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 Figure of Eight

In true “Antiques Roadshow” style we have been given a bag of cine films that was bought in a car boot sale.  Many of them have uninspiring titles such as “Christmas 1967”, but one was entitled “Marine Lake”.  When we had this film digitised we saw  a film that seems to have been taken from the Ocean Beach, looking towards the Pleasure Beach.  It appears to show the demolition and burning of the roller coaster “The Figure of Eight”.  Please comment if you can name the year, remember the Figure of Eight or have any other information.

If anyone knows the provenance of the films, who we should credit etc., please contact Rhyl History Club.

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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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2016 – a summary.

It’s been a great year for our website/blog.  We’ve had 15,914 visitors making 41,491 views.

We had our busiest day ever on April 24th when we had 476 views  – the day we published “Kinmel Park Camp”

The most popular day for visiting our site is a Sunday and the most popular hour is 9pm.

We had visitors looking at our site from 85 countries.  The top five were U.K., U.S.A., Australia, Canada and France, but we also had visitors from Mozambique, Uruguay, Kazakhstan and Iceland.  The map below illustrates where in the world we have been viewed.

wordpress-stats-1Our five most popular posts published this year were:
Kinmel Park Camp
Farewell to the Grange
The Cut
Farewell Old School – Welcome to the New
My Personal Memories of Rhyl

We published 43 posts.  Visitors found their way to us mainly via search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo etc.), but also via Facebook, Twitter and links from other sites.

In November we were contacted by the National Library of Wales inviting us to participate in the UK Web Archive.  The UK Web Archive is a partnership between the National Library of Wales, the British Library and the National Library of Scotland, to preserve website for future users.  This means that an archived copy of our website will form part of their permanent collections.  Our site will remain accessible as hardware and software changes over time and it will also be catalogued through the websites of both the National Library of Wales and the UK Web Archive.

Going forward, we have included a page on our website for readers’ enquiries with a comments box included.  This is an experimental addition which will be reviewed over time.  We have also refreshed our “Links” page.

Many thanks to those who have contributed and to all you lovely readers.  We wish you a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year. Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.



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Collapse of Rhyl Pier

Photographs today are instant, immediate, and we share them with family and friends within seconds.  We may think that this something quite new, but the photograph below was taken when storm damage to the pier was discovered on the morning of Wednesday, December 29th*, 1909, and it was available to buy as a picture postcard by noon.


Rhyl pier had an eventful and chequered history.  Built in 1867, it suffered from fire, storms and collisions and was eventually dismantled in 1973.  To read more about the history of Rhyl’s Victoria Pier click here

At daybreak on Wednesday, December 29th, 1909 a startling discovery was made – part of the pier had collapsed onto the sands below.
During the night a heavy westerly gale blew, the tide was very high and the Rhyl Record and Advertiser reported that “the seas were tremendous”.  The first person to discover the collapse was Coastguard O’Connor whilst on his beat – the gap was about 30 yards long in the middle of the pier, a short distance beyond the Bijou Pavilion.  Crowds soon gathered to witness the scene and inspect the damage.

The collapse occurred in that portion of the pier which was supported by just two cast iron piles or columns, the centre column having broken two or three years before.  Instead of replacing the central column a girder was placed between the two that remained. All the other supports on the pier were three abreast.

*the damage was discovered at daybreak on Wednesday, December 29th.  The date of December 28th which appears on the postcard presumably refers to when the collapse occurred – that is during the night, but before midnight, on the Tuesday.

Read also “Tommy Burns – High Diver” 
“The Grand Pavilion destroyed by fire 1901”

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Merry Christmas


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December 24, 2016 · 7:59 pm