Since my residency with Culture Action Llandudno in Autumn last year, I've been working on Hanes Llanddynes, a telling of the 16,000 year - long story of Llandudno, through the lives of women who have been part of it.
Hanes Llandynes - Llandudno through the Stories of Women (inspired by their memorialisation, or more often, lack of it) is now being published as a series of 31 cards, to coincide with the celebrations around the 100 years of women's Suffrage : See the cards online here, or email me (email@example.com) you'd like a hard copy.
Meanwhile, here is a bit of background..
Hanes Llanddynes was inspired by my residency walk with Wanda Zyborska in search of monuments and memorials. I was looking for anything at all, but Wanda was looking for those to women. Our first stop was the Tourist Information Office. Here we were told there were no monuments or memorials whatsoever in Llandudno. After some more insistent probing, it was conceded that there was one, the War Memorial, to men who lost their lives in the second world war.
While engaged in trying to extract useful information at the Tourist Information Office, we were lucky to be overheard by two local women (one of whom was Sue Wolfendale who has written a history of the band stand) delivering various books/leaflets. They seemed much more interested in the questions we were asking, and mentioned a few other monuments and memorials. But, it was agreed, there are very few.
We started to speculated on why. Wanda suggested that "You get a statue if you are rich enough, if you’ve exploited enough people … if you are a non-murdering psychopath, you get a statue". Was the lack of statues because it was a spa rather than an industrial town, and so there were no rich industrialists? And/or was it because the whole town is really a memorial to the Mostyns, the power behind the scenes, operating below the radar, in a way?
We wanted to get to the bottom of it. And after 8 hours of searching, lots of conversations with men and women around the town, and then many weeks more of finding things by accident, we have found more than 50 plaques, stones, carvings… and that is not even counting the too-many-to-count memorial benches (I’d estimate 100 of those). They are all very subtle memorials. It is as though memorializing has gone underground, popping up like weeds in a car park, while the stoic ‘curatorial’ presence of the Mostyns attempt to keep a grip on the surface.
We have made an online map, where you can see all we found. It is continually updated, because there are plaques lurking where you least expect it, and only yesterday I found another, to a solicitor, neatly placed next to the door of a solicitors office. It has been interesting to discover them all, and it is true that (as predicted), most of them are to men.
So what if we just look at those to women, and the missing ones to women (past and present) that could have been memorialised: might we here find the lost soul of Llandudno?
The short answer is 'well, yes!'. Llandudno – as you probably know - is best known as a Victorian seaside resort: The Queen of Welsh Resorts, after all. But Hanes Llanddynes shows Llandudno’s roots reaching way back, into ancient geology and the origins of human habitation in Britain. Her branches reach forward to an uncertain future built on events that relate their origins – as a proverbial butterfly flapping its wings – to the beginnings of neoliberalism and its results, including patterns of land ownership, consumerism and climate chaos. This is also, after all, the Venice of the North (as well as God’s Waiting Room), and this maybe a Siren Call to action.
On the way, Hanes Llanddynes celebrates the interplay between the everyday and the extraordinary. We will see common themes like the bond of sisters and collective action, and some classic Llandudno favourites come through too, like the intimate connection to rock and water, strong characters, active citizens, a love of history and the sea. And quite a few queens.
There is some going with the flow, some standing up against it (although we didn’t quite get the pink hotel in), and a bit of running from it. There is quite a bit about being an angel or a harridan (or the face of an angel with a harridan inside), especially when the story turns to pioneering change.
Llanddynes challenge Llandudno’s ‘history’, because, as it turns out, there exists just as strong a ‘her’story, and it seems impossible to go back to believing it is possible ‘know’ Llandudno without it.
As a young art student said to me at a CALL event in January,“We aren’t taught anything in school here about the history of women: we heard about the suffrage movement, but nothing else, and I didn’t know the first group met here! We heard nothing of all those women you’ve just talked about. We need to tell this story!”
So Hanes Llanddynes is that story. The story is inevitably incomplete, and if you have more to add, or changes to make, I'd love to hear from you!
There are many other ways of telling the stories of Llandudno see (for example):
Secret Llandudno by John Lawson Reay (who also has an incredible selection of photos); The Band on the Prom by Susan M. Wolfendale; couple of books by F. Ron Williams on Llandudno and the Mostyn Influence; diary of a Journey into North Wales in the year 1774 by Samuel Johnson ; Atgofion Hen Llandudno (Memories of Old Llandudno) written in about 1883 by Thomas Rowlands. There are many technical archaeological, caving and geological papers to be found by searching online. Also History Points and a book about Beatrice Blore Brown is available from Llandudno Museum.