In replying to a query posed by Gareth regarding the Sun Inn (see Market Street topic), he suggested that I start a new post on the subject of the old pubs in the town, so here goes.
We are fortunate in that Charles Jones (1843-1916) kept detailed diaries between 1861-1914 which has allowed us to follow those changes which took place in the town during that period. Ellis Wynne Williams (EWW) in his book ‘Abergele, the Story of a Parish’ makes use of those diaries and other sources, so it is thanks to them that we have the following information:
EWW makes reference to the Rate Book of 1859 which lists 14 taverns etc., whilst an 1862 Plan of Abergele (see below) shows 16 Hotels & Inns. Those in the Rate Book (annual rental shown in brackets) were The Gwindy (£15), Ship (£16), Mona Vaults (£12), Bull (£20), George & Dragon (£7), Royal Oak (£16), Cross Keys (£16), Harp (£18), Swan (£14), Kings Head (£10), Crown (£18), Nelson (£34), Castle (£18) and lastly, The Bee (£184). The last two are the Penybont and the Bodelwyddan Arms (Hesketh) which I will deal with first.
The Penybont was originally the name of the house which adjoined a low, narrow tavern which ran alongside the river Gele and to which it was later joined to form the present-day building. Similarly, the Bodelwyddan Arms, as it was known in 1861, was also joined to the next-door house, forming the Hesketh of later years. The Castle was the last of only three pubs in the town to be joined to the house next door in the 1860-1900 period. The Castle, then as now, is situated at the northern end of the junction between Pleasant Place and Dundonald Avenue. Around that time there was a clamour to close or pull down the small taverns. The Compensation Act, which had recently been passed at that time, might have been all the incentive required in some cases. But I digress.
From the 1860’s onwards Abergele saw much change, which included the disappearance of many of its taverns. Of the few left from the 1859/1862 period, only the Gwindy, the Bull (Hotel), a larger and much improved George & Dragon, the Harp (whose frontage didn’t alter at all between 1861 & 1911), Castle, Bee and Penybont survived. The Hesketh is still there on Bridge Street, almost opposite St. George Road, but under a new guise. Although the name ‘the Ship’ survives to modern days, it is not the same Ship Inn as mentioned in the listings however (see below). The Bee Hotel, two doors up from Church Street’s junction with Market Street, still occupies its original site. But what of the others?
That part of the modern day Peter Large’s property closest to the Harp is where the Cross Keys once stood. Described as ‘quite a good house with its two front rooms, one a shop, the other a tavern’ it was run by one Huw Jones in 1861, a joiner and zealous Baptist according to the diaries. Directly across the road, where Reeds Rains is nowadays, was The Swan. The original building was demolished to be replaced by a chemist’s shop in later years. The Crown is where Gwalia House, a modern day butcher’s shop, now stands. It was a butcher’s shop even in the late 1800’s, as well as a tavern, kept by a prominent Wesleyan, Edward Roberts. Behind the Swan and the Crown stood the Kings Head. The Royal Oak occupied one of the five small ‘two-up, two-down’ houses between Liverpool House (the bridal shop) and the Harp, probably where the barber’s shop is today. Interestingly, in 1891, the Post Office (formerly at Bowden House in Chapel Street) moved to one of those houses where it remained until moving to the present location in 1909. The George & Dragon was known as the Royal George in the early 1860’s. Originally described as ‘a low, old thatched house with no loft to it’ one can perhaps understand why the annual rent only increased from £7 in 1859 to £18 by 1890. For comparison The Harp, Crown & Castle were all rented at £18 p.a. in 1859, others somewhat more.
Charles Jones’ diaries take us on a clockwise tour of the town so we will pick up his descriptions in Water Street. Where the present day Tannery Court now is a cluster of half a dozen properties once stood, one of which was the White Horse tavern. For some reason, Ellis Wynne Williams’ book doesn’t show this on the 1862 Plan, nor does he mention it being in the 1859 Rate Book. He does, however, mention Nelson Vaults, part of Nelson House where Prys Jones & Booth carry on their business today. Jones’ diaries describes it as ‘quite a large property where much business was transacted’.
Across the road from Nelson House were three shops and the ruins (in 1861) of the old Lock Up. ‘In this block was the first North & South Wales Bank, the building next to it in the main street being for many years a tavern by the name of Bank Vaults’. This is another tavern which doesn’t make it into the lists in EWW’s book. ‘Next was the Red Lion, an important tavern which did much business’, sited where the current opticians is. The Penybont and Hesketh have already been discussed above so, bypassing them, our tour continues further along Bridge Street. Where Plas Newydd Buildings twin terraces now stand ‘there were many old thatched houses. Beyond them was an old long and low thatched house facing the road called New Inn. It had been a tavern long before 1861’ and is yet another not shown in the listings. It was situated roughly where Slaters have their Service building next to Ysgol Emrys ap Iwan these days.
We now about-face and head back towards the bridge over the river Gele which, ‘in 1861 was a stone arch, considerably higher and narrower than it is now’ an improvement which occurred around 1906. The first building on the corner of Glanrafon and Market Street (the Mobility shop) was a butchers for many years prior to becoming the Crown Bach (not to be confused with the Crown/Gwalia House at the other end of town). Proceeding onwards we arrive at ‘the Gwindy which remained unaltered between 1861 and 1911 and did a great trade’. Next came Cumberland house with a watchmaker’s shop, Glyn Luce, being built in the later part of the 1800’s on the site of the former tavern by the name of Mona Vaults.
Though off topic, it is interesting to list the remaining properties from Glyn Luce/the Mona Vaults if only to show their diversity. ‘Then came Bryn House and then a private house with a milliner’s shop built about 1862 next to it. Also about 1861 a Watchmaker’s shop called Grenwich house was built next to the milliner’s. Then came a farm called Ty Newydd, … next was a shop in which Edwards y Caws sold cheese’. I have mentioned those because the next property was ‘the Ship Inn, a free house with two quite sizeable rooms at the front’. This should NOT be confused with the later Ship Temperance Cafe on the corner of Market Street/Chapel Street, which didn’t open until 1907. But, to continue our description – ‘between the Ship Inn and the corner of the Llanfair Road were two shops, a milliner’s and a grocer’s. Shortly before 1861, the grocer’s shop was a tavern called the Bull and when the present Bull Hotel was built, about 1860, it became known as the Bull Bach (Little Bull) because only one of its rooms was used as a tavern at the beginning, the other being used as a shop’. What later became the Ship Temperance Cafe, a Youth Club in my time and currently a Herbal Medicine Practice, was built partly on the site of the old Bull (Bach) Inn. The story behind the origins of the Ship Temperance Cafe is interesting in its own right but not for this page.
Our perambulation of Abergele’s old taverns is almost complete with the exception of the northern side of Market Street. In 1861, the space where the Town Hall was later built in 1867 was just an open space. To the rear of this space the Market Vaults were built and served as a tavern between 1867 and 1910. The houses (demolished in 1966) in Market Place were also built about 1867 and called Local Lane. By walking westwards along Market Street, we eventually arrive at the former sites of the Crown, King’s Head and Swan to complete our circuit.
For the purists, Pensarn underwent much development in the 1850’s following the arrival of the railway in 1845, then remained largely unchanged from 1861-1911 apart from the disappearance of the White Horse Inn and the Glyn Vaults (their old locations unknown). This only left two remaining public houses to survive to the present day, The Railway (currently The Yacht) and the Cambrian (now The Park) both on the seaward side of the A548/Marine Road.
The railway appears to have been the catalyst which brought about much of the change mentioned above. Gone were most of the old taverns, which had probably been little more than a couple of planks laid across trestles in someone’s front room and with a barrel or two of ale upon them anyway. A far cry from today’s public houses with their modern image, plying their trade in buildings which have survived for over a century and a half in some instances.