Former home of Indian spy, Colwyn Bay

Former home of Indian spy, Penrhyn Road, Colwyn Bay

This building, now occupied by Sheldon’s Bar, was the home address of Sydney Wignall when he hit the headlines in 1955 – accused by the Chinese government of spying for America. In fact he was spying for India!

Sydney was a cobbler’s son from Wallasey, Wirral. After attending grammar school he was apprenticed as an electrical engineer. By 1955 he was living above the commercial premises at 10 Penrhyn Road.

That year, he led an all-Welsh party of climbers to scale the previously unconquered 7,334-metre (24,062ft) Nalkankar mountain in Nepal. Amid mounting political tensions in the region, India suspected China of building up military forces in Tibet. On hearing of the expedition, Indian Military Intelligence recruited Sydney to collect information on strategic roads near India’s northern borders.

The six-man expedition left Llandudno in two estate cars and took six weeks to reach Nepal, via Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In October 1955, Chinese soldiers captured Wignall, John Harrop from Bangor and their Tibetan liaison officer close to the Tibet-Nepal border. Imprisoned at Taklakot, they were tortured and accused of spying for the CIA (the USA’s foreign intelligence agency). After six weeks of increasing diplomatic pressure, all three were released.

By 1964 Sydney had moved to Old Colwyn, where he named his house Taklakot after the place of his torture!

He had a remarkable career as a marine archaeologist and naval historian. See the Footnotes for some of the famous shipwrecks he explored. He wrote several books about his spying and maritime expeditions. He died at Llandudno Hospital in 2013 aged 89.

About Sheldon’s:

For decades the Sheldon’s shop here was well known locally for stationery and printing of objects such as wedding invitations. An earlier printing and stationery business here was run by James Craig from 1945 until Stan Sheldon bought it in 1968. Stan died in 1975 and the shop was continued by his son Roger.

With thanks to Adrian Hughes, of the Home Front Museum, Llandudno

Postcode: LL29 8LG    View Location Map

Website of Sheldon’s Bar

Footnotes: Some of Sydney Wignall’s wreck dives

In 1962 Sydney was the under-water photographer, and the only civilian, attached to an RAF dive on the wreck of a Roman galley off Sicily. Over 90 amphorae (a type of two handled pot) and much 2,000-year-old Campanian pottery was recovered.

In 1968, he located and dived the Santa Maria de la Rosa, vice-flagship of the Spanish Armada, sent to invade England in 1588. The ship sank at Blasket Sound off Ireland during a storm.

Sydney was part of an exploration for Sir Francis Drake’s lead coffin off the coast of Panama, and a search off Yorkshire’s Flamborough Head to find the American warship Bonhomme Richard which sank in 1779 after a bitter battle with the Royal Navy’s HMS Serapis.

He was involved in quests to find the pioneering submarine Resurgam, lost in 1880 off Rhyl, and the Confederate blockade-runner Lelia, lost north of Prestatyn in 1865 during a storm while carrying a cargo undeclared to the Board of Trade.