When I was a wee boy, my grandparents used to go to Llandudno, in Wales, for their holidays. They stayed in a place called the Gogarth Abbey Hotel, which seemed to me a gigantic edifice, something like the Adelphi in Liverpool, but with a lot more sunlight. I can remember an enclosed walkway between two buildings, awash with afternoon light which illuminated a giant mural of the Walrus and the Carpenter, from the first Alice book.
This is what it looked like in the mid 1960s. My recollections weren’t very accurate. The mural which I so vividly recalled was actually a painting, hung in a frame in the dining room. And the building was an agglomeration of edifices. The oldest part was built in 1861 or 1862 for Dean Lidell, of Christ Church, Oxford. Then as now Christ Church was unbelievably wealthy, and the humble Dean was able to afford a four-storey holiday home at the foot of the Great Orme. Lidell called the place Pen Morfa, and we were told that Lewis Carroll, a mathematics professor who was great friends with Lidell’s young daughter, Alice, stayed there during the summer months, and wrote on the premises.
In the above picture you can see the original building, with its witch’s hat, surrounded by later additions: a flat-roofed dining room to the left, and faux-Tudor Victorian extensions, on the right of it. The walkway where I imagined I saw the mural is the dark-roofed, windowed mid section. Time went by and Corfu and cheap flights appeared, and fewer people went to Llandudno for their holidays. The town lost its lustre and, by some accounts, became a haven for English junkies. It was much poorer, and golfers like my grandad and my uncle went elsewhere. The hotel closed in 2006, and the property was acquired by “developers” who started pulling it down.
By 2008 all that was left was the part which Liddell had built – the original Victorian holiday home, where Lewis Carroll stayed. When the “developers” wanted to pull that down as well, the locals objected. This was a historic site. Part of Alice In Wonderland had been written there… Not so! said Cadw, the the historic monuments agency. Said agency claimed there was no evidence that Lewis Carroll ever set foot there: they gave the “developers” permission to tear the place down. This does seem somewhat strange. Prior to Cadw’s announcement, Carroll’s relationship with Pen Morfa was well known. In addition to the oil painting of the Walrus and the Carpenter, observed by puffins on West Shore Bay, there was a fine marble statue of his White Rabbit within view of the hotel.
Above is a picture of the statue, taken around 2008. It has been surrounded by an inelegant circular cage, for its own protection, after the junkies broke the Rabbit’s ears off. You can see the remains of Pen Morfa to the left of the cage. What happened next? You can probably guess. The “developers” demolished the remains of the building, left a pile of rubble, and departed. Nothing has been “developed” there.
Why do I tell this sad tale? Because I find it interesting, to see how things that loomed large in one’s childhood get whittled away, to witness the impermanence of a marble rabbit’s ears, to be told that what we knew to be true was never true, according to state-funded “culture” bureaucrats… and also because my friend the poet, David Selzer, has written a poem about the old hotel. I promised him I’d put some pictures up, as a visual aid for those who wonder about the poem’s subject. This I have done.
The piece, Myths and Photographs, goes live on 30 April. But David has many other good poems for you to enjoy in the mean time. You can find them here.