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The History of Denbigh

Denbigh is one of the most historic towns in Wales. Its Welsh name - Dinbych - means “little fortress” and the remains of historic Denbigh Castle still dominates the skyline.

It is thought to have been the location of a fortified settlement during the Roman occupation and it’s first mentioned in records following the Norman Conquest when Denbigh guarded the approach to the Hiraethog Hills and Snowdonia.

Denbigh is steeped in myth, legend and poetry. Welsh hero Dafydd ap Gruffydd, brother of Llewellyn, last Prince of Wales, had a fortified dwelling in Denbigh.

In 1282, when Edward I eventually overcame the Welsh resistance, the town and surrounding area was granted to Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, who was invested as the first Lord of Denbigh. The first borough Charter was granted to Denbigh in 1290. It was around this time that Henry de Lacy authorised the building of the castle on its splendid site and the mediaeval town grew up around the castle, contained within town walls. However, during the Wars of the Roses, the town was burned and was subsequently moved to the hilltop around the present market place and later extended in a grid pattern around Vale Street.

During Tudor and Stuart times, Denbigh prospered as a market town and business centre. Elizabeth I’s favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was granted the castle and Lordship of Denbigh, becoming virtually the Governor General of North Wales. He commissioned the Shire Hall, which now houses the Town Library.

After 1600, the town developed as a centre of various crafts - glovers, weavers, smiths, shoemakers, saddlers, furriers and tanners. These survived, grouped into guilds, until the coming of the industrial age in the 19th century.

In 1848 the North Wales Mental Hospital opened just outside the town and at its peak had 1500 patients and provided employment for many of Denbigh’s residents. It remained open until 1995 and is now privately owned as a site awaiting development. The railway came to Denbigh in the 1860s and by this time Denbigh had become the most important town in the Vale of Clwyd.

Throughout its history, Denbigh has been important as an agricultural market town, being ideally situated between the Hiraethog moors and the fertile Vale. Denbigh remains steeped in history, as a walk around town will reveal.

Henry Morton Stanley

Henry Morton StanleyFamous for the phrase “Doctor Livingstone I presume”, but what else do you know about one of Denbigh’s famous sons?

Denbighshire commemorated the centenary of the death of the world famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley in 2004.

Stanley was born John Rowlands in Denbigh in 1841 and spent most of his childhood from age 6 to 15 in the St Asaph Union Workhouse, now H M Stanley Hospital. At 17, he went to sea and landed in America where he fought in the American Civil War for the Confederates against the Unionists at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. He changed his name to Henry Stanley in around 1859 and adopted the middle name Morton in 1869. He subsequently worked as a newspaper correspondent and travelled extensively throughout the USA and Europe. In 1871 he set off on his expedition to discover East Africa and the Congo , the first of many African expeditions. In 1899, Stanley was knighted and from 1895 to 1900 he sat in Parliament. He died in London on May 10, 1904.



To get the most from your visit to Denbigh make sure you experience the Town Walls. Borrow the key from the Castle and explore to your heart’s content!

Free Guided Tours & Denbigh Open Doors


** BACK FOR 2024!! **

Every Sunday morning between May and September, local volunteers lead tours of the medieval market town. Tours start from the H.M.Stanley statue in front of the Library at 10.30am and last around 1½ hours.

Tours can be provided all year round for groups, at a day and time to suit, by prior arrangement. For further information about the tours or to make a group booking please contact the Town Hall, before 12pm, on 01745 815984 (Mon-Fri) or by e-mail:



Each September, as part of European Heritage Days, a wonderful range of interesting, unusual and beautiful historic homes and buildings will be open to the public FOR FREE.

Denbigh Open Doors will take place over the weekend 21-22 September 2024. Details of the various properties and events will be added to the Upcoming Events section.