What’s Below the Cheese Counter at Lidl?

On the wet and windy evening of February 20th, over 40 members of the History of Deganwy Group were treated to a talk by Trefor Price in the comfort of their own homes. Trefor is not only a committee member and the host of the Group’s newly-launched Zoom talks, but also an excellent researcher. His intriguing title led us on a voyage back through the history of the imposing Imperial Buildings in Llandudno Junction which once stood on the site of the new Lidl supermarket.

Prior to its demolition, the building was most recently occupied by Arriva, who took over in 1980 from its best known occupants – Crosville. As Trefor pointed out, the Crosville company deserves a talk of its own. Briefly, it was founded in Chester in 1906 by George Crosland Taylor and George de Ville, originally to build motor cars. The first car they produced, with all parts made in Chester, was sold for £750 to a customer in Denbighshire, but the company soon transferred their attention to bus passenger services, which were evidently more lucrative.

Returning to Llandudno Junction, a series of maps showed the development of the area. In 1875, it was the site of the Ferry Farm Hotel, surrounded by fields. Victoria Drive was just a footpath, and the station was in its earlier position close to where the Cob begins now. The Ferry Farm Hotel was more than just a hotel – livestock auctions were held there, and a newspaper item from 1887 refers to it as the ‘Llandudno Junction Smithfield’. This continued until at least 1895, when ’50 head of choice cattle’ from Marl [Farm] were sold. Anglesey Pennies, used by drovers to obtain lodging, food and drink when transporting their livestock from Anglesey to London, were later found on the site of the hotel.

Newspapers describe a serious fire in 1896 at Samuel Parry’s builders’ yard next to the hotel – the Conwy crew were first on the scene, and brought the fire under control – following which, the Llandudno brigade arrived from the other direction and proceeded to drench the Conwy firemen! However, between their efforts, the Ferry Farm Hotel was saved.

The Ferry Farm Hotel was demolished in 1900, and in 1903 the land was divided into lots and sold. A map from 1911 shows the site still vacant, but with new roads in the area, and Maelgwn School visible. Plans from 1912 give further details for the development of the ‘Ferry Farm Estate’, and show the plots around the location of the future Imperial Buildings. It’s unclear when exactly they were built, but a tenancy agreement from 1924 mentions sub-letting one of the shops within the building. The agreement is between ‘Llandudno Coaching & Carriage Co. Ltd.’ who were based in Llandudno, and also owned the building in the Junction. Another document from 1926 mentions the Electricity Distribution of North Wales and District Limited, based in Imperial Buildings. This was probably another office sub-let from the Llandudno Coaching Co., which occupied the building from 1924 to 1931.

Plans are held in Conwy Archives showing the creation of various extensions between 1925 and 1931, when Crosville Motor Services Ltd moved in – a map from the late 1930s marks the building as ‘Omnibus Depot’. Further modifications were carried out in 1946 and 1947, after which Imperial Buildings remained substantially the same until the end of its working life, with the closure of the Arriva bus garage in February 2013. The building was demolished in 2019 to make way for Lidl, which opened on 30th July 2020.

Trefor was able to access the building before its demolition and showed us some fascinating photographs of the inside of the garage. Health and safety was evidenced by a series of posters and warning signs, including a large mural of a bus with ‘Their lives in your hands’ painted in huge letters next to it. Within the workshop, several deep vehicle inspection pits could be seen, full of water and oil. Video footage added to the poignant and slightly eerie atmosphere with the raucous screeching of seagulls echoing through the roof space. Further short videos reminded us of the bustle of the building’s recent past: buses were seen arriving back at the depot, undergoing their evening checks and passing through the automatic washer.

Many thanks to Trefor for shining a light into a corner of our heritage. I am sure that all those present will remember the evocative images unearthed for us next time they are contemplating the Caerphilly cheese in Lidl.

Lucinda Smith

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