Site of Butlin’s holiday camp, Penychain, near Pwllheli

During the Second World War, holiday-camp owner Billy Butlin worked for the War Ministry. Asked to find a site in Wales for a training camp, he identified Penychain and offered to build the camp himself if he could buy it cheaply at the end of the war.

Aerial photo of HMS Glendower, Pwllheli, in 1942Press play to hear how to pronounce Penychain:

The Royal Navy’s HMS Glendower training establishment opened here in 1940. The upper aerial photo, courtesy of the Welsh Government, shows it in 1942. The photo of Women’s Royal Naval Service members who had administrative roles at HMS Glendower is shown here courtesy of Wyndham Underwood.

Initially naval ratings slept in tents. Eventually 1,000 chalets were built, and a gymnasium, concert hall and cinema. In the first year 8,000 men trained here. Recruits were posted to one of three divisions, each with c.20 instructors: Top, Forecastle or Quarter Deck.

Photo of WRENs at HMS Glendower during Second World WarBy the end of the war, over 100,000 had passed through, including 12,000 Dutchmen and smaller numbers from Canada, New Zealand and Jamaica. Ratings were forbidden to drink, gamble or spit on site.

Billy Butlin bought the camp in September 1946. Butlin’s Pwllheli opened to holidaymakers in 1947.

In high season 1961, it cost adults £15 per week to stay at Butlin’s Pwllheli, with c.12,000 holidaymakers accommodated at a time. Such were the numbers that meals were served in two sittings across four dining rooms! The lower aerial photo shows the camp in 1961.

This was Britain’s first holiday park to host more than 100,000 guests in a season. The number peaked at 147,000 in 1983.

Aerial photo of Butlin's Pwllheli camp in 1961Stan Boardman and Jimmy Starbuck cut their teeth as “Redcoats” (entertainment staff) at Butlin’s Pwllheli. It’s said that Ringo Starr was staying here, after playing a gig in Pwllheli, when he heard The Beatles needed a replacement drummer. In 1973 fire destroyed the camp’s Gaiety Theatre, causing £1m of damage shortly before comedian Ken Dodd was due to perform there.

Queen Elizabeth II visited the camp in 1963 accompanied by Prince Philip and Sir Billy Butlin. The prince had been a training officer at HMS Glendower but wouldn’t say which chalet he’d slept in, joking that Billy would raise the charge for that chalet!

In 1963 Billy bought the large 1935-built steam locomotive Princess Margaret Rose. It was an attraction at the Penychain camp until 1975. He also rescued a Victorian loco and displayed it here.

In 1990 the camp was renamed Starcoast World. It’s now the Hafan-y-Môr camp, owned by Haven.

With thanks to Adrian Hughes, of the Home Front Museum, Llandudno, to Wyndham Underwood, and to the Welsh Government for both aerial photos

Postcode: LL53 6HX    View Location Map

Website of Hafan-y-Môr Holiday Camp