Disappearing Barry Part 2 - Barry Docks in the 50's

Whilst walking around the Waterfront I noticed that nothing has been done to record the names of the factories and small workshops etc., that were in operation there in the 50's. The Docks and Subway Road were once a hive of activity and gave employment to hundreds of people who lived in the locality.

Since the late 50's many of the buildings in Subway Road have changed ownership as companies outgrew or left them. Salevon Joinery and Watsons' Stone Masons moved on the start of the Waterfront project. In other buildings, the same tenants that have occupied the building for a number of years remain, amongst them Sylver Star DIY, Crefft Kitchens, and Glamorgan Plumbing Supplies.

From my own recollections I can recall that in the 50's as you entered Subway Road from under the railway bridge onto the docks, the first property was the Dock Police force house of Sergeant Young. Next door was the old British and Foreign Sailors Society's Chapel (Bethel), later to become a Sea Cadet headquarters, and now Powys Instrumentation and Engineering. A small allotment garden was next to a stores for a potato merchant, which was also home to the Sea Cadets and is now Sylver Star DIY. The building next door was used as a tobacconists and sweet shop. I believe a Mrs Dupe owned it at one time.

Further down Tom Holmes established offices for his building company in the buildings that I believe once housed Betley Engineering. A small café run by Mrs Watkins, and later by Mrs Peterson, and used by the staff of the dock offices was adjacent to one of the two stores belonging to Barry Naval Ironmongery. One building was used by the company for the storage of larger items, the other for general stores. The company was later taken over by SWIRCO Newton. In the 50's Bill Oxenham and Johnny Clemett were both employed there. Their motto was "if we don't have it, then it isn't made, but give us a pattern and we'll get it made for you!".

Next door was a workshop used by electrical contractors, and this was later to become a workshop for Class Cabinets for the manufacture of kitchen furniture, and then a small engineering workshop, an offshoot of Bearings, Cardiff.

On the corner was Solomon Andrews' Café, one of many situated in most of the South Wales Ports. They were known all over the world as "Solly's", and were frequented by dock workmen and seamen alike. In the morning the café was full of the smell of bacon, eggs, sausages, and other fried food being cooked as workmen flocked in for their breakfasts. The black and white tiled floor echoed to the sound of hobnailed boots as dockers entered and queued up for their mugs of hot tea. This was served from large metal teapots lined up on the counter, which were refilled from water boilers kept behind the counter, and which filled the café with their steam. Johnny Palmer, one of the best known characters in Barry, was a member of the staff at "Solly's". As soon as breakfast was over and the workmen returned to their jobs, Johnny was out with his mop and bucket washing the tiled floor, cleaning off the tables and counter, and getting ready for the next influx of workers. Although catering for workmen who were often covered in coal dust, the café was usually clean and tidy.

Opposite was a steel tower, one of many on the dock used as an accumulator to store hydraulic power, and a small cabin used as a police lodge.

A lot of workmen that used the café worked on the Barry Island side of the dock and were transported across by a ferry which ran from Bailey's to a landing near the Graving Dock. When not being used by dock workmen, this ferry was used by people on their way to the beaches at Jackson's Bay, the Island, or the fairground.

In the early 50's ships were still entering the docks for loading and unloading, the coal tips were still in operation and almost every berth had a crane nearby.

On the finish or start of a particular shift, the roads leading to and from the docks were full of workmen on bicycles making their way home, or to work. All the bicycles were sit-up-and-beg types, with hardly a dropped handlebar to be seen among them.

The first port of call for many of the workmen who had finished their shift was either the club or the pub, usually the "Chain Locker", to wash the coal dust away if they had been working on the coal boats, or just to quench their thirst. Bikes were stacked all along the walls of whatever establishment the rider had stopped at for a quick drink before going home.

Back on the docks, with the exception of the port authority, the Barry Graving Docks opposite the dock offices, together with C.H. Bailey, were probably the largest employers of labour on the docks. The Graving Docks was at one time fitted with pumping equipment capable of pumping 118,000 gallons of water per minute, and 2 drain pumps which could pump 12,000 gallons of water per minute. It was also one of the first businesses on the docks, apart from the Barry Dock and Railway Company, to have its buildings lit by electricity.

Around the corner from Solly's at Tips 1 and 2 was the large workshop of Penarth Pontoon & Hodges, which, like Bailey's, catered for ships needing an overhaul or repair. As less and less shipping entered the docks it diversified into making drams for the NCB, and other small engineering projects.

Next door was the riggers lodge, later to become Printers Equipment, a sheet metal works specialising in the manufacture of equipment for printers using the hot metal process for typesetting. It later diversified into the manufacture of ventilating systems for farm and factory use, and steel fabrication. It left the docks and moved to Sully Moors Road and unlike many small businesses that were situated on the dock, is still in operation.

On the closure of the Tyne Workshops and offices used by C.H. Bailey, the site was taken over by Western Welding Engineering, a company that fabricated vessels for the steel works, and oil tanks for home and industrial use. Upon the development of the Waterfront this company also left the docks, and is now established in a purpose built factory on the Atlantic Trading Estate. In the 50's Confectionery Carriers had a warehouse at the rear of these buildings. Evan Sillett owned this company.

A small cabin was situated by the side of the stream (part of the Buttrills Brook), which ran from Broad Street, under the railway lines, and into the docks near number seven tip. It was one of the more picturesque sights on the docks, with a small bridge running across the stream and its own allotment nearby. It was furnished by the workmen that used it and known by dockers and railway men as "Bert Williams Cabin".

Barry Metal Products, another small sheet metal works, was established in Swan Buildings, situated on the side of the footpath that ran from Broad Street (by the old Western Welsh garage), crossed the railway lines by footbridge, onto the docks.

Thompson Metals had the large site on the opposite side of the footpath, later to be taken over by Spray Fayre, who built a machine on the site to shred motor vehicles. On the company's closure, the site was taken over and became part of Woodham's.

The next small workshop was Cattle's Motor Body repair shop, a family business that moved from the premises upon the proposed redevelopment of the docks.

Woodham's Train GraveyardIn the 60's Messrs Woodhams used Luen's Bank, and the sidings outside the building formerly used to generate hydraulic power, for dismantling redundant railway equipment, before moving to the West Pond. Nearby was a hydraulic accumulator similar to the one at Subway Road and also used to store power for the operation of lock gates, etc. A path leading from the road was for the use of workmen employed at the Per Way yard.

On the other side of the road in number one dock was one of Bailey's berths for the repair and refit of ships. This berth was later used for the shipping of scrap overseas. Bailey's other berth was on the opposite side of the dock near the NERC buildings.

Gwalia Buildings at the end of the road was used by the Barry Railway Company as a goods depot, and has been used for a great number of years as a stores and offices by Sylver Star DIY. The South Wales Branch of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society also had an office there, until its move to Penarth. Part of the building was also used by Hawthorn Coaches as offices, and as a maintenance and storage area for their vehicles.

Further down the road towards the entrance to the tunnel at Broad Street, a set of steps led up to the maintenance depot of the railway. On the Broad Street side of the tunnel an ornamental cast iron toilet was situated, but this, like many other toilets in the town, has been demolished.


I should like to apologise in advance for any errors that may have occurred in this article, as unfortunately I cannot find any records of these buildings and businesses. Also I am unable to find any Kelly's Directories for Barry and district published in the 50's, and have had to rely mainly on my memory for most of the above details.


© T. CLEMETT 2003


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