Sunday, 26 July 2009

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:


andy w said...

The African Institute of Colwyn Bay issued a medal to commemorate the Coronation of Edward VII in 1902. It was struck by H.B.Sale of Birmingham and featured the King and Queen on the obverse and an 8 line legend on the reverse,the first 3 of which are: PRESENTED BY THE/AFRICAN INSTITUTE/COLWYN BAY.
It is 38mm in diameter and made of white metal. It is listed as WE4535C in volume 4 of Whittlestone and Ewings catalogue of Royal Commemorative Medals.

Anonymous said...

hi I was up on Nant Y Glyn Road and researching the Institute last week, I think the building you've linked a photo of might be mistaken. Email me at and I'll be happy to share my photos of what the building actually was.
All the very best, I.N.

Anonymous said...

Can you give me more info on Myrtle Villa- research shows a family member residing there at the time of his marriage in 1915

Thanks for any help

Anonymous said...

Iam the great grandaughter of Rev William Hughes and I am currently researching the family tree. My grandfather lived at Myrtle Villa.I would be interested in your family member?

Anonymous said...

contact me via e-mail

My Grandmother was called Hughes

Peter Gordon Smith-Evans said...

I have carried out some investigation into who accupied Myrtle Villa's during the period 1915, or there about, through to 1929 and have established that my Grandfather Nathaniel Evans and maybe my father also lived there. Nathaniel married a Martha Smith in 1925 and they lived there for some time. Nathaniel may have been involved with the Rev Hughes and the missionary activities before they ceased.
Nathaniel came from the Berriew/Trefeglwns area and had a wife and family one of his children was Catherin Ann Evans who was present at his death at 133 Albany Road Cardif in 1962 age 97. This is only a snipit of the information I have and would welcome any contact on the matter.

Jean said...

We have a lot of detail of the family of Rev W Hughes his parents and brothers and sisters if you would like more info please contact me

Anonymous said...

I have a lot of information on the family of Rev William Hughes. His parents of Tu Hwnt I'R Afon and brothers and sisters.

Anonymous said...

I am a researcher for the BBC, currently working on a development for a history porgramme. I would be really very keen to talk with the descendants of Rev. William Hughes, Jean Williams listed above or anyone else connected, and or anyone who has any relevant information on the Institute.

Please do get in touch on

Many thanks for a wonderful blog

Anonymous said...

I am a researcher for the BBC currently working on a development for a new social history programme.
We are very keen to speak with any descendants of Rev. William Hughes or Institute members, and anyone who wants to share any relevant infromation on the Congo House.

Please do get in contact with myself on

Many thanks for a most useful blog.

Popular Posts