The 1947 Sea Defence Plan

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Seventy five years ago, in January 1947, the Liverpool Daily Post described plans for a new defence scheme to protect East Rhyl from the sea at a cost of £160,000, to include an extension of the promenade. The article stated that “Two and a half miles of sea front is protected by the promenade. The erosion has taken place at the end of the promenade because the sea, unable to make any inroads into the concrete sea wall, has taken advantage of the first weak spot.”

Mr T. Lomax, surveyor to the Urban Council was afraid of the consequences if the new scheme did not begin immediately. He said ” between 1871 and 1945 the high water mark had advanced 1,500ft” (457 metres). When asked what the effect the new promenade would be on Prestatyn, which has practically no form of sea defence, Mr Lomax said “The promenade will go right to the Rhyl-Prestatyn boundary. If Prestatyn does not proceed with a scheme the sea will cause considerable erosion at the end of the new wall, just as it had done for years at the end of the old promenade.”

Work to protect East Rhyl from the sea is, of course, being carried out today and lots of information about this can be found by clicking here.

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More on Walking Pictures…

Last year we published a post about walking pictures – photographs taken by commercial photographers of people walking towards them. Many people will have old walking pictures from the mid 20th Century in their photo collection. To view this post again click here

Mr Bernard Garnett contacted us and has kindly shared his memories. Bernard was employed, whilst a student, by Mr James Hobson as a Walking Picture Photographer in Rhyl. Mr Hobson worked for Empire Films before the war, after which he set up “Movie Snaps” based at 45, West Parade Rhyl in 1945. Here is a photograph of Bernard with his camera in 1954:

photo enhanced by Ben Lopez of http://www.lovedonesforever.com

Bernard says: “Mr. Hobson explained, when I took on this job, that I would be taking walking pictures on Rhyl Promenade, and introduced me to the camera, which I thought was very large.  It was rather remiss of me not to have taken further details of the camera before me.  From what I was told, I believe the camera was an ex government cine camera, adapted to take three consecutive still pictures (one after the other) on the press of the “take” button. The  film when developed would produce three photographs, and the price charged was three for two and six, and the photographs would be available the following day and sold from the two kiosks, one on West Parade, and the other on the Rhyl Prom.  On one shift there were three or four photographers, one of which used a tripod camera  and his “pitch” was close to the Pavilion.  The other operators were mobile, and covered the whole of the promenade.  The Rhyl Promenade in those days was the pride of Rhyl, and was the shop window of Rhyl,  with very few buildings from Splash Point to the West End, but did include memorable buildings, such as the Amphitheatre, The Rhyl Pier, Will Parkin open air theatre,  Rhyl Pavilion, and childrens’ paddling pool etc.

My friend, who is a keen photographer, comments on this as follows;-

They offered such interesting insights into social history. I often think that in these days of camera phones and internet, images have become rather devalued as they are simply everywhere, so it’s really interesting to look back to a time before photographs became devalued, and when people would gladly pay to have a photograph taken of them while on holiday as a memento that they might keep or perhaps post to a loved one – and even more remarkable to think that people were happy to wait for their pictures to be processed and printed!  It must have been quite an operation to achieve all this on such a scale!

Here is a lovely walking picture which Bernard has shared with us that shows his wife Angela, and her friend and children, on Rhyl promenade in 1947. Angela is on the left of the picture.

Below is an example of three photos in a strip (although cut up) that Bernard has described:

Many thanks to Bernard for sharing his memories and photographs.

Simon Robinson, who researches these walking pictures and the trade, (and whose website is here) says “the camera Bernard is holding is a Newman & Sinclair film camera. This firm started in 1909 and one of their first sales was to the famous journey to the pole by Captain Scott.  In 1927 they developed the new model made of aluminium which was both strong and relatively lightweight. They were used by a lot of explorers and documentary makers and one also went on the Everest expedition in 1953.  Each camera was hand built by a single engineer at the factory rather than a production line.  They were also used during WW2 by the military. After the war the firm redesigned the cameras and quite a few of the older ones came on to the second hand market (though one source suggests Hobson may have bought them new).  A number of walking picture firms repurposed former movie cameras for the trade, and as with Movie Snaps adapted the shutter to take three consecutive frames (sometimes four when trying to get one over on rivals!) which were sold on a strip to customers.  Bernard’s photo of himself with one of the Newman & Sinclair film cameras is however the first time I have seen this model used in the trade.  And while it looks old fashioned, the walkie business was very much a make do and mend sort of industry, I have seen cameras bought in the 1930s still being used in the 1960s, simply because they were very well built and could be repaired in house.  James Hobson had originally set up a successful walking picture business in Clacton on Sea called Empire Films in the early 1930s but seems to have engaged someone to manage that for him in the late 1930s before moving to Llandudno and running walking picture operations in several towns including Chester, St. Anne’s, Aberystwyth and Rhyl. “

Many thanks to Simon for this fascinating insight.

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30th Anniversary of our New Pavilion Theatre (and remembering our old ones)

From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

It is 30 years since the opening night of the New Pavilion Theatre. The occasion was billed as “First Night on the Prom” and was held on Wednesday, September 25th 1991. Mr Ednyfed Williams was the compère for the evening which featured Rhyl Youth Choir, Iwan Davies (Tenor), Clwyd Singers, Glenys Roberts (Soprano), Gay Harris Dancers, Point of Ayr Colliery Band and Trelawnyd Male Voice Choir. A welcome song (D. Hughes Jones) introduced the evening and was sung by Rhyl Youth Choir, conducted by Jefferson Thomas.

The original Grand Pavilion had been opened exactly 100 years earlier in September 1891, to read more about this click here
This pavilion was lost to fire in 1901.

The Grand Pavilion

A new pavilion for Rhyl was built in 1908 and demolished in 1974.


It was described in the 1991 Programme by Gwynedd Parry (the first President of Rhyl History Club):

“It was built in 1908 in less than six months at a cost of £16,500, seating just over 1000 people. The outstanding feature of the building was the huge centre dome; nowhere in Wales had such a span of ceiling been built without supporting pillars.
My earliest memory of this New Pavilion, as a young lad, was the Boxing Day Eisteddfod held there, which attracted hordes of enthusiastic competitors to this Mecca of culture; soloists, choirs and elecutionists etc. One local elecutionist during World War 1 became famous for her patriotic rendering of a poem entitled “Stick it to the Welsh”! The man responsible for founding and producing this great event was Mr W. Parry, the School Attendance Officer, who was the kindest, mildest character you could imagine, and a prominent member of the Welsh Baptist Chapel. The outbreak of WW11 sadly ended all this effort.

The Pavilion did a great service for Rhyl in so many ways; for example; the May Day Festival, culminating in the crowning of the May Queen. Nowhere but the Pavilion could stage such a Grand Finale to accommodate the scores of children taking part in the Festival
Top International artistes graced the stage at Sunday night concerts; Paderwski, Dame Nellie Melba, Mark Hambourg, Rosina Buckman, Clara Butt, Albert Sammons and more recently Dame Myra Hess under the aegis of Rhyl Music Club, which put on many superb events. And of course we have happy memories of our own Emlyn Williams and David Lloyd.

The Pavilion was filled and thrilled to hear performances by the Rhyl and District Choir of “Messiah”, “Elijah”, and other oratories. Then there were the “Musicals!”, The Garden of Allah, No, No, Nanette, The Belle of New York, Rose Marie, The Girl Friend etc. The Manchester Rep. was billeted here in WW11 and charmed us with their excellent performances. The Operatic Society and The Liberty Players never failed to give of their best.

Many of the artistes and titles I have named will hardly be known by this generation, but in their day they were as well known as today’s Pavarotti, Cliff Richards, Tom Jones, the Beatles or Morecombe and Wise.

One never to be forgotten appearance on this, the largest stage in North Wales, was a diminutive figure, and it was simply his entrance which electrified the packed audience. It was David Lloyd George at a pre-election meeting. The memory still lingers.

When in 1974 the Pavilion was demolished everyone in the town felt bereft, it was like losing a dear friend. Today, out of the ashes there has arisen the New Theatre. Let us wish it success and prosperity as we launch into the future.”

The programme continued with a welcome message from Councillor F.P. Selby, the then Mayor of the Borough of Rhuddlan, a photograph of the Theatre Manager Giles Ballisat and pen portraits of the performers.

2021 update – Unfortunately the main water tank in the New Pavilion Theatre burst in July of this year which left the 1891 restaurant severely damaged, and the box office, lobbies and toilets also damaged. There is no current date for reopening but we all look forward to our lovely restaurant and theatre re-opening in the not too distant future.

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A request for your memories

photo credit: Simon Robinson Go Home On A Postcard • Vintage seaside photography (wordpress.com)

Can you help? Or do you know someone who could? ITV Wales television is making a social history series exploring the much loved local landmarks that have disappeared from our landscape.
They will be featuring Rhyl’s pier and the Pavilion building, both of which were dismantled in the 1970s.  If anyone would like to appear in the series, to share memories or personal connections with either the pier or the Pavilion, then please feel free to contact the series’ producer Carwyn Jones.  His email address is:  carwyn.jones@itv.com

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My Search for the Flying Fox

Readers of this blog may remember a post written a few years ago about the fascinating story of Flying Fox which is proudly displayed above the Royal Alexandra Hospital. to read this article again click here.

Mr Rodney McCully has kindly shared with us an interesting piece that he has written about this famous racehorse, its importance in the history of the hospital and his trip to France.

“The Principal tutor, Mr Ron Girling, first brought attention to this legendary horse the “Flying Fox” as we settled into start our nurse training, a group of 12 young women and men. It was 1969. The Rhyl School of Nursing had been established in 1963 and had adopted the Flying Fox as an emblem on the hospital badge that nurses would wear after successfully passing their final examination.

The history of the horse went back 70 years when the 1st Duke of Westminster, Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, whose love of racehorses led him to purchase the Flying Fox – the foal of Orme (dam) and Vampire (sire) – which reputedly became the Duke’s most successful racehorse. The Duke was a generous benefactor to the Royal Alexandra Hospital, previously known as the Children’s Convalescent Home, which had adopted the title in 1882 after Princess Alexandra, wife of Edward V11, had become patron. Prior to the horse competing in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park in 1899, the Duke made a promise to the matron; if the Flying Fox was to win he would donate £10,000 to the hospital fund. Flying Fox obliged and the money was a welcome amount towards the £40,000 building cost of the first central section of the hospital. Months after this profitable win, the Duke fell ill and died at the age of 75. Flying Fox was sold for a record 37,500 guineas, the highest price ever paid for a horse at auction. The buyer, Edmund Blanc, stabled Flying Fox at his stud farm Haras de Jardy in France, west of Paris. There he sired other classic winners such as Ajax, Flying Star, Gouvernment and Adam, with his progeny earning £203,400 in prize money. Flying Fox died in France in 1911 but his skeleton was preserved.

“Flying Fox 1896 – 1911″ photo credit wikipedia 

In the mid-1990’s I was in conversation at Glan Clwyd Hospital with a gentleman, Mr James, whom I had known for some years. I was wearing my uniform, proudly displaying as always my hospital badge, when Mr James remarked, “Isn’t that the Flying Fox”? After a positive reply and to my great surprise, Mr James told me that he and his wife had seen the Flying Fox displayed in an equine museum in the town of Saumur in the Loire Valley, France. From that moment, it was to be my goal to see this magnificent horse for myself but only on my third attempt would I accomplish this mission. Early in 2012, I made contact with Mme Nathalie Gadbin, Assistant Curator of the Chateau Musee de Saumur. Mme Gadbin was most helpful in my quest to visit and see the Flying fox and a date in September that year was agreed. Hotels and ferry crossings were pre-booked. However, one week before the journey I was informed by the ferry company that the return ferry crossing had been cancelled. No alternative plans could be made in time, so the visit was postponed.

In September 2017 my second journey was thrown into jeopardy when, following a detour to visit a friend in Switzerland, my car unfortunately broke down and the journey was finalised by a flight home from Geneva. The visit was now planned for May 2018 – which finally proved sucessful.

In 2017 I had the good fortune to have contact with, and be assisted by, Mrs Louise Benson, archivist at the Eaton Estate, Chester. Mrs Benson was of outstanding help in identifying the memorial to the Flying Fox at Eaton Hall and also gathered together other artefacts and information valuable in complementing the story. After each race had been won, a shoe would be taken from the horse and mounted on a plinth recording the event. Mrs Benson assembled together these mementoes adding spice to a rich history. One other connection could be noted between the Eaton Hall of late 19th century and the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Alfred Waterhouse being the architect responsible for the design of both buildings.

On Tuesday 15th May 2018 accompanied by my good friend Selwyn Jones, we left North Wales at lunchtime and travelled to Portsmouth for the overnight ferry to France. Our appointment with Mme Gadbin was at 11 am Thursday 17th May. Our hotel, on the banks of the Loire, was overlooked high above us by the impressive Chateau de Saumur. On a beautiful Thursday morning we walked to the Chateau to be warmly greeted by Mme Gadbin and Ms Janis Upsher, who was to act as our interpreter. Our reception overwhelmed us as we toured the Chateau and were guided to this exceptional horse. As the Chateau was approaching the end of a three year refurbishment the Flying Fox was standing gracefully in a third storey room, flanked by the displayed skeletons of a prehistoric horse and a an Arabian stallion.

Prior to actually seeing the Flying Fox, with the help of the interpreter, I gave an account of the history associated with the Royal Alexandra Hospital. There was mutual interest because the museum hadn’t realised the connection the Flying Fox had with the hospital and what an enormous part it had played in the funding of its building and of the place it had in the hearts of so many. I had amassed a dossier of information that I was able to systemically present to, and leave with them. Selwyn gave a comprehensive account of the building, history and infrastructure of the town of Rhyl.

Entering the room and seeing the Flying Fox for myself I could feel the warmth of a tear in my eye. It had been almost fifty years since my first encounter with this horse and over twenty years since I had made the promise that one day I would see for myself this legendary animal. My journey had reached a fitting finale.

Our departure was mixed with joy and sadness. On leaving, Mme Gadbin presented me with the most splendid wall chart titled “Tableau Indicatif des Maladies du Cheval et des Remedes”. It stays with me as a constant reminder of a horse forgotten, yet remembered by many whose lives were influenced by this great stallion.”

For more articles about the Royal Alexandra Hospital:

A seaside nursery for the little ones of our land.

Gertrude Ffoulkes

Edith Vizard

More on Edith Vizard

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British Science Week: Sir John Houghton 1931-2020

As we are now well into British Science Week, we thought this was the perfect opportunity to mark the work of Sir John Theodore Houghton CBE FRS FLSW. Sir Houghton was a Welsh atmospheric physicist who contributed to the development of climate science and to the creation of international collaboration based on climate research.

He was born on 30 December 1931 in Dyserth, Denbighshire. The family moved to Rhyl when John was two, and he later attended Rhyl Grammar School, which is where he discovered his interest in science. He was so capable at physics, that he got the highest marks in Wales and won a scholarship for Oxford University aged just 16 years, and embarked upon a degree in maths and physics in 1948.

Rhyl Grammar School Magazine 1949 (NEWA Hawarden Branch)

Rhyl Grammar School, Speech Day Pamphlet 1949 (NEWA Hawarden Branch)

Graduating at the top of…

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