It's December. December 1973. Tuesday the 11th to be precise. Half a century ago to this very day. Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody has just replaced Gary Glitter's I Love You Love Me Love at number one, Ted Heath's enforced three-day working week was just around the corner and a seventeen-year-old lad alighted at Bangor station. It was still the days when universities interviewed prospective students with local authorities paying the costs of transport and accommodation so that they could attend.
Crossing the footbridge loosened up the right knee a little. It'd been a bit sore since the previous Saturday's rugby match, away against Clacton. We had lost. We almost always lost and the ninety-odd minutes of inactivity since Crewe had caused it to stiffen a bit. No prostate-related requirement to cruise the carriage corridor back in those teenage years. It did feel good to have the legs moving again, even though it was getting dark – and raining. I couldn’t help but notice that the young brunette lass, whose reflection I had been admiring in the train window since becoming aware of her presence at Chester, was also getting off.
Pausing at the station's exit to orientate myself, the map I'd been provided with suggested that I should turn right and follow Station Road for a hundred yards or so towards the T-junction where I'd find my accommodation for the next couple of nights, the Gwynedd Hotel.
I remember standing in that bar pictured on the lower right and supping my first ever beers in Wales. Quite what brew constituted those underage pints I don't recall, but I do remember finishing each night with a Glen Grant before retiring to bed.
I have one further recollection relating to my stay at the Gwynedd. On the morning of my departure I had an early cooked breakfast as my eight hours long trip home, with changes at Crewe, Nuneaton and Norwich, would start with a departure from Bangor station at around a quarter past seven. Having settled into my seat I was disturbed by a knocking on the carriage window. It was the Gwynedd's landlord, whose name I now fail to recall. Somehow I'd managed to leave not noticing that I still had my room key in my pocket. Quite an achievement considering that it was attached to something akin to the size of a firkin.
I did pop into the Gwynedd on a few occasions at the start of my time living in the city, but my visits became fewer and less regular as I discovered the sources of decent beer. With Great Yarmouth being a virtual decent beer desert at the time, dominated as it was by Watneys and Whitbread, the calling of venues that could serve up a pint of hand-pulled Marstons – the Bulkeley Arms, Burtonwood – the Albion, along with the Union on Garth Road or McEwan's 80 Shilling – the Harp, eventually became too strong.
The Gwynedd didn't start its life as the Gwynedd. On 1st May 1848 the Chester and Holyhead Railway opened Bangor Station. In response to the resulting increase in visitors a number of establishments catering for their needs sprung up in the vicinity. A few years later, along a short stretch of Station Road/High Street, in just two lengths of terrace, travellers could choose from the Prince of Wales, the Railway Vaults, the Railway Hotel, the Alexandra Vaults and the British Hotel, not to mention the various Temperance Hotels dotted in between. And I won't be mentioning them again as they weren't boozers.
This rather grainy old image from around 1900 shows the first of the terraces with the names of the North Western Station Hotel (which earlier in its life had been the Prince of Wales) and the Railway Vaults just about capable of being picked out, along with that of jeweller Walter Williams.
It appears that William Williams (not alliteratively quite as good a name as Alice Alliss, who we met here) was an early occupier...
...but by 1871 he'd moved to the Four Crosses and one William Parry was the landlord.
The first reference to the place by name that I've come across is in this cutting from the North Wales Express, published on the 3rd May 1878.
Whether this was during William's tenure or whilst Jonathan Rowland had the place...
...I don't know. Quite when its name changed I don't know either. It was still the Railway Vaults in 1939, but in 1956 the Gwynedd Hotel makes an appearance in the telephone directory. It wasn't listed the previous year and neither was the Railway Vaults. Did this mark the point where its name changed, possibly after a change of ownership?
By the seventies that number had gained an initial 2 and by the eighties it had become 362189. Exactly when the Gwynedd closed I can't dig out from my hippocampus, prefrontal cortex or wherever it is that my long-term memory is supposedly stored, but the building is now home to the Garden Cantonese Restaurant.
That, however, is not the end of the story. On the Wednesday, whilst on my tour of the Marine Sciences department across the water in Menai Bridge, my path and that of the brunette lass who'd been on the train the previous day crossed once more. She too had come to Bangor on interview and was staying a little further along the High Street in the British Hotel. We arranged to go for a drink after we'd eaten in our respective temporary residences that evening.
Having consumed my evening meal I headed out into the December rain in my John Collier (remember them?) herringbone coat and headed towards the British Hotel's Buttery Bar.
The British Hotel was built in 1851 and was soon competing with the likes of the older and more established inns such as the Castle, near the cathedral, and the George/George and Dragon, situated by the old ferry site on the banks of the Menai Straits.
Just like the Gwynedd, it featured on postcards too. This image taken in the early twentieth century appeared on one produced by Burrow...
...and Valentine's managed to include its fly waiting at Bangor station in one of theirs from around 1910...
...whilst this one must be pretty contemporaneous with the one of the Gwynedd further up the page.
None of the above really seem to show the impressive building off to its best, so here's an image captured by Meirion. No tennis court!
The Buttery Bar seemed to be a small adjucnt to the British's western end and looking at the 1889 Ordnance Survey town plan suggests that it may at one time have been a seperate pub – the Alexandra Vaults.
The two terraces on the above map are depicted on this postcard from the early 20th century.
The Alexandra was certainly recorded as a seperate entity in the 1871 census when it starts to make an appearance in the records as a pub. A decade earlier the building simply seems to have been in residential use, the home of surgeon Richard Thomas.
A century later and it was still in operation as the Alexandra, appearing in 1970's telephone directory, having promoted itself to a hotel...
...but it failed to make an appearance in 1972 and seems to have been subsumed into the British Hotel, becoming its Buttery Bar.
Anyway, back to the Buttery Bar on that December evening. The words of a Gordon Lightfoot song of the era fit the situation well. Her name was Ann and I’ll be damned if I recall her face... OK, it wasn't released until the following year, but the lyric holds true. I do remember a couple of things though. Firstly, she drank vodka and lime and, secondly, she was attending Benenden School in Kent, which at the time was, and maybe still is, the most expensive girls public school in the country. That may well have accounted for why she was staying at the British and I was sleeping in the Gwynedd. What became of Ann? I've no idea. Statistically speaking she should still be with us and also a grandmother, but she didn't return to Bangor the following autumn as I did. If she failed to make the required A-level grades I hope her folks asked for some of their their money back.
If I don't know what happened to Ann I do know what happened to the British. It was made a Grade II listed building in 1988 and closed in 2003 before being converted into Tŷ Willis, a 177 bedroomed privately-owned block of student accommodation in 2006.
The Buttery Bar, having developed from the Alexandra has evolved further. In Eric Jones' image above, taken in 2007, it is OJ's Pizza Bar, but it was also The Hop public house at one point. When I passed it in June this year it was earning its living as the reception to Tŷ Willis.
Fifty years! Where has so much of my life gone? Half a century ago? Really? I think I detect a bout of hiraeth developing.
The Ordnance Survey map extract has been reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under the terms of this licence. The images from Meirion and Eric Jones are copyright and are reused under this one.
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