Both the Memorial Hall and Costain buildings at Rydal Penrhos are Grade II Listed and were designed by Sidney Colwyn Foulkes, architect of many other buildings in Colwyn Bay, from the Hospital to the art deco ‘White House’ on Rhos-on-Sea prom.
Sidney’s father, Edward Foulkes, was a builder who moved to Colwyn Bay in 1880. By the time he ceased to trade in 1900 he had built, according to Colwyn Bay Heritage Online, ‘a third of the early Colwyn Bay’ – including St John’s Methodist Church, now under the stewardship of Rydal Penrhos.
Sidney Colwyn Foulkes was born the same year the church was completed. According to Colwyn Bay Heritage, whose report draws from interviews with Sidney’s son Ralph, the first minister of the church suggested to Edward Foulkes that it would be a good idea if the firstborn of the church’s builder was christened there. The family agreed. Apparently, the following incident occurred during the christening:
‘When the baby was taken up to the minister, he asked the mother what his name was and she said, “Sidney”. He said, “What’s his other name?” and she replied, “He hasn’t got another name.” He responded, “Oh, you must have another name, you can’t call him Sidney Foulkes.” “Well, I haven’t got one.” “Well, we’ll call him Colwyn,” and the name has stuck’ (Colwyn Bay Heritage).
Rydal boys in the early days of the school referred to Colwyn Bay as ‘the Vill’ (village) and in Rydal School 1885–1935 James Wood remembers ‘waving trees and country playing-fields’. But during Sidney’s childhood, Colwyn Bay was emerging as a town. Its population was growing at pace, doubling between 1891 and 1901, and between 1901 and 1911 nearly doubling again, and since 1902 the area had been lit by gas.
Edward Foulkes died in 1904, leaving Sidney, at sixteen, the sole breadwinner for a family of seven.
Sidney continued working as a joiner and builder. In 1910, having just seen the first moving pictures in a tent in Abergele, he came up with a scheme to convert stables on the high street into a cinema. This became the ‘Cosy Cinema’ – the first covered cinema in North Wales. Then,
‘Sidney wrote to Mr Jones, [the owner of the stables], suggesting that he would do all the architectural work to convert the first and second floors to offices provided he could occupy half of them, rent-free, for twelve months and thereafter pay a rent of £50 per annum. Mr Jones was so delighted with the returns he got on his investment that he gave Sidney the first and second floors rent-free for the rest of his life’ (Colwyn Bay Heritage).
In 1912, Foulkes obtained a scholarship to study architecture at Liverpool. He continued working in Colwyn Bay – ‘early each morning he would go to the various jobs, catch a train to Liverpool and be back in the evening to make a further round of the jobs’ (Colwyn Bay Heritage).
While in the service, Foulkes attended, part-time, University College, London (UCL), studying in the Town Planning Institute, of which he was one of the first members. At that time, town planning as an academic discipline was in its infancy. Georges-Eugène Hausmann’s sweeping reconstructions of Paris in the 1850s had set the stage for increasingly ambitious urban renovation across Europe, driven by industrialisation and concerns about the health and control of urban populations, but it was only around the turn of the century that town planning had emerged as a distinctive area of professional expertise.
In Britain, the Liverpool School of Architecture had been influential in this shift. The architecture syllabus at the university placed unprecedented importance on urban design, and in 1909 the university had offered the first academic course on town planning. At both UCL and Liverpool, Foulkes would have been exposed to the developing discipline. Stanley Adshead, the first Professor of Town Planning at UCL, under whom he studied, had previously been the first Professor of Civic Design at Liverpool.
Foulkes perhaps carried some lessons with him when he returned from London to Colwyn Bay to found his own practice.
The new owner, a Manchester businessman called John Pender, intended to develop Colwyn Bay into a resort town, hoping to attract ‘the affluent classes of Manchester and Liverpool’ (Colwyn Bay Heritage).
In 1875, after business troubles, Pender sold the land to a consortium of businessmen who formed the Colwyn Bay and Pwllycrochan Estate Company. The company sold off the land in plots whose uses it controlled, still aiming to develop the town into a fashionable seaside resort. Developments include the former Imperial Hotel on Station Road and the Hydropathic Hotel, a property that would later be bought by Penrhos College.
This sale of the estate also released the Pwllycrochan building itself, which was bought by John Porter. Porter had worked under Pender to convert the former mansion into a hotel in 1866. The property would remain in the Porter family until 1938, when it was acquired by Rydal – in 1953, it would close as a hotel, and Rydal Prep School would move to the site.
From 1886, Porter’s son J. M. Porter, an architect, worked for the Colwyn Bay and Pwllycrochan Estate Company as its local agent. He formed a partnership with the company’s other agents, and by 1904 their firm was known as J. M. Porter & Co. Sidney Colwyn Foulkes had come across the firm around this time, when he had applied to the firm about the possibility of becoming an apprentice architect. He had been put off by the premium the firm would have charged, as well as by the limits it would have placed on his activities.
By 1920, when Foulkes returned to Colwyn Bay, the majority of the town’s land was still under the control of the Colwyn Bay and Pwllycrochan Estate Company. In particular, ‘the company had spent much money on laying out roads and constructing a sewage system’ (Colwyn Bay Heritage) Foulkes’ options were limited, by the company on the one hand, and on the other by the fact that as a qualified architect, he was now bound by the rules and regulations of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
The Costain Building is named after A. J. Costain, Headmaster of Rydal at the time. The sandstone for the building was quarried in Yorkshire and amazingly, the quarry was reopened for the building of the Memorial Hall between 1955 and 1957.
In The Buildings of Wales, Edward Hubbard describes the Costain Building as ‘thoroughly collegiate’. David Birch, on the Colwyn Bay Heritage website, notes that the windows on the building’s first floor as not quite as tall as those on the ground floor. ‘This apparently minor detail is important,’ he writes, ‘as it contributes to the very pleasing proportions of the building’.
Hubbard describes the Rydal Penrhos Memorial Hall as ‘lighter and more fanciful than the earlier work’. The masonry, he notes, ‘is still of fine quality’. ‘Inside is a coffered ceiling with coloured patterning in the panels.’
Description of ‘J. M. Porter and Co. Manuscripts, 1864–1972. Archifau Sir Ddinbych / Denbighshire Archives. GB 209 DD/PO’ on the Archives Hub website, [https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gb209-dd/po], (accessed: 29/10/2021)
David Birch, ‘Rydal School – Costain Building and Memorial Hall’ on the Colwyn Bay Heritage Online website, [https://colwynbayheritage.org.uk/rydal-school-costain-building-and-memorial-hall/], (accessed: 29/10/2021)
‘J M Porter Collection – Pwllycrochan Estate’ on the Denbighshire Archives website, [https://denbighshirearchives.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/j-m-porter-collection-pwllycrochan-estate/], (accessed: 29/10/2021)
‘Sidney Colwyn Foulkes (1884-1971) – Life Story’ on the Colwyn Bay Heritage Online website, [https://colwynbayheritage.org.uk/sidney-colwyn-foulkes-1884-1971-life-story/], (accessed: 29/10/2021)
Edward Hubbard, The Buildings of Wales – Clwyd (Denbighshire and Flintshire) (Penguin UK, 1999)