Major Penn

gorffwysfaTry to imagine how grand this property must have looked in the nineteenth Century. Now the Rhyl Naval Sports and Social Club, it was originally “Gorphwysfa” (sic)- the home of Major Penn.  It stands on the corner of River Street and Wellington Road.  Local historian J.W. Jones said of Major Penn “It was his efforts which converted River Street from an almost impassable cart track to one of our finest streets”.  The Major loved entertaining and would hold banquets for his friends and fellow commissioners at Gorphwysfa.  The Rhyl Record and Advertiser described how “those privileged of attending those gatherings will often recall to their memories the geniality and urbanity which the Major infused into his functions as host”.  However the Major also hosted an annual dinner at Christmas for the poor of the town.  The local paper described how Major Penn entertained “the aged paupers and poor to a sumptuous repast laid out at Gorphwysfa”.  Roast beef and vegetables were served and a barrel of good beer was tapped.  In his obituary the paper referred to the considerate kindness of Major Penn to the poor of the town – “he dispensed his charity ungrudgingly and unostentatiously”.

Major Penn retired to Rhyl in the latter part of the 1870’s from Montreal, Canada, and took an active part in public life in Rhyl. He was a Rhyl Improvement Commissioner and chaired the Board between 1879-81. He was also director of Rhyl Gas Company.  He was a manager of the National School.


Major Penn, Montreal, 1862. Photo Credit: McCord Museum (see below)

Frederic Penn was born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, in 1810.  When he was 14 Frederic emigrated to Montreal, Canada, where he lived for the next fifty years. He was one of the foremost athletes in Canada (he held the Canadian high jump record for sixty years).  He founded the first militia regiment in Canada.  He rose rapidly through the ranks to become a Major.  He was a Justice of the Peace for Montreal for many years and was appointed “Acting Mayor” of Montreal, the then capital of Canada, in 1858.

He died of a heart attack at Gorphwysfa on March 2nd, 1891.  The Rhyl Record and Advertiser reported that “the news cast a gloom over the town” and “judging from his erect and handsome figure, his easy carriage and generally robust constitution, but few would have thought that the Major has passed four score years.”
His body was taken from Rhyl on the 7.20am train on Thursday, March 5th, for Liverpool en route for internment in Montreal.



Major Penn, Montreal, QC, 1862
William Notman (1826-1891)

















1 Comment

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One response to “Major Penn

  1. ola66

    Thank you………great story. Perhaps Rhyl could re-establish the ‘Rhyl Improvement Commissioners’ !!

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