Last chance for Bontnewydd children’s home ex-residents

A home that provided refuge for scores of children needing residential care is giving them a last chance for a look round.

The buildings at Cartref Bontnewydd near Caernarfon are no longer needed and have been put up for sale, but former residents are invited for one last visit this week.

Val Owen, director of Cartef Bontnewydd Trust, which still supports families but no longer offers residential care, said: “We’re not making the most of the two large buildings, so might move to smaller premises. They’re expensive to run, but we might stay if we find a good community use for them.”

The children’s home was founded in 1902 by local businessman Robert Ellis, who left land and £1,000 to create a service for children. Though it always had close ties with the council, the home was also supported by local chapels.

“If a child became an orphan, the chapels would bring them here, so then they felt they had a responsibility to help fund their care,” said Val.

One former resident is Blaenau Ffestiniog county councillor, Dafydd Hughes, who went there in 1960 when he was six.

“I loved it there,” he said. “I landed there because my nain [grandmother] couldn’t cope with me, as my mother had long since gone. I didn’t see her again until 1977 and I’ve no idea who my father was.”

He was given over to the care of Matron Ellis for two years, before the Rev Emrys Thomas and his wife Menna took over.

“There were huge changes then,” said Dafydd. “They were younger than Miss Ellis, and had their own son, Iolo. He was treated just the same as us – the only difference was that he slept in his parents’ house, and did his homework!

“They ran it as one big family and brought in the first colour TV and central heating. In his role as warden and minister, Mr Thomas went out fundraising and by the end of the ’60s he’d got us a minibus to go on trips.”

Dafydd also remembers local children being rather jealous of their ‘double Christmas’, getting presents at the home in the afternoon and their families in the evening.

“They had an open door policy and nain could come and see me on Saturdays,” explained Dafydd, who added that Sundays were given over to chapel.

“The under 11s would go to Sunday school in the morning and the oedfa (a service) in the afternoon. The older ones had to go in the evening, too. It was because the home was run by the chapels.”

Dafydd even expressed an interest in the ministry himself, but though Mr Thomas agreed he had the mouth, he wasn’t sure he had the patience to study.

“He was right, so I became a nurse,” said Dafydd. “But there was always a bed for me at Bontnewydd when I came home, and I stayed until I was 22.

“Emrys and Menna are in their 80s and 90s now and we still keep in touch. They were like parents, and Iolo was the bestman at my wedding.

“Without them and the home, I don’t know where I’d have ended up.”

By the 1980s, a change of emphasis in social services meant more support was given to enable children to stay at home, rather than going into care. This is a concept the Cartref Bontnewydd Trust still supports.

“We deal with foster care, work with families where there’s a danger the child might have to leave and offer advocacy for families when social services get involved,” explained Val.

Visitors are welcome at Cartref Bontnewydd between June 28 and July 2.