When the Rev’d Venables Williams was appointed Vicar of the ecclesiastical parish of Llandrillo yn Rhos in 1869 there was no such place as Colwyn Bay although the parish stretched from Glan Conwy to Eiras Park. The total population of the parish at that time was 900.
By 1871 a new township was beginning to emerge around Pwllycrochan Halt ( the forerunner of Colwyn Bay Station ) and Venables Williams immersed himself in developing social and civic activities in the ‘new’ part of his parish . He obtained permission for regular Anglican services of prayer and worship in a carpenter’s workshop in Ivy Street owned by Abel Williams of Llandudno, interestingly a well known Nonconformist.
The first service was held on the 18th June 1871 when 70 people were present. Exactly one year later he led the first service in a purpose built chapel on the site of the present St. Paul’s Church, on land donated for the purpose by Sir Thomas Erskine of Pwllycrochan Hall. The chapel was funded by subscription and is said to have seated 220 ( or 150 depending on which source is used ). It was designed by John Douglas and is described as ‘ a handsome little structure built of bricks , timber and iron, with a slate roof.’.
The area was governed at that time by the Conway Board of Guardians and Venables Williams was a member and sometime chairman of the Board for over 25yrs. In May 1872 he was presented with a ‘chiming timepiece’ at the Pwllycrochan Hotel for his successful efforts in getting the ‘notorious abuses’ of the Conway Union rating system corrected. He also confronted the Poor Law Medical Association about allegations of overcharging and won a substantial reduction in the price of medicines for the poor, a result commented upon in the British Medical Journal of 13th June 1885. His personal efforts to get the railway fully rated at £950 per year , in 1871 , resulted in local taxes being reduced from 5s, 1d (25p) in the pound to 2s, 3d (11p).
In 1886 the New Colwyn Mission Chapel as it was known was burnt down by the Mochdre tithe rioters previously condemned by Venables -Williams. Services continued though, in the Public Hall, now Theatr Colwyn.
With the insurance monies for the burnt out chapel a fund was initiated for the building of a new church, subscriptions and collections amounting to £ 4794–5s-3d were used for the present nave and aisles of St Paul’s church and, with a temporary chancel, the building was consecrated for worship on July 13th 1888. The present Chancel was added in 1895 and the tower in 1911.
Immediately after the consecration the then Bishop of St. Asaph The Rt. Rev’d Joshua Hughes set about creating a new ecclesiastical parish of Colwyn Bay with the enthusiastic cooperation of Venables Williams who was to have been inducted as its first Vicar whist remaining Vicar of Llandrillo yn Rhos. Venables Williams was by then a significant and influential person in the new township, he was a member of the Colwyn Bay and Colwyn Local Board created in 1887 to facilitate the merger of Old Colwyn (known then as Colwyn) and the rapidly developing Colwyn Bay ( known then as New Colwyn ) into the Colwyn Bay and Colwyn Urban District Council in 1895 . He was the Chairman of the Board.
Bishop Hughes died before the details of the new ecclesiastical parish could be finalised and the new Bishop of St. Asaph, Alfred G. Edwards ( later to become the first incumbent of the newly created office of Archbishop of Wales ) had other ideas and insisted on the appointment of a new Vicar for the proposed new parish.
Venables – Williams then raised objections to the division of his parish and took his concerns as far as the Houses of Parliament. A petition of 582 names was submitted to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and Venables Williams wrote a personal letter to Queen Victoria about the matter. But Bishop Edwards remained adamant that a new Vicar be appointed to the newly consecrated church and that a totally separate parish be formed for Colwyn Bay, and eventually Queen Victoria signed the required Order in Council. On the May 19th 1893 the ecclesiastical parish of Colwyn Bay was established and the Rev.’d Hugh Roberts was appointed its first Vicar on June 17th 1893.
Within days of the Order of Council Venables Williams wrote an open letter to everyone in the area expressing his anger and bitterness about the decision. He writes :
‘ My dear Colwyn Bay Parishioners,
The final blow has at length fallen……. the time has therefore now arrived and I must reluctantly .. bid you ‘adieu’ and sever myself from a very much loved portion of my labours in this parish viz. Colwyn Bay, the growth of which I have watched with ever increasing interest, culminating in the the building of St, Paul’s church.
I may now mention a fact not previously known , that when the architect gave his final certificate ….for about £700 there was not one penny left in the bank to meet it, and to save the credit of the church I had to deposit my own private securities for payment. I am now required to make way for someone who will reap the fruits of my labours.
I feel very keenly and bitterly the having to give up my ministrations at St. Paul’s and feel the division of the the parish need not have been so cruelly and relentlessly carried out ( no reason being assigned) during my lifetime.
Thanking you one and all for your innumerable kindnesses and very much forbearance with my own many shortcomings……I pray for God’s blessing may be with you all, and now I must say ‘ Finally, Brethren, Farewell’.
Venables Williams continued on as Vicar of Llandrillo yn Rhos for another seven years and slowly withdrew his involvement from Colwyn Bay. During his time as Vicar he raised over £20,000 for the development of the churches in the locality ( mainly for the development of St. Paul’s) and we now know that when the contract for St Paul’s was placed in 1887 he mortgaged his personal securities to to enable the builder to pay his workman their first weeks wages.
A drinking fountain erected on Rhos on Sea promenade by subscription in 1906 is … ‘ in recognition of the many public services rendered by the Rev’d W. Venables -Williams MA ( Oxon) JP during his 31yrs as Vicar of Llandrillo yn Rhos’
There is also a dilapidated slate plaque near the railway underpass opposite Colwyn Bay Pier (although now taken for granted it was a major undertaking in it’s day), which states that the underpass was opened by … Rev’d W. Venables Williams, in 1891. He had in fact petitioned for the underpass whilst Chairman of the Local Board, to enable a direct route from the town to the beach. The approach road to the underpass was originally named, ‘Vicar’s Road’.
On the day of his funeral shops throughout the area were closed for the afternoon and over 50 wreaths were presented. The Weekly News , then a broad sheet, devoted two whole pages to his contribution to the development of Colwyn Bay.
- Colwyn Bay: Its History Across the Years, Norman Tucker and Ivor Wynne Jones
- Landmarks Collectors Library.
- Unpublished leaflets from St. Trillo’s church Llandrillo yn Rhos.