A series of interviews celebrating Bangor Garth Pier's 125th year anniversary:
Prof Nancy Edwards Bangor Pier 125: Discussion with September 2021 - YouTube
Gareth Roberts interview
PierBangor125: Interview with Gareth Roberts, Menter Fachwen (English Transcript, August 2021)
Hello, Iwan Williams here, City Director with Bangor City Council. We continue with our series of interviews and conversations involving the Pier and recognising the Pier’s special birthday at 125 years old. It’s a pleasure to be with Gareth Roberts from Menter Fachwen today, and I’ll pass over to Gareth now. Good morning.
Good morning, and it’s a pleasure to be with you today. Now you want to know about the Pier’s history? Now we know we’re celebrating 125 years this year, and it was therefore opened in 1896. It’s very unique, as the ‘fad’ of building Piers was earlier, in places like Llandudno and Aberystwyth in the 1860s/1870s, so Bangor was slightly late to the party! Not everyone wanted it. There were plenty of complaints, the idea wasn’t proposed until the late 1880s, the Bangor Corporation, your predecessors as the City Council, were pressing to have it, but a number of Bangor residents were against it as there were problems and other, better things to spend money on. So they had a referendum amongst Bangor residents, and Bangor Corporation were worried they would lose the referendum. They won, some 1500 votes for the Pier and around 500 against. So it was won, and it took 6-7 years to build the Pier. It’s unique for a different reason too, as it’s a Pier that doesn’t face the sea. The Pier faces Anglesey and the Menai. I’ll come back to that. Lord Penrhyn came over to open the Pier, and it cost around £17,000. It was built by the Webster company from Westminster, London, and Bangor didn’t hold back on the spending. So opened by Lord Penrhyn in ceremony full of pomp, and the Pier gates nowadays are the original ones, and they’re beautiful. Remarkable there was so much opposition to it. It was an important place too, as you had steamers going to Liverpool. It was built to bring in the old, grand steamers, and as it goes my Grandmother’s brother went on one to Liverpool, and onwards to Seattle in 1911, and never came back. So there’s a family connection! And you had end of the Pier shows. The Pavilion, which these days has a grand roof on top, used to be open, so the Corporation would organise entertainment every summer. If you visit the newspaper archives with the National Library of Wales, such as the North Wales Chronicle, you’ll see all the adverts, with people coming from afar to be entertained. My favourite was a girl called Mabel Roberts, who played the harmonium, and there’s a description here of her, which says “she can suck as well as blow”…What people don’t realise as well there was a rail line going down the middle of the Pier, transporting people’s bags to the steamers going to Liverpool. Some distance, the Pier is after all the second longest in Wales, Llandudno being the longest.
Where you measure the Pier from is a controversial debate, I’ll just add that in!
Well that’s good to know. And another thing, I’ll refer here to a newspaper article from the Chronicle on 1st March 1901 which says “A misadventure on Bangor Pier: On Thursday a man under the impression that he was crossing the Menai Suspension Bridge walked the whole length of Bangor Pier, crossed the pontoon at the end of the Pier, and stepped into the Menai Straits. Fortunately, the man is an excellent swimmer and he kept himself afloat for around 10 minutes, battling in the racing tide. He ultimately reached the side of the pontoon where he hung on until a young solicitor’s clerk named Griffin Jones descended and assisted him to mount the pontoon, none the worse for his immersion”. That’s excellent, and makes you think: didn’t he see the Menai coming?!
An uncompleted bridge!
Exactly. But there was a huge accident at the start of the Great War, the SS Christina. It broke free from its moorings and the power of the Menai turned the ship around and broke the Pier in two more or less. There are photographs-
A large part of the Pier went missing
Yes we know where it took place, you can stand there today but you can’t see the extent of the damage, and there’s a photo by the Anglesey Royal Engineers, they came to the rescue by building a temporary bridge to bring two parts of the Pier together, allowing passengers to catch the boats to Liverpool. I think it took around 7 years to repair the damage, several years. People wanted it to be done quickly, but of course it was during the war –
And there were other priorities
Exactly, and it’s incredible that people didn’t realise this. There were several letters in the Chronicle complaining that the Pier wasn’t being repaired, there was one man who wrote to the Chronicle almost every week. He called himself all sorts of things, including ‘Angry of Penrhosgarnedd’. He complained almost every week! After the war, and after they repaired the Pier – I didn’t know this until I did some research – there was a man called Philip White, a scientist in the Zoology department of Bangor University, and he tried to get the University to open an ocean sciences department. The department began in one of the Pier kiosks, isn’t that incredible?
Not much room there!
Indeed! I’m not sure which one, I think it’s the first kiosk on the right as you walk onto the Pier. But the University rejected the department within its buildings, unfortunately he passed away suddenly after establishing the department in the kiosk. He was succeeded by William Bramble, and within four years he managed to persuade the University to support the department, and by today it’s a world-renowned department, and an enormous department. The Pier was also a temporary home for the HMS Conway during the war, where so many young men received their maritime education, and the flying boat Saunders-Roe was also moored close to the Pier during the Second World War. There are interesting photos of that aircraft. One young man was someone called Tecwyn Roberts from Llanddaniel Fab, he worked in the Saunders-Roe and later NASA, he was part of all of this. He was one of six people that established Mission Control in Houston
And all the Apollo adventures
Apollo, exactly. It’s some story. He was in school with my Father, as it happens.
And raised without electricity
Exactly, in a poor cottage. You can apply the word ‘genius’ to him. So by the 1970s the Pier had fallen into a state of disrepair, and there was the possibility of pulling it down, but there was a preservation order on it. And if I’ve got this right, one of your predecessors purchased the Pier for a penny! Around 1975? And then there was a large-scale effort to raise money and repair it, and it was reopened in 1988, and in the mid-1990s a young photographer was in one of the Pier kiosks, for a year, some Gareth Roberts, I don’t know who he was?! So I have a connection with the Pier, and you have all these names, when you walk up and down the Pier you see these names on the benches, a who’s who of Bangor. And I’ll finish by noting one of them, Nathan Pollecoff. He’s on one of the benches on the right of the Pier as you walk on. The Pollecoff family were very famous in Bangor, Holyhead, Pwllheli, with their large, grand department stores, and we in Menter Fachwen worked with the University to create a Jewish history map of Bangor some two years ago, and of course the Pollecoff family were very prominent in Bangor. Nathan was one of Phillip’s sons, he was born in 1901, and died in 1962. He was a musician born in Holyhead, but very active in Bangor. He was very supportive of the civic society here, as were the entire family, and he married a woman called Charlotte Davies – I don’t think she was Welsh – from Manchester I believe. He was very active in Bangor synagogue for a number of years. He was very fond of walking along the Pier with his wife, sitting down and watching the seagulls fly by and the world pass by – there’s no better place.
Many thanks for that Gareth, it’s been a pleasure to go over 125 years of the Pier’s history in around 10 minutes. There are a wealth of stories, so many colourful individuals and proper characters over the decades. So many specific events as well, good and bad, a real mix. And the Pier is still there, and still welcoming the people of Bangor and beyond. May that continue for years to come, and more history to come from the Pier
I’m sure that there’s more to come!
Thank you Gareth, and we’ll back with you soon for further interviews and conversations on the history of the Pier. Thank you.