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.

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

John Collins – 82nd Regiment of Foot, 1827-1904.

One of the many interesting gravestones at Holyhead’s Maeshyfryd Cemetery is that of John Collins who died in the town in 1904, aged 76. The gravestone mentions his army service at the Crimean War and also the Indian Mutiny.

John Collins’ Gravestone at Maeshyfryd Cemetery, Holyhead

John Collins was born at Tralee, Kerry, Ireland in 1827. In 1845 he joined the 82nd Regiment of Foot at Tralee, aged 17. He married Ellen Frawley, widow of Private John Frawley, at Devonport in 1850 and took on her two children, Mary Ann and George Frawley. The regiment moved from Portsmouth to Salford in 1852 and George died there in the same year, aged 5. The 82nd Foot then moved north to Stirling in 1854 and a son, David John Collins, was born there in the same year. Mary Ann Frawley died at Portsea in 1861, aged about 11.

The regiment left for the Crimea in early 1855 and arrived at Balaclava via Corfu in early September to participate in the Fall of Sebastopol. This brought the Crimean War to a close and the regiment returned to the UK the following year. During this time it is assumed that his wife and family remained in the UK.

The 82nd Regiment of Foot remained in the UK at Aldershot and then Portsmouth until May 1857 when it left initially for China but was rerouted to Calcutta via Singapore to help deal with the Indian Mutiny. No family members are allowed to travel with the regiment at this time. The 82nd took part in the Relief of Lucknow in November 1857. The rebellion drew to a close in 1858 and the regiment then moved to Delhi. Ellen Collins must have joined her husband in India shortly after this and a daughter, Marian Margaret Collins, was born at Delhi in January 1862.

Members of the 82nd Regiment of Foot at Subathoo

The North-West Frontier was the next posting for the regiment and where Ellen gave birth to a son, James, at Sabathoo in early 1864. Unfortunately she succumbed to dysentery in April the same year. A few months later the regiment left India taking up duties at Aden, Ireland and the UK. It is not known what happened to his last born child, James.

In May 1866 John Collins married Sarah Harrington (spinster) at St. Cybi’s Church, Holyhead. The following year John Collins was discharged from the Army at his own request after completing over 21 years service and moved to Holyhead living at 22 Boston Street. He left with an Army Pension and the Crimean Medal (with clasp for the Siege at Sebastopol), the Turkish Medal and the Indian Mutiny Medal. On his discharge he was recorded as having three good conduct badges, although during his service his name appeared 30 times on the regimental defaulters list and he was court-martialed six times, mainly for ‘habitual drunkenness’. He was at one point promoted to Corporal but was reduced to Private after a year due to drunkenness.

Crimean Medal with clasp for the Siege at Sebastopol.

At Holyhead he initially ran a refreshment room and was anxious to promote his business such that in 1868 he was involved in a confrontation at Holyhead Railway Station with another refreshment room owner resulting in that person being convicted of assault after he had insulted John Collins’ old regiment. In 1879 a similar confrontation took place with another refreshment room owner and both were fined £2 and bound over to keep the peace. At this time he lived with his wife and daughter, Marian Margaret Collins, at 1 Church Terrace, Holyhead.

In 1877 his son, David John Collins, married Emily Pemberton at Moulmein, Bengal, India. He had joined the Great Trigonometrical Survey of  India in 1873 as a Surveyor.

John Collins’ daughter, Marian Margaret Collins, married William Fox Lloyd at St. Cybi’s Church, Holyhead in 1887. John Collins was then the landlord of the Sydney Inn, Rhos-y-Gaer Terrace, Holyhead.

In 1895 John Collins’ wife Sarah died of stomach cancer at 7 Moulton Street, Holyhead, aged 72. He then married widow, Grace Parry, at St. Cybi’s Church in 1898. At this time he was living at 21 Baptist Street, Holyhead. In 1901 Grace died, aged 59.

In 1904 John Collins died, aged 76, at 26 Cambrian Street, Holyhead, the home of his daughter, Marian Margaret Lloyd. He was buried at Maeshyfryd Cemetery, Holyhead with Local Volunteers firing a three volley salute at his graveside. The local newspaper reported many prominent townsfolk attending his funeral and listed five grandchildren, the children of Marian and William Fox Lloyd – John, Willie, Thomas, Noel and Nellie among the mourners. William Fox Lloyd was at this time serving as a Chief Steward on the LNWR cross channel ferries at Holyhead. No other family members attended his funeral other than the Lloyd family. His headstone was subsequently erected by his son David John Collins, who later died at Bangkok in 1912.

John Collins Lloyd, son of Marian and William Fox Lloyd and grandson of John Collins, later joined the clergy and served as an Army Chaplin in WW1. His son Charles Courtenay Lloyd served in the Royal Navy during WW2 and later as a linguist for the British Government during the Cold War helping to train British Agents. He married a Princess from the exiled Russian Royal Family and after retiring as a School Master now (2019) lives with his daughter, Masha Lloyd, in Spain. In May 2019 he celebrated his 100th birthday.

The grave of David John Collins at Bangkok

The funeral report also mentions that John Collins was an eye witness to the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ in October 1854. This would seem to be unlikely as his regiment did not arrive at the Crimea until well after the event. However, the regiment history does record that a large contingent of the 82nd did transfer to the 34th Regiment of Foot at the outbreak of war and would have reached the Crimea in time. Unfortunately his service record does not include this detail.

An interesting character in Holyhead’s past. He surely must have had some fascinating tales to tell!

Contributed by Barry Hillier

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

Holyhead in 1832

Map of Holyhead prepared by Robert K Dawson Lieut. R.E. as part of the Reform Act of 1832**

In January 1832, Holyhead’s Clerk of the Peace was obliged to draw up a Parish Valuation in order to record the dwellings in the town. This document still exists and it gives us a fascinating snapshot of the town just after the completion of Telford’s ‘Great Holyhead Road’. We learn that the population of the parish at that time was 4,282 and the total number of recorded dwellings was 349.* The town had 34 streets with Stanley Crescent and Market Street being the longest (42 and 40 dwellings respectively) and Hill Street with 3 dwellings, Turkey, with 3 dwellings and Parliament Ditch with its 2 dwellings being the shortest. Some streets remain to this day but others have long disappeared. Who now remembers Willow Garden Row, Well Row and Ponctybobtu?

Market Street and Stanley Crescent were not only the longest streets but also the busiest. There was a Saddler, a Hatter, a Druggist, an Eating house and 3 Public Houses in Market Street (Rose & Crown, Red Lion, King’s Head), whilst Stanley Crescent housed a Sailroom, a Shipwright Yard, a Druggist and 2 Public Houses (The Legs of Man and the Spirit Vaults). Other trades in the town included a Smithy and a Joiner in New Street, two Coal Merchants in Church Lane and a Brew House in Ponctybobtu.

Some dwellings were not in streets – Ucheldre Park, the Tan Yard, the Royal Hotel, the Hibernian Inn and the New Brewery are listed as individual buildings.

Of course, the maritime connection was strong with many houses being identified by the names of sea captains who lived there, e.g. Captain Evan Lloyd’s House in Church Lane; Captain Goddard, Captain Skinner, Captain Grey and Captain Evans’ Houses in Stryd. Captain Duncan’s House and Captain Owens’ House were recorded as individual houses.

Other dwellings bore the name of the occupation of the owner or tenant, e.g. a Guard’s House in Market Street was probably the home of the Mail Coach Guard and the Waiter’s House in the same street probably referred to the house of a Tide Waiter (a Customs official). Dr Walthew also had a house in Market Street.

When the Electoral Roll was published later in 1832, it showed that of the 862 men aged 20 years or older who lived in Holyhead, only 70 were eligible to vote in general elections. In those unenlightened times women were denied the vote which meant that only about 3% of the total adult population could help choose a Member of Parliament. This small band of voters included Sir John Thomas Stanley of Penrhos, Dr Walthew, Robert Spencer (landlord of the Royal Hotel), Edmund Roberts of Ucheldre Park, Owen Owens (the solicitor), the Rev. William Morgan (Minister of Bethel Chapel) and Thomas Powell of Llys-y-Gwynt.

Holyhead in 1850 – the Breakwater is under construction, the railway has reached the town and Skinner’s Monument is in place above the harbour.

Within 12-15 years of this Parish Valuation, Holyhead would experience tremendous and far-reaching changes as the railway age dawned, and so this particular ‘snapshot’ of 1832 could well represent an end of an era. The Holyhead of 1852 would prove to be a very different place.

*The Valuation was carried out in order to calculate who would be eligible to vote after the passing of the Reform Act of 1832. It is highly likely that the poorest dwellings were not listed as the people living there were unlikely to be included in the Electoral Roll.

Contributed by Dr. Gareth Huws

**Image of Holyhead map from