Sombre at the Sea-Side

Mostyn Street Llandudno. This postcard was mailed in 1911, when my grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Blann was in service at number 46, the upper windows of which are visible on the extreme left centre of the picture. The Great Orme, where her ashes were scattered, is in the distance.

It is my grandparents’ 100th wedding anniversary.

My grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Blann was married from Walsall Wood in the cold, wet summer of 1912.  According to the census of the previous year, her family lived  a couple of doors from the “Travellers Rest” in Lichfield Road, and  her father, formerly a miner, ran a business as a trader of an eclectic range of commodities: she told us that not only was he a coal haulier, they also supplied fish and chips from a window of their very modest house, and employed a man to ply the streets with a cart of ice cream.

The day of the census does not find her at home in Staffordshire, however, but in “The Queen of Welsh Watering Places”, Llandudno. Not at leisure to enjoy its charms, but as the “servant” of John Williams and his sister Elizabeth, bakers and grocers at 46 Mostyn Street, one of the grandest thoroughfares in the resort.

“I was a cook in Llandudno,” she used to reminisce ruefully, as if wonderful things would have been possible had she not been enslaved into marriage and motherhood.  It seems unlikely that between April of 1911 and her engagement and wedding the following summer that she had been promoted to a position in service worth of being looked back on with wistful nostalgia.  We will probably never know.

“Lizzie” or “Ma” as she was known in my childhood, had known her husband for the whole of her life.  Their respective mothers, brought up in Cartersfield Lane, Stonnall, were sisters, making my grandparents first cousins.  I was vaguely aware of this, but despite the wealth of anecdotes which my father shared with me, the topic was never touched upon, and I have the impression that it was a source of embarrassment to him.  Of my father’s five siblings, only Margaret May died in infancy, and his eldest sister was robust and fit well into her 90’s, and so I am happy to discount having inherited any genetic deficiencies as a result of this liaison.

1930s. Mary Elizabeth Horton, nee Blann, Alfred Noah Horton, with their youngest child, Edwin Noah Horton, my father.  Lizzie suffered from a goitre.

Lizzie and her new husband Noah Horton began married life with his parents and brother in Fishponds Cottages, Stonnall, where their first child was born on June 1st 1913.  My aunt was evidently a honeymoon baby, who nevertheless spent her long life wondering whether her untimely arrival was the cause of her mother’s resentment about the life not lived in the shadow of The Great Orme. By the time of my father’s birth, the family were to be found in Walsall Wood.  Late in the 1920s, they returned to a picturesque but primitively rural cottage in Footherly, where, with a little land and a lot of ingenuity, they filled their family’s plates with home grown meat and vegetables.

In the summer of 1966, following her death at Keepers Cottage, a solemn party composed of all the men of the family set off with Lizzie’s ashes to Llandudno.


There may be no one left to tell us why the place was of such significance to her for that  expedition to be undertaken.  Significant it undoubtedly was.
My father does not appear on the photographs he took to document the day, and record the exact place she was scattered in the churchyard of Saint Tudno with its dramatic seascape backdrop on The Orme.  The pictures were so provoking of emotion that they lay undeveloped on film which I have only processed since his death.

Llandudno 1966. Alfred Noah Horton, Thomas George Horton, David George Horton, Alfred William Horton. Photograph by Edwin Noah Horton.

Noah Horton contemplates the resting place of the ashes of his wife of 44 years

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5 Responses to Sombre at the Sea-Side

  1. Pedro says:

    Lovely story and hopefully I can add a little more interest.

    We were on holiday in Llandudno in 1995 and stayed in the hotel that looks straight up the main street. Hopefully you may be able to see the windows? Here is a link to Panoramio, click to enlarge…


    Also climbing the Great Orme I took this photo of St Tudno, and maybe the actual the actual place where Noah stood…


    On a personal note my mother had a glass portrait of her grandmother, who had been in service, that was broken in several pieces. She had selotaped them together on the back, and I scanned the picture. After many hours in Photoshop I came up with this result that made it all worth while!

    Best wishes Peter

  2. Thank you, Peter. I am indebted to you for the arial view of St Tudno’s graveyard. I can just make out the building which is 46, Mostyn Street on your photos. I have pored over “Google Street View” along with the census and have identified it as now being a “Game” shop on the ground floor (although perhaps no longer?) and next to the library, nearly opposite the church with the spire.

    Your great grandmother’s portrait is very beautiful – both her face and the portrait. Was she a local woman? She certainly looks like an “upper” servant. Was she a governess or a housekeeper?

    Amongst the photos on that reel of negatives is one my father took of the Golgarth Abbey Hotel, with a nice array of its patrons’ smart 1960’s vehicles. I shall add it to the bottom of my blogpost. It is not possible that our family ever stayed there as guests, but why did he take the picture/ Granny insisted that she had been a cook in a hotel in Llandudno, at what she looked back on as the best time in her life…and it is possible that between April 1911 and early summer the following year she might have worked at this impressive building..If I ever go to Llandudno I shall take tea there and ask if there is anything like an archive of their employees. Off at a tangent, but interestingly, WIkipedia has this to say about the Golgarth Abbey Hotel:

    “Alice in Wonderland
    Llandudno has a link with Lewis Carroll; because the family of the “real Alice” regularly spent holidays at their holiday-home Penmorfa, later the Gogarth Abbey Hotel and recently the Penmorfa Hotel (destroyed 2009, ignoring public protest) on the West Shore of Llandudno. Contrary to local myth, Alice Liddell did not meet Carroll in the town, and was not told the Alice stories in the town.[8] It is, however, just possible that she may have first read the Alice books in print while on holiday in the town. There is no evidence that Carroll ever visited Penmorfa, and he probably would have been unwelcome if he had. Indeed, there is contrary evidence; a letter exists, written by one of Alice Liddell’s sisters when grown-up, saying she had no memory of Carroll ever visiting the girls in Llandudno. It’s also said that part of the book was written at the St George’s Hotel In Llandudno.”

  3. Pedro says:

    I have looked on the National Archives Newspaper site and found one small mention of the Gogarth Abbey Hotel and it is in Welsh. At the end it says Mr Thomas Dutton, Gogarth Abbey Hotel, Llandudno. The date is the 24 Oct 1900.

    Later found this was a refusal of a licence, and Dutton was the owner. No further mentions after 1900.

    My great grandmother was in service to the vicar at Normanton le Heath, I think she was a housekeeper.

    Regards Peter

  4. Thank you. All of the above read with great interest.

  5. Peter Williams says:

    Hi. I found your page whilst looking for information on a William Horton (died 1948?) of Bryn Dinerth in Rhos on Sea. On your page there is a photograph of 4 gentlemen on the seafront and the location of the shot is not Llandudno as your caption reads but is in fact Rhos-on-Sea.I don’t know if the William Horton I’m looking for has any connection with your family, he was a lawyer in Birmingham in the late 1800’s. If you have any info which may help me I’d be grateful to hear from you. Thanks. Peter

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