Dragon carved by First World War refugee, Barmouth

Dragon carved by First World War refugee, Barmouth

The dragon’s head which adorns the front of this building was carved by a Belgian artist who lived as a refugee in Barmouth during the First World War.

The former Bank Buildings were converted in 1915 into new offices for Barmouth Urban District Council, with a fire station on the ground floor. In June 1915 Belgian sculptor Charles Costers was asked to create a low-relief version of the council’s crest – which depicted a dragon’s head – for the frontage.

Many Belgians fled their homeland when the Germans invaded in 1914. By spring 1915 there were almost 200 refugees in Barmouth, including c.50 children. One of the parents was appointed to teach them in the local school. By August 1918 there were two teachers and almost 80 refugee children.

The dragon carving was intended as a lasting memento of the refugees’ stay in Barmouth.

Charles Costers demonstrated his artistic skills again when he designed and painted the stage scenery for the refugees’ grand fete at Belle Vue Hall on Christmas Day 1915. The event included refugees singing in Flemish and French, and a dance by eight children. The fete’s main purpose was to distribute toys and sweets to the refugee children, who were “far away from their home in devastated Belgium”.

Charles Costers may have been the interpreter, recorded as a M de Coster, who was called on when people who couldn’t speak English appeared before the town’s refugee committee. In May 1916 the committee asked the interpreter to tell the refugees that there should be no more to pursuits such as fishing on Sundays, when they should observe the Sabbath Day.

With thanks to Toni Vitti

Postcode: LL42 1DS    View Location Map