Friday, 31 July 2009

Credit Where It's Due

I took the camera with me for a wander through Happy Valley park in Llandudno today. The results are below. Credit has to be given to the gardeners who take care of the Happy Valley - they do a fantastic job:

Happy Valley

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Llandudno at Night

Just a selection of night photos of Llandudno, taken by myself over the last year or so.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi*: Colwyn Bay Pier

Nearly 40 years separate these two photos of Colwyn Bay Pier....

The top one, taken in the early 1970s, shows a bustling pier with Golden Goose Entertainments (Admission Free!), Dixieland Palace Showbar with Cabaret & Dancing, The Lincoln Suite (whatever that is?) and Golden Fry Restaurant.

Today's photo shows a closed and shuttered pier. A cheap looking extension was built onto the front of the Golden Goose sometime in the 1980s, with the Golden Goose itself becoming a combined amusements/cafe/bar area. The Dixieland Showbar (later CJs) and Golden Fry Restaurant both closed in the late 1980s and the pavilion building (to the right) they were housed in is falling further into decay. Even the ornamental turrets have gone from the roof towers! The pier's owner, Steve Hunt, was made bankrupt in 2008 by Conwy County Borough Council in a spat over unpaid rates and the pier has remained closed ever since.

Steve Hunt has recently expressed concern over the deteriorating condition of the pier:
Colwyn Bay Pier 'is dangerous'

* - 'So passes the glory of the world'

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Blue Dolphin, Rhos On Sea

The Blue Dolphin formed part of the outdoor swimming pool complex at Rhos On Sea and the name was also used to represent the complex as a whole. In Summer, it functioned as the cafeteria for the pool but, at other times, hosted various functions and was described as 'one of the area's busiest social centres'. It was used for 'discos, parties, dances and flower shows'. It was originally opened on August 3rd 1933 by Boxing Champion Jack Petersen.

By the late 1970s, the complex had hit hard times. The Blue Dolphin recorded a loss of £14,000 in 1978 (a lot of money in those days!) and Council thoughts began to turn to closure. It didn't help that the whole place was showing its age and in need of expensive repairs.

In 1981, a Rhyl entrepreneur called Mike Farrell (already operator of Dinosaur World in Eirias Park) leased the complex from Colwyn Borough Council and announced his intention to revamp it into a Treasure Island themed water attraction, creating 80 jobs. The ageing changing rooms were to be demolished and the rubble used to reduce the pool's depth to 3 feet. A replica sailing ship and some fake islands were to be introduced to the pool, whilst the Blue Dolphin was to be extended and renovated to provide restaurant and ballroom facilities. The dilapidated Cegin Y Mynach tearooms (now the Rhos Fynach pub) were to be renovated and a synthetic roof fitted.

There was some local opposition to the plan and Treasure Island was never built. Instead, in 1984, Mike Farrell admitted defeat and simply handed back the lease to Colwyn Council. By 1985, the entire site was derelict - even the popular Cegin Y Mynach tearooms had been forced to close as it was thought the building was too unsafe to let out to concessionaires.

1987 saw the announcement that a development of luxury apartments could be built on the site, with prices as high as £60,000! The Rhos On Sea Residents Association was vehemently opposed to this scheme, arguing that it should remain as a public amenity space. The development didn't go ahead.

In 1988, plans were announced for an Ice Rink on the site - a development that would have meant the closure and removal of Abbey Road at its Eastern end. The development didn't go ahead.

In 1989, plans were announced by Strand Leisure for a £1 million Indoor Bowling Centre on the site, with cafe, bar, conference room and snooker facilities. The development didn't go ahead.

In 1990, a Llandudno businessman called Ray Gardner (of Tiffanys Cafe Bar fame) signed a 99 year lease with Colwyn Council for the former Cegin Y Mynach Tearooms and, at a cost of £350,000, it was then completely renovated and extended into the Rhos Fynach pub/restaurant we know today, which opened in November 1992. The Council (now CCBC) still own the Freehold and it is now let to Mr Robert Skelley (the current Landlord).

Rhos Fynach in 1954:

Rhos Fynach in 2009:

As for the Blue Dolphin itself, the swimming pool and associated facilities, they were all bulldozed away in the early 1990s and a small park, called 'Parc Rhos Fynach' now stands on the site (opened September 1993):

Although pleasant enough, the park has always seemed very bland and uninspiring to me. When one considers the many thousands of people that used to flock here to enjoy themselves at the outdoor pool, its hard not to feel a sense of loss.

If you can add to this history, or have spotted an error, please feel free to get in touch.

Monday, 27 July 2009

The Welsh Ffargo Land Train, Eirias Park, Colwyn Bay

I'm just about old enough to remember the Welsh Ffargo (a pun on Wells Fargo) Land Train in Colwyn Bay, that ran from the Eirias Park Arches (seen in first photo) up into Eirias Park by the Boating Lake. Tourists were encouraged to ride the Miniature Steam Railway along from the Pier to the Eirias Park Arches, then take the Welsh Ffargo up into Eirias Park, where it would travel around the Boating Lake and then stop outside the Pavilion (which had cafe/amusements/exhibitions etc).

Here's some 1970s postcards of it in action:

Maybe you're thinking that it all looks good and you'd like to visit?? Sadly, the Welsh Ffargo disappeared many years ago, as did the Miniature Steam Railway, the Pier is currently closed and semi-derelict, the Boating Lake is now an overgrown mess, the Pavilion in Eirias Park was destroyed by fire (vandals) in the 1980s and never replaced...

No idea what year the Welsh Ffargo stopped running though, anyone know?

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Pier Pavilion Theatre, Llandudno

The Pier Pavilion Theatre site on Llandudno's North Shore must surely take the prize for being the town's longest running eyesore.

Derelict site of former Pier Pavilion Theatre - 2008

Of course, it didn't always look like this. From 1886 - 1994 it was the site of the Pier Pavilion theatre, a 2,000 seat three-storey structure, built in the typically flamboyant Victorian style, complete with a superbly detailed cast-iron veranda, running the length of the entire seaward side of the building.

The Directors of the Llandudno Pier Company had successfully opened the new pier in 1878 and were now looking to expand their business to take advantage of Llandudno's growing popularity as a seaside resort. The existing sundeck pavilion at the end of the pier was proving inadequate to cope with the demand for musical recitals, so the decision was taken to build a bigger and better pavilion near the promenade entrance to the pier extension then under construction.

The original Pavilion the day after its original roof was destroyed by a storm

Work started in 1881. The new pavilion was scheduled to open in the Spring of 1883 but a ferocious storm on the night of January 25th 1883 resulted in severe damage to the glass roof. Following a rethink of the roof's design (and much embarrassment to the building's architects, who were promptly dismissed by the pier company), the decision was taken to replace the original glass roof with a sturdy lead one, more suited to the demands of a North Wales location in winter. Extensive rebuilding work was required and the building did not open officially until September 1886.

The pavilion was unusual in that in had two main entrances, the first from the pier entering at Stall level and the another on Happy Valley Road, which emerged onto the Balcony. The building was 204ft long, with a width ranging from 84ft to 104ft. The canopy roof was 60ft across. One end of the building housed the Egyptian Hall, which featured hieroglyphics on its wall decorations. More unusually, the pavilion basement housed what was then the largest indoor swimming pool in Britain. Unfortunately for the pier company, problems with seawater quality (the pool was filled twice daily from the tides) meant that this novel idea did not prove successful and the pool was filled in shortly afterwards.

Pier Pavilion - Seaward facing facade

Closer look at the Pavilion's ornate cast-iron exterior veranda

Pier Pavilion - Original Interior
Buildings (from left to right) are Pier Pavilion (with original roof) (built 1884),
Baths Hotel (built 1879), original Baths building (built 1855).

Under the leadership of Jules Rivière, the Orchestra at the Pavilion was a great success and was quickly trebled in size to symphony proportions. It contributed to the development of that great British summer entertainment, the promenade concert. The young Henry Wood came to Llandudno to observe the then elderly Rivière at work. Following Rivière, the locally renowned Arthur Payne held the baton for many years until 1925 when he was followed in 1926 by Malcolm Sargent for two notable seasons then by others from season to season including, as a guest conductor on several occasions, Sir Adrian Boult. The pier pavilion orchestra continued its summer seasons until 1936 when it gave way to variety shows, a victim of changing entertainment tastes. A small orchestra survived, this was taken over in 1938 by John Morava who maintained the pier's orchestral tradition to the very end in 1974, when the orchestra (by then confined to the pierhead pavilion) was finally disbanded.

Thus, in 1936, the pavilion prepared to enter its second era - that of variety entertainment. This was to be the theatre's golden age, with the Pavilion firmly on the tour list of every major artist. It also regularly hosted political rallies and conferences, with all the big names in British politics appearing there at Party Conferences during the 1930s-1960s.

In the decades following the war, the pavilion was as popular as ever with the thousands of holidaymakers returning to Llandudno year after year. It was not until the end of the 1960s that the popularity of the pavilion's variety shows began to flag - victims of the twin threats of television and cheap foreign holidays.

By the 1970s, the Golden Goose Entertainments building (1969) has been built to the left of the Pavilion Building.

A full programme of summer shows was carried on through the 1970s but the audiences were falling away steadily and the length of the summer season began to shorten. By now, the theatre was under the creative control of local impresario and comedian Alex Munro, who introduced new initiatives to bring back the audiences, including the pavilion's first pantomime in 1972, an event which was marred by the sad death of Munro's daughter Janet Munro, who died in tragic circumstances days before she was due to begin rehearsals for the show. In the late 1970s, local impressarios Robinson Cleaver & Clive Stock took over the management of the Pavilion, promoting shows with stars such as Bobby Crush.

On the 6th December 1983, the Llandudno Pier Company sold the pavilion for £10,000 to Llandudno Pavilion Ltd, a sister company of Uttoxeter Investments Ltd, a leisure company that already operated the Llandudno Cabin Lift. Despite the high quality of the Summer shows, the audiences were still falling and in 1984, it was decided that the theatre would close at the end of the summer season. The final show at the pavilion was 'Startime Follies', a variety show featuring Tommy Trafford, Lynda Lee Lewis, Kay Carman and the Marie Ashton Dancers, with performances at 8pm nightly and a high season only matinee at 3pm daily. Ticket prices ranged from £2 to £2.60. The lack of audiences, increasing costs of maintaining the old building and new fire regulations had finally put paid to the pavilion's theatrical tradition - 98 years after it had first opened.

Sadly, the decline of the Pier Pavilion mirrored the decline of the traditional British seaside resort in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The final show at the Pavilion was 'Startime Follies' in 1984. The pavilion's days as an entertainment venue were not entirely over, however. A few months before the theatre closed, a new attraction opened in the basement. The huge basement area (originally built as the country's largest indoor swimming pool back in 1886 but which closed shortly afterwards due to problems with water quality) had been home over the years to a small amusement arcade called Tusons and, later, a ghost train ride and vintage car 'round the world' ride. These were all cleared out to make way for the Llandudno Dungeon, a walk through horror waxworks exhibition, featuring scenes from the more gruesome aspects of human history, all built at a cost of over £100,000. Scenes depicted included a full size replica of a Victorian London street, complete with Sweeney Todd's barber shop and opium den, the Great Plague of London, body snatchers at work and a full size model of a guillotine. This novel attraction proved successful for a few years but closed at the end of 1990, when the entire exhibition was sold and shipped to France.

The Pier Pavilion after closure, about 1988

Lack of maintenance meant that the exterior of the building deteriorated rapidly but the interior remained in surprisingly good condition, with most of the original architectural and theatre features still in situ. January 1992 saw ownership of the building pass to the Worcester based Launchsign Ltd, which announced their intention to completely restore the building and introduce to the former theatre area. This £4million plan, billed as a 'Victorian Wonderland' and devised by L&R Leisure PLC/Lingard Styles, would have seen the Basement area used for a 'Victorian Wonderland' themed attraction, the Ground Floor used for a Covent Garden style indoor market and the First Floor used for a themed restaurant (with outdoor seating on the balcony) and retail/entertainment units.

Despite the grandiose plans, no effort was made to repair or even secure the theatre building, which became increasingly vandalised and a meeting place for local youths. The process of decay accelerated, until the almost inevitable arson attack in 1994 destroyed the main theatre building:

Pier Pavilion ablaze - February 13th, 1994

Aftermath - February 14th 1994
The alarm was raised on February 13th 1994 at 5.30pm and over 80 firemen attended. With the Pavilion already well alight, their priority was to stop the fire spreading into surrounding buildings, especially the Grand Hotel. The blaze was so fierce that cars parked on the road outside exploded and windows in hotels across the road shattered with the heat. The fire was under control by 6.30pm but firemen remained on site until 1am damping down the remains.

The following day, watched by hundreds of curious onlookers (including myself), a demolition team was sent in to demolish the remaining parts of the building, which were in a dangerous state. The Managing Director of Launchsign Limited, Ricky Taylor, said that his company had lost £100,000 as a result of the fire and the building was not properly insured.

And there the story ends...for now. The site has never been cleared properly and remains an eyesore until the present day. Attempts by Conwy County Council to redevelop the site have been constantly rebuffed by the current owner, a Worcester businessman called David Taylor. Rumours abound that the owner is holding on to the property in the hope of getting Planning Permission for some form of residential development - this seems very unlikely to be granted.

Comment: Given that the the Pavilion site has been derelict for the past 15 years, one wonder why Conwy Council have not taken more action to resolve such an eyesore in one of the most prominent sites in Llandudno? I'm sure that a similar eyesore in a seaside resort like Eastbourne would soon be dealt with!

The Congo Institute, Colwyn Bay

The Congo Institute

The Congo Institute, also known as the African Training Institute, was established in 1890 at Myrtle Villa, Nant y Glyn Road, Colwyn Bay by a returned missionary and pastor in the town, Reverend William Hughes.

Reverend Hughes, who was a friend of Sir Henry M Stanley whom he had met while a missionary in the Congo, returned to Wales in 1885 with two Congolese students and settled at Colwyn Bay, living on charity and money collected at lectures. He believed the African students should be given a Christian education and trained in a craft apprenticeship, such as carpentry, printing, tailoring, blacksmithing etc.

The intention was that they would then return to Africa and act as missionaries in their own country. Students attended Tabernacle Welsh Baptist Chapel, Colwyn Bay and Calfaria Welsh Baptist Chapel, Old Colwyn. In the Old Colwyn cemetery there are gravestones of Congolese students who died in the area. Although well-supported locally, the Institute was not without its troubles and Hughes' ideas were unpalatable to the Baptist Church Missionary Society.

He was financially naïve, and in 1911 faced national scandal at the hands of John Bull magazine - akin to today's tabloids - which suggested the Africans were 'walking in the woods with local ladies' of an evening. In a story which appeared in the magazine, Hughes was also alleged to have fathered an illegitimate child by a Congolese woman. Hughes decided to sue the editor, Horatio Bottomley, but lost his case at Ruthin Assizes. Subscriptions to the Institute dried up immediately, the remaining students were sent home to Africa and, the following year, Hughes was declared bankrupt. He died at Conwy Workhouse on 28 January 1924.

At its peak the institute trained around 60 students. King Leopold II of Belgium was its patron. North Wales explorer, H M Stanley also gave lectures in support of the institute.

The Congo Institute building (Myrtle Villa) survives on Nant Y Glyn Road to this day (albeit greatly altered) as the NHS Clinic at 19 Nant Y Glyn Road - the map below shows the location of the Institute:

A photo of two of the gravestones belonging to the African boys who studied at the Congo Institute but who sadly never made it back to Africa:

St. Enochs & Marine Hotels, Colwyn Bay

I happened to be passing when the St Enochs & Marine Hotels on Marine Road in Colwyn Bay were being demolished back in 2006 and thought I would snap some photos for posterity.

Going, going.....




The new face of Colwyn Bay


Forte's Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlour

On the seafront at Rhos On Sea is Forte's Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlour:

Back in the 1950s, the site of the Fortes Building was just a piece of wasteland, after Pyes Promenade Garage & Coach Booking Office had departed the site for Princes' Drive in Colwyn Bay. In 1956, the Forte family opened a small shack serving hot and cold drinks and snacks on the site.

The present Fortes building, with flats above called Hadden Court, dates back to the 1960s. In those days, the restaurant was in the style of a self service diner and there was a small amusement arcade next to it called the Golden Goose (operated by the same company that owned the piers at Llandudno & Colwyn Bay that also had Golden Goose Entertainments on them).

The ground floor was reconfigured and refurbished in 1997 to form the present Fortes Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlour, together with two shop units on Penrhyn Avenue. The Golden Goose then moved around the corner into one of these shop units but did not prosper in its new location and eventually closed in about 2000. The two shops are now occupied by a carpet shop and a florist respectively.

If you're visiting Rhos, a visit to Fortes is a must. The Forte family still own it today and they are open from 9am all year round serving a wide selection of hot & cold meals and drinks. There are also over 24 ice-cream flavours to choose from. Do pop in!

Rhos Fynach, Rhos On Sea, Colwyn Bay

Whilst reading an ancient copy of Norman Tucker's excellent book Colwyn Bay: Its Origin & Growth, I found this photo of the Rhos Fynach (now a popular pub on the front at Rhos on Sea) that must date back to the 1870s or maybe even earlier.

Taken across the road from where Ninos is now, it shows the gardens of the Rhos Fynach extending all over the Rhos Point area and reaching down to the beach, with the prom itself being a dead end finishing at the Fynach's gates. Also can be seen a series of stone farm buildings situated where the Rhos Abbey Hotel (now St Trillos Court apartments) was later built.

At extreme left of the photo can be seen what later became the grounds of the Promenade Garage, (home to legendary coach company, Pye's Coaches, before they moved to Prince's Drive) In 1956, the Forte family opened a small shack serving hot and cold drinks and snacks on the site. The present Fortes building, with flats above, dates back to the 1960s. The ground floor was reconfigured and refurbished in 1997 to form the present Fortes Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlour.

Larger version can be seen here:

Same view today:

Interesting to note that most of the buildings on the left-hand side are still around today.

How far back does the Rhos Fynach go into history? Its commonly known that a Charter was granted in 1230 by Llywelyn The Great to Ednyfed Fychan for the property then known as 'Ros Venych' but what's not so well known is that a quantity of Roman coins dating from the reign of Constantine The Great were discovered wrapped in sheets of lead in an old stone drain when a section of the Rhos Fynach's garden was being cleared for the construction of the Rhos Abbey Hotel in 1898. It appears that the earlier history of that particular area still remains to be uncovered.

The low lying land right along Penrhyn Avenue and the whole area of what is now the Golf Club were all originally part of the Afon Ganol stream and marshes. The stream flowed from the direction of Mochdre (it is said boats were once able to reach Mochdre) and split into two, one arm flowing out to sea by Penrhyn Bay (a map of 1720 shows a large lake at its mouth) and the other flowing down what is now Penrhyn Avenue, entering the sea at the bottom of Rhos Road. These days, a now much smaller Afon Ganol now flows through a man made ditch and is pumped out to to sea next to the clubhouse at the golf club.

Obviously, this was a time long before any sea defences were built, so the whole low lying area overflowed during high tide, thus making the higher land around the Rhos Fynach, St Trillos Chapel and Abbey Road a virtual island at times.

I believe there was a track/causeway from the Rhos Fynach to the 'mainland' that follows the route of the present prom towards Colwyn Bay, with a Lodge cottage for Rhos Fynach (later called the 'Rising Gull' ) situated roughly where the little newsagents on the corner of Rhos Road is now. I can just imagine the desolate, half flooded marshes where Penrhyn Avenue is now, with maybe a rough cart track winding its way through them over to the Rhos Fynach.

(Not sure who made the map or where it came from, but if anyone knows, I would be very happy to credit it fully.

More recently, it was unused during the early 1970s when it was very dilapidated. Colwyn Borough Council applied to demolish it in 1972 but failed. By this time, it had become part of the 'Blue Dolphin complex', with an open air swimming pool, cafe and changing rooms.

I think it was then renovated to some degree by the Council and reopened as the 'Cegin Y Mynach' tearooms, which lasted until about 1985/6, when its condition had again deteriorated to a point that it was unsafe to use. By this time, the whole Blue Dolphin complex was closed and abandoned. The Rhos Fynach building was boarded up and left for 5 years.

In 1990, a Llandudno businessman called Ray Gardener signed a 99 year lease with Colwyn Council and, at a cost of £350,00, it was then completely renovated and extended into the pub/restaurant we know today, which opened in November 1992. The Council (now CCBC) own the Freehold and it is now let to Mr Robert Skelley (the current Landlord).

Rhos Fynach in 1954:

Rhos Fynach in 2009:

Just remembered I have another one of the exterior, taken in 1908:

Here's some photos of the miniature golf course that was in the gardens of the Rhos Fynach in the 1970s:

The miniature golf course was removed (amid great local uproar) in 1990 as part of the conversion into the pub/restaurant. The area where it was located is now a lawn and circular outdoor terrace.

Looking Back - Local Research

An essential book for anyone interested in Colwyn Bay's history is "Colwyn Bay: Its history across the years" by Ivor Wynne Jones & Norman Tucker. It's actually an updated edition of Norman Tucker's excellent "Colwyn Bay: its origin and growth", published back in 1953.

The two Spirit of Colwyn Bay books contains a wealth of old photographs of the town:
The Spirit of Colwyn Bay 1 (20th Century in Photographs)
The Spirit of Colwyn Bay 2 (20th Century in Photographs)

Far harder (and more expensive) to find is`Colwyn Bay Before the Houses Came` by George Porter, published in 1938. George's father, John Porter, ran the Pwllycrochan Hotel (now Lyndon Preparatory School) and he has many memories of Colwyn Bay back in the days when it consisted of a handful of houses.

Also worth looking at is Geoffrey Edwards' "Colwyn Bay: 1934-1974 A social history", which covers the post war years and complements "Colwyn Bay: Its history across the years".

Colwyn Bay & District - A collection of Pictures: Volume One by Graham Roberts

Around Old Colwyn by Patrick Slattery - Not a particularly accurate title as half of the photos are of Colwyn Bay and Rhos! Overlooking that, an interesting collection of photos.

Alan Godfrey Maps publishes three 1911 maps of Colwyn Bay, as below:

Colwyn Bay North:

Colwyn Bay South-West:

Colwyn Bay & Colwyn South-East:

I have all three (you can also get them on ebay for about £2-3 each)and they are well produced, not to mention very interesting!

Also worth a look is 'Walks from Colwyn Bay' by Christopher Draper, a series of 12 self-guided walks with lots of historical snippets and trivia about the area.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Dealing with eyesore properties??

Walking round Colwyn Bay (and even in Llandudno), you can't help but notice a significant number of eyesore properties and, of course, it takes only one such property in a street/row to bring the whole area down.

What's not generally known is that CCBC have the powers to force the owners of such properties to tidy them up, paint them etc, by using what is known as a Section 215 (of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act) Enforcement Notice.

This says that if any building is harming local amenities - including the look of the neighbourhood - owners can be forced to carry out repairs. Failure to comply with a Section 215 Notice is an offence that could be the subject of a prosecution. If considered necessary, the local Authority have the power to enter the, carry out the work and charge the cost of such work to the liable person.

Down on the South Coast of England, the seaside town of Hastings was in a similar situation to Colwyn Bay. with numerous run down/derelict properties. Hastings Borough Council has served over 160 Section 215 Notices and has transformed the town centre. More here:

My question is..why haven't CCBC been using this very useful tool in Colwyn Bay?

Mystery of the Missing Serpents

I know the thread title sounds like a Three Investigators mystery novel (my favourites as a child) but it's a serious question....

Along the entire length of Colwyn Bay promenade up until sometime in the 1990s were many what are called Serpent Benches - this is one:

They had been around as long as I can remember and, looking at old postcards, seem to have been there almost since the prom was built and what a wonderful design they were.

Question is...where have they all gone? The Serpents are made out of cast iron and are, thus, virtually indestructible and will last forever. There must have been up to 50 benches at one time - what happened to them all?

Edit: There are a couple of remaining ones in Llandudno, one is on the prom down by the Tyre Centre at the Craig Y Don end and another is up at the Halfway Station of the Tramway on the Great Orme. Don't tell the council!

High Tide! (March 28th 2009)

March 28th saw the biggest tide of the year so far at Colwyn Bay:

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