Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

A-Z of Conwy by John Barden Davies

A-Z of Conwy 1 The suspension bridge, designed to blend with the architecture of the castle. (c. A-Z of Conwy, Amberley Publishing)

I have been fascinated by the town of Conwy since I was very young, having been brought up in the nearby town of Colwyn Bay. My parents often took me to Conwy for the afternoon either in the car or for the twenty-minute bus ride. Even from that young age as I explored the castle, looked at the fishing boats on the quay, from where my mother bought fresh fish just landed off the boats, I somehow sensed that Conwy was different from the neighbouring towns of Colwyn Bay and Llandudno. Now I would say that Conwy is not just different, it is unique. It was always a treat to go to Conwy Fair when the little town was packed with people, and to listen with amazement to the banter going on between the stallholders and their customers. Since the middle of the twentieth century, I have watched with interest the changes in the town. I remember on one of our afternoon trips to Conwy standing on the suspension bridge and looking across the gap in the middle of the new bridge, just before it was completed.  Later, when I became more interested in history, I liked to read the books by local author and historian Norman Tucker, which included a definitive history of my home town of Colwyn Bay as well as many historical novels. His favourite historical period was the English Civil War and its impact on North Wales. One of his best books was ‘Castle of Care’ which told the story of Conwy in the Civil War.  In later years, he wrote a definitive history of Conwy, ‘Conwy and its Story’.  He and his wife were friends of my parents and my mother typed the manuscript for that book. In those days, of course, it was by mechanical typewriter. After reading the book, I became even more interested in Conwy. Little did I realise at the time that I would write two books about Conwy.

A-Z of Conwy 2 The anchor commemorating the saving of 400 lives by the trawler Kilravock's crew. (c. A-Z of Conwy, Amberley Publishing)

After I retired, I found that I had time to write. My first book, ‘North Wales Coast Tourism and Transport’ reflected a lifelong interest in public transport and tourism and I told the story of the how transport systems on the North Wales coast developed hand in hand with tourism.  Three years after that book was published, I was delighted when Amberley Publishing asked if I would write a book about Conwy in their Through Time series.  I already had a collection of old pictures and was able to obtain some more and also to take my own photographs in the town. By the end of the summer of 2014, the task was complete and the book was published in the autumn. The following year, I started to write again only this time about the inland resort of Betws-y-Coed. I was fortunate in already knowing that community well as I once lived there and so know many people who were able to help. This was published in the autumn of 2015.

 

A-Z of Conwy 3 St Mary's Church, on the site of the twelfth-century Aberconwy Abbey. (c. A-Z of Conwy, Amberley Publishing)

By the spring of 2016, my thoughts turned to yet another book. I approached Amberley and we discussed many options of what form my next book would take. We eventually agreed that I should write a book in their new A to Z series about Conwy, but what else could I say about the town?  Whereas the Through Time series describes a comparison of locations in the past and the present, the A to Z series tells one continuous story of people and places, as well as looking to the future.  I have often said to myself, “If the walls of the castle could talk, they would have many an interesting story to tell,” but of course they cannot talk and never shall, but people can talk. While preparing this book, I met many people. It was interesting to chat to the retired fishermen on the Quay who have many an interesting story to tell and are so willing to share their stories. This is living history, not just a dusty past. Almost every building in the town is listed, and has its own story of people who were associated with it. I soon found plenty to write about and plenty of places to photograph and was given much help and support by the people of Conwy.

A-Z of Conwy 4 Plas Mawr as seen from High Street. (c. A-Z of Conwy, Amberley Publishing)

Conwy is a small town where (almost) everybody knows everybody. The town is mercifully free from the major development of chain stores and most of its shops, pubs and cafes are independently owned, where the staff know their customers which leads to a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.  I like Conwy early in the morning before it gets crowded, when there is time to buy things in the small shops and have a cup of coffee and a chat. It sounds idyllic, but a walk around the town in the quiet early morning gives time to ponder on the town’s past, which was often violent during the English-Welsh wars and the Civil Wars. It is miraculous that so much has survived and in past centuries, as much of the town was burned down more than once.

The future of Conwy hangs on a delicate thread. Its popularity with tourists from all over the world increases from year to year and the tourists provide employment for many people in the town. However, there is always the danger that over development could kill the very atmosphere that draws people to Conwy.  The town’s history in the past two hundred years has been about setting a balance and many a battle has been fought between the townspeople and those trying to overdevelop the town. Conwy is often accused of dwelling on its past, but it is the old buildings and the stories around them that draw in visitors. Up to now, common sense has generally prevailed, and although the town is not a museum, but a place where people live and work, it is important to remember it is the old buildings and old stories that attract people to this unique town.

9781445664392

John Barden Davies new book A-Z of Conwy is available for purchase now.