BARRY ISLAND SINCE THE 50's

The decline in the fortunes of Barry Island started in the 60's with the building of Butlins holiday camp on Nell's Point. Before it was built the Island was always well advertised by the Council, Collins' Amusement Park, the Barry Island Traders Association and through the distribution of the Council's Holiday Guides. After the camp was built and the Island became assured of over 2,000 captive visitors each week during the season, a complacent attitude set in with both traders and Council. Advertisements for the Island became non-existent, as the holiday camp did most advertising for Barry Island. Guest houses that catered for visitors were unable to compete with the facilities and entertainment offered by Butlins, and gradually were turned into flats, and B&B accommodation on the Island became non-existent. No additional amusements or attractions were offered to induce visitors to come to Barry except for a few pathetic lights stuck on boards, and floodlights lighting up the sands at night, normally litter strewn after a busy day. Existing facilities were not maintained and allowed to fall into a state of disrepair.

What a difference a few years before Butlins came to Barry made! From the late 40's to the early 60's, Barry Island was the Mecca of South Wales, day-trippers were its mainstay, and traders were pleased to cater for them. The Council had other ideas and tried to encourage long stay visitors, but offered them very little incentive to stay. Visitors arrived at Barry, booked into their accommodation, and if the weather was not too good, caught the next train to Cardiff where they stayed until it was time to make their way back to Barry.

In the 50's, in an effort to improve and encourage visitors to the Island, John Collins staged a series of carnivals, with events and attractions being held on the fairground every evening for a week or ten days. These proved very successful, as in one year on a Bank Holiday over 50,000 visitors arrived at the Island! Profits from these carnivals were used to purchase lights to illuminate the fairground and the Island.

After the first carnival of the series had been held, a group from the Barry Island Traders Association and the fairground went to Blackpool, and spent the proceeds on purchasing lights that had been used for the Blackpool Illuminations. These were erected all around the Island and on the fairground. The first year they were switched on they extended the season until October. The following year with the proceeds of the carnival, more lights were purchased from Blackpool, until finally the Island was completely lit at night. Crowds came flocking there to see them, and the extra revenue that was generated more than paid for the electricity used. These lights were used for a number of years, until one winter a storm struck the coast around Barry with hurricane force winds, destroying most of them and damaging the others beyond economical repair.

In 1955 another attraction arrived on the Island in the shape of a clock. This was the famous Guinness Clock, designed by the firm of Lewis Him, and it took five months for clockmakers Baume & Company, Ltd., of Hatton Gardens to build. It was one of eight full size clocks that were built for the Guinness Company, weighed over two tons, and stood 25ft high. Barry Island was one of the few places in which the clock appeared over consecutive years. It stayed at Barry for a number of years attracting thousands on to the promenade in all types of weather, to watch its frenzied burst of action every quarter of an hour. The clock's routine consisted of 30 actions and lasted four-and-a-half minutes. Not only did the company loan the clock to the Town, but it also advertised its presence there throughout South Wales. Local traders and bus companies also joined in the advertising, once they saw that it attracted visitors to the Island. In the first years of the clock's appearance, some traders complained that it was taking trade away from their premises, as visitors left to watch its actions.

The original clock had been on display at the Festival of Britain in Battersea Park in 1951. By 1966 spare parts for the clocks had become difficult to obtain and the clocks were withdrawn from their sites all over the country and dismantled. One of the smaller versions of the clock still survives and can be seen at the Guinness Hopstore Museum in Dublin.

Another attraction on the fairground was the Barry Island Zoo. The owner was Alf Crane, one of the Barry Island Rock Kings, who also operated the snack bars, rock stalls and other side stalls on the fairground. When the zoo at the Island closed, Palmer Bros. of Remlap Kennels, Weycock Cross opened Barry Zoo.

For a great number of years different shows arrived on the fairground from all over the country, giving variety each year. These shows were advertised as coming from different fairs in Britain and Europe, together with the date of the next Carnival, and attractions to be held at the Island. Some shows changed every year, but the side shows hardly changed at all, giving stability to the ground - visitors knew where they could find the candy floss, rock, toffee apples and sea food stalls every time they visited the fairground.

The snack bars, which were situated at both the top and bottom ends of the ground, were well patronised, the bottom snack bar serving mainly fish'n'chips. The scenic artist for the ground, Norman Pratt, painted a caricature of the owner as a character from a radio show, a "Mrs. Hoskins", who played the part of a cook. The catch phrase used by other characters in the show when she served them was always "Ooh! They're Lovely Mrs. Hoskins", and over the years the owner, Mrs. Crane became known to visitors by that name.

Some visitors came year after year, bringing their children, and later their grandchildren with them, and although they only visited maybe once or twice a year, could remember the names of the staff and owners of the stalls and side-shows, and often addressed them as friends. A special treat, either at the beginning or the end of the season, was a visit to Fortes Ice Cream Parlour for their speciality, a Knickerbocker Glory.

On the sands the pony rides run by Joey Yeoman, Gordon Pearce, Donny Webber and Bert Woodfield, together with rides in horse and carts driven by Wally Forse, Bubbles Brownhill and Ken Reed were very popular attractions. "Trips around the Bay", which started in the early 1900's were still leaving the beach in the 70's, with the landing stages being pushed either down the beach as the tide went out, or up it when the tide came in. They were very useful as diving platforms for youngsters who risked a swift clip across the ear if caught.

Around the ground were side-shows, some of which changed on a regular basis. These included a boxing booth, a fortune teller (Madame Romany), a South Sea Islanders Show featuring coloured girls from Cardiff, a Wild West Show, and one year "Armetro" appeared there. He was a painter with no arms and would paint your portrait with a brush held either in his mouth, or between his toes.

Over the years attractions that are remembered when Barry Island is mentioned are first and foremost, the Scenic Railway. Before the scenic arrived, the first sight of the Island from trains and buses was the old water chute, this being one of the first to be opened in South Wales (Porthcawl's came later). In the early 40's it became dwarfed by the scenic, which went on to become the trademark of the fairground until the 1960's when it was severely damaged by hurricane force winds which in 1973 led to its demolition, to be partially replaced by the Log Flume. Another attraction on the ground included the Wall of Death, and some even remember the old wall with the rider and a lion being driven around. Other attractions included The Dodgems, Haunted House, The Rotor, Moon Rocket, Gallopers (with its organ playing as it worked), Vampire Jets, The Waltzer, and The Caterpillar Ride. The first "white knuckle" ride to be seen as you entered the ground from the station (or as described by its operative "the brown trouser ride") was the Loop-o-Plane.

The ground opened daily with Glen Millers "American Patrol", and closed each evening with "Now is the Hour". On its first note, shutters were put up, lights were put out, and some of the staff were off the ground and waiting for the bus, or were on the way to the nearest pub, before the music had stopped. It was also the signal to some residents of the Island to get the kettle on and supper ready, as the other half would be home shortly.


I would like to express my thanks to Anna Morgan of Messrs. Guinness for her help in obtaining information on the Guinness Clock for this article.

T.C.

© T. CLEMETT 2000


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