Postcard From Summer 1954, Part Five – Llandudno

In 1954, the Manchester Evening News launched a “Special Investigation” and tasked my uncle, John Alldridge, with answering the question –

Holidaymakers, do you get value for your MONEY?

What follows is his report on Llandudno. It gives a good idea of what holidays were like 65 years ago. Jerry F

Llandudno: Must we be happy just to take pot-luck?

I went to Llandudno the old-fashioned way – by sea from Liverpool. I had my reasons. For one thing a short sea trip, no matter what the weather, does wonderful things to the appetite. (And how well they feed you on the old St. Tudno!). For another, if you want to see Llandudno at its best you must approach it from the sea.

Jerry F, Going Postal
At Llandudno, Wales,
Mike Peel
Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Then that imposing crescent crescent of late Victorian hotels, tucked cosily between the twin bumps of the Great and Little Orme, with range after range of hill and mountain behind, suggests the South of France rather than North Wales.

Llandudno is celebrating its centenary this year. It is just a hundred years since a young Liverpool architect had the bright idea of turning a collection of copper miners’ huts into a fashionable watering-place.

He saw a sweeping promenade made up entirely of hotels and boarding-houses, with a parallel boulevard of shops running discreetly and deferentially behind. As everywhere in Victoria’s England, the tradesmen’s entrance was in the rear.

And after a hundred years Llandudno looks very much as it must have appeared, say, in the 1880s – a rather snobbish, rather outmoded resort, still insisting on its title as the Queen of Western Watering Places.

It was Llandudno, remember, that Arnold Bennett’s shrewd young “Card” Denry Machin, chose for his holiday – “because it was more stylish than either Rhyl or Blackpool and not dearer.” That was in 1911. There doesn’t seem to have been much appreciable change in 43 years.

The oldest electric trams in Britain still pant and grumble to Rhos and Colwyn Bay. Walk down that long imposing promenade at tea-time and you will observe, as Denry did, “through every ground-floor window of every house a long table full of people eating and drinking the same kinds of food.”

The scene is rather stuffily late Edwardian. Even that platoon of striped bathing machines parked in front of the Imperial Hotel serves to set the period.

I suspect that Llandudno is secretly rather proud of living out of time. Perhaps that way it preserves a certain desirable snob value. Perhaps that is why, after 100 years, its population is still under 20,000, whereas Bournemouth, its counterpart in the South, can claim over 140,000.

Not that as yet there appears to be any falling off in its popularity. When I arrived the town was enjoying its peak weekend. It was filled to overflowing, bursting at the seams with visitors. I watched two young men dealing deftly with the hordes of homeless. For 15 hours without a break they went on packing them in. And the queues waiting outside the Town Hall waited with a patient resignation that anywhere else in Europe would suggest evacuees fleeing before an invading army.

Now it would be easy enough to admire this makeshift efficiency – in itself so typically British – which you will find being repeated at every seaside town at this time of year. Studying it objectively, it fills me with irritation. Do the British on holiday really enjoy this sort of pot-luck hospitality? If not, how long will they put up with it?

I am staying at a well-known hotel. Do hotels like this one really want custom? I sometimes wonder.

Only a few minutes ago I overheard a party of hoteliers discussing the possibility of yet one more conference holding its annual jamboree in Llandudno next year. They didn’t seem exactly excited at the prospect. “We could really do without them, you know,” said one. “We can manage quite nicely with our “regulars’”.

Three times today I have asked the hotel porter to have a telephone installed in my room. (There is a notice on my bedroom wall which offers it as an extra facility.) So far no telephone has materialised and I don’t propose to ask a fourth time. There is, of course, a TV lounge fitted out for the use of guests, but the set is out of order. And having already agreed to pay 25s. 6d. for bed and breakfast, is it reasonable to expect me to pay an extra half-crown for the luxury of an electric fire in my cheerless unheated room?

Small things, you may say. But on holiday it is the small things that count.

To be absolutely fair, charges and accommodation offered lower down the scale are reasonable. I am told that the average daily rate in Llandudno is 16s, which for a town with so many luxury hotels seems remarkably cheap. Advertisements in the town guide for accommodation of this type stress good beds and four good meals a day. Which are two of the main essentials, anyway. Many make a point of providing packed lunches for day trips. And I have heard no complaints on that score ether.

But the secret of running a really good catering establishment (or a thriving holiday resort for that matter) is to give what is expected of you and a bit more.

Is Llandudno giving – or is it prepared to give – that little bit extra? I wonder.

My sympathies are very much with the harassed overworked boarding house proprietor who is expected to perform miracles menaced by ever-rising costs and non-existent staff. But too often you sense the relief when the house is empty after breakfast and the guests are safely packed off to the beach and the mountains. Too often – not just here but in every resort – it’s a case of “only a few more weeks and we can put up our feet and relax”.

Perhaps the “guests” don’t mind so much when the sun is shining and there’s the Great Orme to be climbed and a long leisurely sun-bathe waiting up there in Happy Valley.

But when it’s cold and wet and the mountains are hidden and the beach is unplayable you see the other side of the picture.

And I’m afraid I’ve seen it more clearly than usual here at Llandudno.

I have stood in a queue in the rain outside a cinema for half an hour only to turn away at the box office because someone points out that the main feature has already started for the last time that night. (Wouldn’t it have been simple, more courteous, and in the long run more profitable, to have announced the fact from the front of the house and saved several hundreds of us a wetting?)

I have stood at the back of a cheerless town hall and watched an audience sitting on hard seats to listen to a concert hastily transferred there because of the weather. A rattling good concert, let me add. And very much enjoyed by all. But is this the best alternative accommodation a town of Llandudno’s size and importance can provide after a hundred years?

I will skip the teashop that ran out of teacakes at a quarter to four and the cafe that had no more coffee (“Sorry! Only tea left”) by half past ten. These things are common enough wherever you go. It is just the enthusiastic British amateur doing his worst.

Though comparisons are usually odious, I cannot help comparing Llandudno with the small Austrian town of Seefeld where I spent a very pleasant week recently. Like Llandudno it is a small town which relies entirely on its tourist trade.

Like Llandudno it can offer wonderful mountain scenery. And in the Austrian Tyrol, as in North Wales, it sometimes rains. And a cloudburst at 5,000ft is something to be avoided.

When it rains in Seefeld there are no cinemas or pier pavilions to take you in. Instead each proprietor of a hotel or pension provides his own entertainment, often appearing as his own master of ceremonies, while his staff, in national costume, sing or yodel or play the zither, or dance that fascinating infectious Schuhplattler.

Good for trade? Of course it is. Commercial? Perhaps. But in Austria, at any rate, the words “Guest House” over an inn door still mean exactly what they say.


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Jerry F 2021