A few years ago I was involved in the development of a community film with TAPE which brought together memories of Rhyl in its heyday.
See an insight into those times here… Rhyl Reflections
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.
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.
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.
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.