I lived in Connah’s Quay full time from 1949 to 1966 and then part-time (I was at university the rest of the time) until 1970 when I moved to London. That’s a long time ago but it’s amazing what you can remember, with a little help from Google, when you put your mind to it.
Connah’s Quay is one of a number of small towns that run alongside the River Dee northwards from Queensferry to Prestatyn and then Rhyl on the North Wales coast. It’s now the A548 and I remember the places we went though as we drove to the coast: Flint, Bagillt, Greenfield, Mostyn, Ffynongroew and then Prestatyn. The problem was that that was the route everyone else took and on Sunday evenings in the summer there was a standing queue north from Queensferry through Shotton and Connah’s Quay towards Flint when people drove home.
It wasn’t quite ribbon development but it wasn’t far from it with the town extending maybe a mile inland and with roads to Mold via Northop, Mold Road and Golftyn and Kelsterton Lanes. There was no way across the Dee so that was it in terms of connections.
The town began in the south at Wepre Brook and ended beyond Kelsterton Lane in the north with a hill, the Quay Hill, somewhere in the centre. I lived at both ends: on Wepre Drive opposite the site where the council offices were built in the early 60s (see the picture above) and on Kelsterton Road opposite the technical college and, in my part time years, on the top of the hill on what had been the grounds of Farfield Hall.
The main road ran roughly north south though the community. It’s changed a lot and generally not for the better. It’s straight with just two lanes of traffic wide enough at times for a lane of parking. I remember in the 50s rows of terraced houses with front doors opening onto the pavement. There wouldn’t have been much traffic of course but what there was would have been heavily polluting. I remember thick fogs in the winter which gave you just 10 or 20m of visibility.
The Quay developed because there was a quay which was home to several fishermen and there were still the businesses to support the activity that came with it. I remember a ship chandler and several banks with solid four square buildings and the Quay House which was a pub with just a public bar down by the docks. In the 60s it was my closest pub and I’d drop in for a pint. Sadly it is no more and appears to have been converted into some pretty miserable flats.
Pubs of course were a common feature of any town and the Quay had its fair share. Starting in the south and running along High Street there was the New Inn, demolished but to some extent replaced by the Boathouse in the 60s, the Custom House, the Ship, the Hare & Hounds, the Swan (now closed), the Cross Keys (now the Oasis Auto Centre) and then finally the Halfway House (behind which was the Halfway Ground with its notorious sloping football pitch, the home of Connah’s Quay Nomads). There were two football clubs of course: Connah’s Quay Albion played on the Maud Street ground.
The other common feature was the chapels and churches. Taking the same route we first had St Andrew’s Methodist, then Wepre Presbyterian with it’s elegant spire later declared dangerous and demolished, the Catholic Church, the Welsh Chapel just up Mold Road and St John’s Methodist (now flats) then St Mark’s CofE on the top of the hill and Golftyn Presbyterian over the other side.
It’s what I grew up with so the richness of both offerings was what I regarded as normal at the time.
It was I guess a thriving and busy community. There were lots of shops on both sides of the hill. My maternal grandfather was a butcher in Wepre and across the road his brother ran a grocer’s shop. Another brother was a butcher further along the main road. On my father’s side my Uncle Vic was a barber. There were greengrocers, clothiers, newsagents, chemists, haberdasheries and post offices and a cycle shop and a furniture store. We even had an early supermarket: Irwin’s on the corner of Wepre Drive.
There were several fish & chip shops and a cinema (the Hippodrome) but I don’t recall a single cafe or restaurant. However in terms of leisure activity the community made a big advance in the 60s when alongside the new council offices it got a library, swimming baths and the civic hall. I remember dances there on a Thursday night with some, at the time, well known groups. They finished at a sensible time like 11pm and they weren’t licensed.
In present day terms we’d describe it as sustainable in commercial and social terms if not environmental. In addition to the local economy there was also a local social infrastructure. There were two infants schools, in Wepre and Golftyn, I went to the former in Dee Road, and what we’d now call a junior school: Custom House Lane County Primary on Mold Road. For secondary education you had to travel either to Shotton, the ‘central school’ or to the grammar school in Hawarden (later in the 60s to Holywell as well). In the late 50s they built a technical college in Kelsterton. Now it’s Coleg Cambria.
In those days of course car ownership was a fraction of what it is now but you got around. I remember 4 buses an hour in each direction along the main road to Chester and Rhyl with other, less frequent, services to Mold. There was a railway station on the Holyhead to London mainline. There was also a line running inland, the Buckley Line, which closed in around 1960.
In a similar vein there were no mobile phones and few houses even had land lines and when you had one you made calls by an operator. Our number was Connah’s Quay 125 in the early 50s. In the 60s when we’d moved to Kelsterton it was Connah’s Quay 3142 which seems a lot until you reckon that they’d simply added a digit and that the Connah’s Quay exchange also covered the neighbouring towns of Shotton and Queensferry.
If you were sick you called the doctor, our GP was Dr Gavin, who did house calls at all hours. If you needed to be in hospital there was the cottage hospital in Mancot or the district general hospital in Chester. Neither was a thousand miles away.
Life was easier, simpler and probably safer in those days. From an early age I walked to school on my own and that included a stretch of very narrow pavement by the main road. I ranged far and wide in my free time and remember the woods up Kelsterton Lane and the industrial areas between the main railway line, which ran parallel to the main road, and the river. On Saturday afternoons there was a special children’s showing at the cinema.
Pubs of course closed at 1030 and didn’t open on Sundays until 1961. There were ‘bobbies on the beat’ and a police station conveniently next to the Civic Hall. I remember uniformed policemen coming round to the infants school to tell us how to cross the road (‘look right, look left …’).
It was a different world. I’m glad I experienced it and that I’ve got these memories. But I wouldn’t want to go back. As they say the past is a foreign country and as with the countries which you visit you tend to see what’s good and overlook the rest.