Holyhead Railway Station, Virgin Train, Stena House and Clock in July 2009

Holyhead, on the Island of Anglesey in North Wales, is the largest of the county’s towns, with a population of circa 13,000. Holyhead is primarily a ferry port and has been for hundreds of years. Sailings to Dublin and Dun Laoghaire are frequent, and on the fast ferry, the ship takes just 99 minutes.

Like most places, Holyhead has a town shopping centre that is all but dead, with the majority of trade and shopping being carried out on the periphery of town in the national brand name supermarkets and other large non-food supermarkets.

The Town Council appear to have shot themselves in the foot by pedestrianising the town centre, meaning that most people would have to first find parking, then pay for it; so many people just drive to the larger shops where there are lots of parking spaces, and it is free! Reversing the pedestrianisation would undoubtedly help the town centre shoppers and shops

Holyhead grew to the size that it is primarily based around the need for a reliable Royal Mail service from London to Ireland, and to facilitate that mail service the A5 and the Menai Suspension Bridge were built by Thomas Telford, and also the Conwy Suspension Bridge. These measures ensured a speedy journey to Holyhead, both by rail and by road.

My latest project is recording the Anglesey War Memorials, of which Holyhead War Memorials is my biggest task. I not only research some of the casualties listed on Holyhead’s main memorial but also tell the stories and show you high-resolution images. I share with you the memorials in the schools, chapels and churches, and also the graves of our brave servicemen and women that are buried in Maeshyfryd, St Seiriol’s Church and St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery. You will find some of the stories both heart-rending and unbelievable. There is the story of an 18-year-old Holyhead lad who was on a ship in the Java Sea, only to experience his ship being sunk by a mine. He is taken prisoner of war by the Japanese, and subjected to horrendously cruel conditions, and reduced to eating maggots and rats. As I have been taking photographs of Holyhead for years I have an amazing computer collection of them, and where appropriate I will share these with you. I will show you war memorials from a chapel in Holyhead that has now been demolished, so they will never be seen again.

Since the late 1960s, following the building of an aluminium smelter by Rio Tinto Zinc and the Kaiser Corporation at Anglesey Aluminium, and a nuclear power station at Wylfa, the prosperity of Holyhead and Anglesey was ensured, at least for a number of years. In 2008, with the prospect of the closure of Wylfa Power Station in 2010, and the expected knock-on effect this may have for Anglesey Aluminium, the future looks less certain. These two employers are probably the last on Anglesey to be able to offer non-professional workers excellent wages. Update: Anglesey Aluminium has now all but closed, but the future of Wylfa power station relies on the building of ‘Wylfa B’ power station.

The shopping centres of Holyhead – such as they are – are now mostly on the periphery of the town, but efforts to re-vitalise the town centre seem to be ongoing.

The port is just a short walk from the town centre and bed and breakfast establishments. Of particular interest is the church, built on land which at one time housed a Roman garrison. Nearby is the well known South Stack Lighthouse, beautiful to see, and the cliffs there is a haven for many species of birds.

The area around Holyhead is dotted with many sites of historical interest, like ancient burial mounds etc. Many of the town’s oldest buildings have been given a facelift, but there is much to be done to restore it to the former glory.

The Ucheldre Centre is not only a permanent art gallery, but it is also much more. Lots of exhibitions, plays, and lectures take place in this wonderful old building which was previously part of the old Convent (now demolished). The original convent church adjoins the Centre. Well worth a visit.

For 200 years the town of Holyhead in North Wales has remained virtually untouched, with just the odd building having been replaced by a new – for example – a supermarket or hotel. There is no doubt that someone who lived in Holyhead in Victorian times would still recognise the Holyhead town centre and indeed most other areas of today.

My latest project is recording the Anglesey War Memorials, of which Holyhead War Memorials is by far the most time consuming of tasks. I have not only researched some of Holyhead’s war casualties named on Holyhead’s War Memorial, but I also tell the stories of some of the individuals using high-resolution images. I will show you the war memorials in the schools – where remembrance is still a part of school life, I will show you the special memorials in the chapels and churches, and also show you the graves of our brave servicemen and women that came home from the terrible wars badly wounded or infected by foreign diseases, and subsequently died, and are now buried in Maeshyfryd, St Seiriol’s Church and Saint Marys Catholic Cemetery.

Some of the stories you will find heartbreaking and remarkable, like that of an 18-year-old from Holyhead in the Royal Navy who had been involved in the Battle of the Java Sea but was taken prisoner by the Japanese after his ship was sunk by a mine. He is subjected to horrendously cruel conditions in captivity and reduced to eating maggots and rats to survive. As a prolific photographer with many hundreds of photos taken around Holyhead over the years, I have an amazing collection and where appropriate to the subject I will share these with you. I also have images from the now-demolished Disgwylfa Chapel in London Road, taken of the chapel war memorials which will never be seen again.

For centuries the habitants of Holyhead have strolled along the front of Holyhead’s Newry Green and Beach front, and either sat on the grass or paddled near the small beach and whiled away the time watching the boats toing and froing within the breakwater harbour.

South Stack Lighthouse

South Stack lighthouse is very well known in the maritime world. Many a sailor has warmed to the sight of its light, guarding them against the treacherous rocks in that vicinity.

Originally manned, the stores had to be carried by donkey down the 400 and something steps, before crossing onto the island via a small bridge located 100 feet above the waves. Now automated and unmanned, it is a tourist attraction. The view from the top of the steps on a clear day is breathtaking. Only a few hundred yards from Ty Mawr Hut Circles and Ellins Tower – a renowned bird watching hide.

The Holyhead Breakwater

Holyhead’s breakwater was built using the stone from in it’s own quarry, and many lives would be lost before it’s completion. Now the scene of the stroller or the fisherman.

Leave a Reply