Category Archives: People

Shirley Williams – the first honorary freewoman of Rhyl

Rhyl History Club are proud to report that one of our long term members, Shirley Williams, has recently been made an Honorary  Freewoman of the town.  Shirley is only the third person to receive the prestigious award, and is the first woman.  The award has previously been given to the late Roy Turner and Peter Robinson

Shirley has a very impressive list of community activities over the years, including involvement with Rhyl Youth Club, Rhyl and District Rounders League, Rhyl and District Operatic Society and the Nancy Clarke School of Dance. Shirley has fulfilled many and various volunteer roles, too many to mention, including thirty years for the Glan Clwyd Branch of the British Heart Foundation (she is now their Vice Chair) and “front of house” at Rhyl Pavilion Theatre. She was a founder member of Clwyd Coast Credit Union.  In 2017 Shirley attended HM the Queen’s Garden Party after being nominated for her long standing charitable work by Rhyl County Court, where she still works as a Court Usher.

Rhyl History Club sends Shirley many congratulations on this thoroughly deserved award.



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Roy Turner 1927-2017

A few years ago the Rhyl History Club invited Roy Turner to reflect on Rhyl – the town and family resort.  It was an excellent choice for the audience was enthralled with his story – so much as an insider – having served as chairman on so many committees eg. Rhyl Urban Council – specialising on developing  Rhyl as a resort,  Rhyl Operatic Society and he became the U.K’s longest serving governor serving Christ Church School for 60 years, over 50 as chairman.  In recognition of this he was invited to 10, Downing Street, to meet the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

He died whilst on holiday in Spain in March 2017 and on August 5th, on what would have been his 90th birthday, there was a celebration of his life fittingly in the Town Hall, Rhyl.  It was full to capacity when family and his numerous friends remembered with great affection, Roy Turner, “Mr Rhyl”, the first Freeman of the town.

Many thanks to our programme secretary and former chairman Mr Rufus Adams for writing this tribute.

To read the obituary in the Rhyl Journal click here


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Sgt. “Tony” Turner

Two years ago we published an article about a village called Marly in Moselle, France where five British airmen lie buried after being shot down during the second world war, in February 1944.  One of them was a Rhyl man – Tony Turner.

A Marly historian, Stéphane Cottel, is searching for more information, and especially a photograph of Sgt. Patrick Anthony “Tony” Turner. Tony was born on October 14th, 1922 at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Rhyl.  His parents were Thomas Turner and Norah Sheila Turner nee Phillips of the Foryd Harbour Hotel.  This is what we know about Tony:

TURNER Patrick Anthony, Sergeant Mid-upper gunner, 1661472, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (100 Sqdn.). Born in Rhyl October 14th, 1922. Died in Marly, Moselle, France February 24th, 1944 at 10:00 P.M. Commemorated on Rhyl War Memorial, Abergele Town Hall Memorial and Towyn War Memorial.
To read the article in this blog again click here
To read an article by historian Stéphane Cottel of Marly, please click here

The restoration of the mural in homage to the airmen of Lancaster JB604 in Marly, Moselle, France.

Unfortunately we received no leads or more information after publishing the article.  However, recently we have discovered more information which may help.  The Turner family were originally from the Manchester area.  Tony was an only son.  His mother, Norah Sheila Turner died in tragic circumstances on July 19th, 1938.  She was discovered dead on the floor of the washhouse of her home in Crugan Avenue, Kinmel Bay by her niece, the cause of death was electrocution due to faulty/incorrectly installed wiring.  Mrs Turner was about 50 and Tony was 15.
We also now know where Tony worked before joining up, and some other details.  This is from the Rhyl Journal, July 6th, 1944:

“Killed in Action – News has been received that Sergeant Air Gunner Patrick Anthony Turner, the only son of Mr and the late Mrs Turner, Foryd Hotel, Rhyl, and who, since his mother’s death, had resided with his cousin, Mrs Owen, Ferry Hotel, Foryd, has been killed on active service.  The news is contained in a letter which Mr Edward Owen of the Ferry Hotel, has received from the War Organisation of the British Red Cross Society and Order of St. John of Jerusalem.  Sergt. “Tony” Turner, who was 21 years of age, was reported missing in February following his first operational flight over enemy territory.  Before joining up he was a bricklayer with Messrs W. H. Jones and Sons, Pen y Bont House, Abergele.
M. Cottel has photographs of four of the five brave airmen but not one of Sgt. Tony Turner.
The village of Marly never forgets.

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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)
















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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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“The Man Who Put Rhyl On The Map”

Whilst researching the history of Rhyl certain names crop up time and time again.  Some names are still with us in street names, Churton Road, Sisson Street and Gamlin Street for example.  Unfortunately some names have become lost over time.

J.D. Polkinghorne – “The Jay”

One name that crops up regularly is that of  J.D. Polkinghorne.  Local historian J.W. Jones (Joe Swan) wrote in his book “Rhyl and Round About” that Mr Polkinghorne was “the man who put Rhyl on the map”.  Mr Jones went on to say “When one thinks of the men who made Rhyl one naturally thinks of the men who constructed its buildings or opened businesses here.  But the making of a town involves things that are not necessarily tangible.  A holiday resort thrives on publicity, and for many years one man was in charge of this department of the town’s promotion.  His name was J.D. Polkinghorne.”

James David Polkinghorne arrived in Rhyl in 1893 after he was appointed journalist for the Rhyl Journal, having secured this position from a large number of applicants.  Mr Polkinghorne soon acquainted himself with the area, and with the public men who lived here, forging a popularity which lasted until the end of his career.

Known to many of his readers as “The Jay”, not only was he a reporter and columnist for many local newspapers, he was also the secretary of Rhyl Advertising Association.  Again from J.W. Jones:  “The object of the Association was to publicise the town, and J.D. Polkinghorne made a splendid job of ‘putting Rhyl on the map’, laying the foundation for what later became the Publicity Committee with a full time publicity manager doing what Mr Polkinghorne had done in his spare time.”  An active and prominent townsman, he was secretary and organiser of the Rhyl May Day for a quarter of a century.  He was an official note taker of the Assize Courts and a teacher of shorthand under Flintshire Education Authority, secretary of the local Conservative Club, an ardent churchman, an active freemason and a member of the Cambrian Archaeological  Society.

His obituary, written by Albert D. Stone in the Rhyl Journal states: “The welfare of Rhyl was very dear to the heart of the deceased and by his writings he gave practical evidence of his incessant interest in the town’s public affairs”.

polkinghorneMr Polkinghorne died aged 62 in 1930.  On Saturday, February 1st he attended Abergele Police Court “in pursuit of his journalistic duties” where he suddenly collapsed.  He was taken by ambulance to his home at 7, River Street but died the same evening without regaining consciousness.

The last words are again from ‘Joe Swan’: ” J.D. Polkinghorne was the busiest man I ever knew.  He did not appear to be very strong, but he had reserves of nervous energy which enabled him to cope with an enormous amount of work, and the ability to turn his mind from one job to another and give his whole attention to the work he had in hand.  Few men have left their mark on Rhyl as did J.D. Polkinghorne.”




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