Belgian refugee tailors’ shop, Conwy

button_lang_frenchBelgian refugee tailors’ shop, High Street, Conwy

A family which fled from German-occupied Belgium in the First World War ran a tailor’s shop here until 1924. Unusually, the family returned to Conwy as refugees in 1940.

When the German army invaded neutral Belgium in 1914, hundreds of thousands of Belgian civilians fled to neighbouring countries. Nearly 250,000 came to the UK, where every city, town and village had to take its share of refugees. Conwy was no exception, and 60 settled in the district. The Mayor of Conwy even went to London and brought back 27 refugees, whom he declared to be “superior people”! The Belgians were treated as heroes, receiving a “hearty ovation” from the waiting crowd as they arrived at the railway station.

Tailor Henri Verbeeck, with his wife and children, arrived in October 1914. Monsieur Verbeeck opened a shop here after the war ended. His son John helped him to make, repair and alter clothing, and married local girl Blodwen Davies in 1921. The family packed up their belongings in 1924 and returned to the city of Ghent, where they set up another business.

In May 1940, the Verbeeck family joined a column of refugees for a second time. They made their way to Calais but lost many of their possessions when the line of civilians was attacked by Luftwaffe planes. At Calais they boarded a Royal Navy ship helping to evacuate people from mainland Europe. The ship was attacked from the air as it left the quayside, but the Verbeecks were unharmed and returned to the Conwy area, staying with Blodwen’s relatives in Marl Avenue, Llandudno Junction.

This shop was occupied by successive tailors or drapers from c.1885 to c.1932, when it became a fruit shop. In 1945, as Britain celebrated the end of the Second World War, John Richards opened the Victory Milk Bar here. It was popular place for fishermen from the nearby quay to relax and socialise. John also had an ice cream kiosk near the quay and a tea garden in Castle Street, and distributed milk to local homes. He died in 1953 and the milk bar was sold, continuing to trade until 1975.

Today the shop is home to L’s Coffee & Books.

With thanks to Adrian Hughes, of the Home Front Museum, Llandudno, and to Ray Castle and Sian Grady

Postcode: LL32 8DB    View Location Map

Website of L’s Coffee & Books