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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International Women’s Day


Research in old local newspapers seems to indicate that the first mention of suffragettes in Rhyl is in July 1908. A meeting of ladies was convened at the Town Hall to decide whether to start a branch of a suffrage society. They decided unanimously to start a branch in Rhyl of the “National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies” which, unlike the “Women’s Social and Political Union”, was peaceful and constitutional in its methods. They decided to start the society on a working basis early in September. The following year the local newspapers contained very many references to the suffragettes both locally and nationally.

Women over 30 in specific categories gained the vote in 1918. It wasn’t until 1928 that everyone over 21 got the vote. In 1929 women over 21 voted in their first general election.

Below are two excerpts from the papers – note that the Town Hall hosted representatives of the militant “Womens’ Social and Political Union.”

Last Friday evening a public meeting in the Rhyl Town Hall was addressed by two representatives of the National Women’s Social and Political Union (the militant section of the women’s suffrage movement – “Deeds not Words”.)

Rhyl Record and Advertiser August 7th 1909

“Why should women, just because they happened to be born women which, of course, they could not help—(laughter)—be disqualified from serving as citizens in as full a sense as the men? When women did exactly the same thing as men did to deserve the vote- contributed to the rates and taxes of the country – they ought to be permitted to enter into the same privileges as the men (applause). The N.W.S. & P.U. existed to champion the rights of those women who helped to keep the country’s exchequer going just as the men did. They asked for no more privileges than men enjoyed, but they were not going to be content with less (applause and a voice: Bosh !’) They were not seeking to make women the rulers of the country, but to make them the comrades and equals of the men in matters of citizenship (applause).”

Rhyl Record and Advertiser August 28th 1909

“On Tuesday afternoon Rhyl was again visited by a party of “suffragettes” and their meeting on the sands proved a particularly lively affair. It was advertised, as usual, by means of announcements in chalk on various footpaths in the town but instead of holding forth near the Pier as on former occasions the party proceeded to the extreme west end of the foreshore. Here for some time they had a very appreciative and sympathetic audience, and they had practically had their say when their whereabouts became generally known. As soon as it was discovered where the meeting was being held there was a general rush in that direction from the centre of the seafront (where many had congregated in anticipation of a meeting between the minstrel pitch and pier), and the aspect of the meeting was quickly changed from one of sympathy or at any rate tolerance to one of hostility. Miss Hewitt was the principal speaker, and up till that time she had thoroughly held the attention of the audience and won a fair amount of applause, her oratorical powers being of no mean order. The remainder of the meeting was, however, of a rowdy nature. Heckling and banter, all of which the speaker and her friends endured stoically, at length gave way to pelting, bags of sand and other missiles being showered upon the party. At last there was a rush for the tub which served as a platform, and it was seized and thrown into the sea. Such was the temper of a section of the crowd by this time that the “suffragettes” seemed in danger of a ducking. Thanks to the intervention of the Promenade Inspector Hayes and one or two male sympathisers, of the “suffragettes“, the rougher element of the crowd was restrained from doing the party any further violence, and they were allowed to retreat in peace. The heckling which took place in the course of the meeting was largely of a humorous character. One of the few questions asked which had any real hearing upon the “suffragettes” campaign was “Why is it that so many of those taking part in the “suffragette” movement are single women?” Before Miss Hewitt could answer someone in the crowd replied “Because they can’t get husbands,” and her own reply was lost in the roars of laughter which followed.”

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November 9, 2020 · 2:18 pm

Queen’s Court/Sussex Lane

Club member Maggi Blythin has contributed this interesting piece:

We have received copies of old photos from Jean Hughes and I have done a bit of background research on them.

It would appear that the entrance to Queens Court is still there, but obviously the houses are long gone.
In 1911 the Silvey family were listed at Sussex Cottage. I presume that Queens Court was in the same area. There are several houses listed, most of them with several occupants.
They are at the same address in 1901 and there appear to be several properties nearby in Sussex Lane.
I think that it ran from Glanglasfor through to Queen Street, but could be mistaken!

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Walking Pictures

I’m sure many people will have “walking pictures” in their family album – walking picture cameramen were busy in Rhyl from the 1930’s to the 1960’s.
 “Go Home on a Postcard – The Story of Walking Pictures” is a wonderful website with lots of information and examples from across the U.K.  Simon, its creator, has kindly contributed this interesting article:
“I always wondered who in the family used to run ahead of us in the street to take our photograph!”  So wrote one lady after finding a website called Go Home On A Postcard, devoted to the forgotten art of the Walking Picture.  The answer was simple, none of them did.  Instead commercial photographers lurked on street corners from Edinburgh to Eastbourne, snapping people walking towards them, and then showing them a kiosk where they could buy a souvenir print later in the day to take home, or post back to a friend.
And it was a booming trade, especially in the 1930s and again after WW2, only fading away as shops began to offer fast turn around on customers own films in the 1960s, and people began to holiday more abroad.

Rhyl, being a popular resort town, drew many people on day trips and short holidays, so was always going to attract walking picture cameramen. The earliest examples I have seen are from 1930 on Wellington Road (above), and 1933, of a father and daughter emerging onto on West Parade from John Street (below). The camera operators are not identified but while many street photographers remain anonymous, others have come to light.

Fiona’s mother (born 1923) and grandfather, circa 1933, probably Rhyl. Several blocks on sea front West Parade match style, but one block has been pulled down on corner of John Street.

EMPIRE FILMS were one of the bigger firms in the trade, and operated via a franchise system, supplying out of the box kits to get started in the business. They were at work in Edinburgh in the mid-1920s and were certainly taking walking pictures in Rhyl during the 1930s. Empire worked with old movie cameras, which turned out three frames printed onto a souvenir postcard. So for 1/6d you could be a film star. Most people cut these up to send to friends, so the strips are hard to find today, but most do have the Empire logo on the back.
The walking picture trade largely ceased during WW2 as materials were hard to come by but it was a popular low-cost occupation for ex-servicemen to get into when they came back home after 1945. This great example shows four friends in Rhyl on VJ Day, August 15th 1945.
It may have been taken by James Hobson, who having worked for EMPIRE FILMS before the war set up MOVIE SNAPS in 1945, based at 45 West Parade in Rhyl (and also at Aberystwyth Pier). He used a newer type of cine camera and sold the prints as strips. James was quite an entrepreneur and is said to have employed players from Rhyl football team during the week to take the photographs. Certainly it was a trade where many firms provided casual work for local people or students when it got really busy, taking pictures, working in the darkroom or a kiosk.
This example shows two frames still together, and dates from 1947. It’s possible MOVIE SNAPS kept going into the 1960s as cine strips of children on beach donkeys and on the prom in Rhyl have been seen.

David Gumbley, age 6, with parents Lewis and Winifred on holiday. Rhyl 1947.

The walking picture below from 1960 shows (l-r) Sheila Warburton, Mrs. Joan Peacock (a neighbour and godmother) and mum Gladys Warburton on holiday.
RHYL HOLIDAY SNAPS took walking pictures at the pier entrance, but little is known about them. Some pictures of Rhyl pier do show a walking pictures kiosk not far from the entrance, so maybe this is where they sold their prints (if anybody has an original of this postcard Simon would love a decent scan).
HANDS BROTHERS were based at Westbourne Avenue in the 1940s and pictures of soldiers walking down streets in Rhyl taken by them have been seen.
Other photographers worked in bigger towns and cities year round but decamped to places like Rhyl for the summer season to take walking pictures. SILVERTS for example had a studio in Manchester but took walking pictures in Rhyl in the summer in the early 1960s.
It is unusual for families not to have a few walkies in their old albums and hopefully this has helped explain what these souvenir pictures are all about. Some photographers would take hundreds in a day, thousands in a season, so there are likely to be many more around!
You can read more about the trade on Simon’s website and find out how to submit examples for this growing archive (and a forthcoming book). And do let us know if any members of your family worked in the trade or have any more examples.

 

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