Snippets of History – 2022

On 17th February 2022, the History of Deganwy Group met in Peniel Chapel for their first face to face meeting of the year. This was the Group’s traditional annual Snippets evening, during which 3 members gave short presentations on topics of local interest.

The first speaker was our technical wizard and webmaster, Trefor Price. Trefor is a very active member of the local Incredible Edible group, and a regular gardener at St Mary’s Well, so members may have been expecting his talk, titled William’s Trowel, to have a horticultural theme. However, the only connection is that it was a fellow Incredible Edibler who introduced Trefor to the trowel in question, which belonged to her great great uncle, William J. Williams. William was presented with the engraved trowel, which looks like a very ornate cake slice, when he laid the foundation stone of the Llandudno Junction Memorial Institute on 30th June 1927.

Llandudno Junction Memorial Hall, as it is generally now known, is on Penrhos Avenue behind the Co-op. The building has a QR code from the very useful History Points website (https://historypoints.org/index.php?page=llandudno-junction-war-memorial) which tells us ‘In 1927, construction began and local MP David Lloyd George, who had been Prime Minister during the First World War, laid the foundation stone. He was presented with a silver trowel by Llandudno Junction’s Rose Queen for 1927, Olga Hughes. The hall was designed by local architect Mr B de Helsby. Trefor was intrigued as to where William’s trowel fitted in with this account, and decided to investigate further.

He discovered that William was born in Manchester in 1863, the eldest of 7 children. He became an accountant and then entered the civil service in London in 1880. He joined Kodak in 1900, and was Company Secretary from 1911-1928. Despite his birthplace, his family were Welsh and he was an enthusiastic supporter of Welsh language and culture. He was also fluent in Russian and several European languages. William was a very keen climber and mountaineer, and as well as tackling his native mountains he climbed in the Alps with many famous climbers. His Alpine Club application form lists the mountains he climbed between 1894 and 1902, many of them over 4,000 metres. In 1903 he married Mary Williams, one of the very few female Alpine climbers of that era. He was a member of the Fabian Society, the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, and of Cymru Fydd, a London-based group which promoted Welsh culture.

In 1921, William and Mary bought a house in Llandudno Junction. William became a Justice of the Peace for Caernarvonshire, and it was probably this role which led to him being chosen to lay a foundation stone of the Hall – for it emerged, from a report in the North Wales Weekly News – that 2 stones were in fact laid: one by Lloyd George, and one by William.

William made a speech in Welsh when he laid his stone. His aspirations for the Hall, which opened on Good Friday, April 6th 1928, reflected his interests – he suggested that a rambling group should be formed, and that the Hall should be used for the study of Wales and Welsh literature.

William was the Honorary Treasurer of Coleg Harlech from 1927 to 1948 and Treasurer of Yr Urdd from 1931 to 1942, and also continued climbing well into his 60s. He died in 1949, aged 86, and left his extensive book collection to Coleg Harlech.

Neither of the foundation stones can be seen on the outside of the building now, so it’s not clear where they are – if any members know where they are, do let us know. A member of the audience mentioned that she had heard that the building was partly funded by locals buying a single brick each, made with clay from Flanders, and she remembered that when she was a child there was always a terrific problem with damp on one particular wall.

Many thanks to Libet Williams, William’s descendant, for instigating and helping uncover this interesting story, and to Conwy Archive Service for help with newspapers.


The next speaker was Nerys Owen, with the subject An Interesting Headstone – and it certainly was. Nerys is a long-standing member of the Group. She had been inspired to give this evening’s Snippet by fellow member Adrian Hughes’s recent talk about various gravestones on the Orme. Nerys explained that there were 2 strands to her story, which would come together at the end.

The 1st strand is that as a Cockney born and bred in London, Nerys and her parents spent 2 weeks every summer visiting her mother’s family in Glan Conwy. Like many children in the 1950s there were many people she called aunt or uncle in a respectful manner, but she was never very sure if they were relatives or not. Glan Conwy in 1950 was then a relatively small village and everyone there seemed to be an aunt or uncle! Her mother also often referred to Uncle JR in Abergele and Aunty Annie in Colwyn Bay, who Nerys remembers meeting.

The 2nd strand is that during the pandemic, Nerys developed her interest in social history, and at her genealogically-minded cousin’s request went to look for a family grave at Bron-y-Nant Cemetery in Mochdre. Armed with the plot number and with help from staff at the Crematorium, Nerys found the very ornate Williams headstone.

 

From the headstone, we can see that the grave is for parents Kate and Frederick, their sons Frederick and John R., and their daughter Anne. Frederick senior was born in Bangor and worked on the railways, moving to Colwyn Bay in 1902. Kate was a local woman and started teaching in Glan Conwy, but had to relinquish her post on her marriage to Frederick. They lived in Llangwstennin and then Colwyn Bay, at Preswylfa on Wynnstay Road. Their son Frederick sadly died in 1918 in the Military Hospital at the age of 18 – he was a victim of the Spanish Flu pandemic, and died of influenza and chest problems.

Anne and John were both extremely successful. Anne was appointed as registrar of Colwyn Bay District in 1929, becoming the first female Registrar of Births Marriages and Deaths in Wales. She superintended 3 census returns in the district and also attended the London celebrations in 1937 marking the centenary of the Registration Act. Her father had been the first registrar to be appointed in Colwyn Bay, but her own appointment appears to have received very little attention at the time.

John, known as JR, first attended Pensarn Bridge primary school in Llandudno Junction. After leaving education, he entered the office of James Amphlett and was later articled to J.D.H. Osborne. He then set up his own legal business in Abergele, and carried out various other duties – he was clerk to Abergele UDC from 1920 to 1936, clerk to Abergele County School, and a member of Denbigh County Council for 12 years. He was also involved with the Denbighshire Home Guard, and was clerk to the Charity Commission from 1920 to 1960. During the course of her research, Nerys was told that JR had written an autobiography – she had trouble tracking it down, but miraculously found a copy on eBay for £1! As well as details of his career, the book contains stories of his escapades at school in the Junction.

Returning to the 1st strand of Nerys’s wonderful story – it turned out that from all those unassigned aunts and uncles, Uncle JR and Aunty Annie were related to her; they were her grandmother’s 1st cousins. JR noted in his autobiography how little recognition was given to his sister’s success, and it was particularly good for us to learn about her achievements.


Our final speaker was the marine fisheries biologist Dr Stephen Lockwood. As the former head of the marine laboratories in Conwy, located on the site of the current Riverside Business Park, Stephen is well-qualified to give his talk on the subject of Industrial Gyffin.

 

Industrial Gyffin  – by Dr Stephen Lockwood

 

Stephen’s fascinating and richly illustrated talk was further enhanced by comments from the audience, particularly our Secretary, Vicky Macdonald, whose father Elwyn Macdonald, owned the former smithy and the boatyard in their later incarnations. Vicky’s information that the smithy was known locally as Telford’s Cottage confirmed Stephen’s hypothesis.

Many thanks to Trefor, Nerys and Stephen for their entertaining and enlightening talks. One of the Group’s original aims was for members to carry out research to deepen our understanding of our neighbourhood, and this was truly achieved tonight.

Lucinda Smith

 

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