Former diamond factory, High Street, Bangor
During the Second World War the rooms above this tailor’s shop were home to a factory where diamonds were split, sawn, shaped and polished.
The diamond industry had suffered in the 1930s recession, but as war loomed there was renewed demand as diamonds would be needed in precision tool-making machines, vital for production of military equipment. Therefore Britain, its allies and its enemies stepped up supply. Historically Antwerp and Amsterdam were the centres for cutting and polishing the stones while London was the hub for selling. As the German army swept through the Low Countries in spring 1940, a few diamond cutters escaped to Britain.
Britain already had a few diamond cutters and polishers, mainly living on the English south coast around Brighton. This area was deemed vulnerable by the government so they were relocated to Bangor, where they were joined by the Dutch and Belgian refugees.
Louis Monnickendam relocated his diamond polishing business from Antwerp to Britain in 1914. In 1940 he moved it to the first floor of this building – above Montague Burton tailors. Machinery was moved here from Brighton and maintained throughout the war by local man Jack Davies. Smaller diamond operations were set up in Farrar Road and near Penrhyn Hall, also in Colwyn Bay.
Monnickendam employed 60 people in total and took on some local lads as apprentices who soon became adept. The staff worked a 45 hour week for 15 shillings. Their occupation was reserved (which meant they were kept out of the armed forces) because their trade was vital for industry and armament production. The photo shows a man inspecting diamonds in Britain c.1920. It's no longer known at which factory the photo was taken.
In 1941 Louis Monnickendam returned to Brighton and took eight of the apprentices with him. Bangor’s diamond industry continued as Gerrit Wins took over the business and moved it to the Liberal Club in Llys Gwynedd. About 90% of Britain’s diamonds at that time were exported to the United States as part payment for armaments, under the lend-lease agreement.
FOOTNOTES: Personal recollections
With thanks to Adrian Hughes, of the Home Front Museum, Llandudno, and Hans Wins
Postcode: LL57 1PA