Tag Archives: Rhyl Promenade

Smells like Rhyl teen spirit…

 

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I had a conversation with a friend this week and we were talking about the evocative nature of smells which linger on the memory. It got me thinking about the smells associated with growing up in Rhyl…

My first is a general one which most of us shared up until August 1968 and that was the smell of sulphurous, hot oil and coal associated with steam trains stopped in the station at Rhyl. It was the smell of adventures as everyone in those maroon carriages was off somewhere, whilst I was stuck with a 1d platform ticket on the up line of the station. Luckily you can still re-live this in Rhyl by simply popping down to the Rhyl Marine Lake Railway and standing next to the engine before it sets off. Steam engines smell slightly differently today because they no longer have access to the Welsh steam coal which once powered ships across the globe. 260338_10200119901071348_901371961_n[1]

The second is a more distinctly Rhyl smell, that of donkey poo on the beach or on the journey from the beach to their overnight quarters. It was a distinctly fragrant and sweet smell, not, of itself, at all horrible. It whiffed of summer, sun, jelly sandals and ice creams.

 

My third is the smell of fresh baking at Reeds on Vale Road. I well remember popping in regularly for a 1d Hovis mini loaf which had both novelty value and a rich malty texture and smell. It was the essence of the smell of baking for me. I never minded queueing up in Reeds as you got to snort in the baking smell which quickly had you salivating like a dog in a butcher’s shop!  I later graduated to a regular habit of pineapple tarts which were sweet and tangy. I’ve never found any which came close to those from my youth.

You couldn’t think of Rhyl without smelling that concoction of caramelised onions, and candy floss that permeated the length of the west end. It smelt of summer adventures and fun. Possibly if you chose your ride badly at the fair,  the Rotor or the Mad Mouse for example, you might get a second chance to drink in this heady aroma later in the evening.

At the Foryd end of the town on a damp day, the smell of the wet seaweed and the incoming tide with a foamy head was very evocative. I’ve dreamed of that smell and woken up feeling homesick. I missed it greatly when I lived away from Rhyl.

Whenever we had relatives come to stay, which was often, we always ended up walking up the promenade and visiting the Lifeboat House. When the boat and tractor were in and the mechanic was working on them, the smell of the heavy deep blue lubricating oil was a rich smell I’ve only smelt in other Lifeboat stations.

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One of the least pleasant smells I associate with the town comes from the small beach next to the Foryd Bridge. I was drawn there one day, whilst playing along the river (and in the bushes between the river and the Marine Lake, from where my mother had warned me to stay away)  by a horrendous smell. It was the smell of rot and decay, yet I was drawn to it. I found a large tope, a type of shark, some eight foot long with the colour drained away from it so that it was almost indistinguishable from the sand and line of seaweed. It had been caught as a fishing trophy and dumped there once a photograph of the proud fisherman had been taken. What a waste of the life of an awesome fish I thought. It  was both scary and fascinating to be so close to this, by now eyeless, sea monster, the focus for millions of flies.

 

I spent an hour just looking at it and poking it with a stick to ensure it was indeed dead. The tope had probably been there for several days judging by the way the flies were entering a cavity opened up in the gut. There was little chance now that it was  simply sunbathing. Eventually the angry flies and overpowering dank odour drove me away, but I remained fascinated that such a beast had been swimming off the beach of Rhyl.

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Dank odours bring me to another distinctive Rhyl smell… the grotto that was the changing room at the open air pool on the promenade. The smell of wet mortar impregnated with almost fluorescent saturated moss was never forgotten. Those changing rooms were washed down by a firefighter grade hose pipe on a daily basis. The regular soaking the walls received only encouraged the tropical rainforest of moss and wet rot that climbed from the floor to every wall in each of the putrid cubicles. How I now miss that smell and the excitement it heralded.

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Beyond the Reso : The Pavilion inspired cover

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The cover of the second Reso book, Beyond the Reso, was inspired by a sight that illuminated the Rhyl skyline throughout my youth, The Pavilion Theatre on the Promenade.

The coloured lights played on it at night, making it look like a giant ice cream which changed from strawberry, to orange to lemon to lime and blackcurrant.

I remember coming home from Auntie Betty’s home in St David’s Square late at night, my mum and Auntie Betty had been talking incessantly whilst drinking tea and eating biscuits. I’d amused myself with Prince the dog, but both of us fell asleep in the muggy atmosphere created by the gas fire.

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Eventually I was awoken and told to get my coat on for the short walk home. As we drifted into Victoria Road, the playing field of Glyndwr field shone with dew and in the distance the Pavilion radiated warm and invited light. The spectacle was such that my mum and I stopped for a few moments and she waxed lyrical on the constancy of that sight which had remained the same from her childhood. She told me that both my grandparents had been involved in building the Pavilion and I felt I had something invested in it.

It later provided shelter for what my parents would have called my ‘courting days’. Hours were spent in the shelters on the seaward side desperately trying to keep warm in a full on Irish Sea wind with only warm hearts and hot lips to keep us from freezing.

I probably had a share in its demise as well because in all my days, apart from going to see the Billy Smart’s lions and tigers camped outside, I don’t believe I ever set foot in the theatre. Despite the delights of Wyn Calvin and Prince’s Circus ‘as seen on TV’ to entice me.

There was a furore when the Pavilion was demolished in 1973. It was said that it was unsafe and the pillars that held the dome in place did show structural decay. However, when the dome fell some seventy feet to the ground without shattering there were murmurings in the town that this was civic vandalism of the worst kind.

Many went to see the demolition. I didn’t, I preferred to remember happier times cuddled up and gazing lovingly at the world’s most beautiful girlfriend.

Thanks to Ben Overton and Luke Hughes for the cover design.

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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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