Mr Fred Davies, born in Rhyl in 1925, has been in touch with us to share his memories of Rhyl
My Rhyl History.
During the last eighty years the world has changed dramatically – and Rhyl is no exception.
I can go back almost ninety years, yet although I have not been personally attached to it during the past fifty years, I am well aware of many of Rhyl’s changes.
When I was born at Tynewydd Farm in 1925, which is now not there, it was then in Rhuddlan. I believe the Rhyl boundary was then set at Pendyffryn Road. For several years Rhyl had been part of Rhuddlan Parish and did not become a separate Parish until 1844. However, when on my grandfather’s death in 1929 we moved from the farm to a house in Dyserth Road, some quarter of a mile from the farm, both were then in Rhyl. Unfortunately I contacted diphtheria and spent six weeks in what was then an isolation hospital in Towyn. That too is no longer there for that purpose. Fortunately youngsters don’t seem to suffer that disease these days. We had to move because my father was a grocer and had no knowledge of, or interest in farming.
I very well remember my grandmother informing me that when she was younger they would often stand on the promenade watching well to do families who would come and stay in the town for several weeks. She also stated that there were notices to be seen in various parts of the town offering the sale of hot water for a halfpenny a jug. Day trippers would bring their own snacks and loose tea but would need boiling water which local residents offered to sell them to make a brew.
In those days there were numerous grocery shops in Rhyl. My father was manager of E. B. Jones which had no fewer than four shops in the town. They were in High Street: a double one in Water Street: one in Abbey Street and one in Wellington Road. That firm had an string of such shops throughout North Wales. My father managed the one in High Street. Eventually that firm was taken over by a group. There were also many other such branch shops among which were Maypole, Melias and Irwin’s. Additionally there were also many privately owned grocers such as Turners, Breretons, Parry’s Esmore, and Harry Evans.
My education commenced in Clwyd Street Primary School. It was followed by Rhyl County School as it was called in those days, having since been renamed a couple of times, firstly as Rhyl Grammar School and then Rhyl High School.
Things have certainly changed. In those days I was a choirboy in St. Anne’s Church. St. Anne’s Church was built through the generosity of Mrs Ann Nicholson. She had originally considered providing a lifeboat until she had been persuaded that the south side of the town was in need of a church to serve the people there. It was consecrated in 1896 – some what before my time – but I well remember the extension in 1931. It added almost a third to its size. Mrs. Nicholson’s generosity was continued by her niece, Miss Henrietta Roberts who lived at ‘Nithsdale’, St. Asaph Street and willed a sizeable sum to the church on her death. I knew Miss Roberts very well, as her housekeeper Mrs Kate Ball, was my Godmother. It is not surprising that the church was referred to as the ‘Railwayman’s Church’ for there were at least six railwaymen in the choir at the time that I was a choirboy. Often when in the choir during the summer at Evensong several of us would eagerly await our Recessional Hymn in order to get out.
There was that superb Rhyl Pavilion in those days which unfortunately was deliberately destroyed. The present day Pavilion is nowhere as near attractive. Some of us choirboys when proceeding up the aisle singing the Recessional Hymn would be unbuttoning our cassocks ready to quickly take them off and shoot off to the Pavilion where each Sunday night in the summer there would be a renowned dance band such as Geraldo, Henry Hall, Ambrose, Joe Loss and many others and we’d hope to be let in without paying which sometimes happened – otherwise we’d miss the band’s performance. The Pavilion also housed numerous first class shows during the summer months which attracted so many people.
In Rhyl County School I was struggling to remain in the A stream and in 1939 I left and took up employment as a Boy Messenger in Rhyl Post Office. It guaranteed a life’s employment with a pension at the end of it which was somewhat unusual in those days. I had to ride a heavy red bicycle to deliver telegrams – that was a most important and the quickest source of communication in those days which has totally disappeared due to present technology. That was the year that Marks and Spencer came to Rhyl and improved the town with its big store. (RHC has Marks&Spencer arriving in Rhyl in 1932 – click here for more information -Ed) Regrettably, like so many previously established shops it no longer resides in Rhyl. My initial wage was eleven shillings a week. (In today’s money that would be about fifty five pence) out of that I had to pay four pence stamp and give my mother ten shillings that left me with eight pence a week pocket money – about three and a half pence in today’s money – yet I was content. We were forbidden to receive tips but strangely we often forgot that regulation when tips were offered!
Post Office employees in those days, having completed forty years service were entitled to retire on pension but many, particularly postmen, remained employed for a further five years in order to eventually increase their pension. They were also in need of continuing their weekly wage during those years. That was a period in my life which carries many memories- especially one. It was my turn for Sunday duty on 3rd September 1939. That duty normally ran from 9.00am until 10.30am. but not on that day. Along with the limited staff on duty I stood in the telegraph room at 11.00am listening nervously, by ‘phone, as Neville Chamberlain broadcast the news that we had declared war on Germany and things changed dramatically. Telegrams came flooding in by telephone and teleprinters were screaming away madly; staff had to be increased to cope with it all and I finished work not at 10.30am as scheduled but 10.00pm and was completely shattered.
The Rhyl Post Office was then housed in High Street about two thirds of the way up on the left hand side. Later it was moved to Water Street and I now believe it has been closed down completely. What a shame. As a Boy Messenger I had the most distressing situation anyone could possibly have. In 1940 I had to deliver a telegram which informed the family that their son of 18 or 19 years had been drowned along with almost all the rest of the crew. I did know the person well by sight and that made it even more distressing. From a Boy Messenger I became an S.C.and T (Sorter, Counter Clerk and Telegraphist), which necessitated my working in the telegraph office, on the counter and also in the sorting office, depending on the details of the respective duties.
Times certainly have changed drastically.
In 1944 I was enlisted in the Royal Air Force as a trainee Flight Engineer. However I was never operational, as peace was declared just as I qualified. Having then become redundant I re-mustered in Pay Accounts and spent 1946 in Kenya. It was while I was out in Africa that my father and mother along with my discharged elder brother opened the grocery. shop in Vale Road – on the corner of Millbank Road – which became C.W.Davies and Sons. Having received the news when I was in Nairobi I was naturally interested and eager to see it all but it was not until Christmas Eve 1946 that I achieved that objective, having docked in Southampton in the early hours of that day. I was totally impressed with the findings and when in May 1947 I was discharged from the R.A.F. I had quite an extensive leave which I spent in assisting in the shop despite my lack of knowledge regarding it. Then a mere week before I was due to return to the Post Office, I resigned my pensionable job and joined the family business.
It was truly hard going at times.
Rationing was of course operational at that time and on Monday and Tuesday mornings I would go to certain registered customers’ houses to collect their orders. I would then go back to the shop; see that they were put up and deliver them on a carrier bike the same afternoon regardless of the weather. All without extra charge. In between times I would have to go to wholesalers to obtain goods, serve in the shop, tidy the shelves and do as many routine jobs as was necessary. It was unlike today when customers have to collect their own goods and pay for them at the time. We mainly had to write down their orders put them up and deliver them. Frequently such goods were not paid for at the time and we had to trust our customers that we would get the money the following week. It eventually got to a state that we desperately needed a van but unfortunately due to manufacturers having had to concentrate on wartime requirements and there being a tremendous demand for such vehicles after peace had been declared they were not readily obtainable and it took us a full twelve months to be able to obtain the necessary van.
As time went on I got married and after eighteen years in the family business when we had three children we had eleven mouths to feed out of one business. Things were changing drastically. Supermarkets were appearing and our trade was being exploited by them. One had to give serious thought to the future and with three youngsters to consider that was quite a serious concern. After much thought and discussion with my wife I eventually stopped working in the shop and sought other work. Without going into details the first two were not satisfactory so additionally I applied for and became a night switchboard operator in the Telephone Exchange down Wellington Road while still working for my day time occupation.
On duty one night there I was surprised to be notified that there was a personal call for me. On taking it, I found it was from my Superior in my other job who slated me for working there. He told me that my full obligation was to his company and I had no right to be working for anyone else. Fortunately at that time there had been a notice in the Post Office circular stating that anyone who had served three years could apply for a post similar to my former position as S.C. and T. I had been employed at the Exchange for but a few months but claimed that my previous service should count. I applied locally at Rhyl Head Office and was interviewed by a former colleague whom I knew well. He unhesitatingly turned me down on the grounds that the former three years I had stipulated did not count and it meant current three years. I disagreed and stated I would go over his head and approach Cardiff for a decision. Cardiff instantly confirmed that I was eligible and I was offered an appointment in Chester which I accepted.
That was my farewell to Rhyl as a resident and have also left Chester and now live in South Cumbria.
Nevertheless, I have never totally disassociated myself with Rhyl and I doubt if I ever will. I am fortunate in having friends there whom I used to visit periodically despite the fact that so many have unfortunately passed on.
Rhyl, like so many other places has changed dramatically which is a pity, as it was a great town years ago.
Unfortunately it nowhere resembles what it was more than seventy years ago. Regardless though I still hold many memories of how it used to be.
There was the Amphitheatre which housed the Billy Manders show which we always found enjoyable. Behind that building was the entrance to the Pier.
Will Parkin’s open air theatre was another well established site. I used to stand behind the barrier until a member of the cast came around with a tin expecting money and like many other youngsters we would walk away and return when he had gone. Still the shows were quite entertaining. Years later when I got to know Will Parkin I related to him my sneakiness at watching his show and he was amused.
There were the Pavilion Gardens, the children’s paddling pond, the delightful open air baths, Sussex Street baths, the Queen’s Theatre where I remember seeing Morecambe and Wise way down on the list of artists long before they became famous.
The Queen’s Dance Hall was very popular for many years. On special occasions such as Bank Holidays there could be three dances on the same day i.e. eleven am; three pm. and seven thirty pm. All were extremely enjoyable and well patronised.
There were several well known Banks. On the corner of Bodfor Street and Wellington Road was the Midland Bank which was eventually taken over by H.S.B.C.. Another that was taken over was Martin’s Bank. It was absorbed into Barclays. National Westminister Bank was on the corner of Queen Street and Market Street.
There were many other renowned shops in Rhyl too. In High Street there was Talbots who sold ladies clothes and materials. Another was Evans Clwydian Cafe. Wellington Road housed Waterworths. That was a double shop. On the left was an open fronted fish merchants and adjoining it a Greengrocers. That road also contained Garnet Wilson’s gents suits and clothing and Mival’s Florists. Queen Street had Robins Cafe and Maltby’s Butchers.
The number of arcades were somewhat restricted – not like those flooding the Promenade as they are now. The Marine Lake was in full flow and very popular too. There was also the outstanding landmark of the two Water Towers at the top of the hill on Rhuddlan Road. Anyone travelling that way couldn’t possibly miss them.
People witnessed so many former green fields along the Grange Road, Dyserth Road and Rhuddlan Road areas which were later transformed into houses, indicating quite clearly how Rhyl has grown.
This contribution is but a small reflection on what Rhyl was like. They were all great days and my memory of them will never fade.
Many thanks from Rhyl History Club for sharing your wonderful memories with us, Fred.