The first of Deganwy History Group’s summer programme saw members meet at the Great Orme cemetery, Llandudno, for a ‘walk and talk’ about its history, and to hear some of the stories of the notable people buried there.
In the 1890s space at Llandudno’s existing two cemeteries was running out and so the local council started the search for a new site. They eventually settled on the land next to the existing burial site at St Tudno’s church and it was officially opened in 1903.
The first of the graves we looked at was a magnificent Celtic cross placed to commemorate the life of James Cecil Parke, an Irish born sportsman and Llandudno solicitor. Parke was born in Clones, County Monaghan and as a tennis player he won many major tournaments including an Olympic silver medal in 1908; the Australian men’s singles and doubles titles and the Wimbledon mixed doubles title in 1914. He also represented Britain in the Davis Cup, helping to win the trophy in 1912. It was while at university in Dublin that he was first capped for Ireland in rugby going on to captain his country.
Llewelyn Roberts was born and educated in Llandudno and after a short period training in the field of engineering joined the Cunard Steamship Company aged 23. This was to be the start of a career in the Merchant Navy that would span the next 35 years and see him working on some of the most famous ships of that era. In the period before the First World War, Roberts learnt his trade on some of Cunard’s illustrious vessels including the Mauretania and her sister ship the Lusitania; the latter being the world’s biggest ship when launched and sunk by a German U-boat in 1915 with the loss of over 1100 lives.
During the 14-18 war Llewellyn Roberts held the commission of Engineer Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve and was engineer on the requisitioned troopship, Andania, when she landed troops at Sulva Bay during the Battle of Gallipoli. In 1918 the Andania was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland and Roberts was among the 230 people who were saved.
In 1933, Roberts assumed a land based role at Clydebank as chief engineer on the propelling machinery of the Queen Mary, Cunard’s new £3.5 million flagship liner and was on her maiden voyage from Southampton. In December 1936, Cunard White Star Line started laying down the Queen Elizabeth and chief engineer Roberts was again tasked with the construction of her propellers but he died suddenly, before her launch, in April 1939. For his service to the British mercantile marine, Llewellyn Roberts was the awarded the honour of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
Laid to rest a few metres away is Robert Arthur Griffith; a poet, writer, critic and supporter of eisteddfodau. His bardic name was Elphin.
He was born in Caernarfon in 1860. His father, John Owen Griffith, was also a poet (Ioan Arfon) and worked as a quarryman, being one of the founders of the North Wales Quarrymen’s Union. Robert’s uncle Llwyfo Roberts worked as a journalist in Llandudno. Robert himself worked for the Daily News in his early career. He practised as a solicitor in Bangor and eventually, in 1903, became a barrister.
In 1915 he was confirmed as stipendiary magistrate for Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil. In September 1917 he heard the case of Henry Thomas of Merthyr, who had been held in Dartmoor Prison for refusing to serve in the First World War. He released the prisoner, saying that money had been wasted on “this young pacifist” who would be “worth nothing” to the army and commenting that even a million conscientious objectors wouldn’t advance victory by one hour.
Elphin wrote two volumes of poetry, called Murmuron Menai (“Menai Murmurs”) and O Fôr i Fynydd (From Sea to Mountain), and the comic play Y Bardd a’r Cerddor (“The Poet and the Musician). He adjudicated in many literary competitions and was a literary critic. He retired in 1935 and died, aged 76, in Cardiff on Boxing Day 1936.
One tragic tale we were told was that of council workers Thomas Jones and Joseph Hobson. The 1911 coronation of King George V was celebrated across the country, including Llandudno, where a special medallion was commissioned. However, celebration of the investiture was marred by tragedy, leading to the deaths of two Llandudno men.
On the second day of the festivities, one item on the programme was the burning of an old boat in the bay at dusk. Thomas Jones and Joseph Hobson had been working on the old boat all day – loading it with timber, wooden crates, bails of straw and shavings and finally by pouring 40 gallons of naphtha over it. They then towed it out into the bay and left it until the evening.
At the arranged time, Jones and Hobson set off in their rowing boat to set fire to the old ship, but when they did so there was a “terrific explosion”. However for the thousands of people watching from the promenade they assumed it was part of the show!
The first intimation of the tragedy arose when a party of ladies in a rowing boat heard cries for help and found Thomas Jones in the water having suffered severe injuries to his arms and face. The 60 year old was taken to the Cottage Hospital but died of his wounds the following day. Local boatmen were alerted and scoured the area for Joseph Hobson and his lifeless body was found by his father-in-law (coxswain of the town’s lifeboat) close to the burnt out vessel.
An inquest was held two days later and concluded that the incident was a tragic accident. Mr Jones’ widow was awarded £222 9s 9d by the council in compensation. The Welsh inscription on his gravestone reads: “Morio ’rwyf o don i don, tua chartref” (“I sail from wave to wave, towards home”).
Other graves looked at included Sir William Letts, the motoring pioneer and co-founder of the Automobile Association; temperance advocate, Edward Tennyson Smith and David Cynddelw Williams, a Calvinist minister awarded the Military Cross during the First World War.
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