Neolithic Man was well established throughout the North Wales region. Excavations of settlements dating back five thousand years have taken place in several sites around Bangor; for example, the dig carried out by the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust in 2005. Finds include arrowheads shaped from local flint, the earliest evidence of the quarrying and fashioning of Wales’ most iconic export, together with the remains of Early Neolithic rectangular timber buildings.
Bronze Age Foundry
By the Bronze Age we know that there were people living in Bangor itself – in the valley of the Adda and on the headland at Garth. Bronze was mined at various sites along the North Wales Coast, and characteristic of these early workings are the slag deposits on the beaches of the Menai Straits, together with burial sites and “burnt pit” earth ovens at the Parc Bryn Cegin site.
In various excavations around Bangor, evidence of bronze ‘palstaves’ being manufactured and used has been unearthed. Palstaves were the principal carpentry tool of the Middle Bronze Age, consisting of broad sharp blades used either as axes or adzes. The finds suggest that small foundries were in operation at various times throughout the Bronze Age, and it’s not too big a leap to presume that bronze was worked in the area throughout the period.
In the first century AD, the Romans made several attempts to subdue the last Druid stronghold in Wales, on the Isle of Anglesey. In the year 60 AD, Suetonius Paulinus was forced to abandon his invasion due to Boudicca’s uprising in the South-East of England, but Gnaeus Julius Agricola returned with his legion 17 years later to finish the job. Camps were established on the mainland in the Bangor region in preparation for the assault. Interestingly, the hilltop overlooking the Straits above Upper Garth Road known today as the “Roman Camp” is not actually Roman, even though a Roman coin was discovered there! It’s actually the site of a Norman “motte and bailey” fortification from a thousand years later.
Bangor Cathedral is an ancient place of Christian worship. It is reputed to be the oldest cathedral in the United Kingdom, and is dedicated to its founder, St Deiniol. The present building stands on the site of St Deiniol’s Monastery, which legend has it was built on an inconspicuous low-lying site so as not to attract the attention of Viking raiders from the sea. Sadly, the monastery was indeed pillaged in 634 AD and again in 1073, and nothing of the original building now survives.
The Cathedral has been rebuilt on several occasions since then, following the sacking of successive structures by English armies under King John and Edward 1. The modern-day building is the result of extensive work carried out under the supervision of eminent Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott over the period 1866-1875. In the grounds of the cathedral was planted a "Biblical garden”, featuring an example of every plant mentioned in the Bible, while inside the building visitors can find five intricately carved wooden mice, the signature of famous carpenter Robert Thompson. Also part of the ornamentation is the “Mostyn Christ”, a carving of Christ seated on a rock prior to his crucifixion. This late 15th century statue is one of the Cathedral’s greatest treasures, and is on loan from the Mostyn Estate.
St Deiniol, the first “Bishop of Bangor in the Kingdom of Gwynedd”, was consecrated in 545 AD by none other than St David, the patron saint of Wales. His family hailed originally from the North of England, but after losing their estates there they were given lands in Gwynedd by the King of Powys, Cyngen ap Cadell. Deiniol was charged by Maelgwn Gwynedd, King of Gwynedd, to found a monastery on the site where Bangor Cathedral now stands. He is said to have died on Bardsey Island, “on the north coast of Wales, bishop and abbot of Bangor”. His special day of veneration is September 11th.
As regards the derivation of the placename Bangor, there are several differing theories. A number of early settlements have Bangor as part of their name, including Bardsey (Bangor Cadvan yn Enlli), Glastonbury (Bangor Wydrin), and Bangor-on-Dee (Bangor Is-y-Coed). By far the majority of sources cite “Bangor” as an old Brythonic (one of the two branches of the Insular Celtic language family, the origin of “British”) word for a type of wattle fenced enclosure, which would originally have surrounded the cathedral site. However, it is argued by some that since "Ban" means "place" and "gor" means "choir", the word "Bangor" could be rendered as "the place of the choir".
Viking Hoard of Coins
The first recorded Viking raid on Wales took place in 852 AD, and subsequent attacks by the Norsemen all along the coastlines of Anglesey and Gwynedd took place from 854. In 925 or thereabouts, a hoard of silver coins was deposited within the ancient monastic precinct (nowadays the High Street) following the sack of St Deiniol's monastery in Bangor. This hoard included coins from the Viking Kingdom of York, Anglo-Saxon coins, Arabic (Kufic) dirhems, a fragment of an arm-ring and a fragment of silver ingot. Another small stash of coins was deposited about 970, and replicas of the 925 hoard can be found in Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery.
Dominican Friary Founded
The first mention of a Dominican Friary in Bangor is to be found in 1251 AD. It is believed to have been founded under the patronage of Llywelyn the Great. The Friary’s original site was close to the shores of the Menai Straits, in Hirael. Grave slabs from the first Friary (circa 1280) can be found in the entrance hall of the Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery.
14 C© Dean and Chapter of Bangor Cathedral, and Bangor University
Illumination of the bishop dedicating a new church. Here he sprinkles the church with holy water, helped by an acolyte in a white surplice who holds the water bucket.
The background to the picture is burnished gold, decorated with circular dots made by a metal tool. It is framed by a border of abstract patterns, with daisy buds at each corner.
The Bangor Pontifical is a 14th Century bishop's manuscript, containing music notation and Latin text for the year’s Church services. It includes the form of service to be used when a bishop dedicates churches, altars and cemeteries, as well as the blessings for the occasion. The document has been inscribed as belonging to Anian, bishop of Bangor between 1309 and 1328.
It has recently been conserved and rebound, and for safety is kept in Bangor University's archive; however, it is now available to study online. Says Dr Sally Harper of Bangor University: "We've had the book digitised by a specialist team from Oxford and you can actually see every page in glorious detail on the website. We're going to have parallel translations of the Latin text and there will also be musical notation and sound files, so you'll be able to click on a plainchant melody and hear it.”
See the Pontifical
In 1284, Edward 1, fresh from his victory over Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, the last prince of an independent Wales, set about rewarding his supporters. Anian Sais, the Bishop of Bangor, was one of these allies, and Edward restored to him all the possessions and privileges enjoyed by the Bishop before Llewelyn’s brief reign. In addition, Anian received several manors in Meirionydd, Caernarfonshire, Anglesey and the Vale of Clwyd.
In 1330 a Charter was granted by the Black Prince, Edward III, to Bishop Matthew de Engelfield, awarding him the right to hold a yearly three-day fair at Bangor on the Vigil and Feast of St Luke.
In 1351 a further Charter from the Black Prince granted the Bishop’s tenants the right to sell victuals in North Wales. By the same Charter, the Bishop’s privilege was confirmed, “for time immemorial”, to operate a ferry over the Menai Straits and to hold an annual four-day fair over the feast of St Trillo. These and subsequent Charters confirmed the Bishop as the feudal Lord of Maenol Bangor, consisting of the “ville” of Bangor with thirteen townships.
In 1431 a Charter was granted by John Cliderow, Bishop of Bangor, which reassigned to the citizens of Bangor those privileges which they had enjoyed before the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr with respect to trade. However, the Bishop retained supreme control over judicial and administrative matters in his diocese.
The Archdeacon's House - Shakespeare
Henry IV, Part I
Shakespeare’s play Henry IV Part 1 is set in early 15th century England during the reign of the eponymous King. Act 3, Scene 1 involves a heated exchange between Hotspur, Worcester, Mortimer, and Glendower that takes place at the Archdeacon’s House, Bangor. Part of the structure of the Archdeaconry survives to this day on the High Street: it was formerly the site of a branch of Barclay’s Bank, later an academic bookshop, and is now So Chic ladies’ boutique.
Ysgol Friars Established
After Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, the Bangor friary was purchased by Geoffrey Glynne. In his will, dated 8th July 1557, Glynne stipulated that the Friar’s house should become a Grammar School, and his bequest included the sum of £20 for renovating and improving the building. Students’ fees were drawn from a property investment of £400, which provided an income of £20 per year. Parents were directed thus: “Ye shall submit your child to be ordered in all things after the direction of the master and usher. Ye shall find your child sufficient paper, ink, pens, books, candles for winter, and all other things at any time requisite and necessary for the maintenance of his study.”
Ysgol Friars remained on this site until 1789, when the ruinous condition of the old Friary necessitated a move. The school did not prosper in its new premises on the banks of the polluted River Adda, and was forced to briefly relocate to Penmaenmawr during the typhoid outbreak of 1881. An upturn in its fortunes followed the move to a healthier location in Upper Bangor. The new school was built in 1899 and opened the following year. It boasted electric lights, workshops and a “Classical, Mathematical & Scientific Curriculum”.
In 1971 Friars became a co-educational school, with new premises at Eithinog catering for older pupils. Friars remained split across the two sites until 1999, when all-inclusive new premises were built at Eithinog. In 2012 pupils from Ysgol Friars contributed design ideas to the Bangor Timeline.
Dr. Henry Rowland, Bishop of Bangor, founded an almshouse – combining the functions of a charitable housing trust and a hospital – in 1616. It was designed to house six single men. The charitable Dr Rowland also founded the grammar school at nearby Botwnnog.
Parliamentary Troops Posted in City
During the Civil War, Thomas Myddelton, M.P. for Denbighshire, was in charge of the Parliamentary military campaign in North Wales. His main strategy was to cut off King Charles I's military supplies which were being shipped in from the continent, and Myddleton’s force moved on the ports of Conwy, Bangor and Caernarvon. However, these strongholds were well defended and after the arrival of Royalist troops from Ireland, Myddelton was forced to withdraw.
Following the victory of the Parliamentarians, Cromwell’s troops were billeted in Bangor. During the Second Civil War of 1648, there was insurrection on the Isle of Anglesey, but this was put down without serious fighting.
At the start of the eighteenth century, Bangor was still a sleepy country town. However, in 1718 the General Post Office instituted a series of improvements to their service across the country, among them a redevelopment of the main London to Dublin route. This included a new link between Bangor and the Porthaethwy Ferry, making Bangor an official Post Town. Its growth in size and population over the next few hundred years can be dated back to this time.
Coach Service, Chester–Holyhead
The primary mode of travel across the country in the eighteenth century was the stagecoach. Passenger coaches between Chester and Holyhead were operated by a consortium of Innkeepers from the staging posts of Chester, Northop, St Asaph, Conway, Bangor and Holyhead. In 1776, the fare for the Chester-Holyhead trip was £1 and sixpence in old money, with a penny charge for every pound of luggage over 10lb. The coach accommodated three passengers, and the journey began at 4am each morning. "Every requisite to render travelling agreeable and commodious" was on offer at the various coaching inns along the route, such as Bangor’s Penrhyn Arms – later the site of the University!
Port Penrhyn Built
The Pennant family of Penrhyn play a major part in the history of the Bangor area. Richard Pennant, later Baron Penrhyn, began mining slate at nearby Bethesda in the 1770s. By the end of the next century the Penrhyn quarry had become the largest slate quarry in the world. The slate was carried by railway from Bethesda to Port Penrhyn, a specially built harbour just east of Bangor, where the River Cegin joins the Menai Strait.
The port is still used by light coastal vessels and fishing boats.
Penrhyn Quarries Developed
From the eighteenth century onwards slate became the premier export of North Wales, with the Pennant family’s Penrhyn Quarry at Bethesda leading the way. The Pennant family fortune was founded on the export of slate, together with the proceeds of their trade in cane sugar from the family slave plantations in Jamaica.
The “Penrhyn Lockout”, a bitter industrial dispute at the Penrhyn Quarry between 1900 and 1903, marked something of a reversal in the family’s fortune. The industry as a whole went into further decline during the First World War, as thousands of men left the industry as a result of conscription. The Great Depression, followed by the Second World War, resulted in the closure of many of North Wales’ smaller quarries, and competition from other roofing materials, particularly tiles, affected the industry still more through the 1960s and 1970s.
The Pennants’ family home at Penrhyn Castle remains one of the major tourist attractions in North Wales. The castle, together with 40,000 acres (160 km²) of surrounding estate, were accepted by the Treasury in lieu of death duties after the passing of Lady Janet Douglas-Pennant in 1951, and it is now in the care of the National Trust.
North Wales Gazette
Bangor and Caernarfon are recognised as the twin centres of newspaper publishing in North-West Wales. It all began in 1808, when the Broster family of Chester established the North Wales Gazette in Bangor. The paper’s title was changed in 1827 to the North Wales Chronicle, at which time it was proud to call itself "the only newspaper printed in North Wales". The newspaper can still be seen on the shelves of local newsagents to this day.
North Wales Chronicle 1827-1900 e
Holyhead Road (Telford's Road)
One of the most noteworthy characters in the story of North Wales is Thomas Telford, whose construction works shaped not only the landscape, but the whole history of the region. In 1808 Telford was tasked with reporting on the state of the public highways between Shrewsbury and Holyhead. After thorough and meticulous research, he drew up the route of what is now the A5, at the time the first trans-country highway to be constructed since the Romans left Britain.
In consideration of the passenger and mail coaches which would be its main traffic, Telford decreed that no gradient on the route could exceed one in twenty. The Act of 1815 authorised the purchase of existing turnpike road interests and the construction of new road to complete the route, which would link the two capitals of London and Dublin and open up Bangor to the wider world.
Many of the original features of Telford's road survive along the A5 in North Wales. These include toll houses, roadside alcoves to store grit and other maintenance materials, distinctive milestones, and a weighbridge at Lon Isaf between Bangor and Bethesda. Since 1995 the road has been officially recognised as an historic route worthy of preservation.
Menai Suspension Bridge
Before 1826, Anglesey had no fixed connection to the mainland. All traffic to and from the island was by way of ferry – or, more dangerously, on foot at low tide. Much of Anglesey’s trade at that time was in cattle, which had to be driven into the water and “swum” across the treacherous Menai Straits. The Act of Union 1800 meant that travel between London and Dublin was greatly increased, and it was decided that a bridge must be built.
Part of Thomas Telford’s stupendous feat of engineering along the “Holyhead Road” (see previous entry) was the design and construction of a suspension bridge over the Menai Strait, linking Bangor on the mainland and Porthaethwy (which would also become known as Menai Bridge) on Anglesey. Telford was instructed that his design must allow Royal Navy sailing ships with masts of 100 feet (30 metres) tall to pass beneath it at high tide, and that scaffolding could not be used during construction, since this would also impede the passage of ships.
Work began in 1819 with the construction of huge towers on either side of the strait. From these were strung sixteen massive chain cables, each comprising 935 iron bars to support the 577 foot (176 metre) span. The suspending power of the chains was calculated at over two thousand tons, with each chain itself weighing some 121 tons. The bridge was opened on 30 January 1826, with Telford’s achievement justly recognised as an engineering wonder of the day. The Bridge cut nine hours from the London to Holyhead journey, bringing it down from a day-and-a-half to just 27 hours.
A representation of the Menai Bridge inside a border of railings and stanchions is featured on the reverse of British £1 coins minted in 2005. A scale model of the bridge, together with an original plumb bob used in its construction, is on display in Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery. Further exhibits are on display at the Thomas Telford Centre in Menai Bridge, Anglesey.
The Menai Bridges Heritage Site
Bangor Water Works Company
At the dawn of the Victorian era, smallpox, typhus and tuberculosis were endemic, with cholera in particular alarmingly epidemic. Poor sanitation and poverty left millions vulnerable and only gradually did the importance of clean drinking water become recognised as a vital ally in the fight against disease.
In 1843, a reservoir was constructed at Cae Ffynon Ddeiniol (near Hendre Wen Road), by James Smyth Scott, of Dublin. He also purchased land at the bottom of Well Street, where he built the gas works, the Bangor Gas and Coke Company. Hugh Roberts, a draper of High Street, Bangor was a partner in the reservoir, and in 1846 became the sole proprietor. He purchased additional land and constructed Nant reservoir (above Hendre Wen Farm), which increased the capacity.
By 1849, of the 1100 houses in the town, 233 were supplied with water from the Bangor Waterworks Company. Following the Act ‘for the better supplying of the inhabitants of Bangor with water’ 1854, the directors of the Waterworks Company and the Gas and Coke Company agreed to amalgamate. A reservoir was built near Bethesda, completed in 1856-7, which extracted water from the Afon Casseg, and linked to a service reservoir at Twrgwyn on Bangor Mountain and this gradually took over from the Nant reservoir.
Following the opening of the infectious diseases hospital at Minffordd in 1895, a windmill was built nearby to pump water to a new reservoir at Bryniau, to ensure an adequate supply to the hospital and Minffordd village. Further improvements were made during the 1920s and 30s, including an elevated service tank on Bangor Mountain, the laying down of a duplicate main, and a new screening house near the water intake. New service reservoirs were built at Bryniau in 1958 and Twrgwyn in 1959.”
Caernarvonshire & Anglesey Infirmary
C&A Infirmary, Upper Bangor
Bangor’s Loyal Dispensary was opened in 1810, with a public health remit to provide vaccines for smallpox. In 1845, the institution relocated to a site in Upper Bangor (the original building is now, perhaps fittingly, a veterinary clinic!), and was renamed the Caernarvonshire & Anglesey Infirmary. It employed surgeons and a physician, but even by 1882 there were only 11 beds available. The Infirmary closed in 1984, when the new Ysbyty Gwynedd was opened. A Morrisons supermarket now stands on the site.
Glanadda Workhouse Opened
In 1834 a special Commission reported on the working of the Poor Law system in Britain. As a result, the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed, which stated that “no able-bodied person was to receive money or other help from the Poor Law authorities except in a workhouse”. Conditions in these workhouses were deliberately kept very harsh, since this, it was felt, would actively discourage people from seeking help. Workhouses were built in every parish or in unions of smaller parishes; as a result, the Bangor & Beaumaris Poor Law Union Workhouse was established in 1837 at a site in Glanadda to the southwest of the city.
In the Census of 1881, ninety-two “inmates” were recorded as being resident at Glanadda workhouse; these ranged from babes in arms to an Irish “hawker of nuts and pins” aged 84.
After its closure in 1930, the workhouse site became a creamery. The buildings have now been demolished, and a supermarket occupies the site.
Bangor & Beaumaris Workhouse
Chester & Holyhead Railway
In the mid-nineteenth century, the need for fast rail links with Ireland was pressing. After much debate over the merits of competing routes, including strong advocacy for new ferry ports to be built at various sites including Porthdinllaen and Llandudno, the Holyhead option was preferred. Plans for a Chester and Holyhead Railway were given Royal Assent on 4 July 1844.
Construction began on Saint David's Day, 1st March 1845, and by the end of that year, some five thousand labourers were at work on the project. 85 miles of track were laid during a four year period; tunnels were blasted at various points along the route, and two landmark bridges constructed, the Conwy Railway Bridge and Bangor’s Britannia Bridge. These were the work of Robert Stephenson, and incorporated what was then the latest in wrought-iron tubular design technique.
Museum and Reading Room
Photo: David Price
The Captain John Jones Free Library and Museum was founded in 1848 by Bangor-born Sea Captain John Jones. Involved in the tea-trade, Captain Jones voyaged from Liverpool to India and the Far East and collected many works of art and exotic curiosities. These were displayed in the museum he established in High Street, at the bottom of Lon Pobty. He was a generous civic benefactor, and a sum from his legacy went towards the costs of the new Carnegie Free Library (see later) which opened in 1907. Some of the exhibits from the Museum can be seen today in Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery, and in Bangor Cathedral. A catalogue of the books in Jones's Free Library drawn up in 1894 (currently held by Bangor University) lists upwards of 1500 volumes..
According to the North Wales Chronicle, when the British engineer and antiquary George Thomas Clark visited Bangor in 1849 to look into the sanitation of the city, his attention was drawn to its generally defective drainage. Across the UK outbreaks of cholera were reaching epidemic proportions, and by July 9th the first case in Bangor had been reported. Over the next years numerous fatalities from the disease were recorded in the town. Tens of thousands of people nationwide were to die from cholera over the next few decades, and it was only an improvement in sanitation coupled with better understanding of the nature of infection that finally put paid to the epidemics.
Robert Stephenson, son of famous engineer George, is responsible for the completely innovative design of the original Britannia Bridge. It was of tubular wrought iron design, with box sections of the bridge constructed on shore and then floated out on barges for assembly. (An original box section can still be seen alongside the modern bridge.)
Photo: Angus McCulloch
Four majestic British lions sculpted in limestone guard the approaches to the bridge, two on either side. These were designed by John Thomas, who also carried out commissions at Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Westminster. From the modern bridge they can hardly be seen, but a poem written in their honour by Porthaethwy bard John Evans remains popular with children to this day:
To find out more about the bridges across the Menai Straits, visit the fascinating exhibits on display at Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery and the Thomas Telford Centre in Menai Bridge, Anglesey.
Pedwar llew tew
Heb ddim blew
Dau 'ochr yma
A dau 'ochr drew
Four fat lions
Without any hair
Two on this side
And two over there
In the 1970s a fire on the Bangor side of Stephenson’s bridge spread all the way across to the Anglesey side. This affected its structural integrity to such an extent that it was decided to rebuild the crossing as a concrete and steel arched span. This work was carried out by Husband & Co., and the bridge was reopened for rail traffic in 1972, and for road traffic in 1980.
The Menai Bridges Heritage Site
Normal College Established
It was recognised in the 1840s that there was a lack of trained teachers in Wales. To address this shortfall, £11,000 was raised by public subscription. This sum, together with £2,000 from the government, enabled the formation, in 1858, of Bangor Normal College as a teacher training establishment. During its early years teaching was carried out on temporary premises, with construction of the permanent site completed by 1862. In the early part of the 20th century women were admitted for the first time, and after World War I the College expanded into what had formerly been the town’s George Hotel.
In the 1960s Normal College became the scene of one of the first Welsh language campaigns of the modern age, when lecturers successfully lobbied for their pay cheques to be made out in Welsh. Since 1996 the College has been part of the University of Wales Bangor.
Bangor Football Club Established
Founded in 1876, Bangor FC is one of Wales’ oldest football clubs, an ever-present in the League of Wales and its predecessors down the ages. In their early years, Bangor played their home games on a small field in the Hirael area of the city, Maes-y-Dref, until the club were evicted in favour of allotments. Up to 2011 they were based at old the cricket ground at Farrar Road, before moving into a new state-of-the-art stadium at Nantporth.
At the end of the 1977/78 season, when Southport were relegated from the English Football League’s Division Four, Bangor City, Boston United and Wigan Athletic were all in line to take their place. Because Wigan Athletic’s ground was more modern, incorporating crush barriers, both Bangor and Boston missed out on promotion. On 12 May 1984 Bangor became the first Welsh club to play at Wembley since Cardiff in 1927, when they reached the FA Trophy final. In a closely fought match against Northwich Victoria the score was 1-1; sadly, Bangor lost the replay 2-1.
Former players include Peter Davenport, Graeme Sharp, Clayton Blackmore, Neville Southall and Mick McGrath; however, the most famous player to pull on the blue shirt was undoubtedly World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton, playing as a guest for Bangor in the 1978 Anglo-Italian Tournament.
BCFC Historical Blog
The Bangor typhoid outbreak of 1882 claimed forty-two lives. There was a sharp difference of opinion within the local health board regarding the source of the infection, with many people believing it to be caused by “miasmic vapours” from the city’s open sewers. It was later discovered that the true cause of the epidemic was bacteria carried in water and milk from a farm in nearby Bethesda, situated above Bangor’s water supply. As a poignant footnote, the doctor who was most vocally opposed to the bizarre “miasmic vapours” theory was himself one of the forty-two victims. In the years following the epidemic, Ysbyty Minffordd was built as the region’s premier centre for the treatment of infectious diseases.
Charter of Incorporation
A Charter of Incorporation is the basic document of law by which Municipal Corporations are formed, granted by the state upon petition to the monarch. It defines the rights, liabilities, and responsibilities of government in cities that are incorporated by such a charter.
In a meeting of private citizens in 1882 in the Bank House in Bangor, it was resolved that “it is expedient to obtain a Charter of Incorporation for the Parliamentary borough of Bangor”, thus turning the city into a municipal borough under the “Municipal Corporations Act” of 1882. In January of 1883 a formal petition was drawn up and presented to Queen Victoria, and after the matter had been submitted to Her Majesty’s Privy Council, the monarch was pleased to grant Bangor its wish. The city’s bounds were formally reset and divided into political wards, and a modern system of mayors, aldermen, councillors, treasurers and town clerks set in place.
The latter part of the nineteenth century saw a popular public campaign for improved higher education in Wales. In the Bangor region, local farmers and quarrymen made regular contributions from their weekly wages towards a fund set up to establish a college of university rank in the city.
The University College of North Wales admitted its first intake on 18 October 1884. The fifty-eight students attended classes held in the unlikely premises of the Penrhyn Arms coaching inn. In 1903 the city gifted a ten-acre site on Penrallt hilltop for the construction of a permanent site for the University. Once again, funding came primarily from the people of Bangor by way of voluntary donations.
The foundation stone was laid by King Edward VII on 9 July 1907, and the main Arts building was formally opened by King George V in 1911. The elevated position of the new building, with panoramic views over the town and the Straits, gave the college its popular nickname “Y Coleg ar y Bryn”, or "The College on the Hill". Meanwhile, the Science department remained in the Penrhyn Arms until “last orders” were called in 1926, with the opening of a new purpose-built facility constructed with the assistance of funds raised from the North Wales Heroes Memorial.
The teaching collection of the University formed the basis for what would become Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery, having been open to the public only sporadically since its founding in 1884.
The College grew in size and reputation throughout the twentieth century up to the present day, which sees 12,000 students and 2,000 members of staff housed in sites across the city and at outlying locations as far away as Wrexham. Bangor University remains committed to “providing teaching of the highest quality, conducting research of the highest quality, taking good care of its students and playing a full role in the wider community of Wales.”
The University’s latest project is an exciting arts centre which will contain a theatre, studio theatres, cinema, restaurant, bars, student union and teaching spaces.
Anticipated to open in 2014, the building will ascend over several stages up the steep hill from the Memorial Arch to the University’s main building.
Famous alumni of Bangor include: film director and mastermind of the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony Danny Boyle; singer Roger Whittaker; footballer and manager Mark Hughes; Welsh scholar, poet and TV personality Gwyn Thomas; actors Frances Barber and John Sessions; and Nobel Prize-winning physiologist Robert G Edwards.
Photo: Gwilym Wyn Griffiths
At the junction of the High Street with Garth Road stands Bangor’s Victorian red-brick Tŵr Y Cloc or Clock Tower. It was the gift of former Mayor Thomas Lewis, presented “as a Token of his interest in the Welfare of the City.” Restored in 1986, it’s a well-known landmark in the city and popular meeting place, and is at the heart of our Bangor timeline.
St Mary's College
Up until the Victorian era, further education had been very much a male preserve. If they were educated at all, women tended to be taught such subjects as were deemed (by men) to be appropriate to their “delicate natures”. These would provide them with non-controversial topics for parlour discussion. Some educationalists of the time even argued that learning could make a woman ill or insane! In the face of these considerable drawbacks, some women did manage to excel in supposedly "male" subjects including sciences, engineering and the law.
Education was one of the few jobs which it was commonly held were suitable to young ladies of the day. In Bangor, women wishing to train for a career in education attended St Mary's College. It was built in 1893 by the Church in Wales as a Teacher Training College, and was a handsome two-storey edifice with stone mullioned windows, a central bellcote and an attached chapel. Since 1977 it has been part of the University of Bangor.
Garth Pier Opened
The growth of tourism in the Victorian age saw the construction of piers in many of Britain’s seaside towns. In the wake of an 1893 Parliamentary Bill, work on a 1550 foot pier in Bangor was begun, at a cost of £14,475. Garth Pier was opened on 14th May 1896 by Lord Penrhyn, with entertainment provided by the ever-popular “pierrots” or clowns. Over the next eighteen years, an annual average of 34,000 passengers disembarked at the pier, while over the same period 442,000 took a “walk on water” from the landward end.
The pier was built largely of steel, with cast-iron columns and piles, and its wooden deck was punctuated with a series of octagonal kiosks with pitched roofs, ornamental lamps and handrails. Included in the design were a pontoon landing stage and a 3ft (90cm) gauge railway for baggage handling, and steamers from Douglas, Liverpool and Blackpool plied their trade from the pier-head until 1914. In this year, a coaster, the SS Christiana, broke free of her moorings and collided with the pier. Extensive damage was caused, with part of the structure destroyed, and the resulting gap had to be bridged with a makeshift gangway by the Royal Engineers. This temporary structure remained in place for a further seven years during World War I and its aftermath, and when the pier was rebuilt the railway was not replaced. In the Second World War the pier was cut in two once more – this time on purpose, to prevent German troops from landing in Bangor!
In the later part of the 20th century, many piers fell into a state of neglect and disrepair as maintenance costs increased and holidaying patterns changed across the UK. Garth Pier was closed to the public on health and safety grounds in 1971, and ownership of the pier passed to Arfon Borough Council in 1974. The new owners decreed that it should be demolished, but the City Council successfully obtained Grade II listed building status for the pier, which they rightly identified as one of the three finest piers left standing in the UK.
Bangor City Council purchased the pier for the nominal fee of one new penny in 1975, and over the next seven years set about a major programme of fund-raising for its restoration. Additional grant aid came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Welsh Office and the Manpower Services Commission, and following a six-year refurbishment scheme the fully restored Garth Pier was reopened by the Marquis of Anglesey in May 1988. Nowadays, it is the second longest pier in Wales, and the ninth longest in the British Isles.
La Marguerite (Paddle Steamer)
At one time La Marguerite was reckoned to be the most popular excursion ship in the country. Launched in 1894, she was built as a cross-channel paddle steamer, and for ten years she sailed from the English ports of Tilbury and Margate to continental destinations including Ostend, Calais and Boulogne. In 1904 her owners the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company switched her to North Wales, where she carried passengers between the holiday destinations of Llandudno, Douglas and Bangor. During the First World War she was called up for valuable national service, transporting some 360,000 troops to France and covering roughly 52,000 miles. La Marguerite came to the end of her travels in 1925, when she was broken up. In recognition of her wartime role, the ship’s bell was presented to the City of London Rifles in 1927.
Scottish-American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie was one of the leading philanthropists of his day. Between 1883 and 1929 he funded the construction of more than two-and-a-half thousand free “Carnegie libraries”. The majority of these were in the United States, but 660 were built in Britain and Ireland. Bangor’s own Carnegie library on Ffordd Gwynedd was opened in 1907, and is still in use today. A copper tablet on display in the library foyer tells the story:
“This library has been erected by the corporation of Bangor for the free use of the inhabitants of the City. Towards the cost of the building Andrew Carnegie Esquire contributed the sum of £2,500 and the sum of £500 was allocated from Capt. John Jones’ legacy. The building was formally opened by the Rt. Hon. Lord Penrhyn on the 8th day of November 1907 and this tablet was unveiled on the same day by Alderman W P Matthews, Chairman of the Museum Bye-Laws and General Purposes Committee.”
First Bus Service
The definitive history of Bangor’s bus service has yet to be written. Experts are unable to state with any certainty which companies ran the first buses in Bangor, but local companies included Bangor Blue Motors (which operated a half-hour passenger service between Bangor and Beaumaris), Royal Blue, Caernarfon Bay Motor Services and Llanllechid Blue.
In the 1930s Crosville of Chester took over Bangor Blue Motors, together with another 61 local independent bus operators in North Wales. Nowadays, Arriva operate along the North Wales coast along with smaller local operators such as Padarn Buses.
Heroes Memorial Arch
The 1914 – 1918 war took a heavy toll on all the nations who fought it. Men from every town and village fought and died in the struggle, and after the war their sacrifice was commemorated by the construction of memorials and cenotaphs across the UK.
Bangor’s Heroes Memorial Arch records over 8,500 of North Wales’ fallen. Their names are inscribed by parish on the oak panels which line the first-floor walls of architect D Wynne Thomas’ distinguished crenellated monument, which was opened on the 1st November 1923 by the then Prince of Wales, Prince Edward. A plaque on the Memorial reads:
North Wales Heroes Memorial
This building together with the adjacent science laboratories was erected by public subscription in memory of the men of North Wales who fell in the Great War 1914-1918.
The Arch is a Grade II listed building, and has recently undergone a £200,000 restoration.
The BBC - Bryn Meirion
In February 1922, from a transmitter in London, The British Broadcasting Company aired its first radio programme. The first Welsh station opened in Cardiff a year later. Coming under the West Region which incorporated the West of England, programmes in Welsh were very rare. By 1935, though, it was estimated that half of Welsh households held the ten shilling licence needed to receive programmes. It was in this year that the Bangor station was opened under the leadership of a Welsh Director.
By the late thirties, former Western Mail journalist and BBC Cardiff producer Samuel Cornelius Jones was appointed BBC representative for North Wales. Sam’s remit in Cardiff for BBC Radio Wales had been to produce programmes in Welsh. His “Noson Lawen” proved BBC Bangor’s most popular Welsh programme. It was also at this time that the first all-Wales news was broadcast.
When World War II broke out, the BBC produced a unified service, for security reasons. The Bangor office was temporarily closed. However, this stance changed as the war progressed and some Welsh news and language programming continued. Just after the war in Europe finished, the BBC’s Welsh Home Service was launched on the 29th July 1945.
Also during wartime, over the period 1941 – 1943, the BBC’s Variety Department was relocated to Bangor. Well-known historian John Davies commented that the whole department was "transported from Bristol on a special train which carried 432 people, seventeen dogs and a parrot".
Social Housing, Maesgeirchen
Since the Victorian era it was recognised that local authorities should take steps to improve the housing supply in their areas. Successive Housing Acts of 1919 and 1930 required Councils to provide social housing, and in 1937 the Maesgeirchen estate was built on the site of the old Maes-y-geirchen farm on the outskirts of Bangor. Further development in the post WWII period and more recently has made Maesgeirchen the largest residential estate in North Wales. The estate boasts a social club, community centre, church and primary school, Ysgol Glan Cegin. Recent improvements have included a full renovation of the housing stock together with major environmental works including walkways, paths, and picnic areas.
Caernarvonshire Technical College
During the 20th century, advances in trade and industry required an ever more highly trained workforce. In September 1947, driven by the post-war need for skilled labour, a so-called “Senior Technical School” for technical education and vocational training was founded in Bangor. Based in the old Community Club near the Deiniol Road Secondary School, the Technical College attracted students from across the counties of Caernarvonshire & Anglesey. Its success led to the construction of more permanent, purpose-built premises at the junction of Ffriddoedd Road and Elidir Road. These were first opened in 1957, with extensions completed in 1969. The College’s remit also expanded, taking in subjects such as pre-nursing, home economics and art alongside the more traditional core curriculum. More recently, the college amalgamated with Llangefni’s Coleg Pencraig, and the joint institution goes by the name of Coleg Menai.
HMS Conway Runs Aground
Down the years several vessels have carried the name HMS Conway, with perhaps the most famous of these being the ship formerly known as HMS Nile, a two-deck 90-gun ship of the line launched in 1839. The Nile was renamed HMS Conway in 1875, when she became a Royal Navy training ship moored in the river Mersey. During World War II air raids on the Liverpool Docks made it necessary to move the Conway to a temporary mooring off Anglesey. After the war a sharp increase in the number of naval cadets meant that the Conway was called back into service. HMS Conway was moored near Bangor Pier from 1941 to 1949, when she returned to Birkenhead for a refit before taking up permanent residence off Plas Newydd. By 1953 another refit was due, only this time disaster was to strike.
The morning of 14th April saw a complex tidal flow in the “Swellies”, a treacherous stretch of water in the Menai Straits. Weather and tidal conditions were much worse than expected leading to a fatal error of judgement on the part of the Captain. Despite warnings from the pilot and other local seafaring folk, HMS Conway attempted the difficult passage between the Menai and Britannia bridges only to run aground on the “Platters”, a rocky outcrop in the Straits. When the tide fell, the ship broke her back on the rocks. The Conway was written off as a total loss, and a fire in 1956 destroyed her totally
Some Bangor residents still remember being told by their mothers that if they were naughty, they would be sent to the Clio, an infamous forerunner of the Conway. This training ship was moored off Bangor between 1877 and 1920, and had a bad reputation locally owing to the severity of the punishments handed out to its young trainees – often on a whim of the staff.
HMS Conway Website
Bangor Win the Welsh Cup
Bangor FC have won the Welsh cup on eight occasions, but their triumph of 1962 set them up for perhaps the greatest game in their history – the memorable tie with Italy’s Napoli.
Bangor met Wrexham in the final, which was set to be played across two legs. Wrexham won the first leg 3-0 at their Racecourse ground, but Bangor equalled the score in the return fixture at Farrar Road, among crowd invasions and fist-fights on the pitch. A play-off on a neutral ground was required, and Bangor ran out 3-1 winners at Rhyl’s Belle Vue.
Victory in the Welsh Cup made Bangor eligible for the European Cup Winners’ Cup, in which competition they were matched with SSC Napoli, at that time one of the biggest clubs in Italy whose home gates regularly reached 80,000. In the first leg, playing at Farrar Road, Bangor amazed the footballing world by running in 2–0 victors. Three weeks later, in front of a sell-out crowd at the Stadio San Paulo in Naples, Bangor lost 3–1. Under modern UEFA rules, this would have meant a win on away goals for the Welsh. At the time, though, the competition rules called for a play-off decider, which took place at Arsenal's Highbury Stadium. This time Napoli won 2–1, scoring the winner seven minutes from the end of the match. So close, and yet so far!
Swimming Baths Opened
Bangor public municipal Swimming Baths are based in Garth Road and were first opened in 1965. They are now the Headquarters for the City of Bangor Swimming Club which has produced many fine sportsmen and women over the years. Bangor Swimming Baths plays host to various regional and local competitions. Besides the pool itself, facilities include two water slides, three diving boards, a new Fitness Room, and a café and viewing gallery, while outside there is a small paddling pool and two all-weather five-a-side football pitches.
In August of 1967, now remembered as the “Summer of Love”, the Beatles were the most famous pop group on the planet. In June, their song “All You Need Is Love” had been the centrepiece of the first live global TV satellite linkup, the “Our World” special, watched by 400 million people in 26 countries. Their growing interest in Eastern religion brought them to the University of Bangor, where the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, leader of the Spiritual Regeneration Movement, was holding a week-long series of lectures. Euston station was packed with sight-seers to see the Beatles off on the 'Mystical Special' (perhaps better known as the 3:15 Euston to Holyhead, stopping at Bangor). In the crowds on the platform Cynthia Lennon became separated from then husband John. Police mistook her for a fan and she ended up missing the train!
The Beatles arrived on Friday evening, and were accommodated in the Dyfrdwy student halls of residence. Other members of the Beatles’ party, including Mick Jagger, Cilla Black and Jane Asher, were put up in Alun halls. On Saturday, they attended a public meeting in the John Phillips Hall. However, back in London, tragedy struck, with the suicide of the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein. The shocked Fab Four cut short their stay immediately and returned to London. Many historians of the band date the beginnings of their eventual break-up to that weekend.
A plaque in the Hugh Owen hall of the University – now the Management Centre – commemorates the occasion.
Ysbyty Gwynedd Opened
Ysbyty Gwynedd (Gwynedd Hospital) is situated between the A55 expressway and Bangor in Penrhosgarnedd. It is the primary site of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which provides acute, community and mental health services to the counties of Gwynedd and Anglesey. It was opened in 1984, replacing the city’s old Caernarfonshire and Anglesey Infirmary.
Ysbyty Gwynedd is the region’s centre for Acute Services, with over 550 beds providing a comprehensive range of acute medical and surgical services, a major accident department, intensive care, coronary care, psychiatric, gynaecological and maternity services and a special care baby unit. Modern touch-screen computer technology in the main theatres allows real-time recording, replacing the previous manual recording method and providing greater information on theatre usage and average times for cases.
The Olympic Flame Comes to Bangor
In the summer of 2012 Olympic fever spread across the UK with the Torch Relay’s progress across the whole of the country. 8,000 torchbearers carried the Olympic Flame through more than 1,000 cities, towns and villages. The North Wales relay came through Bangor on Day 10, Monday 28th May, with torchbearers including: Welsh opera superstar Bryn Terfel; successful national and international disability athlete Karl Sadil; Elin Davies, the first Welsh woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean; and 61-year-old runner Malcolm Jones, who has taken part in the Snowdon Mountain International Race every single year since its inception 37 years ago.
Bryn Terfel carried the Torch on the last leg of the day’s relay into the grounds of the Faenol Estate, where a Reception was held. There he lit a special beacon, which formed the centrepiece of a music concert.