Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A bit more of Llandudno

There comes a time in many ways, both public and private, that one feels a reluctance to move on to another part of the journey. This is one of those moments as I reflect on one of the few good summer moments. For those of you who know Llandudno, you will realise that I have omitted some major subject material in these three posts but it represents a snapshot of this short week. I mentioned earlier that I was here last year and will return in sequence to cover these topics at a later date.

(On a side note, I meant to publish this two weeks ago but firstly due to the lack of time as life has become difficult once again and secondly blogger being very annoying, it took some time to publish by eventually having to copy and paste it onto a new page. This is the fourth time some of this draft has been written as it either wouldn't save or in the format that I wanted ... one of the reasons why the text is so minimal in places.)

The Promenade and sea front hotels

Looking east to The Little Orme

Adding a bit of colour
The Road train doubling as an elongated novelty bus takes passengers to the west shore while the Punch and Judy show has survived three generations on the seafront using the original puppets.

Time to leave the coast behind for the moment ....

Hotel skyline in Mostyn street
Casting a shadow ...

Hotel anyone ?? ! ... if you dare ....

Like so many large hotels in British seaside towns, Clarence Hotel was one of a great number sharing a small slice of the holiday market in Llandudno. The owners had unfortunately refused to believe that people are living in the 21st century and because it worked well in its early years and say for example 1970, it was going to work well the following year and the year after that. Despite being built at a time when people were desperate to come here, under-investment and the arrival of the holiday coach party trip is always a sign that things are not going well for the business. The reduced amount of money that a hotel takes from the holiday coach industry usually leads to a decline in general repairs of the second rate hotels and subsequently poor Tripadvisor reviews. At this point, the trade of individual customers disappears whilst there is now no choice but to continue with a fight to the death with what little holiday coach business there is available. In this particular instance it is unfortunate that Clarence Hotel is on a main road without a sea view and a car park for that matter.

In this particular case, the premises were sold in 2001 and the baton was passed to another interested party to participate in being tempted by the hotel business carrot. However, colourful stories and red tape hindered their attempts to make a success of the business...
Part of the ground floor was separated off into three retail catering units, one of which lacked planning permission and the other two had illegal immigrant workforce issues. A raid by the appropriate authorities found one person living in a chest freezer. The owner submitted a plan to convert the hotel into apartments with a few ground floor shops but the application was turned down by the local council stating that it had to remain as a hotel. This might seem a bit interesting and yet strange to blog readers of my previous post as it stands not quite opposite the recycled Palladium, JD Wetherspoon.

If anyone can revive the fortunes of this hotel, it's the budget Travelodge chain ! When visiting a destination, it's the only accommodation that some people think is available including some of my work colleagues ... haha.

If the company continue with their plans to renovate the building, it could cost them well over £1 million to refurbish with the potential of bringing new business to the area.

Mostyn Street ....

... and The Great Orme

Welsh Baptist Tabernacle 1875 / Llandudno heritage centre 2007.

The Tourist information service is now located in the library but I was so awe struck with the scene in the reception area that greeted my arrival that I forgot it was there.

Mosaic tiles on the floor

The chef that greeted me on my arrival to The London pub for food twice during the week.

Big desert !!
Being watched !

... and I'll have something more than a coffee !

So as the local residents check out my litter and the sun finally goes down on my trip to North Wales ...

... it is time to say goodbye to the land of the red dragon for the moment no matter how alternative it can be  ...

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Mostyn Gallery and The Palladium, Llandudno

The final day of my Mothers coach trip holiday was a free day for shopping and sightseeing around their base town of Llandudno. As the holiday makers decided to take in the the delights of the restaurants, cafes and shops, I decided to discover a few sights that were new to me. This post is alternatively entitled "Two exterior delights with interior surprises ... love it or loath it !"

(Apologies for this post being a bit architecturally self indulgent, I can't help myself, I love this place !!

 On a side note, even though I said I was officially back publishing material, like the subject material here, this post has taken me far too long to construct with many hours and visits to this draft  ... I seem to be losing my photographic humour in favour of history and together with difficulties both on and off blogger including as you may have noticed my absence from all your blogs. My Mother has been in hospital for nearly a month now having had an operation last week with no sign of an early release. The Olympics are in full flow at the moment with the host nations athletes being inspired enough to do the best they have done in 100 years. However my local football stadium and indeed city (Newcastle upon Tyne) was decorated with London 2012 signs everywhere as it welcomed top teams such as Brazil. I realise that the snappy phrase was part of the successful Olympic bid, but it goes against some things that I try to portray in this blog to those from far away shores ... Great Britain or the UK is more than just about London !! ) Rant over, back to the blog :-)

As the railway branch line to Llandudno was being completed in 1858, the idea was conceived to design Vaughan street as an approach road to the railway station at the top of the street. This meant that the main street (Mostyn street) would link up with the railway station approach and consequently not isolate it in a corner of the town. Prior to this point, most passengers arrived by ship to the sea front and were taken ashore by rowing boats and so it was a great improvement to keep their feet dry ! While every effort has been made to preserve the quality of the railway service in modern times, the same can not be said about the railway station as the deterioration through the decades is obvious to see.

Lady Augusta Mostyn employed the services of George Alfred Humphries who designed a substantial amount of Llandudno's buildings at the turn of the 20th century. He was given the task of improving the architectural standard of the station approach.

Imperial buildings 1898 and Royal British Legion

The trademark and beauty of this particular street today seems to be the terracotta facades rather than their forgotten history.

As president and patron of The Gwynedd Ladies Art Society, Lady Augusta Mostyn authorised the construction of this building which was completed in 1901-2 and was the first gallery in the world to display the work of female artists. This reason for this concept was the refusal to show such material at the male dominated Royal Cambrian Academy's exhibitions in nearby Conwy.

It was unfortunate that the concept didn't last very long and eventually closed to the public after just eleven years due to threat of the World War I. For the most part, the building has since been used for commercial storage purposes and requisitioned use in both World Wars as a training hall and a financial government building respectively.

In 1976 a respected Artist, Kyffin Williams, thought that the building should be returned to its original purpose and not the Piano shop that it had become. The influential voice was heard and as early as 1978, The Mostyn company was formed with occasional exhibitions being displayed the following year.
Llandudno Post Office 1904 
The process of turning it back into a public building was a difficult road as the Post Office next door had over the years acquired some of it's floorspace by knocking down adjoining walls. The architectural rules were complicated as in the intervening period the building was given Listed status so the Post Office decided to move these additional facilities elsewhere in 2003.

Restoration and renovation began in 2007 with an innovative firm of architects Ellis Williams doing a superb restoration on the Victorian stonework and adding their own feature of a golden spire made from anodised aluminium tiles. The building was finally opened to the public £5.1 million later in May 2010.

It was unfortunate that the day I chose to explore inside the Contemporary Art Gallery was when the exhibition in the main hall was in the process of change, so I was unable to capture the wonderful display room and was left to ponder on the interior concrete corridor work of Ellis Williams.

This way for tea and toilets ... Time to leave, that was a quick visit !
It's just as well that there was no entrance fee as I didn't see very much, which leaves me to say thanks to three organisations for their financial support (The Arts Council of Wales, Conwy County Borough Council's Arts service and Llandudno Town council) in allowing me the ... errr ... privilege of capturing the above two images for free !

Victorian walkway looking to the railway station in the distance

The Palladium on Gloddaeth Street at the other end of Mostyn street (the main street) to Vaughan Street was designed by another architect passionate about his town.

It was thought that Arthur Hewitt, who served on the local council for 36 years, designed The Palladium before World War I but only realised his dream in 1920 when the theatre was completed.

Nostalgia moment set in stone

This classical building once seated 1500 people who had an interest in theatre, music, comedy or ballet. Following World War II, film and newsreel became more popular and consequently the building was converted into a cinema.

During the 1960's with the arrival of television, there were worries about the survival of The Palladium but the owners decided to counter that threat by installing a larger screen 1960 installation of a 25 x 13 foot screen (7.6 x 4 metre) to counter the threat from TV.

Stage door ? back entrance
Unfortunately the larger screen couldn't stop the slide of falling audiences and changing times, so in 1972 a radical decision was taken to split the use of the building into a 600 seat cinema and Bingo hall.

Like so many struggling theatres in difficult locations across the UK, many had to be converted into cinemas then subsequently Bingo Halls to try and keep the building going. One of the things about the 1960's and early 70's was that if a venue didn't work, the answer was very often to pull it down and build something else instead ... criminal. Thankfully these ideas played a holding role in keeping the building not so much alive but ticking over for the next owner.

There were worrying signs in 1993 for the future of The Palladium as the owner died, the building was placed into the hands of a leisure group and the other remaining cinema was converted into shopping facilities. Although it seemed like they had a monopoly on their business, the entertainment they offered was now available in the hotels as coach tours had to rescue the Llandudno accommodation market.

By the end 1999 the new owners could take no more and the building was eventually bought by food and pub chain giant JD Wetherspoon.

An incredible amount of work had to be done to remove the internal partitions and return the building to its former glory, tastefully preserving and restoring most of the original features.

An excuse to visit the viewing gallery ... toilets !
An additional feature of a high viewing gallery was installed and the work was completed in 2001. The building was given Grade II listed status in June of that year and was opened in late August.

JD Wetherspoon have captured the niche market with cheap pub grub and even though I sampled it twice for an evening meal during this week, I felt that was sufficient for one week. Whether you have an opinion about Wetherspoons or turning theatres into pubs, there's no doubt that this solution is available for everyone to enjoy as opposed to a potential conversion into housing apartments that only the owners and their friends can appreciate.

"Hey J, you're boring me now, let's hear a lot less and see something a bit more famous"
"Oh, all right then" .......

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