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.
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.
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.
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…