Tag Archives: Rhyl Promenade

The Rhyl Little Venice Mystery

What I am about to relate continues to surprise and intrigue me… it dates back to the turn of the century and is central to an understanding of Rhyl’s past.

When the resort of Rhyl first took off with the arrival of the railway after 1848, a series of attractions was proposed and built to entertain the holidaymakers.

Among the grandest was the Queen’s Theatre on the Promenade just to the west of the High Street. The Queen’s had a massive sprung dance floor, which can still be seen if you visit the indoor market, which rivalled the one at Blackpool Tower!

There was a zoo of sorts and a massive glass dome on the top of the building.

Underneath the building and, depending on whose account you rely, there was an extensive underground canal system, complete with Venetian gondolas and Italian gondoliers. There had been plans to build an extensive aquarium and pleasure park further to the west of the Queens – and indeed to this day there is an Aquarium Street which commemorates this plan. Some say the canals stretched this far and even further.

There was a terrible fire at the Queens complex in 1907 which destroyed the glass dome and the facilities were cut back after that. Certainly the canal and gondolas became the stuff of legend. It was said that some time after the fire the canals were abandoned and some people have commented that what remained of the canals were filled in by the 1960s so no evidence remains of the system.

The Parker family, a long-standing name in Rhyl, own the complex and have said that there is nothing left of the canals. Despite this, many in Rhyl, including my friend, local historian, Stuart Jones, are desperate to have an exploration underneath the Queens complex and gather any relevant information so that the canal can be properly documented.

This is the only one known image of the canal, which only adds to the intrigue…

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This just in from Stuart Jones, giving some more context:

Taken from Rhyl Record & Advertertiser, 4th April 1903…. some interesting info about “Little Venice”:

THE QUEEN’S PALACE.

News

THE QUEEN’S PALACE – ATTRACTIVE ARRANGEMENTS.

The directors of the Queens Palace have made the most eleborate and attractive arrangements for the delectation and amusement of the visitors to Rhyl from Easter to the end of the summer. In the short time it was opened last summer the Queen’s Palace proved that it had caught on with the pubic in a manner that suggested great possibilities for the future, and encouraged by the support extended them the Syndicate have been induced to embark upon further enterprises which bid fair to supply Rhyl with a place of entertainment and of amusement equalled by few places out of London.

Since last summer the basement underneath the ballroom has been utilised and transformed to represent Venice, in the centre is a water arrangement to represent one of the Venetian canals rising out of which are artistically decorated arches to suggest some of the bridges for which Venice is noted. The ceiling is decorated to convey an idea of the blue Italian sky, while the sides are covered with paintings depicting Venetian scenery.

Real gondolas manipulated by Italian boys will take the patrons of Venice twice around the canal for the small charge of one penny. Venice will besides contain several features of interest. These will include a large number of automatic machines, embracing the latest novelties in mechanical inventions.

Close upon 100 stereoscopic lens will be in use to magnify some of the best specimens of the photographic art. There will be stalls on which fancy goods, and refreshments will be exposed for sale, and the whole place will be brilliantly illuminated by an extensive installation of electric light.

In one of the side rooms there will be on view Barnum and Bailey’s huge giant, who measures nearly eight feet in height. In another room there will be a shooting gallery arrangement, where good marksmanship may be cultivated and encouraged. But perhaps the most interesting place in this subterranean resort will be a chamber devoted to a waxwork collection of criminal celebrities.

These will be located in a chamber peculiarly suitable for adding a touch of realism to the gruesome array of murderers comprised in the collection. In two cell-like recesses there will be a representation of Chapman, the poisoner, administering the fatal dose to Maud Marsh, whilst another tableau will represent the atrocity perpetrated by Edwards, of Leyton fame. The ‘Chamber of Horrors’ represents the criminal contents of one of the best-known waxwork exhibition in the provinces, the whole of which have been purchased by the Syndicate.

With the exception of the ‘Chamber of Horrors,’ the whole of the many and varied sights of this wonderland may be viewed on payment of the small charge of two pence. The tower and dome have now been completed, and the electric lift is in working order. In the first room of the tower there will be an exhibition, of wax- work figures of unprecedented magnificence for a provincial town.

The Royal group, with the King and Queen on the throne, and other members of the Royal Family in close contiguity, is an especially artistic and beautiful study. Eminent politicians, great soldiers and savors, and epoch and history making men are delineated in life-size figures in large numbers. A scene describing ‘Jim, the collier’s son,’ will occupy one room to itself. The collection numbers several hundreds of figures, and they are being specially attended to. The large and commodious room where the collection will be on view is specially adapted for an exhibition of this kind, being spacious and lofty, and well lighted and ventilated.

In the room above, which may be described as the dome, there is a collection of several hundreds of automatic machines, consisting of all kinds of devices and novelties, from telling one’s weight to telling one’s fortune. There are also a large number of working mechanical models. One might spend a couple of hours in this room alone, and find himself amply amused the whole of the time.

A spiral staircase leads from here on to the crow’s nest, which surmounts the dome, and from this altitude there is commanded a marine view of rare charm and magnificence stretching forth for fifty miles east and west, and in a southerly direction a view of hill and dale, of rivers and rivulets such as is to be seen in no other spot on this coast.

To ascend by the lift to view the waxworks, and the hundred and one other attractions provided in the tower entails only the small charge of two pence.

These new additions to the Palace attractions will all be open to the public on Easter Monday, and from thence continuously. On that day there will be an Eisteddfod at the Palace, the Syndicate having offered very large sums in prizes for choral, solo, and instrumental competitions. We are told that the entries are very large, numbering altogether close upon 700. Some of the best Welsh choirs will compete, and will find powerful rivals in several well known English choirs.

After Easter Monday the usual variety programme will be submitted to the patrons of the Palace., interspersed, of course, with dancing, which will be specially catered for. The Syndicate have been fortunate in securing the services of Mr. Edmund Bosanquet, the celebrated violinist, who will commence his duties on the 1st day of June as musical director, and he will wield the baton over a band, of twenty-two picked instrumentalists. So that the quality of the music discoursed will have special attention paid to it, an all important element where dancing and variety programmes are combined.

Among the artistes who will appear the week commencing Easter Monday will be Jack Barnes’ with his Cinematograph, Mr. Frank Dunlop, Miss Dot Boline, Miss Marie Feldon, and others. The bookings for later on in the season include most of the leading music hall artistes, so that altogether there, is a prospect of a most attractive time of it at the Palace.

Since last summer many improvements have been made in the Roof Gardens, which are now more beautiful and mere luxurious than ever. Further decorations and additions to the furnishing appointments have been made in the Cafe, and the general comfort and the requirements of the patrons of the place have been consulted to even the minutest detail. It will altogether be found to be one of the most gorgeous, brilliant, and varied places of amusements to be seen anywhere, and it may be depended upon to attract many thousands of visitors to Rhyl during the next few months.

Meantime rapid progress is being made with the alterations and additions to the Queens Hotel and the new Cafe. No expense is being spared in making the Cafe thoroughly up-to- date. It will be furnished in the most luxurious manner, while the scheme of decorations is on a costly and most ambitious scale, and will exceed any of their kind in any cafe in the country. It is expected that these alterations will be completed in June.

The hotel arrangements themselves will also be on the modern principles. Practically all the shops in the Arcade have been taken, and the tenants are busily putting in the fixtures and fitting’s.

 

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Pavilion Gardens 1923

This short film, by my reckoning, was made from the balcony of the Pavilion Theatre, looking east into the Pavilion Gardens, which, when I was a lad, had developed into the roller skating rink and cycle track in the background. I have happy, but cold memories, of Sunday afternoons spent in the sun shelters on the beach side of this photograph with my girlfriend! Come to think of it, the time between this film and my teenage romance and between the romance and now is roughly the same. How quickly time passes and how we fritter it away!

Everyone seems in their Sunday best – there was a tradition of Rhyl dads wearing a suit and tie when walking on the promenade, which seems very formal by today’s standards. I can remember an adult saying to me on the promenade,

“Are you American sonny?”

To which I replied, somewhat caught unawares, “No!”

The quick riposte was “Then get your bloody hands out of your pockets and smarten up!”

Pavilion Gardens 1923

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A Sunday School trip to Rhyl in 1949

Rhyl was a Mecca for the day trip from clubs and works, schools and Sunday schools and the second half of this film shows a Sunday School trip by coach to Rhyl Funfair in 1949… innocent days!

Brynsiencyn (Anglesey) Trip to Rhyl Funfair in 1949

The BFI caption reads:

Members of the Women’s Institute [‘Sefydliad y Merched’] enjoy a fun-day in the village of Brynsiencyn, Anglesey, which includes a drama in fancy dress (including a striking sheep costume), a game with umbrellas and balls, a treasure hunt and refreshments. A local GP records this event – which takes place in a fellow GP’s garden at ‘Llwyn Idris’ – and also the chapel trip to Rhyl to sample the delights of the Marine Lake fairground.

‘Llwyn Idris’ was the home of The Reverend John Williams and his wife and also provided a separate home for his daughter, her husband (GP Dr Alun Griffiths) and their 3 sons. The Women’s Institute fun-day in the garden may have been an annual event. It was some years later that a Welsh-language alternative to the WI was established, after the WI decreed in 1967 that English was its official language. Welsh had traditionally been used in a number of branches in Wales so a break-away movement was formed that would operate in Welsh only as ‘Merched y Wawr’ (Women of the Dawn). Both the WI and MW are still going strong. Many members of the Brynsiencyn WI are seen on the trip to Rhyl, a popular venue for such excursions.

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Variety Troupes in Rhyl 2! The 1920 Rhyl promenade

I wasn’t sure whether to use this film to highlight the 1920s Rhyl Promenade or another of  the Variety Troups who were a regular feature of Rhyl’s seaside entertainment from Victorian times until the 1950s.

Some great shots of the promenade and the extent of the sand hills in the East End at this date. The BFI caption has a mention of friend of the site Colin Jones, who runs a great Rhyl blog, reads:

“After you have seen this Picture, you will want to visit this Popular Health Resort’ declares the title-frame – and the two (male) Jovial Jesters company members certainly put life and soul into playing the eponymous ‘Mr and Mrs Jones’ having a high old time of it, larking about and viewing the delights of Rhyl vertiginously from atop their charabanc as it trundles along the seafront.

According to Colin Jones’s ‘Rhyl Life’ online blog, Gilbert Rogers’s Jovial Jesters appeared in Rhyl during summer seasons from 1907 until the 1920s, occupying the minstrel pitch on the sands opposite High Street. In this film made by the Shannon Film Company for Rhyl Advertising Association, the parts of Mr and Mrs Jones are played by Hardy Palm and Harry Fife, clad in jesters’ attire and (Mrs Jones) Welsh shawl and tall hat. Other Jovial Jesters appear too – acting drunk on the charabanc and performing on a beachfront stage – the whole spectacle attracting quite a crowd of spectators.”

Jovial Jesters on Rhyl Promenade

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The Merrie Men: Variety Troupes in Rhyl

There was a long tradition of seaside variety troupes of entertainers who performed comedy, dance a musical numbers and sketches.

May troupes spent the whole summer season in a single resort a in Rhyl the Coliseum a Gaiety Theatre would often  house them.

Probably the most famous Rhyl company was that run by Billie Manders, but amongst the earliest was the Merrie Men. This short film dates from 1899!

The Merrie Men in Concert in 1899

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