The Royal Oak Hotel, Betws-y-coed
The Royal Oak Hotel, originally a coaching inn, has long been a cornerstone of tourism in Betws-y-coed. The current building dates from c.1861, when the hotel was expanded to meet growing demand. Visitor numbers increased further after the railway station opened in 1868. The Royal Oak continued to provide day trips by horse-drawn carriage through the dramatic scenery of Snowdonia, since the trains did not run west of the town. The hotel’s former stable block now houses a tourist information centre, craft workshops and offices for Snowdonia wardens.
In 1844 English landscape painter David Cox established what would become known as the Betws-y-coed artists’ colony, the first group of its kind in Britain. The Royal Oak Hotel was his base for his frequent visits, during which he also promoted the formation of art schools in Carmarthen and other Welsh towns. Displayed inside the hotel is a signboard which hung outside the hotel after Cox painted it in 1847. The image shows a tree with a hunt passing its trunk.
Over the following decades, until the outbreak of the First World War, artists and art lovers came to Betws-y-coed to draw, paint and socialise. This raised the profile of Betws-y-coed as a fashionable place to visit. Many artists moved to the Conwy Valley to live. Today the colony’s work forms a valuable record of local life and features in the 19th century.
Some people associated with the artists’ colony grumbled in the 1860s about the expansion of tourism in Betws-y-coed, with the railway under construction, the Royal Oak newly enlarged and the ancient St Michael’s Church replaced by the larger St Mary’s Church. Art historian Peter Lord, in his book Betws-y-Coed Artists’ Colony 1844-1914, writes that cartoons and verses disparaging tourists were left in the Royal Oak’s visitors’ book, including:
I used to come to Bettws
Nigh twenty years ago…
But then no restless Tourists
Were rushing to and fro.
From June 1940 to the summer of 1945, the Royal Oak Hotel was the base for Dulwich Preparatory School. Around 240 boys and staff were moved to the Betws-y-coed area from the school’s premises because of the danger from Nazi bombing raids on London. In 1987 former pupils and staff presented the hotel with a detailed model of a Royal Mail coach, in memory of the school’s late headmaster John Leakey. The model is displayed near the hotel’s entrance.
Postcode: LL24 OAY