubt I would ever have visited. No offence to Willenhall for example, but it wasn't exactly on my bucket list of places to go.
I started to go a bit loopy from the withdrawal of history, even going as far as to watching the fourth Indian Jones film because 'at least there are temples!'. I shuddered now as I think of those dark days, but I was saved by one simple thought. History is everywhere, even in the provinces. Sure it wouldn't be the Tower of London or Stonehenge, but in a way that could be the joy of looking for the more obscure historical sites of Britain. There are still interesting and valid stories to be told at a local level, just because Jan from Holland doesn't have it in his guide to the UK doesn't mean it isn't worth learning about. With this in mind I resolved to arrive at my next gig early and hunt down the best local history the place could offer.
So now we return to where we began, Wrexham. The traffic had been awful on the way up and as such I only had a hour in which to fulfil my self appointed task. This meant that I could only go as far as the town centre on my hunt. As I rounded the corner and stepped onto the high street my heart sunk. Nothing but glass fronted stores as far as the eye could see, the horrific love affair the 60s had with concrete visible for all to see. A lesser man may have turned back, but not a seasoned history hunter like me. I started up hill, that's lesson number one; when in doubt, head up. This is where you are most likely to find the holy trinity of local history; castles, churches and pubs.
I found a church first, a rather grand but depressingly modern Cathedral next door to a very much closed museum. The museum looked like it might have been interesting. It had a display about how World War I had effected the people of Wrexham (as all local museums must do for the foreseeable future. THUS THE LORD OF 100 YEAR ANNIVERSARIES HAS SPOKEN!) and the building itself had at one time been used as the local constabulary and courts. But, it was all a bit too 19th century for my liking.
I had given up the ghost and was headed back to the gig when my saviour hove into view. The Horse and Jockey, once again a pub had come to the rescue. Set slightly back from the high street I had missed it on my way out. Now I was looking at a beautiful timber framed building with white washed walls. A quick google gave me the facts I needed. The current building dates from about the 17th century, but is based around the site of an earlier 16th century Hall house. Hall houses are an awesome find as they played a vital part in communities from the Saxon period onwards. They provided somewhere for people to gather together to eat, sleep and make merry (a function which is now mostly fulfilled by Wetherspoons), as well as private rooms for the lord of the manor.
A quick drink and I skipped off into the night to face another room of comedy goers, buoyed by the knowledge that if you try hard enough you can find history anywhere. Even in Wrexham.