Caernarfon Ddoe/Caernarfon's Yesterdays header


At the beginning of the last quarter of the 19th. Century a company was formed in Caernarfon to raise £7,000 capital to build the pavilion, and the Mayor, Councillor Hugh Pugh and many other influential townsmen were behind the venture. The foundation stone was laid in Cae Twtil on May 26. 1877 and the building was completed within 3 months;
Building the Pavilion
Building the Pavilion
the first public meeting held there was the Opening Ceremony of the 1877 National Eisteddfod on August 21, Six other National Eisteddfodau were also held there viz. 1880, 1886, 1894, 1906, 1921 and 1935, and it was considered to be an ideal venue for the Nation's Main Festival.

Whilst the majority of the people in the area welcomed this 200 by 100 foot building, the Dinorwig Quarrymen were annoyed that Dixons of Liverpool had been given the contract to fit a corrugated iron roof on the building. Their choice, naturally, would have been a roof made of slate, and they went as far as to hold a protest march through the town and threatened never to set foot in the new building. But, after realising the potential had for shows. concerts and meetings of a religious and political nature, they relented and put an end to the boycott.

In 1878 the famous aerialist, Blondin, who had walked on a tight rope above the Niagra Falls, appeared at the pavilion and astonished his audience with a similar performance 40ft above their heads. Well known names such as Bostock, Wilding and Teago, companies specialising in top class entertainment came to the pavilion and people from all over North Wales attended their performances. This was the largest building of its kind in Wales with a seating capacity for 8,000 and other towns were envious of Caernarfon.

View of the Pavilion from Twthill
View of the Pavilion from Twthill
Meetings of a religious nature with some of the best known preachers of their day could attract a full house. During the 1904 Revival, no less a person than the Rev. Evan Roberts, the noted revivalist came to the pavilion and after lesser known preachers had addressed the congregation, he was asked to give testimony, but the great man refused on the grounds that he had not "been moved by the Spirit." Jiwbili Young preached a well known sermon by Christmas Evans and held the congregation spellbound. And it was not only Welsh language preachers that graced the pavilion stage. Gipsy Smith came to the pavilion twice, the first time in 1907 and again in 1931.

It should also be noted that some of the largest political meetings were held here. Some of the better known politicians of their day and members of all political parties. Amongst them were: David Lloyd George; Winston Churchill; Austen Chamberlain; A. Bonar Law; Ernest Bevin and D.R. Greenfell. Representatives of the 3 parties that were in government in Westminster during the 20th. Century.

In 1904, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill were both members of the Liberal Party and on October 21. both addressed a large audience from the pavilion platform and received the warmest of welcomes. At the end of the meeting they were both carried shoulder high all the way to Plas y Bryn, Bontnewydd, where they were staying. It was at that meeting that Lloyd George spoke of his vision for devolution for the four countries England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. His theme was "Home Rule all round."

The 1877 dated foundation stone
The 1877 dated foundation stone
During World War I (1914 - 1918), the pavilion was a venue that continued to attract and provide high standards of entertainment for the people of the Caernarfon area, and in 1921 the National Eisteddfod of Wales was held there for the sixth time since the year it was built in 1877.

At that Eisteddfod both main competitions in the Poetry Section were won by Caernarfonshire poets. Mr. R.J. Rowlands (Meuryn) born in Abergwyngregyn, Near Bangor, winning the chair and Pwllheli born The Rev. Albert Evans Jones (Cynan) being awarded the crown. Meuryn, a journalist by profession, composed an ode in strict metre "Min y Mor" (By the Sea) where he was able to display his expertise to the full. Cynan on the other hand, in his poem "Mab y Bwthyn" (Son of the Cottage) drew heavily on his Wartime experiences both as a non-combatant stretcher bearer and later as a chaplain. Both poems were extremely popular in their day and were to become for many years test pieces in reciting and penillion singing competitions in subsequent Eisteddfodau.

When cinemas became popular in the 1930's, and with three of them in Caernarfon, less and less use was made of the pavilion. Nevertheless, concerts, dramas, etc. were performed there, and in one concert, Paul Robeson, the Negro spiritual singer took the stage there in September, 1934, at the time of the Gresford Pit Disaster, Near Wrexham, where 264 miners were killed in an explosion. Paul Robeson happened to be filming in the South Wales Valleys at the time, and had a high regard for the people of the mining communities whom he had met. He was deeply moved by the tragedy and gave a donation of £100 towards the fund that was established to assist the widows and orphans of those who died.

After the concert there were another three meetings of importance held at the pavilion up to World War II breaking out viz. The Caernarfon National Eisteddfod in 1935; secondly one to welcome the three Welsh Nationalists Saunders Lewis, The Rev. Lewis Valentine and D.J. Williams, upon their release from Wormwood Scrubs Prison in 1937, and having been sentenced for an act of protest on behalf of their fellow Welshmen and in the name of peace, by setting fire to a building at RAF Penrhos, Pwllheli; and thirdly the Labour Day Festival of 1938, which was addressed by D.R. Greenfell M.P., in the absence of Clement Atlee. On the three occasions the building was filled to capacity.

Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson
At the beginning of World War II in 1939, the pavilion was requisitioned by the government and used as a warehouse, mainly to store food. There also, as the writer can well remember, we as a family were required to go to be fitted with our gas masks, and from then on we had to carry the gas masks everywhere, including to school; school books in a satchel over one shoulder and the gas mask on a piece of string over the other.

The pavilion was on lease to the government from 1939 to 1956. By this time the building had deteriorated considerably and much maintenance work was required on it. The Borough Council felt that it would be impracticable and too costly, and that there was no longer a need for a building of this size, and in 1961 it was decided that the building be demolished, despite the arguments of those who opposed.

It was on October 21st. 1961 that the people of Caernarfon bid farewell to the pavilion and in real Welsh style.

The Last Farewell to the pavilion had been arranged by the North Wales Representative of the BBC, Mr. Sam Jones. This was in two parts, firstly in the form of a Hymn Singing Festival conducted by Madam Dilys Wynne Williams and with Mr. G Peleg Williams as the accompanist, and secondly in the form of a Radio Pageant, again arranged by Mr. Sam Jones; the material having been provided by the Chaired Bard of the 1921 Caernarfon National Eisteddfod, Meuryn (R.J. Rowlands), and the producer being Wilbert Lloyd Roberts. Famous names that appeared on the programme included Cynan, Huw Jones, Charles Williams and others and the voices of Megan Lloyd George reading one of her father's speeches and Jiwbili Young reciting a sermon by Christmas Evans.

It was an unforgettable night as far as my wife and I were concerned. Every item was broadcast live on the Radio, and the UK National News at 10 from London had to be delayed until the end of the programme. We all fought back tears as we left the pavilion for the last time that night, but that which we were witness to can never be erased.

© T. M. Hughes 2013