Aberystwyth Council

Modern History 1974 until the present

The Borough Council was abolished in 1974 and the town's considerable assets were transferred to Ceredigion District Council, part of the new super county of Dyfed until this was in turn abolished in 1996, creating Ceredigion County Council. However, the borough charter was retained, to be held in trust by Aberystwyth Town Council. In 2014, discussions began in the Welsh Assembly to merge councils once again, creating the prospect of a return to Dyfed, although the issue remained undecided in 2015. Separate discussions have been held at the same time about merging town and community councils, again without a final decision being reached.

Many changes occurred in the town in the years after 1974 but the main change has been the considerable growth of the University College of Wales (founded 1872), later the University of Wales, Aberystwyth (1996) and now Aberystwyth University (2007) on which a large part of the economy of the town now depends.

Demolitions, Closures and New Uses

Demolition of the Victorian Police Station (now the site of the Halifax Building Society) at the Bank Square end of Great Darkgate Street occurred in 1977, where a plaque notes that the medieval Great Darkgate once stood in the middle of the street.

In 1982, the Ceredigion Museum opened in the former Coliseum building. The 1904-5 building was originally an entertainments hall and arcade, becoming a cinema in 1931, which closed in 1977.

A new camera obscura was opened on Constitution Hill in 1985 to replace the former Victorian camera obscura.

In 1988, a new jetty was built on North Beach, a short distance south of the bandstand. The King's Hall, a famous ballroom dancing and concert hall, was demolished in the spring of 1989. It was deemed unsafe and yet proved difficult to demolish because of its robust construction, so welders with specialist cutting equipment were called in and the demolition took far longer than expected.

In 1996, the Rheidol Retail Park and a new bus station were opened on the site of Western Parade and the former railway goods yard. Western Parade and its houses were erased from Aberystwyth. Also in 1998, the North Road Hospital on Infirmary Road was closed, demolished and replaced by flats.

Park Avenue livestock market and slaughterhouse were closed down in 2004 and replaced with shops. The Ystwyth Retail Park opened in 2007 with four new retail chains shops. The livestock market moved to a new site in Lovesgrove which opened in 2007, of which the freehold was acquired in 2013.

A new town clock was built in 2006 to replace the one that was demolished in 1956. It was claimed at the time that it impeded traffic despite being set well back from the corner of Bridge Street and Great Darkgate Street on the site of a former town hall that predated the Victorian town hall in Queen's Road. Like the rebuilt town hall (now the library), it lacks the Victorian stone facings and has a bare white rendered finish. No bell was fitted because of expense, and it now has only a recorded chime played through a loudspeaker.

The Tabernacle was destroyed by fire late on the night of 4th July 2008. It was the site of one of the oldest Calvinistic Methodist chapels (Presbyterian Church of Wales) in Wales, although it had been rebuilt several times in its history as congregations increased. The fourth chapel was derelict and in the hands of developers with plans to turn it into flats. Flats are being completed on the site during 2015. The building was immense and its loss has permanently changed the Aberystwyth skyline as seen from above on Penglais.

The houses in Glyndŵr Road, the Aberystwyth Day Centre for the elderly and vulnerable adults and the Drill Hall (1904) were demolished in 2014, including some compulsory purchase orders of private houses. The historic Drill Hall was used by troops being sent to the First World War and yet was demolished in the much commemorated centenary year of the beginning of the conflict and the sacrifice of the servicemen who died at the front. Tesco and Marks and Spencer are scheduled to replace these, despite the proximity of Co-Operative Stores Ltd and Morrison's supermarkets and concerns that smaller local shops will also be unable to compete.

Learning and Culture

The university residence Alexandra Hall, built as a women's hall in 1896, was closed in 1985 and remained largely empty, often threatened by vandalism and fire, until it finally re-opened in 2004/5 through a private partnership with the university. In 1988, the university closed the Chemistry Department in the Edward Davies Chemical Laboratory, which was the first purpose-built chemical laboratory in a British university, opened in 1907 by Lord Asquith. It became the School of Art in the same year. Padarn Hall, the university's student hall of residence at the top of Great Darkgate Street, was turned into shops and offices in 1990. It had been built around 1727 as the Gogerddan Arms but had also been known as the New Black Lion by 1835 (not to be confused with the Old Black Lion just round the corner in Bridge Street) and the Lion Royal Hotel. Penglais Farm halls of residence were completed in 2014 behind Pentre Jane Morgan, itself built in 1993.

The College of Librarianship Wales merged with the University in 1989, followed by the Welsh Agricultural College in 1995 and the Institute for Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) at Gogerddan near Penrhyncoch in 2008. The latter had been founded in 1919 as part of the university and separated from it in 1953 as the Welsh Plant Breeding Station.

The National Eisteddford was held in Aberystwyth for the fourth time in 1992, having previously been held in the town in 1865, 1916 and 1952.

A major extension to the National Library of Wales was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1996 but her visit was cut short due to protests by Welsh nationalists throwing eggs on Penglais Hill. The original building was opened in 1911 by King George V and Queen Mary and was extended in 1937.

A fire started in the Seabank Hotel in 1998, a one-time famous music venue on Victoria Terrace. The Seabank Hotel, Clarendon Hotel and Plynlimon and Caerleon student halls were all destroyed, requiring dozens of students to be rehoused. Firefighters came from Bangor and Swansea to help fight the blaze. These have since been completely rebuilt and extended at the rear, and Clarendon Hall replaced the former hotel.

The Parry-Williams building was opened on Penglais Campus for the Theatre, Film and Television Department in 2000, while the Arts Centre was considerably extended at the cost of £4.3 million, adding a cinema, a bar, art and ceramics galleries, shop, theatre and dance studios. A further café was later added downstairs beneath the original café. In 2003, the Carwyn James Building was opened on Penglais Campus for the Sports Science Department, and in 2006, the new International Politics Building on Penglais campus was opened below the Arts Centre. In 2007, a new £10.4 million Visualisation Centre was opened. In September 2007, the renamed Aberystwyth University seceded from the collegiate University of Wales to become an independent university, having been one of the founding colleges in 1893. It initially chose to continue to issue degrees under the charter of the University of Wales but began to award its own degrees instead in 2008, requiring some minor changes to the university's formal academic dress.

Ysgol Penweddig, the town's Welsh-language secondary school was relocated in 2000 to a modern school building in Llanbadarn. It had previously been Ardwyn County School until 1973, founded in 1896 for boys and admitting girls in 1898.

The United Theological college was closed in 2002, which had opened in 1906 on the site of the former Customs House. It returned to its previous name, the Cambria. The collections were donated to Lampeter University, now part of the serially merged University of Wales Trinity St David's, which continues to operate the University of Wales Dictionary and the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies near the National Library of Wales on Penglais. These mergers have, at least technically, brought a second university to Aberystwyth.

In 2012, the former town hall was re-opened as a new public library and county archives. The former Carnegie library in Corporation Street was sold by Ceredigion County Council in 2015 along with the former County Offices in the Queen's Hotel building on the corner of Victoria Terrace and Albert Place, which have variously also housed the former police station and magistrates' courts. The registry office was also moved from its picturesque location beside the seafront to the bland modern offices in Park Avenue.

In 2013, a fire was started during building work in the roof of the National Library of Wales. Some irreplaceable items were lost, many due to flooding by the sprinkler systems, but the main collections were unharmed.

Pride on the Prom was held in 2012 and 2013 to celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) people's contribution to the town, noting Aberystwyth's unofficial status as the "gay capital of Wales". Aberystwyth Town Council provided financial support in keeping with its statutory duty to promote equality.

The detective drama Y Gwyll - Hinterland was filmed in the Aberystwyth area in 2013. It is notable for being filmed in parallel in both languages and was screened in Welsh in the autumn as y Gwyll before going on air subsequently in English under the name Hinterland. Further filming occurred in 2014-15.

New Approaches

A new eastern road into Aberystwyth was opened in 1995, Ffordd Parc-y-Llyn, with the section joining it to Park Avenue being named Boulevard St Brieuc in honour of one of Aberystwyth's twin towns: Park Avenue had previously ended abruptly in fields beyond the Aberystwyth Town Football Club. New stores were opened in Parc-y-Llyn, between Southgate and Llanbadarn Fawr village, including Safeway (now Morrison's), Great Mills, MFI (now Focus), Curry's and Halfords, as well as a petrol station.

A new (and slightly bouncy) suspension bridge for foot traffic over the Rheidol was built in 2003, a few hundred metres upstream from Trefechan Bridge. It was named Pont yr Odyn (meaning Kiln Bridge), named by Elinor Thorogood, aged 11. It connects Trefechan with the waterside area behind Aberystwyth Town Football Club.

Public Houses and Railways

The Vale of Rheidol narrow gauge steam railway was privatised in 1989, previously being part of British Rail with through tickets to Devil's Bridge until privatisation, the only part of British Rail to operate steam traction after 1968. It is the only heritage steam railway that has never been permanently closed and reconstructed, having only been shut down in war time. It runs for 11.75 miles and was originally designed to haul timber and ore, but has always run a passenger service since it was opened.

The White Horse Hotel became the Varsity in 1998 but returned to its historical name in 2014, the same year that Salt (formerly the Central Hotel) was replaced by a café. The Talbot Hotel bar has been successively replaced by a short-lived Irish theme bar, the Orangery and later Bella Vita restaurants and now Wiff Waff, a table tennis bar.

The St Paul's Methodist Church in Upper Great Darkgate Street was converted to the Academy Public House in 1999, historically the site of the Three Jolly Sailors in the 1860s.

In 2001, the former 1925 railway station building, much of which had been derelict since the 1980s, re-opened as J.D. Wetherspoon's public house, now the first thing that visitors arriving by train see of Aberystwyth from the platform beside the 1872 station building (the former platform 3), where a station has existed since the 1860s. Meanwhile, platform 4 now houses CRAFT, a recycling charity that was previously in the Old Police Station Yard, while platforms 1 and 2 house the Vale of Rheidol, moved from the former Aberystwyth Smithfields Station near the sheds on Park Avenue. The remaining part of the emergency platform 5, beyond platform 4, is now part of an oil storage facility, though oil trains no longer serve Aberystwyth.

The club K2 became initially controversial in 2005 after it was refurbished as Club Yoko's in 2003, following the grant of an entertainment licence for topless dancing, with full nude private lap dances after 1:30am, but the strip club entertainment was withdrawn within weeks due to limited commercial demand. It remains the only licensed adult club that has ever existed in Aberystwyth. The pub had formerly been the Skinners' Arms, the Tavern in the Town, Skinners' Video Bar and Porky's Fun Bar before it was divided between K2 and the former site of the Treehouse organic shop and restaurant (now in the former Victoria Tavern and later Victoria Inn that closed in 1920 on the corner of Baker Street and Eastgate Street). K2 was so named for Donald Kane, the owner of Kane's Bar (formerly the Unicorn) and Aberystwyth Town Football Club.

Extreme Weather Events

There was serious flooding in Aberystwyth in 1976. In January 1982, snow was so heavy that Aberystwyth was cut off and the harbour froze over, requiring supplies by helicopter. In 2000, the Aberystwyth tidal defence scheme was opened. However, major flooding in the Aberystwyth area occurred again in 2012. The town centre was threatened but escaped the flooding, though areas on the banks of the Ystwyth, Rheidol and Leri (Eleri) in particular were severely affected, notably Tal-y-bont, Dol-y-bont and a number of caravan parks across the area.

The remnant of tropical cyclone Anne brought an Atlantic storm surge to the Irish Sea, coinciding with spring tides. Huge waves caused massive destruction to the promenade but the major damage was soon repaired, with some final repairs completed by the summer of 2015. The Victorian shelter near Bath Rocks fell into a void below the prom when the sea broke in and destroyed the roof. The early Victorian bath house had never been in-filled but had been sealed off under the promenade on the site of the even earlier town gallows, an unusual place of public execution in being located on coastal rocks.

The 1950s bandstand structure was unique in being entirely unscathed by the force of the ocean but the County Council decided to demolish it despite opposition in the town, intending to build a new building on the base of the remaining Victorian bandstand structure. The original plan for a modern glass building conflicted with the statutory duty to preserve the listed status and character of the seafront. Following public controversy, a new design was put forward instead, which is scheduled for completion in October 2015.

Local Government

An application for city status for Aberystwyth was refused in 1999. City status is an honour and has no bearing on local government in the modern era, being within the gift of the monarch. Aberystwyth has an ancient borough charter granted on 28th December 1277 by King Edward I of England and reaffirmed by successive monarchs including Edward III, Richard II, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV and Henry VIII.

The unofficially named Bank Square was renamed to Owain Glyndŵr Square by Aberystwyth Town Council in 2004 despite the objections of local businesses. Bank Square was a longstanding name used in the town, although it was officially just a part of Great Darkgate Street. The name Bank Square no longer appears to be in common use for the area between the banks and Siop y Pethau.

Ceredigion County Council relocated their Aberystwyth offices from various buildings in the town centre to modern offices costing £15 million beside Boulevard St Brieuc, near Parc-y-Llyn in September 2009, and new Welsh Assembly Government offices costing £20 million were opened by the First Minister for Wales in October nearby. The Countryside Council for Wales (now part of Natural Resources Wales) were relocated to these offices. Both of these are located on the Rheidol flood plain. As a result, Aberystwyth Town Council, who had previously shared the Town Hall, were obliged to relocate to the former Ceredigion Business Centre at 11 Baker Street.

Together with the rest of the county, Aberystwyth had no traffic wardens for a year after the end of May 2011. It gained a reputation for chaotic parking arrangements.

In 2012, the magistrates court along with various other tribunals moved into the new Aberystwyth Justice Centre in part of the former Technium building overlooking the marina. It vacated the rear part of the former County Offices (Queen's Hotel) building on Victoria Terrace and Edlestone House on Queen's Road.

Historic Events

In 2012, the Olympic Torch stayed overnight in Aberystwyth on its 70 day relay around Britain in advance of the Olympic Games in London.

Written by Talat Chaudhri 2015. The author asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this document.