The Loss of the Kirkmichael

The barque Kirkmichael stranded on the seaward side of the Holyhead Breakwater. She eventually broke up and slipped into deeper water.

The December storms of 1894 at Holyhead resulted in the tragic loss of two vessels. They both foundered within days and yards of each other on the Great Breakwater at Holyhead resulting in significant loss of life. This is the story of one of those vessels – the Barque Kirkmichael. The even more tragic story of the Osseo will follow.

The Kirkmichael was a steel hulled barque built in 1882 and on 22 December 1894 was on passage from Glasgow and Liverpool to Melbourne with general cargo, under the command of Captain T Jones. She left Liverpool under tow on 20 December but the tow parted the next day and Captain Jones decided, due to the increasing gale, to hoist sail and make a run for Holyhead and its Harbour of Refuge. As she progressed the storm steadily took away her canvas. On 22 December, at 10am, now under bare poles, she was driven onto the outer wall of the breakwater, 200 yards from the lighthouse, immediately losing her mainmast and becoming stranded.

The Kirkmichael’s bell on display at the Holyhead Maritime Museum

The Holyhead lifeboat was quickly launched but was swamped by the heavy seas forcing her to return. The rocket lifesaving crew crawled along the breakwater avoiding the regular deluge of water breaking over the wall. They managed to get a line onto the stern of the barque by which 11 men, including the Captain, were taken off. However the Mate and Second Mate had taken to the rigging and refused to move.

Holyhead Breakwater during a recent storm

William Jones from Newry Street, Holyhead had gone to assist the Coastguards and volunteered to go on board to help the two remaining in the rigging. He was accompanied by a coastguard officer, Harry Hunt, but before the men could be reached, one fell to his death and the other, although rescued, later died of exposure. The ship’s steward had also refused to leave the ship and remained below. He was eventually taken off in the morning when the weather abated.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aadbThe Kirkmichael Grave at Maeshyfryd Cemetery, Holyhead

In all seven of the crew perished. Four crew members are buried at Maeshyfryd Cemetery, Holyhead – John Leigh Chamberlain Richardson from Caistor, Lincolshire (aged 18, Apprentice and Midshipman, RNR), Richard George Lea from Wallasey, Cheshire (aged 22, AB Seaman), Warren Lipscombe* from Teddington, London (aged 20, Apprentice) and Edwin Dixon (aged 24, First Mate). Others whose bodies were lost or buried elsewhere – J D McCubbin (Second Mate), J H Martin (Apprentice) and Thomas Ready (Sailmaker).

William Richard Jones with his bravery medals.

William Jones was later recognised for his bravery and awarded a silver medal from the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society and bronze medals from the Board of Trade and the Royal Humane Society. These can be viewed at the Holyhead Maritime Museum.

Contributed by Barry Hillier

* Records show that Warren Lipscombe may have been only 16 years old. He commenced his indentures at Liverpool on 18 December 1894, just 4 days before he was drowned.

The photos of the wreck of the Kirkmichael and William Richard Jones are from the Holyhead Maritime Museum Collection.

The photograph of the breakwater is included with the kind permission of Holyhead photographer, Alan Jones.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

Curious Incident of the Luggage at Holyhead in 1850

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The Britannia Tubular Railway Bridge in 1850

When the Britannia Bridge carried its first train across the Menai Straits on March 18th 1850, this meant that people could more easily travel to north Wales, not only to places they’d never seen before but also by a method of transport which was in its infancy. Such was the case of a Mr Bower, a barrister from Birkenhead who headed a party of eight people on a tour of places of interest lying along the route of the Chester and Holyhead railway. On August 13th 1850 they boarded a train in Bangor and travelled to Holyhead. What happened next was to affect the rights of train travellers to this very day.

As the train (described as ‘the express’) came to a halt in Holyhead Mr Bower and his companion, Mr Griffith, went over to the luggage van to claim their trunks and suitcases. They were told by the stationmaster, Mr Massingberd, that they could sustain injury if they entered the van. To their amazement, the train was reversed out of the station and shunted to the pier and the awaiting packet boat. The two gentlemen made their way (presumably along Land’s End) to the pier to find that all luggage was, by then, stowed away in the ship’s hold and was inaccessible. Mr Bower boarded the vessel and remonstrated with the crew but to no avail because, even as he spoke to them, the gangplank was lifted and the packet-boat began to move away from the quay. Mr Bower clambered onto the paddle-box on the stern of the vessel and leapt across the divide to land on the pier itself. (which must have been quite a sight!).

unknown artist; Paddle Steamer Passing South Stack in a Storm
Holyhead to Dublin Paddle Steamer of circa 1850

In a disturbed state, Mr Bower and Mr Griffith went back to the station and argued their case, quite forcibly, with the stationmaster. He, eventually, agreed to take action and that the ‘lost’ luggage would be returned from Ireland the following day and, in fairness, the much-travelled items were delivered to the party at 6:00pm the following evening. The complaints then increased – Mr Bower had no clean linen, Mr Griffith had to stay in bed at the Holyhead hotel until his shirt had been washed, the ladies had no combs, brushes or change of clothing and, as a final blow, they found Holyhead to be completely uninteresting and, where they had expected to enjoy open views of the sea, all they saw was a mudbank. (We are not told what area of Holyhead was being viewed).

On his return home, Mr Bower decided to take the matter up with the Cheshire County Court and it was during this hearing that the facts were divulged. The Chester and Holyhead Railway Company’s defence was that the ‘express’ was 40 to 60 minutes late and that Mr Bower’s party was the only one not travelling on to Ireland. The Company said it had done all in its power to retrieve the luggage but the judge in the case felt that this was not the standard expected from the Company or from its workers and that all Railway Companies had a responsibility not only to deliver passengers safely to their journey’s end but also to care for and deliver their luggage. He judged in Mr Bower’s favour and asked the jury to assess a suitable sum of compensation for the inconvenience caused. The Chester and Holyhead was ordered to pay the plaintiff £20.

This was possibly the first legal case ever where lost luggage was the issue and Holyhead played a role in a situation that resulted in all railway companies since 1850 having to accept their liabilities.

Contributed by Dr. Gareth Huws

Image of the Britannia Bridge is from the National Library of Wales – by Lizars, W. H. (William Home) 1788-1859 engraver.

Image of the Paddle Steamer is by an unknown artist and from the Holyhead Maritime Museum Collection (

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

Holyhead: Paying Rent in 1823

The grand mansion of the Stanley family at Penrhos

The previous post on Emma Dolben is a reminder of the major role played by the Penrhos Estate as landlords in Holyhead. Twice a year, on the Feast Day of St Michael and All Angels and on the Feast Day of All Souls, the Agent for the Penrhos Estate would set up a table near the Market Cross in Holyhead and all the tenants of the estate were required to be present and to pay their rents. In that year of 1823 the total annual rent collected in Holyhead was £3,391 (equivalent to between £142,000 and £235,000 in today’s currency) and the total number of tenants in the town was 271. The Penrhos Estate, in the same year, collected £4,851 from its tenants in other parts of Anglesey.

These were substantial sums of money from a town and an area that had always been impoverished – poor soil and constant winds blowing affected agriculture; houses were, in the main, small and lacked amenities and only a limited number of well-off people resided in the parishes. Some of the money collected remained in the area and was used for house repairs and drainage schemes but most of it was transferred to the Stanley of Alderley account at Gosling’s Bank because, by 1823, a significant proportion of the income from Penrhos was used to pay endowments (called ‘settlements’) to various members of the Stanley family.

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The Tithe Map of Holyhead from about 1841

Who were these rent payers? Mary Pritchard paid 6d a year (2.5p) for a ‘Shed’ in Turkey Shore and Owen Edwards paid £1-6-6d for his house in Cross St. James Browne was paying £17-11-6d for Ty’n Lantarn (Ship captains had to pay him for keeping a navigation light going near the house) and James Johnstone had a rent of £21-0-0d per year to pay for the Customs House. Ffynnon Gorlas cost Captain Skinner an annual sum of £40-15-0d whilst William Jones had to find £35-0-0d rent for Ty’n Pwll farm. Poor Mary Morris had to scrape together One Shilling for Ty Bach whilst Thomas Spencer, landlord of the Eagle and Child Hotel (soon to be re-named the Royal Hotel) had to find an eye-watering sum of £521-0-0d rent every twelve months – but his hotel was on the verge of being designated the terminal for Telford’s ‘Great Holyhead Road’ and would prove to be a lucrative enterprise. The Penrhos Estate was quite rigorous in collecting all the rents and its end-of-year accounts show very few defaulters.

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The Catalogue* for the sale of the Penrhos Estate in 1948 shows how many properties in Holyhead would still have been paying rent to the estate.

The construction of the new road meant that this rental of 1823 saw an ending of the era whereby the Penrhos estate’s income was derived almost exclusively from agriculture. After this, the Stanley family started gaining a higher and higher percentage of its income from leasing land to various Government bodies – the Admiralty, the Customs and Excise office, the Board of Trade are just three examples.

The coming of the road (and later the railway) changed the fortunes of Holyhead not only in terms of communication and shoreline developments but also in the nature of the houses available to the inhabitants of the town. This would eventually result in urban growth as new houses would be built and recognisable streets would be laid out. But in 1823 all these developments were yet to come and the life of the people of Holyhead followed a regular, slow-paced pattern. They were not to know that their children and grandchildren would be living in a very different town to the one which they themselves knew and, although the paying of the rent to Penrhos would continue, many of the houses would be in terraces, and the population itself, by 1851 would have trebled.

Contributed by Dr. Gareth Huws

The Tithe map is from the National Library of Wales –

* Sales Catalogue: The Penrhos estate, Holyhead, 1948 Jun. 23. Miscellaneous Sales Catalogues: Anglesey. Archifau Ynys Môn/Anglesey Archives. GB 221 WF/206

© Holyhead Maritime Museum


Holyhead Lifeboat Station and the Maritime Museum

The Holyhead Maritime Museum currently occupies the building that was probably the first lifeboat station in Wales. It was built at Newry Beach by the Admiralty in 1857 at a cost of about £400 and shares similar architectural features with the Holyhead Market Hall, built two years previously. The house was initially equipped with a 30ft x 7ft self righting lifeboat with 10 oars at a cost of about £161. This lifeboat arrived at the station in January 1858 to be managed by the recently formed RNLI. From first arriving at Holyhead and up to the time in 1864 when she was replaced by a larger vessel, this rowing lifeboat saved 83 lives in only 18 rescue missions.

The Holyhead Lifeboat Station – early 20th Century

The building was extended in 1888 to provide for an additional lifeboat fitted to a horse drawn carriage allowing it to be transported for launching at a beach closer to an incident. In 1897 Holyhead acquired a steam driven lifeboat the ‘Duke of Northumberland’. This vessel could not be accommodated in the lifeboat station. However, the building continued to house the traditional rowed lifeboats and became known as Lifeboat Station No. 2. The ‘Duke of Northumberland’ took part in a heroic rescue in February 1908 when she was called to the assistance of the SS Harold, a small steamer experiencing extreme difficulties in a storm force gale. The Coxswain, William Owen, was awarded the RNLI Gold Medal and his crew of ten all received Silver Medals for the highly hazardous rescue of the steamship’s nine man crew.

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Holyhead Lifeboat ‘Duke of Northumberland’ at Mackensie Pier

The lifeboat station closed in 1930 and was taken over by the Royal Naval Reserve. It was later utilised as a roller skating ring until acquired by Mrs. Hughes, Bryngwyn, during the late thirties as a cafe. With the outbreak of war and the arrival in 1940 of elements of the Royal Netherlands Navy, the cafe was requisitioned and used as as a ‘NAFFI’ by these allied servicemen. To provide protection from bombing, one of seventeen air raid shelters was built alongside the cafe. After Mrs. Hughes retired the building remained as a cafe before being converted into a wine bar bistro.

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Mrs Hughes with some of the Dutch Navy sailors

Holyhead has a rich maritime history spanning many centuries and with this in mind a group of keen volunteers decided in 1982 to organise a display of maritime artifacts at the Coastguard Rescue Centre, Holyhead. It proved a great success and it was decided to look into having a permanent Maritime Museum in the town.

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One of the Museum’s founders, Captain Idwal Pritchard, with the Duke of Westminster at the opening of the Museum in 1986.

The Holyhead Maritime Museum group was formed in 1984 and initially took on the lease of the recently closed St. Elbod’s Church. After a great amount of work and effort to transform the building, the museum was opened by the Duke of Westminster in March 1986. At the end of the lease the museum needed a new location and Stena Line kindly agreed to lease out the now empty Old Lifeboat House.

Conversion work in progress at the Old Lifeboat House

Following a successful Heritage Lottery Grant, the building was converted for use as a Maritime Museum. The facility was formally opened by Mr. Nigel Cureton of Stena Line in March 1999. The adjacent Air Raid Shelter was later adapted to house the permanent ‘Holyhead at War’ exhibition. In 2004 alterations took place to establish a restaurant business, leased to a private proprietor – The Harbourfront Bistro.

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The Holyhead Maritime Museum

The Holyhead Maritime Museum continues to successfully operate in this iconic building with its mission to tell the centuries old story of Holyhead’s rich maritime heritage. With over 5,000 visitors each year the museum makes a significant contribution to the tourism economy of the town. The museum is also instrumental in ensuring that significant events in the town’s past are properly and respectfully remembered and commemorated.

From research undertaken by Graham van Weert

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

Emma Dolben


This portrait, painted in about 1620, is of Emma Dolben, daughter of John Dolben of Cae Gwyniau, Denbighshire. In 1630 Emma married the Reverend Hugh Williams, Rector of Llanrhyddlad and Llantrisant, Anglesey. Their eldest son, Sir William Williams of Wynnstay became Solicitor General and Speaker of the House of Commons in 1684. Emma’s great grand-daughter, Margaret, married Hugh Owen of Penrhos. Among the possessions she took to her new home at Holyhead was the portrait of Emma Dolben.

Their only daughter, Margaret Owen, married Sir John Thomas Stanley of Alderley in 1763, thus forging the link between Penrhos and the Stanley family. Over the years the family flourished such that the modest Tudor house at Penrhos was replaced by a handsome mansion. The portrait of Emma continued to hold pride of place at the house and a legend grew in the family that bad luck would befall the Stanleys if it ever left Penrhos.

Plas Penrhos  – the home of the Stanley Family

In 1939, at the commencement of WW2, the house was taken over by the military and the portrait was removed from Penrhos. It is said that the Stanley family did indeed suffer a number of sad tragedies following this. Their connection with Holyhead ended and the mansion was allowed to crumble to a sad ruin.

The 300 acre Penrhos Estate was sold in the late 1960’s for the building of Anglesey Aluminium Metals Ltd. The start-up of the aluminium smelter did not go smoothly and there were concerns that the venture could fail. However, in 1972 The Honourable Mrs Adelaide Lubbock, daughter of the 5th Lord Stanley of Alderley, returned the portrait of Emma Dolben to Penrhos. It was placed on indefinite loan at Anglesey Aluminium and was hung in the company Board Room. Those with a superstitious mind considered that this coincided with the turnaround of the plant and the dramatic improvements that ensued.

Anglesey Aluminium built on the Penrhos Estate.

After well over three decades the portrait left Penrhos to be returned to the Stanley family. Not long after this production of aluminium ceased at the smelter. Forklore, superstition, fact or fiction?

From research undertaken by Peter Scott Roberts

Photograph of Plas Penrhos from ‘Hen Gaergybi Old Holyhead’ by D I Rendall and J C Davies

Image of the painting of Emma Dolben from a leaflet produced by AAM Ltd.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum