Readers’ Question Time.

From time to time Rhyl History Club receives enquires, often they are to do with family history.  However, below are two recent and more unusual enquires, on which you may be able to shed some light.  The first is from Mr Paul Bebbington:
“I own an unusual instrument, made  in Rhyl. My father was a bit of an antique squirrel, and loved searching through ‘bric-a-brac’ for  a bargain. He particularly liked old instruments ( clocks, microscopes, barometers etc).  He sadly died in  2003, but one object he bought and passes on to me, was an  ‘Ohms-meter’ in a wooden  box. It has a bone plate on it, which states the manufacturer was D. T. Jones Ltd.,  Engineers, of Russell Building in Rhyl. It was made  ~ 1900, I believe. Do you know anything about this company?”
Antiques April 13 011Antiques April 13 010Antiques April 13 012
Click on photographs to enlarge.
“From an initial search on the Internet, I have found that the  instrument was designed by ‘Evershed – Vignoles’ around 1900. There name is mentioned in the lid of the device, where a patent number is quoted . Perhaps D.T Jones were just purchasers of this meter, and put their badge on it for safe keeping?”
Rhyl History Club:  A search of the “North Wales Directories” CD has been made and an entry in 1913 reads “Jones, D.T. & Co.  Electricians, Russell Buildings, Russell Road.  Has anyone got any information which might be of interest to Mr Bebbington?

The second enquiry comes from Mr Mike Ballinger :

“I am doing some research into my local tramway system, that of Walsall in the West Midlands.  It was actually one of the first English systems to be operated using the overhead electric wire system commonly used now and one of the persons involved in this project was the general manager, Alfred Dickinson.  Following this he became consultant and was involved in many tramways systems throughout the world.  Once these had been built he became involved in many hydroelectric systems worldwide.
In 1915 he purchased a bungalow in Rhyl called Salem, where he lived until his death in 1941.  The bungalow seems to have fallen into the sea just after.
It seems that he had a daughter who lived in Rhyl.  From information taken from your pages, it seems that he also had a granddaughter, Dilys Firth Mellor.
I write to see if you have any information on this gentleman.  He seems to be someone missed from history and I am trying to find out as much as possible as I can about him and if there are any descendents alive at all.  Noticing your website i thought it might be worth trying to contact you.”

R.H.C: As children when we played in the ruins of the old Salem bungalow on the beach, it seemed impossible to believe that someone had ever lived there as the sea covered it at high tide. salem red The following extract is from a website called and the quote is from a Mark Rowlinson:

“Then came the Second World War and with it further loss of land. First the sea eroded parts of the coastline and in the process destroyed Salem Bungalow through the grounds of which golfers had passed to get from one part of the course to the next. The sea had moved inland some 550 yards between 1911 and the end of the war so a new sea defence system with promenade was built ensuring survival of the golf course but eating into it a little more. As if that were not enough, blown sand obliterated several holes at the Prestatyn end. When thought was given to restoring the golf course in peacetime there was no longer sufficient ground to accommodate a full 18 holes.” The Rhyl Journal, January 1941 gives a report of Alfred Dickinson’s death:

Prominent Engineer’s Death

Mr Alfred Dickinson, Salem Bungalow.

The death occurred on Tuesday of Mr Alfred Dickinson J.P. M. Inst. C.E., M.I.M.E. etc., Salem Bungalow, Coast Road, Rhyl, a former well known engineer whose work took him all over the globe. Mr Dickinson, who was eighty five years of age, was a native of New England, near Peterborough, but at the age of eight was taken by his family to America where they trekked across the country in a “Prairie Schooner” for four months to reach their destination “The Golden West”.  The journey was undertaken at the close of the war between the North and the South States and proved to be most hazardous and crammed full of adventure.  Mr Dickinson’s parents returned sometime afterwards however, owing to the mother’s illness. Mr Dickinson was apprenticed to the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, being in the Engineers’ Office in London Road, Manchester.  In 1892 he started in business on his own account as Consultant Engineer with offices in Central House, New Street, Birmingham and at Gresham house, Old Broad Street, London.  His work carried him to almost every country in the world and he was responsible for the building and equipping of tramways at Barcelona, Madrid, Cape Town, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dublin, among other projects.  He made numerous voyages and among countries he visited were Japan, China, India, South Africa and America.  He had many patents registered in connection with various electrical undertakings and formed a company under the title “Dickinson Patents Ltd”. At one time the general manager of the South Staffordshire Tramways, he was also engaged at one period as consulting engineer to the Birmingham Corporation Tramways.  He was a prominent Freemason and was a Justice of the Peace for Staffordshire. The following is culled from “Notable Londoners”:  Mr Dickinson was the first engineer to consrtuct overhead electric tramways in Great Britain.  He claimed the distinction of having acted – among the many important works he had undertaken – as sole engineer to the Tatan Hydro-electric Undertaking in India, the largest enterprise of its kind ever carried out by an English engineer.  Mr Dickinson was consulting engineer to the Tasmanian Government Hydro-electric Schemes and was well known as a Parliamentary and expert witness in matters appertaining to electrical undertakings. The funeral takes place on Saturday at Handsworth Old Church, Birmingham.  Interment to be made in that city”. However, in the Rhyl Journal the following week appeared: “Interment – Mr A. Dickinson, Rhyl.  The funeral of Mr Alfred Dickinson, Salem Bungalow, Rhyl (whose death was reported in last week’s issue) took place on Saturday.  Owing to unfortunate circumstances the burial could not take place at Handsworth Old Church Cemetery, Birmingham, as previously arranged, interment being made in the Rhyl Town Cemetery.  A service was conducted at Salem Bungalow by Canon R.H. Roberts, M.A. Vicar and at St. Thomas’s Church and at the graveside”. A trip to the beach today left some confusion, it looked a lot less like a bungalow than when we played there, ahem, fifty years ago.  The remains seem to be in two distinct parts, were there two properties there?  Outbuildings? or has the tide just spread it all out? All comments that might be of help or interest to Mr Bebbington and/or Mr Ballinger most welcome. salem 2 redsalem 3 red

 also see information on History Points

salem 6 red


Filed under General, Readers' Enquiries

15 responses to “Readers’ Question Time.

  1. Bob

    Could the D T Jones Electicians be the predecessor of Lighting Plus that was owned by the Baker Family 2 Generations, next door to the Swan Inn!

  2. I have also been researching Alfred Dickinson, who was my grandfather’s uncle. I agree he has been missed from history and deserves greater recognition. If Mr Ballinger would like to contact me we could perhaps compare notes.

    • Mike Ballinger

      To Peter Taylor,

      I note with interest your reply to my query. Alfred Dickinson certainly has been missed by history.

      ALFRED DICKINSON was born near Peterborough on the 29th February, 1856, and died at Rhyl on the 21st January, 1941.His father R H Dickinson was an engine driver on the Manchester, Sheffield & Limcoln Railway at Gorton near Manchester and apparently knew both the Cheif Mechanical Engineer Charles Sacre and the general manager of the M S & L’s main locomotive and carriage works at Gorton. Through these contacts R H Dickinson managed to obtain an apprenticeship for his son which would give him experience of virtually all the locomotive building and repair departments over a period of about 6 to 7 years . Once the apprenticeship was over Dickinson junior worked for another 2 to 3 years at Gorton including taking charge of a department. He served as a pupil under Mr. Charles Sacre from 1870 to 1877, and then joined the engineering staff of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Co., being in charge for some time of the running sheds and workshops at Cornbrook. In 1883 his immediate superior told Dickinson that., having been asked to put forward a recommendation for a suitable person to take charge of a large number of steam tramway locomotives on a system in the Midlands he had put forward Dickinson’s name. Although he initially diod not want to leave Gorton he gave it some deep thought and decided to accept the position becoming Locomotive Superintendent, and in 1885 Engineer and General Manager, to the South Staffordshire Tramway & Birmingham District Steam Tramway Co. Whilst working for the SS & BD he was able to develop a number of ideas wheich were patented.

      The reorganisation of the company brought him into contact with W J Caruthers Wain and Joseph Smith (later Ebbsmith) who were also connected with the Birmingham Central Tramways Company and in January 1888 he was appointed as a consultant to this organisation whilst retaining his employment with the SS & BD company. His new position was to bring him into contact with E H Prtichard and Joseph Kincaid amongst others.

      There is a R H Dickinson who joined the Birmingham Central Tramways Company as locomotive superintendent in ?1885?. He may well have been the brother of Alfred.

      The Birmingham Central Company had a number of steam and horse tramways and the company was looking at operating these lines more effeciently and Birmingham Corporation, like others locally, were not happy with steam tram operation. Two possible alternatives existed, cable and electric traction. Cable was used on the City centre – Hockley (- Handsworth) line but the Bournebrook line carried much less traffic. Dickinson went to Bruxelles in June 1888 to see the Julien cars in operation there. As a result of Dickinson’s report the BCT agreed to have a vehicle built.

      The SS & BD had problems and Dickinson was to say at the opening of the electric section of the South Staffordshire system that he had considered leaving that company but had been pursuaded to stay by Joesph Ebbsmith who he regarded as a second father.

      In 1892 he converted a 10-mile section of the company’s system to overhead trolley working, using the lateral trolley which he specially designed for the purpose. While with the South Staffordshire Tramway Co. he acted also as consulting engineer to the City of Birmingham Tramways.

      He left the company in 1895 and set up in practice as a consulting engineer, with offices in Birmingham and London. His work was mainly concerned with the design and construction of tramways throughout the world, but he seems to have converted to larger engineering projects. He was consulting engineer to the Tata hydro-electric undertaking, India, and to the Tasmanian Government in connection with their hydro-electric schemes.

      Among the tramway schemes for which he was responsible were those at;

      Barcelona, Bordeaux, Brisbane, Cape Town, Carlisle, Dublin, Gloucester (jointly with Mr. Robert Hammond), Hong Kong and Singapore. He was elected a Member of The Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1895.

      In 1903 Alfred Dickinson & Co were responsible for the design of the Hong Kong Electric Tramways Company’s lines in that Crown Colony.and appointed Harold Hackwood to act as resident engineer on site.

      As manager of the SS & BD company Dickinson lived in the manager’s house at Darlaston depot which he obviously had to leave when he terminated his employment with the South Staffordshire company. In 1911 he was living at 92 Egebaston Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham but in 1915 Dickinson acquired a plot of land on the North Wales Coast at Rhyl for the sum of £135 from the Bodrhyddan Estates. Here he built a prefabricated bungalow named Salem. This had a beautiful veranda at the rear and a rooftop balcony giving views of the hills and sea. Dickinson was able to sit and watch steamers coming into Rhyl. The lounge had oak pannelling and was furnished with period bamboo furniture. There were two lawns and vetables, fruit and roses were grown. A gardener’s cottage* was also provided. The bungalow was undermined by the sea in 1944 and abandoned, Dilys moving to a house called Lonawlar at Splash Point

      Dickinson had married Sarah Ann circa 1878 and his wife was much appreciated by the employees of the SS & BD company.They had a daughter Hilda Iris, who was probably born in 1891. It seems that she married someone named Johnson Smith. They had a daughter Dilys who lived at Salem in the 1920’s and 30’s. She worked in a bank and later maried Alan Firth Mellor.

      * This might not be totally correct. In Birmingham his family had a servant Kate Alice Gardner who came from Saul, Gloucestershire. She was 34 in 1911 and one does wonder if she also moved to Rhyl and given a cottage on site.

      In this area Dickinson was involved with two rather shady gentlemen, W J Caruthers Wain and J (Ebb)Smith. These two were sued by the South Staffordshire Tramway Company but they did see the electric tramway as the way forward.

      There are lots of letters from Dickinson in his capacity as manager of the tramway company in the Walsall archives. Obviously I do not know how much you know about tramways which is my area.

      • You have certainly done your homework! I agree with most of your conclusions except for a few details.

        R H Dickinson was not Alfred’s father but his elder brother, Richard Henry, who I knew as Uncle Dick. You are quite right in saying he was Loco Supt in Birmingham – I think he later became Chief Engineer.
        Alfred’s father was also called Alfred, which is a bit confusing. He was certainly a driver on the Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire, but before that he was on the Great Northern, and this is where he met Charles Sacré. Sacré moved to the MSL in 1859 and Alfred senior followed him. I don’t think Alfred junior was ever a pupil, but Sacré was certainly very helpful to the family.

        In 1864 the whole family emigrated to the USA and trekked to Salt Lake City with a Mormon wagon train, although they never became Mormons. This was a very important episode in Alfred junior’s life, described in a memoir of which I have a copy. For some reason (I have a theory about this) they only stayed a year and returned to UK, where the father was able to take up his old job with the MSL.

        I agree with all you say about South Staffordshire Tramways. I have just discovered that the original generating station still exists, though it is now a wine warehouse. I hope to visit it soon. I have an original programme of the opening ceremony which has portraits of Carruthers Wain and Joseph (Ebb)smith. I agree they were slightly dodgy characters, but probably no more so than many businessmen of the time. I have a copy of a letter to Alfred from Ebbsmith in 1905, asking if he was interested in rebuilding the Russian navy (after the Russo-Japanese War). Alfred wisely declined.

        Hilda Iris was born in 1890 and was Alfred’s third child. Two older children, Alfred St John (known as Jack) and Charlotte (Lottie) both died young of tuberculosis. We used to visit “Auntie Hilda” when I was a child so i remember her very well. She had married Tom Johnson Smith, another engineer, but he had died quite young, about 1914. They had three daughters, Eileen, Dilys and Renée. Lonawla was Hilda’s house, not Dilys’s, although Dilys lived there before she was married. Eileen lived next door at Walwhan. (Lpnawla and Walwhan were two of the lakes near Bombay which were part of the Tata hydroelectric scheme. Lonawla has been stupidly renamed Lonahel or something similar by the present owners).

        Alfred was already dead before I visited Lonawla in about 1943, but I remember a locked room which was known as “Grancan’s study”, (Grancan was what the grandchildren called him) so I guess he divided his time between there and Salam Bungalow. His last great engineering work was a sea wall to protect the bungalow but this was perhaps his only failure – the sea came round the sides.

        Renée and her husband Jimmy Slack lived at Salam Bungalow for a while and Renée ran a riding school there, but they had to evacuate in a hurry during the first big inundation. I remember going there several times as a child, but it was then empty and rather sad.

        I married Renée’s daughter Caroline in 1991, a second marriage for both of us. Sadly she died last year. Renée is still alive, aged 95. She remembers Alfred very well. She always had very poor eyesight and is now registered blind, so unfortunately is not able to help with identifying photos etc.

        By an odd quirk of fate, Caroline’s daughter is married to a tramway engineer, Dan Smith, who is carrying on the family tradition. My own grandfather (Alfred’s nephew) was also originally a tramway man, but he moved on to trolleybuses and was largely responsible for the destruction of the tramway system in Wolverhampton, so it’s good that Dan is helping to put things right!

        I think Kate Alice Gardner must be the lady I knew as “Nanny”. She had looked after Hilda’s daughters, but was brought back from retirement to help Renée. She had a basement flat at Lonawla but became more of a family friend than a servant, and continued to live with Hilda when they moved to another house in Rhuddlan Road.

        I have a lot of photographs and other documents which may interest you. I live near Wrexham so maybe we could meet some time.

      • Mike Ballinger

        Thanks Peter. I actually live in Aldridge so am not a million miles away from that generating station you wish to visit. Alternatively I would be happy to come to Wrexham. I have two papers written by Dickinson. One in 1894 relates to the South Staffs line and the other to the electrification of the Barcelona and Madrid. I can email you copies but the photos on the latter are a bit dark. Dickinson got involved with these during the Spanish – American War despite the fact that he had some American engineers working for him. He also had problems with a line at Camps Bay, South Africa as this was built at the time of the Boer War. I have details of this line as well. I suspect his work in Dublin was limited to electrifying and regauging a suburban line.

        The sources that I have used are mainly;

        Tramways of the Black Country (mainly Vol 1 but he is mentioned in Vol 2 in relation to The Kidderminster & Stourport system.
        Tramway Review No 153 Spring 1993.
        History of the British Steam Tram (not all volumes gone through yet)
        The libraries of the Tramway Museum at Crich, Walsall Archives, Wolverhampton Archives (has photos from Parker -Elwell and ECC), and Sandwell. All need a bit more work.

        I started this about 15 months ago although I already had some information. About the same time I was recruited to be treasurer of the Tramway Museum Society. One project we have going on at present and has been for the last 18 months is to get on loan from the Science Museum the truck from one of the first electrics which has been in store since 1939 and rarely seen. They are happy for us to have this and it is just a case of tidying up the paperwork.

        Dickinson and Parker worked on this but there was another person involved who built the actual framework. This was Sampson Fox of Leeds and he was the Great grandfather of Edward and James Fox and Great Great grandfather of Laurence, Emelia and Freddie Fox.

        Dickinson visited the States a second time in 1891 and visited a number of tramway systems. His limited report is in the Walsall archives (I suspect I have photoed copies) but a more detailed account was written by his companion Frederick Brown. The first day there they met Frank J Sprague and Samuel Insull, both famous in US “traction” history.

        Thank you for what you have sent. I will now go and reread it. I have put a letter into Tramway Review asking for any information on Dickinson and Caruthers Wain.

        Yours Truly

        Mike Ballinger

      • I have Black Country Tramways Vol 1. Is that the same book? I went to see Stanley Webb many years ago and he sold me a copy. A very helpful chap. He told me about Alfred’s patents which up till then I knew nothing about.

        I would be very interested to learn more about the Spanish and South African jobs. I have some of the documents relating to Alfred’s will and it seems that he invested in property in Cape Town and supplied private mortgages to the buyers. He also did the same in Birmingham and probably elsewhere.

        I think it would be a good idea for us to meet. Could you ring me on 01978 845912 ? We could then decide whether it’s easier for you to come here or vice versa. I am semi-retired/self-employed so I am reasonably flexible.

        I’m amazed how much you have discovered in 15 months. I’ve been researching Alfred for about 35 years on and off, but most of the work was done before the internet, so it was much more laborious.

        I look forward to hearing from you.

      • Mike Ballinger

        Will be ringing you soon.


  3. Vicki Fenn

    My mother now lives in what were the grounds of Bodannerch House in Rhyl, which used to be on Russell Road and I would love to find out about the house. Can anyone point me in the right direction as to where I may find this information. I do not live in Rhyl myself.

  4. Margaret Durkin

    I have some information re Bodannerch House. My grandmother was born in the gardeners cottage in 1898. After the Station Master died 1889 it remained empty until 1892 when Miss Harriet Anne Sobieska Sneyd moved in. She lived there until she died in 1913. I have some pictures of the house which I would gladly share.

    • Vicki Fenn

      Margaret I would also love to see the pictures as my mother lives in what I think are the gardens of Bodannerch House. Many thanks.

  5. We would be very interested in seeing pictures of Bodannerch Margaret. Photos to go with our piece on Thomas Winston, Rhyl’s first Station Master, would be wonderful, thank you. Our e-mail address is on the “About us” page.

  6. See also

    for more information about Mr Dickinson which also includes a photograph.

  7. Andrew Brown

    I have a servants bell box with six flag windows. With D.TJones Rhyl.

  8. Brian Pendleton

    I remember going with my father, who ran a riding school in vale road, to Salem Bungalow and I met Renee Johnson Smith with I think her then partner/business partner Mr Boardman. It was not long after this that the sea took over and demolished the property. My Dad told me or a farm that had been taken by the sea and this was in the same area as Salem but much much further out to sea.
    Brian Pendleton

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