A HISTORIAN claims he has the answer to decades-old rumours of a "legendary" canal attraction beneath Queen's Market.

Local historian Colin Jones said Little Venice has been misinterpreted and mythologised as an underground structure when it was in fact no more than a miniature exhibition in the basement of the former Queen's Palace.

Mr Jones, who has carried out years of research using old documents including local newspapers at Rhyl Library, said the exhibition itself was not unique when it was created in 1903.

“From my studies, I can confirm Little Venice was an exhibition in the basement of Queen’s Palace, which was based on a bigger exhibition in London, but there was nothing at a lower level such as an ‘underground river’," he said.

“The Little Venice exhibition remained in the basement for two or three seasons and was then taken out and replaced by a miniature version of Constantinople (Istanbul) which was long gone before the fire in 1907."

Contemporary newspaper reports and adverts described the attraction as a “faithful reproduction in miniature of Venice” including “real gondolas" and "real Italians". Other popular Edwardian attractions at Queen's Palace including 40 “modern” shops, ballroom dancing, varieties, an orchestra, ice cream-making and a roof garden.

Rumours that Little Venice was an underground 'tunnel of love' canal have been passed down the generations among people in and around Rhyl. A fire in 1907 destroyed the glass dome roof of Queen's Palace which, it is claimed, cut off the underground attraction and resulted in it becoming abandoned and forgotten about in subsequent decades.

Heritage agency Cadw said it is possible that the attraction could have existed prior to the blaze.

However Mr Jones, author of the Rhyl Life blog and the RhylTime YouTube channel, said this "extraordinary and legendary" interpretation is little more than a myth.

"The fire affected the top storey of the Queen’s Palace whose dome fell sideways onto the shopping arcade next door which was owned by the Queens Hotel," he said. "It was the arcade that suffered the biggest damage.

"A lot of my Queen's research was based on material collected by the late Glyn Rees of Rhyl who specialised in making photocopies from old local newspapers that had been put on microfiche at Rhyl Library. Glyn had assembled a file of material about the Queen's. After he died, this and all his other Rhyl history files were passed to me for a while and then to Flintshire Archives in Hawarden.

"Glyn and I both believed that there was too much romanticising about Rhyl history, and that the truth was more interesting."

Mr Jones cited work by Rhyl's first published popular historian J. W. Jones, proprietor of the Swann Inn on Russell Road, published two books about Rhyl in which he liked to put odd facts about the town.

One of them referred to a Little Venice exhibition in the basement of the Queen's Palace.

"Somehow this attraction became in some readers' minds something extraordinary and legendary - and really it was neither," Mr Jones said.

"The exhibition was not unique and didn't stay here long."

After the 1907 fire, the arcade and hotel were insured and repaired, but the owners could not persuade the insurers to pay out on the Queen’s Palace itself so the owning company declared bankruptcy.

Successor companies carried out minimal repairs and re-opened only the first floor of what had been the Queen’s Palace.

The theatre part was renamed the Grand Theatre and later the Queen's Theatre again, and eventually the skating rink became the Queen's Ballroom again until the end of the 1950s, after which the Queen's indoor market replaced them.

Denbighshire County Council said that since taking over the building on Rhyl High Street in 2019 it has found no evidence of Little Venice.

Previous owners who had the building for a number of years before had never found any remains or evidence of the attraction either.

The council has been in contact with Mr Jones regarding Little Venice and published a statement in support of his research.

"Due to the lack of maintenance from previous ownership, most of the Queen’s Buildings are now beyond economic repair so the council is currently carrying out demolition works with development partners Wye Valley to recover the site," a council statement said.

The work began on January 25 and it is expected to be completed during the summer.

Cllr Hugh Evans, leader of Denbighshire County Council and lead member for the economy, said: “After thorough inspections and due to extreme damage we have had to start demolishing all of the Queen’s Buildings apart from the Queens Chambers on Sussex Street.

“We are working with contractors to save the few historical items that remain in the buildings, however since taking ownership it has become clear that most items are beyond repair.

“We respect the history of the Queen’s Buildings and we will continue to retain as much of the buildings as we can throughout the development of this key catalyst project within the wider Rhyl Regeneration programme. The buildings play a vital part in benefiting the economy throughout Denbighshire and I am glad the works allow it to continue as part of Rhyl’s future.”

Plans have been put in place to save as many items throughout the refurbishment of the site as possible, including conserving sections of the ceilings in the Theatre and Queen’s Market, a complete section of the balustrade from the mezzanine, as well as a section from the Queen’s Market former ballroom sprung floor.