The Missing Vicar of Hells Mouth

The Llyn Peninsula has always enjoyed a healthy tourist trade, and in the 1950’s like now thousands of people visited the area every summer, to enjoy the beauty of our landscape and coast, with its myriad of coves and miles of sandy beaches. The well heeled would stay in the Hotels of Nefyn, Aberdaron and Abersoch while others would fill farmhouses and cottages offering bed and breakfast or just a room, which were excellent value for their hard earned pesos!!! There was of course an alternative to all of this in “Le Camping” and judging by the cars that were parked alongside these tents and caravans, in the dozens of campsites around Llyn, it obviously wasn’t reserved for the “Cheapo Chappies” Brigade. Rhiw had and still has one of the nicest campsites in the whole of Llyn, nestled underneath the mountain on a plateau in the middle of woods, and only a stone’s throw away from the four mile long sandy beach of Porth Neigwl (Hells Mouth). Treheli has for many years been popular with those that enjoy the peace and simplicity of camping, and many people come back year after year, drawn by the magnificent setting.

Treheli August 1955

The summer of 1955 was long and hot, and Treheli’s campsite was full for most of the holidays, and along the cliffs past Rhuol at Garthgae a whole troop of Scouts were in residence, as they would be every summer back then. In August the Rev Philip Ross, a 51-year-old vicar of Woodford, Cheshire, and his wife were at Treheli, staying for a week in their green painted trailer caravan, they were regular visitors and had stayed there many times before. Every morning Rev Ross would go down to the beach, sometimes he would swim, and other times he would just wander along the sands or gather cockles in the many rock-pools that are situated under the cliffs just below the campsite. On Thursday the 12th he was up at the crack of dawn, and away down to the beach before his wife or any of the other guests were awake, and it being such a pleasant day he decided to go for a swim, as I said earlier there was nothing unusual about this, and he was always back at the caravan just in time to make his wife a nice cup of tea when she woke up. When his wife got out of bed there was no sign of her husband, and when he failed to appear for his breakfast, she decided to go and look for him. She walked along the cliff top and then down on to the beach, and there on the sand, in a neat bundle she found his clothes, she looked around the horizon, but there was no sign of him anywhere, so she immediately ran in panic to Treheli, where the farmer Isaac Williams was getting the cows in for milking, and he in turn dropped everything to raise the alarm. What followed was a massive search by the police with Inspector Cledwyn Shaw of Pwllheli in command, also the Coastguards, some locals and holiday-makers (even the troop of boy scouts that were staying at Garthgae lent a hand, searching the cliffs and rocks to the south of their campsite) but after three days, nothing came to light, and the search was called off. It was assumed at the time that he had been washed out to sea in the strong current that is prevalent in Hells Mouth. But Thursday the 12th of August 1955, would be the start of one of the biggest mysteries and dramas ever to happen in Rhiw, and it would end up as front-page headlines in national newspapers throughout Britain and beyond.

"Inspector Shaw"

"Local paper report August 1955"

 

 

woodford_church.jpg (29006 bytes)

"Woodford Church"

Rev Ross’s poor wife was absolutely distraught, and had to make the long and lonely journey home to Cheshire alone, to be comforted by her two young daughters, friends and relatives. The whole village of Woodford was shocked by the news, that such a good and popular man, would loose his life so tragically, and to leave them with out a Vicar, the one man that always comforted them if ever they were struck by grief. He had been a Vicar there since 1939 and was regarded as “a good living man” he was a good mixer, and was not above a look in at the local where he would spend hours talking about the love of his life, cricket. In the next twelve months, his wife and family began to come to terms with their loss, and the community came together and raised £600 in memory of the man that they all so sadly missed, and in August 1956 the High Court gave leave to presume the death of the Vicar.

Then rumours started in October 56, we don’t know exactly by who, but they quickly spread, so fast that in no time Scotland Yard in London were investigating, but we do know that a local Woodford resident had received a post card from her mother posted in Montreux, Switzerland, and in it she had stated that Rev Ross and herself were living together!!! And that they were deeply in lust (Sorry “in love”). By October Newspaper reporters had swarmed round Woodford, but Mrs Ross denied her husband could be alive. “It is too fantastic to believe,” she said. But alive he was, and now living in a mews flat in London. The Church as one would expect took a very dim view of the whole affair, and the Bishop duly defrocked Rev Ross. Plus the Courts handed him a £50 fine for a passport offence.

"Map in a National Newspaper October 1956"

Background

Unusual for a Vicar, Philip Ross had an engineering degree, and this is the key to his fall from grace. When a local Woodford businessman died in 1951, it left his young wife (a wealthy plus very attractive lady) with a country house in Woodford, villa in Switzerland, and a mews flat in Hyde Park London, plus a profitable engineering firm in Manchester, Rev Ross, started assisting her with the every day running of the company, his engineering degree being invaluable to her. A secret affair started that went on for years, plenty of time to hatch the plan for his disappearance, and if it wasn’t for one little postcard and some inquisitive folk, they could just about have got away with it.

Footnote

It has always been assumed that Rev Ross, after a change of clothes, walked along the beach to Llanengan, then continued on foot to Pwllheli, where he caught a train to London. After reading some documents about the whole affair, I must admit that I don’t think this was the case at all. I don’t profess to be an “Inspector Morse” but this to me seems very unlikely. For one thing, he had a bad leg, and walking any great distance would have been very difficult for him. Plus, there was the risk of being seen, because he would have had to use the main roads for most of the way. But the biggest factor in this I think is. The woman he ran away with lived in Switzerland at the time, and as her daughter pointed out in a newspaper interview in October 1956, her mother used to come back to the factory in Manchester every Month on the 11th day, to sign the pay cheques for her employees. I think she drove down to Llyn on the evening of the 11th, stayed the night at or very near Abersoch (under an assumed name of course), and then early the next day picked her lover up at the eastern end of Hells Mouth (Llanengan). By doing this they would have been well on their way to London before his wife would’ve started looking for him. And in that way there was very little chance of them being caught.

Photograph of Woodford Church by Mr R Jackson.

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