As many of you consider, go on, or return from your staycation this summer, one place that remains a draw is the north Wales town of Llandudno.
The Daily Telegraph recently described it as, ‘The old-fashioned seaside town that’s suddenly back in vogue’.
It is so popular with Haredi visitors that they were even willing to break England and Wales’ lockdown laws to spend time there, according to a this report.
Known as the ‘Queen of Welsh resorts’, the seaside resort on the north Wales coast has long been an attraction for Haredi visitors. Chabad has a Retreat Centre there, which is part of the synagogue, the only shul in the northern half of Wales.
‘Chlandidneh’, as they call it, also attracts thousands of Vizhnitzer Hasidim every year during the summer. So much so, that the Vizhnitz Rebbe from Bene Brak in Israel has even bought a summer home there.
Maybe it’s because Llandudno (when pronounced properly) doesn’t sound a million miles away from lecha dodi (which itself sounds like the Welsh words for ‘slab’ and ‘come’).
A Jewish Past
Llandudno’s popularity with Jews is nothing new.
As early as Victorian times, the commercial opportunities afforded by Llandudno’s emergence as a holiday resort attracted many Jewish merchants. Over the years, the Jewish community played a huge part in the development of the town, its economy, its culture, its political life and even its sporting achievements.
Families such as the Wartskis, Lazars, Croops, Gubays and Blairmans became local fixtures and their shops well known as they served the local community. While these shops and their owners have long gone, traces of their presence remain. If you look closely, you will see the name of ‘Wartski’s’ spelled out on the floor tiles of the present jeweller’s and the name of the Gubays’ Oriental Stores above the façade of the current occupants’ sign (both on Mostyn Street).
Jews made other contributions to Llandudno life. 1950s tennis star, Angela Buxton began playing tennis as a youngster at Gloddaeth Hall School for Girls in nearby Llanrhos, where she was spotted by coach Bob Mulligan.
A keen sportsman, Joseph Lazar was elected captain of Llandudno Golf Club in 1964. His wife, Vicky, was elected to the Llandudno Town Council, standing as an Independent candidate, in November 1968, and 10 years later became the first female Jewish mayor of Aberconwy.
A Welsh Catskills
The town also developed into a popular holiday destination for Jews. The first kosher hotel opened in August 1871. Others soon followed and by the early twentieth century around a dozen were being advertised in the pages of the Jewish Chronicle. Llandudno developed into a Bournemouth of the north (a Welsh Catskills?)
The first synagogue was opened in the Masonic Hall on Upper Mostyn Street in 1909.
During the Second World War, the congregation increased significantly with Jews escaping the bombing in large cities, especially Liverpool and London (including members of my extended family). There were also visiting servicemen. One service in April 1941 attracted as many as 400 people.
The number of Jews swelled to the extent that Llandudno was referred to as ‘Little Jerusalem’ and even ‘Llanyidno’.
After the war, it became apparent that a new synagogue would be needed. Coincidentally, a house called Red Court on Church Walks that had been the home of a successful engineer called William Lecomber came on the market. During the First World War, the house had been put at the disposal of the military and used as a hospital.
In 1948, the house was converted into the synagogue and served the local community until the early twentieth century.
The Last Synagogue in North Wales
As children moved away and older members passed, the community aged and declined. It was decided to sell the building to Chabad-Lubavitch from Manchester. The synagogue is still open for services but mainly hosts visitors. So, although Llandudno has recently been described as ‘the location of the last Jewish community in north Wales’, it’s not a community of, or for, local Jews unfortunately.
Capturing the Past
To preserve this history, and make it available to a wider audience, a map of Llandudno’s Jewish history has been produced. It was a collaboration between Bangor University, Menter Fachwen and Llandudno Museum. It is a celebration of the town’s Jewish heritage and enables you to ‘walk and discover’ the history of the Jews in Llandudno. If you would like a copy, please contact me: [email protected]
This research is still ongoing and if you would like to share any memories and memorabilia or donate, please get in touch.
Cover image: Haredim holidaying in Llandudno, July 2020, by Asher Awelan.