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 W.E. Gladstone and Penmaenmawr

     This is not a guided trail. You should choose your own route around our town looking at the various Locations associated with William E. Gladstone and his family on their numerous visits to Penmaenmawr in the second half of the 19th century.


     William Ewart Gladstone first came to Penmaenmawr for his holidays in 1855. Over the next forty years he was to make eleven more visits with his family, staying at various houses most of which were the property of the Derbyshire’s of Pendyffryn Estate and later owners of Graiglwyd Quarry.   He came here to bathe in the sea, to walk the hills, to read and continue his studies on Homer. When he arrived the town was undeveloped but his visits popularised the place and soon attracted people of a high social order - Lords and Ladies, Bishops, Writers and Composers.   His visits declined as he grew older and his final visit in 1896 was after a break of fourteen years but the town had grown out of all recognition since he had first arrived forty years previously.

1.Gladstone Memorial.                                                                                                            

 The memorial was unveiled in August 1899. The original bust was stolen in the 1970s and a replacement made in 1991 by local sculptor Peter London. The original bust faced down Paradise Road, which W.E.G. opened officially on his last visit in 1896.


The town's shopping centre did not exist when W.E.G. first arrived. One of the early entrepreneurs, Thomas Patrick, who befriended Gladstone, opened a 'Bazaar' in a wooden shack which was later replaced by a row of shops, one of which had an extension at the rear which he named ‘Gladstone Hall'. The entrance to this Hall (now converted for accommodation) can be seen at the extreme left of the Christian Café / Bookshop.

3. Bryn Hedd (In Gladstone's time Plas Mariandir) - Conwy Road.                                    

  It was to this house that W.E.G. brought his family on their first visit to Penmaenmawr. Its owner, Dr. John Harrison of Chester was one of the first to 'discover' the area and to take advantage of the new Chester/Holyhead railway which turned a journey of a day by road from Chester into one of just over an hour. On arriving here for the first time on Monday 3rd September 1855, by train, from the family seat at Hawarden Castle for a three week stay, 46 year old Gladstone had just finished his first term as Chancellor the Exchequer. He wrote that evening in his diary -                                     

   ‘This spot is lovely. We found at our journey's end a soft and pretty nook under the stern and grand though not high  mountain; and a healthy happy party "                                                 

 He did not return to Penmaenmawr until 1859 when once again he stayed at Plas Mariandir.

4.  Glan-y-Mor - Conwy Road.                                                                                                 

 In 1860 and 1861 the Gladstone's made their third and fourth visits staying at Mr. Harrison's "new and excellently prepared house.” Since Plas Mariandir could no longer be described as new it is believed that the house referred to was Glan-y-Mor.                                            

5.  St. Seiriol's Church.                                                                                                         

  The building of this large Church in the late 1860s reflects the increasing popularity of Penmaenmawr as a resort for the middle and clerical classes. W.E.G. had complained in lets diary of the inadequacies of the parish church - too small, too plain, too remote and too Welsh. The visitors were being accommodated in the area above the railway station - Pantyrafon - this is where they wanted a new, grand, English church and they were willing to finance its erection and its upkeep.           

 On September 5th 1862 on his fifth visit, W.E.G., then Chancellor of the Exchequer, attended a meeting at the National Schoolroom ('Gasworks’ site school opposite Puffin, now under the A55 roundabout!) to discuss the following resolution.                                                                               

   "That the increase that is taking place in the population of this parish renders it imperative  to provide additional church accommodation.”    

 Those attending, which included the Bishop of Gloucester, Bishop of Bangor and leading English residents (most of them temporary) promised to work effortlessly to raise the £4,000 needed. Within four years Mrs. Gladstone was laying down the corner stone (the corner stone was not engraved so do not waste time looking for it!) of the new church (September 1867) with her husband in attendance. The church was opened to divine service less than a year later on June 2nd 1868! But without a tower and bell. Mrs. Gladstone promised on behalf of her husband that if a tower was added he would supply the bell. Indeed he did, both tower and bell were ready by 1885 - he did not attend their dedication. He had also previously donated silver communion vessels to the church.

6. Penholm (in Gladstone’s time Ormeview)-junction of Fernbrook Road and Conwy Old Road.                                                                                                                                             

 W.E.G. and his wife Catherine stayed here for five days in September 1882 as a guest of their niece, Lady Lucy Cavendish. She had come to Penmaenmawr to recover from the trauma of her husband's murder in Phoenix Park, Dublin in May of that year. Cavendish had been appointed by Gladstone as Irish Secretary and a few days before his murder at the hands of Nationalists.                                                                                       

 Despite the tragic reasons for the visit he was given a grand welcome.

7. Noddfa (until recently Plas Tan-Y-Foel ) - Conwy Old Road.                                           

 This mansion was built for wealthy Manchester businessman, Murray Gladstone, cousin to W.E.G. and it is known from the diaries that the latter and his family were frequent callers to the house from 1860.                                                                                  

Murray Gladstone met his death tragically on the sands at Penmaenmawr on Monday night, August 23rd 1875.                                                                                                                         

  "He had suffocated in the water. Upon his forehead was an ugly bruise - incontestable evidence that he had fallen and suggesting the probable inference that in so doing he had struck his forehead against a half buried stone many of which the shore abounds. "    

He was buried in St. Gwynin's cemetery and the funeral was attended by W.E.G. He was 59 years old.

8. Plas Mawr (site of only) - Bangor Road     gg                                                                               

Identifying the Gladstone family accommodation for their visits in 1862, '63, '64, and '67 is somewhat controversial.                                                                                                

Various writers, without local knowledge, have suggested that they stayed at Pendyffryn since the diaries refer to 'Hall' and 'Derbyshire's house'. 1 believes that both these refer to Plas Mawr - both a 'hall' and belonging to the Derbyshire’s - it was part of their Pendyffryn estate, bought from the Smith family in 1853.   It was from this time that the Derbyshire's family, especially S.D.Darbishire, the head of the family, developed a close relationship with W.E.G. He visited Pendyffryn frequently on his visits to Penmaenmawr, corresponded with S.D.Darbishire and it was to their properties that he came to stay. The later Derbyshire’s, staunch members of the Liberal Party, encouraged the Gladstone’s to visit Penmaenmawr and made much of their visits in enticing others to stay here - the Derbyshire's were involved in selling plots of land for housing in the 1870s and 1890s.   W.E.G. definitely stayed at Plas Mawr in 1868 on his ninth visit but did not return to the house until 1896 and his twelfth and final visit.

9. TY Mawr - approached via Public Footpath - Bangor Road.                                           

Plas Mawr was not available for the 1874 visit. The Gladstone family were offered nearby Ty Mawr by the Derbyshire's but dissatisfaction with this accommodation resulted in them leaving and moving to Plas Celyn (RONCOL).

10.  Plas Celyn (RONCOL ) - Bangor Road                                                                             

A photograph of Gladstone and friends exists taken outside the house. The photograph was probably taken by J. Jamblin who lived locally and had built the Oxford Arcade (Shops and Studio) in the late 1870s. By the end of the 1880s Jamblin was in financial difficulties and a fund was set up to 'rescue' the old man. The first subscriber on the list was W.E.Gladstone who promised £5.                                                                                                                                       

 11.  Railway Station / Paradise Road.  g                                

The point of entry and departure - an hour or so from Hawarden, five hours from Westminster - ideal for Gladstone.                                                                                            

The scene of numerous orchestrated welcomes for Gladstone and his family. In 1874 his carriage was pulled by quarrymen to their holiday accommodation. Here was a place of grand speeches by himself and his supporters. Here he praised Penmaenmawr to high heaven - proclaiming the delights and benefits of spending a holiday in Penmaenmawr.                              

 "The health and strength which it has pleased God to give me during the past twenty years 1 owe in no small degree to the, salubrity and fresh breezes and the habits of life which prevail at Penmaenmawr.”             

 In 1896, his final visit; there was a tremendous welcome - speeches by Charles Derbyshire's, Chairman of the Local Council, Chairman of the Liberal Association followed by W.E.G. opening the new road 'Paradise Road'.                                                                                                   

    "I do not know of a more healthy place, a more satisfactory climate is not to be found to my knowledge in this country.”

The above information was kindly provided by Mr Dennis Roberts.