This old postcard shows Penmaenmawr in the era when it was a fashionable resort for the upper middle class. Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone was a devotee, and his frequent visits reinforced the resort’s reputation. He even kept a daily diary of his dips. One entry records that he missed out on his last dip, at the end of a week’s bathing, due to an upset tummy contracted due to over-exposure to the cold September sea!
Having a sun tan was considered common and working-class, but taking a dip in the sea was considered good for health. The wheeled beach huts on the left of the image were drawn into the sea. Well-heeled visitors would change into bathing costumes inside the huts, and burly men known as “dippers” would help them immerse themselves in the cold sea.
In Victorian times, Penmaenmawr beach was divided into areas for ladies and gentlemen to bathe. There was even a section of the beach for the exclusive use of nuns! Mixed bathing was permitted at beaches from c.1890.
In the 20th century a wide promenade with shelters and static beach huts was developed for the growing number of families who arrived at the nearby rail station or came by road. The western part of the beach was used by the quarry company to load ships using jetties.
By the late 1970s the main road through Penmaenmawr was becoming clogged with tourist traffic, quarry wagons and articulated lorries going to the ferry port at Holyhead. The A55 Expressway brought relief, but with the loss of the southern edge of the old promenade area. A new, smaller promenade was opened in 1988, with a unique row of beach huts built into the A55 retaining wall! The area features a café, paddling pool and yacht club and is popular with locals in summer.
With thanks to Raymond Thomas, David Bathers and Dennis Roberts, of Penmaenmawr Historical Society