Tag Archives: family

The Queen’s Building in Rhyl… a place of delights for the town for many generations.

Rhyl developed as a tourist resort really, there was very little in the area that became the town before the railway from Chester to Holyhead arrived in 1848. Before that there was the large house called Ty’n Rhyl and a few scattered farms, one of which can still be seen at low tide between Rhyl and Prestatyn, swallowed by the sea.

The town quickly developed as a coastal resort when the railway arrived and there was a massive building programme which included hospitals and sanatoria as well as private schools, of which the town had many.  Other than the railway station, which was further expanded in 1900, the most impressive building was undoubtedly the Queen’s Building.

The Queen’s Building occupied a commanding position at the top of the High Street and faced north onto what was being turned from a beach with sand dunes, into an extensive promenade. The building developed quickly into what we might now describe as a leisure complex. From its opening in1902, it provided a host of facilities to keep both locals and holidaymakers amused.

qqqooo

 

Initially the building had a large glass dome in which an exotic zoo was housed and a tower above in allowed visitors an unbroken view towards Snowdonia, Blackpool Tower, and some say the Isle of Man. I can remember a small  but engaging exotic zoo on the second floor of what later became the Queen’s market. The zoo had such exotica as piranha fish and large snakes, all presented in the semi gloom. I remember looking for what I think was a python, only to find that it had moved imperceptibly to within a few inches of me behind which I hoped was unbreakable glass.

Looking down from the balcony, which also housed a fortune teller, one could see the full extent of the Queen’s dance floor, a beautiful sprung floor which rivalled, and some say exceeded the floor at the Blackpool Tower. John Jones in his book Rhyl: the Town and its People (1970)  reckoned the floor could accommodate 2000 couples. Certainly in the war years it was full to bursting with the troops, Canadians in the first war and Americans in the second who were based at Bodelwyddan Camp a few miles away.  My mum and her friends had tales to tell of nylons and sweets readily available there, often in return for a dance. Delly Hagin told me of the excitement of dancing there and the disappointment of choosing a boyfriend for his looks and not his dancing ability, which resulting in her abandoning her dancing stilettoes, and walking home barefoot with her sore feet.

hhh

There was also a theatre which accommodated all the stars of the day from the music hall acts to more modern singers like Cliff Richard. My uncle was lucky enough to meet Laurel and Hardy there and was presented with a  book in recognition of his creative writing.

The first talking picture shown in Rhyl was shown at the Queens Show Boat being followed by The Singing Fool and All quiet on the Western Front. Much of this part of the complex closed as a cinema in 1960.

I have only one memory of one of the two night clubs at the Queens. That was sneaking in whilst still at primary school in 1968 with a friend who crept between my legs to avoid paying. Being tall, I was not questioned about my age, although I doubt they would be happy to have known that two 11 year olds had gained entry. It was the first time I’d heard live music from a local band called the Purple Chapter and we placed ourselves next to the enormous speakers. It was several days before we could hear again.

In latter days the building experienced a rapid decline and only recently has it been purchased for development from the Parker family who have owned it for a number of years.

All the various elements and entertainments mentioned so far are as nothing when compared to the original building, much of which was destroyed by fire in 1906. It was rumoured that the original facilities extended to a large aquarium which was situated, appropriately at the road now called Aquarium Street, where my girlfriend used to live. That is a distance of almost half a mile from the initial Queens building. It was said that the sites were connected by a Venetian style canal with gondolas and gondoliers imported from Venice!

Many people have shown a great interest in what became of these underground canals. Certainly my cousin Gerald, has seen the entrance point to the canal system over fifty years ago when it was in disrepair. My friend, Rhyl Historian Stuart Jones, has become intrigued by the canals and set up a social media group to ‘Save Rhyl Queen’s Building!’ in the hope that some of the building could be restored to its former glory.

There have been documentaries and historians covering the canal system and it is part of the local mythology. The fact that the Parker family were so intent on keeping people out of what might remain of the system on safety grounds, only added to the mystery, with some people saying the system was intact, whilst other claiming that it had been filled with concrete and that there was nothing left to see.

The building is in the process of re-development and probably little of the original building will survive the process.

jjjj

Stuart and another local entertainment guru, Karen Woodham, were recently granted access to the building by the developers. Certain parts were off limits due to safety concerns, but here is their report of what they found of the former splendour of the building…

Queens Building Rhyl, a last visit to the building by Karen and Stuart.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

A few hours for Macmillan Cancer Care…

ss
Owen Hughes New York City Marathon 2019

 

Our younger son, Owen has taken to marathon running. It started with the London Marathon, and in his usual way, he set out to master the event. He is committed to completing the six main world events. He only has Boston and Tokyo to complete now and his time has fallen to 2hr 37m at best.

He recently took on the New York marathon and found that his time, which was meant to guarantee him entry, suddenly didn’t, due to the high number of runners who had made that time. He decided to take a charity option for entry and chose Macmillan Cancer Care. This meant he had £2500 to achieve in sponsorship.

He recognised that he’d struggle to raise such an amount by relying on the usual suspects, family and friends, and contacted local supermarkets to see if he could have a charity slot at the exit. We have helped by doing slots at the Coop in Southwell and the Morrisons store in Bulwell, Nottingham.  He and his girlfriend Dalia have completed other collecting days.

It has been an interesting and rewarding experience.

Fundraising for a cancer charity like Macmillan, and one which so many people have had cause to use, means that you are very well received. We’ve heard countless stories of how families have been helped at their darkest hour and how they have been supported and cared for in what has been a terminal, or more hopeful outcome.  As a family we have also been so grateful for Macmillan’s support in dark days.

A number of people have said that they were donating ‘just in case’ they might need the help and support of Macmillan in future.

I’ve had conversations with a number of really interesting people today about Macmillan, hobbies, interests and experiences, and laughs with customers and staff. It was good to get away from talk of the election.  All in all, on a dismal day weather-wise it has been a rewarding and fulfilling day and we managed to raise £174 for the cause in three hours.

Best moment of the day was a lady on crutches who must have been in her eighties who made her way slowly to me and produced a £10 note in what is one of the poorest areas of Nottingham. I told her that it was a £10 note, in case she was not aware. She replied,  ‘I know it is, but there are so many people who are so much worse off than me who need help.’ What an inspiration.

A really inspiring day all round thanks to Macmillan. Thank you to all who donated today and online.

If you get the opportunity to stand for a couple of hours fundraising for such a worthy cause I suggest you grasp it with both hands. You will come away with a renewed sense of optimism about the good heartedness and generosity in our communities in these difficult times.   (Other charities are available!)

Tagged ,

Bonfire Night! A warning from history…

IMG_1301IMG_1300IMG_1299IMG_1307IMG_1308IMG_1318IMG_1326IMG_1323IMG_1324

 

Bonfire night was always a major celebration in our family and our back garden was the  location for the annual festivities.

In the 1960’s the family bonfire party was the norm and the back garden was the venue. In all honestly we kids used to be purchasing and letting off fireworks from the time they became available in the local shops in late September. We’d go to different shops, often away from the Reso so that our firework purchasing would not draw the suspicion of the local shopkeepers. We would club together to extend our purchases from a single banger to a box of ten, and there would inevitably be disputes about who had contributed most, and who would decide where and when we would let off the fireworks.

On the Reso there were some houses which had a covered entry between the houses. We used to gather to light fireworks in such entries because the sound and awe of the bangers going off in such confined spaces was spectacular. The game was to stand next to the exploding firework and only then run and hide as the local house dwellers came storming out to investigate the deafening explosion. It was sometimes difficult to think coherently and run when you had been so close to the explosion and you could only hear the jabber of your friends as a high-pitched yet muffled rumble.

My mam was probably the most dangerous person I knew around fireworks. On the one occasion when my dad was working an afternoon shift and would not be home until at least 10.30, she took charge of the proceedings. It was mayhem!

The rocket which was designed to commence the proceedings was too large for the milk bottle in which it was placed. My brother and I pointed out the danger, but mam thought we were questioning her ability and waved aside our warnings.  As she lit the outsized rocket, sure enough the milk bottle fell over. Luckily, on the rough furrowed soil that my dad prepared at the end of the vegetable growing season, it fell facing into a neighbours garden. Had it fallen the other way it would have shot straight through our back room window and exploded on the dining table. As it was, it managed to penetrate the chain link fence and was caught miraculously in a large bra, injudiciously left on the line by our neighbour. Caught and held firm in the bra, the firework worked itself to a crescendo. Mam immediately urged everyone in, and suspended proceedings until she was sure the neighbours were not going to come out and complain. I was the only one who stayed out to see the rocket explode, closer to the ground than intended. In a crescendo of red and green stars one bosom of the bra was turned into a colander.

To her credit when both Ruby, the neighbour, and my mam were in the garden the next morning sorting washing for the line, she feigned innocence, being dumbfounded by the damage to the bra… ‘bloody kids, eh!’ were her words of commiseration to Ruby and her air ventilated left bosomed bra..

After a 15 minute hiatus, my mam reconvened the firework party and things started to approach normality. A succession of Roman Candles and a Vesuvius were successfully lit and we ooh’ed and aah’ed at their wonderful showers of colour and volcanic lava spurting.

My mam, emboldened by these successes, now proceeded to prepare a Catherine Wheel. Again we gave her wise advise to attach it to the washing line post, but she insisted it would look better pinned to the recently painted shed door.  She picked up a handily placed half brick and proceeded to hammer the Catherine wheel into the door.  It was clear what was going to happen and assuredly it did. Mam lit the holy firework and retreated as fast as her furry boots would allow her. The Catherine Wheel spluttered into life, but effectively nailed securely to the door, refused to turn, and instead expended its fiery fury down the paintwork of the door, burning a neat vertical line in the paint, which given the furious temperatures, continued to burn after the firework had expended its sparkling contents.

My mam was crestfallen that the Catherine Wheel had not performed as desired and immediately advanced on the door to pin a second wheel below the first. This time she summoned me into the house to  bring a small hammer from my dad’s toolkit. She tacked the pin very carefully this time, ensuring that the firework was able to spin freely. Like a surgeon, she handed the hammer back to me and instructed me to retreat as she lit this second firework.

She was delighted when this Catherine Wheel spun flawlessly, showering sparks in silver circles at a faster and faster pace until all the gunpowder was expended and a burning disk was all that remained. In the darkness and with our eyes overwhelmed by the sparky, mesmerising display, we could not see the full damage to the shed door.

My mam’s efforts had burned a large exclamation mark into the door, which would form the basis of a family argument the following day, in which, for my part, I repeated my advice of the night, which had been to use the washing line post for the Catherine Wheels, my dad nodded in agreement, and my mam gave me a withering look.

On the eve of the seventies, the popularity of the family garden firework display declined. This was in part due to the sheer volume of accidents which inundated hospital accident and emergency wards each Bonfire Night. It might also have been a signal of the weakening of family ties. either way, it seemed the future belonged to large organised displays. Ironically, at the first organised display I can remember taking place, on the promenade, a fireman was tragically killed by a massive firework detonating prematurely.

The organised displays comprise massive expenditure on spectacular fireworks, but the children are now passive onlookers, rather than active participants in the events of the night. As I was never hurt by fireworks, other than the odd burn, and temporary loss of hearing. I don’t feel so keenly the demand to control fireworks as those who were more grievously burned.

The pictures were taken last week at the annual Southwell Rugby Club display.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Nativity Play, Ysgol Emmanuel 1967

 

69348590_752398495180375_5383670879093784576_n

 

The nativity play was a real rite of passage in British primary schools and this one took place in my last year in Ysgol Emmanuel, 1967.

My earliest friends are all on this photo, but I’m struggling to identify them for three reasons, a grainy photo, a grainy memory and the cunning Middle Eastern disguises many of them have adopted.

I was relieved to be picked by Mr Williams to be one of the narrators, as in a previous production on that stage I had played the King of Hearts. My tights split when we had to ‘all fall down‘ in the final scene. Apparently is was felt to be a ‘tour de comic force’ by the audience. It was seen as the most embarrassing moment of a fledgling acting career by me and I determined never to darken the boards again with a theatrical presence. I have not spoken of that event from that day to this.

Then I was given the script …76 foolscap pages (in the age before the reign of the A4 format) from the smelly roneo machine that lurked in Miss Hasting’s office. All the letter o s had been inked in by the machine. I was told that I had to learn all my lines by heart as I would not be allowed to take the script on stage on the nights! He relented in the end and it was some comfort to have the words to refer to.

I am in the top left of the picture in the dark shirt. I was very tall for my age, which tended to enrage many older, yet smaller boys. ‘You think you are dead tall don’t you!’ was the regular preamble to a fight. Well, I say a fight, more accurately it was me getting a punching.

Coming out on to the stage that first night, with several hundred expectant parents gazing upward from an almost black auditorium and a blinding spotlight focused on me, did little to settle my nerves. I had been told to speak loudly and slowly, pausing at every comma to draw breath and to count to three between each sentence. Apparently I had gabbled my way through practises and the dress rehearsals. It seemed such a difficult thing to do, even with the most sympathetic of audiences willing me on. I have struggle to speak coherently and slowly ever since.

And lo, it came to pass…’ were my first words and I remember thinking that we had been told never to start a sentence with ‘and’. I wondered which was correct, the Bible or Mr Williams. I decided on this occasion to follow the Biblical words to the letter… on all other occasions I followed Mr Williams’ grammatical rulings… it made for an easier life.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Geufron

17504977_1420562538015740_8040199458374713805_o

You could easily miss the Geufron if you passed along Prince Edward Avenue. It was the square of houses on the north side of the road. It had clearly been built at a time before cars were a consideration as the road which reached the houses was ridiculously narrow. The broken pathway, on which cars had been parked,  was also narrow and an untended thorn hedge on the other side of the road was the source of many a burst Frido and  World Cup balls.

There was a large grassed making up the middle of the square The square itself was designed for more genteel times. It had been set out with four entrance points that were simply breaks in the hedge. Paths linked these entrances and there was a circular pathway in the middle. Had it been a country park, then strolling round this path might have been a Sunday afternoon pursuit, but that circular walk was no more than 50 yards, so without making a dizzying number of circuits it could hardly be considered a ‘walk’.

The council had laid crazy pavement on these paths. Crazy paving was, at one time,  all the rage and gave the council an outlet for all the broken paving stones which otherwise would have gone to waste. At forty five degrees to the straight pathways were four privet hedges planted in a U shape and some five feet high.

At one time, in each of these green recesses there had been a bench seat. This enabled you to take the sun or the shade and avoid any accompanying wind. I’m sure that at some point these little verdant shelters would have been a favourite venue of what, at the time, would have been called ‘courting couples’… people who were ‘stepping out’ or any other epithet for what would now be described on social media in the more prosaic and accurate form as ‘in a relationship’.

When I was using the green regularly, some of the benches had gone, having previously rotted, or the slats having broken. All the local kids would gather in the recesses for a chat about what we’d do next. It was only later that I realised that the layout of the green was designed to prevent the playing of ball games. Whichever way you set up, there was no way you could have a football match or cricket game without the crazy paving or the hedges intervening. Behind whichever goals you set up were the thorn hedges which prematurely ended many a game.

A further hazard were the deposits left be itinerant incontinent dogs which used to wander the streets casually when I was growing up and which are such a rarity now. We would have to hope that they were regularly fed a diet of butchers’ bones, the remains of which formed a distinctive white poo which did not smell and was of a powdery consistency. Pity the footballer slipping on the poo of a dog which had canned meat.

Pity also the unsuspecting person who walked past Danny’s Alsation prowling in the yard behind the classic Jaguar hiding under the tarpaulin. ‘Tim’ would launch himself at the substantial gate designed to keep him in, all frothing frenzy and razor sharp teeth, like the very hound of Hell.

There was always a sense of belonging when playing on the Geufron green. People tended not to move from these council houses, indeed several were passed between the generations. The houses had been constructed just after the turn of the century, and I can picture most of the families named here. Some were related, but all knew me , my parents and my grandparents. My grandparents were the Conways  in No. 5. My mum was the eldest daughter and I’m sure all my uncles, Elwyn, Tim, Aneurin Edward and Glyn, would have had the same complaint about the football playing limitations of the green.

Indeed. I  remember  a Friday afternoon when my Uncle Elwyn volunteered to come and play football on the green, only for the football to make a decisive impact with the thorny hedge. There was nothing to be done, so we both made a decidedly deflated exit from the green, shoulders slumped. ‘That wasn’t such a problem when I was a kid,’ Uncle Elwyn volunteered by way of consolation, because we played with leather case balls.’ It wasn’t much consolation because the remains of my plastic World Cup ball was now only useful for wearing as a comic swimming cap.

Reso Terror 64

 

When I was growing up, the gap between houses 7 and 8 led to a hay field. The field had a stake and wire fence which stood no more than one metre high. Despite the easy access this afforded, someone had seen fit to build a full size house door into the fence and to build a supporting frame around it. This proved a great platform from which to attempt diving somersaults from when the hay had been cut and was stacked high to break our fall. The hay field has long gone, a victim of progress, when the bulldozer came to level the ground for the building of 24 garages for the use of people who grew up never believing they would own a car. My dad had one of them and I never went there without thinking the garages were a poor replacement for all the fun we had in the hay field.

From what I’ve said, it might seem that the Geufron was  like any highly localised community and a little parochial. That idea was dispelled by Mr Hagin in No.10. He was a West Indian Canadian who had settled in the town after World War One when large numbers of Canadian soldiers were housed at the nearby Bodelwyddan Army Camp. Whilst waiting for passenger ships to return them to Canada, Mr Hagin had started dating a local girl who he eventually married, not to return to his pre-war home in Nova Scotia. For many of his fellow Canadian soldiers the early post war was not such a happy times. The delay in shipping them back caused frustration and, what was to become an even bigger killer than the trenches, the flu outbreak of 1919, broke out in the camp. Being confined to camp intensified the chance of the flu outbreak spreading and led to rioting. A number of Canadian soldiers lost their lives in these riots and are buried in the beautiful marble church, across the road from the camp.

Mr Hagin went on to father a number of children, of whom the youngest was called Nova after his old homeland. Her daughter Lesley was my girlfriend in the 1970s, so the inter-generational link with the families continued.

Me aged 10

After all this time, I am still in touch with a number of the children or grandchildren of   the families mentioned here, such are the wonders of social media. Even the youngest are now middle aged, but I still see them as I remember them as a boy, chatting and laughing on the park benches, playing truncated games of football until the ball popped, or jumping off the door-post into the hay.

The green has now been totally remodelled. There is a dedicated children’s play area which was familiar to my younger cousins in the 1980s. The family home, No.5 was one time owned by one of the Hagin daughters, and next door to them were their cousins.

The houses, for the most part are no longer council houses – the right to buy made great inroads into the houses owned by councils. The houses are no longer painted a uniform colour as determined by the council, but sport a range of styles and colours reflecting the preferences of their owners. Unfortunately, they have not been replaced in the housing stock by substantial family houses that were good quality and affordable by young people setting out on their lives.

Geographically the Geufron is in the very heart of Rhyl, yet, unless you have cause to visit, you would pass it by without a second thought. An unremarkable square of 14 houses and families who have laughed and cried, and celebrated and mourned together. For me, and many others, it is the epicentre of our existence, the font of our being. It is where we come from.

I don’t doubt that many others feel the same about their small communities.

Guefron

Tagged , , , , , , ,