Category Archives: Community

Rhyl’s Carnival 1929

Image © Johnston Press plc. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

In 1929 Rhyl held a Carnival which turned out to be one of the biggest events ever to be held in the town.  Ten of thousands of people flocked into Rhyl by road and rail for the three day Carnival which began on Thursday, June 27th.  The advertisement on the left is typical and was from the Yorkshire Evening Post.
In his book “Rhyl, the town and its people” J.W. Jones wrote that it was the idea of Arnold Heckle, the popular Publicity Manager at the time.  A Carnival King and Queen were appointed.  The “King” was Bertram Jones, proprietor and editor of the Rhyl Leader and the “Queen” was Billie Manders.  To get a flavour of the wonderful carnival of 1929, watch the British Pathé footage


The sun shone on the Carnival’s opening day, the highlight of which was the arrival of the famous aviator Sir Alan Cobham, but more of that later.  Also on the Thursday was a Gilbert and Sullivan garden fete in the Vicarage Grounds and a torchlight procession and tattoo in the Marine Gardens (beside the pavilion).
Friday and Saturday saw a speed boat rally, motor cycle reliability trials, sports, a Children’s Beauty competition, roller skating races, dances, a Grand Procession, community singing and fireworks

Prize winners at the 1929 Rhyl Carnival

But back to the opening day and the hugely anticipated arrival of Sir Alan Cobham in his de Havilland Giant Moth which he christened “Youth of Britain”.  The Rhyl Journal reported that he was expected to arrive at Aberkinsey Farm (between Rhyl and Dyserth) at 11a.m and a big crowd had gathered to welcome him.  Unfortunately he experienced mechanical problems as he left Crewe which meant it was after 12 noon that he was first sighted over the farm.  He made a “beautiful” landing amidst great cheering and was immediately “mobbed” by the crowd.  Sir Alan then proceeded to take members and officials of Rhyl council for a flight over the town.  Then a second party boarded the plane but as it took off the propeller caught a tree and sustained damage which caused abandonment of the flight.  Fortunately no-one suffered any injuries.  A photograph of the “crash” can be seen below.

photograph reproduced with kind permission of Pete Robinson at

The Rhyl Journal published a list of children chosen to take a flight that day, representing various schools in Rhyl.  It added that their flight would be postponed until the following day because of the accident.  It was not clear in the paper as to whether the children ever took their flight – risk assessment was probably quite different in 1929!

In the Rhyl Journal the following week, under the headline “Aerodrome for Rhyl” Sir Alan assured those gathered at a reception that there would have been no such trouble if there had been a proper aerodrome.  Sir Alan said “they had to make use of improvised fields as they proceded from town to town and the field selected at Aberkinsey Farm was the only one suitable for the purpose of such a demonstration from Anglesey to Rhyl.  There was a great opportunity before Rhyl, so far as aviation in North Wales was concerned, and he hoped they were that day seeing the beginning of the laying of the foundations of a local aerodrome.”











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The Carnegie Free Library

Before its current home in Church Street our library was within the Town Hall.  Readers of a certain age will have memories of the lovely old library there. carnegie-free-libray-2 It was built with £3,000 donated by Andrew Carnegie.  Carnegie, 1835-1919, was a Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist and one of the richest Americans ever.  During the last 18 years of his life he gave away 90% of his fortune – about $350 million (in 2015 share of GDP, $78.6 billion) to charities, foundations and universities.  2,509 Carnegie libraries were built around the world with his money, 660 of which were built in the U.K. and one of which was here in Rhyl.


Andrew Carnegie. Photocredit : wikipedia

As long ago as the 1890s there were calls for a free library in Rhyl, as evidenced by letters to the local newspapers.  In 1902 it was heard that Mr Carnegie was giving money away for thousands of libraries.  In March 1905 the Rhyl Journal printed a letter from New York which confirmed that Rhyl would receive a sum of up to £3,000 to complete the library  building.  The newspaper also commented “The thanks of the town for the successful issue of the protracted and delicate negotiations with Mr Carnegie is largely due to Mr Rowlands* who has conducted the correspondence on the Council’s side with great skill”.  Not everyone was pleased though, as the £3,000 came with certain conditions resulting in a small rise in the rates -“some agreed and some did not like to face the trifling penny rate”.  There was organised opposition but the ratepayers eventually decided to accept the offer by a majority of 245.


Laying the Foundation Stones of Rhyl’s Carnegie Free Library

The library was built as an extension to the Town Hall.  On a windy January afternoon in 1906 the foundation stones were laid by the High Sherriff of Flintshire, Mr W.J.P Storey, J.P. and Councillor J.W Jones J.P. (Chairman R.U.D.C.). both of whom received  a solid silver trowel and mallet.

The Library was opened in April, 1907.  At the opening ceremony Mr J. Herbert Lewis M.P. said” Henceforth every man and woman in the town of Rhyl, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, will own a library if not in their own houses, at least near their own doors”
Situated on the site of the old Police station and adjoining the Town Hall, the work was entirely in character – Penmaenmawr stone facing with Cefn stone quoins, heads, sills and strings. The library occupied the ground floor and comprised of a reading room, reference room, lending library, store room and Librarian’s room.  The first floor consisted of a stage, dressing rooms and conveniences.  The whole  of the new building was  heated with low pressure hot water apparatus and radiators and lit throughout by electricity.

*Mr Arthur Rowlands was the Town Clerk of Rhyl.


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Remembrance through Music.

This year we have a departure from our usual research/photographs/memories concerning Rhyl and the way that the wars affected the town and its people.  We are sharing links that commemorate the casualties of war through music, more especially music from Rhyl Folk Club.  The history of Rhyl Folk club has been explored on these pages before, to read this click here .  

In the clip below Rhyl musician, and Rhyl Folk Club member, Brian Bull sings one of the most poignant songs written about the First World War:  “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”.  It was written in 1971 by Scottish born Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle and describes war as futile and gruesome, while criticising those who seek to glorify it.


The next song was written and is sung by well known local musician and Rhyl Folk Club member,  Alun Rhys Jones.  Alun says “I wrote this song in utter awe and respect for those countless young men who marched off to war, often giving their lives for the benefit of us all. Complete and utter madness…! But at the time, who felt they had a choice…? I wrote the song in 1987 inspired by work of writers such as Eric Bogle and Dominic Williams. Fortunately “Lest We Forget” won the Hindley (Lancs) Folk-Club Song-Writing Competition that same year and was broadcast by BBC Radio Manchester. I’m very proud of this song and it can still move me to tears when I sing it now…. I feel it’s even more moving when sung unaccompanied, in the folk tradition, which is how I present the song from time to time”.

In the next clip Alun sings a Dominic Williams song “Tommy’s Lot”:

For more information about Rhyl Folk Club click here.

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Coronation Day 1911

The Coronation of King George V took place on June 22nd, 1911.  Depending upon which report you read in the local paper, the celebrations that took place in Rhyl were either successful or disastrous.

The Rhyl Record and Advertiser described the day in detail:  the morning procession, the afternoon procession, the illuminations, the elaborately decorated streets, fireworks on the pier, the bonfire on the sandhills opposite Chester Street, a tea for the school children and the sports on the promenade – see photograph below.

However on a different page in the paper was this report:
“We shall have something to say on this subject in our next issue.  Meantime we can only say that they were of the most unsatisfactory and slipshod nature, and reflect anything but credit on those responsible for them.”  Oh dear.

The following week there were indeed more column inches devoted to this, the report was entitled “The Coronation Muddle at Rhyl”. The report was damning, ending with the paragraph “We seldom remember anything more unsatisfactory in the history of Rhyl, and if only that we may long be spared the humiliation of such another day, we heartily pray Long Live King George V.”

The main complaints were to Rhyl Council, who were accused of dealing with the Coronation celebrations in a “perfunctory manner” and limiting the expenditure to £150.  The council had not held proper meetings, but had given carte blanche instructions to the General Purposes Committee, which the report said “they have done in characteristically blundering fashion”.  Whilst householders did their best to decorate their premises, the Town Hall and other public buildings were almost bare of “flagtorial embellishment”.  The processions were not well organised, “a poor and feeble effort”.  Regarding the illuminations: “when darkness set in the town, instead of being ablaze with illuminations, was as forbiddingly dark and sombre as on a dreary wintery Sunday night”  Oh dear.

So much history is viewed through rose tinted spectacles it is refreshing to be reminded that events could be disappointing and disagreeable in “the good old days”.

Full-length portrait in oils of George V. Coronation portrait by Sir Luke Fildes, 1911 Photo credit: Wikipedia

George V reigned until his death in 1936.  He was the second son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales – later King Edward v11, and the grandson of Queen Victoria.


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The Foryd Harbour tour.

This weekend has seen the ever popular annual Prestatyn and Clwydian Range Walking Festival which is now in its 12th year.  There were 26 walks in all, one of which was “Harbours and the History of Rhyl”.  Rhyl History Club member Bob Gurney was the walk leader for the group of 51 people, and what an informative and enjoyable walk it turned out to be.

foryd 2Bob led the walk around the harbour, explaining about its history.  Judith Samuels, author of “The City of Ottawa: the story of a Sailing Ship”, also told us about the wreck which can still be seen in the mud at low tide. We then then crossed the Foryd Bridge to the Marine Lakeforyd 4where people were enjoying rides on the Rhyl Miniature Railway and visiting their museum. foryd 5foryd 7The remains of the perimeter walls of the ill fated Winter Gardens were pointed out on our way back to the promenade, where Bob talked about the Hovercraft, Resurgam, Ruth Ellis and more.  We returned to the harbour hub via the new walking and cycling bridge “Pont y Ddraig“. foryd 3 Many thanks to Bob Gurney and the organisers of the Prestatyn and Clwydian Range Walking Festival


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Public Lecture – all welcome!

Discovering more about Belgian refugees in Wales and Rhyl

 Public lecture: ‘Belgian Refugees in Wales and in Rhyl’

by Dr Christophe Declercq & Anoni Vitti

24 May 2016, 6pm,

Rhyl Little Theatre,  Vale Road, Rhyl LL18 2BS

All welcome!

It’s remarkable to discover that Wales accepted 4,500 refugees from Belgium who escaped from the Germans at the start of WW1, and interesting to consider the arrangements in place for shelter, sustenance, education and work for these refugees, in a period that was far more challenging than the Wales of today. As part of the Wales for Peace project, and to coincide with the exhibition of the Book of Remembrance at Bodelwyddan Castle, a public lecture will be given by an expert in the field, Dr Christophe Declercq, at the Rhyl Little Theatre, on Tuesday the 24th of May at 6pm. Also presenting will be local researcher, Antoni Vitti, who will convey the experiences of the refugees in Rhyl and the steps taken in the town to re-establish links with the descenants of refugees, who naturally returned to Belgium after WW1.

The Belgians left with very little trace, apart from art, craft and building work still valued in Wales today. These include several plaques such as a beautiful one in Bangor, the carving at Llanwenog and Llanfihangel-y-creuddyn churches, the Belgian Pier in Menai Bridge and of greatest national significance, the intricately carved Black Chair of the 1917 National Eisteddfod which was awarded posthumously to Hedd Wyn who died at Passchendaele.

The guest speaker, UCL lecturer Christophe Declercq, has researched the Belgian refugees story for over a decade and is the UK liaison officer for a project currently organized by the Amsab Institute of Social History, affiliated to the University of Ghent, Belgium.  He said: “Reflecting on the past to illuminate the present is what history is all about. This Belgian-Wales sharing of information will enhance our understanding of the Belgian Refugees’ story during WW1. I was very pleased to respond to this opportunity to share my research through the Wales for Peace project, especially at Rhyl as there is some great community work underway in uncovering the stories of the Belgians who stayed here 100 years ago. I must praise Toni Vitti and all who are supporting the Belgian Refugees in Rhyl website, as it’s a medium for all across Wales, not to mention Belgium, to learn about the Belgian refugees’ experiences locally. Rhyl can also pride itself on the iconic photograph, which has survived, showing the warm welcome shown to the first refugees who arrived by train – an enormous crowd can be seen welcoming them. So I’m looking forward to meeting the people of Rhyl and North Wales, in order to share my research, but also to learn more from them regarding any new histories about the Belgian refugees in Wales that are now coming to light. Information exchange as will occur during the lecture in Rhyl, is an important part of understanding our heritage In Belgium as well as in Wales.”

Rhyl welcomes the Belgian Refugees.

Antoni Vitti, who received the Mayor of Rhyl’s Ambassador Award in 2015 for his work on the project, said: “My interest in the Belgian Refugees came from a post Rhyl History Club made to their website in March 2012. I’d never heard anything about them before, and it intrigued me. When I found that one of them died here and was buried in an unmarked grave I thought that needed putting right, so I went to Belgium in search of his family to get their permission to install a memorial. Whilst searching for his family I started to find more about the others who were here. The ‘Belgian RefugeesinRhyl’ website has now been seen by more than 125,000 people across the world, with more than half of them in Belgium. Research has led to new friendships both locally and overseas, and I’m so proud that the expert, Dr Christophe Declercq, is acknowledging the research we have done here in Rhyl and North Wales, by coming to lecture here with me.”

Head of Wales for Peace project Craig Owen added: “An exciting part of the Wales for Peace project is mapping out the impact of war and collecting the peace heritage of Wales. With the help of volunteers across Wales, we are interested in uncovering local hidden histories and archives relating to the Welsh-Belgian experience during WW1. The research by Antoni Vitti and other local volunteers, including the Rhyl History Club, is ample proof of the significant contribution volunteers make in uncovering our heritage. I encourage anyone who has an interest in volunteering to look at the themes and opportunities on our website “

All are welcome to this free public lecture. An on-line advance registration option is available by clicking here, or attendees can collect a free ticket on the day.

The event is arranged by Wales for Peace to coincide with the WW1 Book of Remembrance exhibition at Bodelwyddan Castle.

Wales for Peace is a four-year project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by 10 organisational partners including Aberystwyth and Cardiff universities, the National Library for Wales and movements such as the Urdd and Cymdeithas y Cymod. The project’s core question is: in the hundred years since the First World War, how has Wales contributed to the search for peace? Wales for Peace is a heritage project working with communities across Wales; it is also forward-looking in stimulating debate around issues of peace for the benefit of future generations.

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