In the 50's the Knap was the most vibrant part of Barry, having in the area -

  • One of the finest ballrooms in South Wales

  • A YMCA hostel with a staff of top class reputation
  • A boating lake with dozens of boats and a motor launch giving trips around the lake
  • The Knap Swimming Pool, Barry's "Jewel in the Crown". This was the largest and one of the best known outdoor swimming pools in the country, with at one time a water polo team, a swimming club and a lifeguard club, with a combined membership of over 250.
  • Barry Rowing Club, formed in 1897, must have one of the longest sporting histories in the town.
  • Cloakroom and toilet facilities equal to those at any comparable holiday resort, and
  • The grounds of the Knap Hotel which, some summers, were covered with tents of Scout groups visiting the area.

What is left now?

A semi-derelict pool and boating lake, and even the oldest sporting club in Barry, the Rowing Club, has closed and its buildings are vandalised.

These are some of the facilities mentioned above.


From the 20's until the 60's one of the most well known buildings in South Wales was Bindles Ballroom. The Ballroom was built for a Mr Martin, who proved unable to pay for its construction. The builders, Messrs Vickery Brothers, sold the building to a consortium headed by Mr Norman Hardy. It opened in the late 20's and within a few years it became one of the most popular ballrooms in South Wales, with probably the best dance floor in the Principality. Businesses and other organisations from all over South Wales came to the Knap and held their Annual Dances and social functions there. At one time demand was so great that bookings were taken two years in advance. Lists of local clubs and works which held these functions there grew longer and longer. One of the first bands to play at Bindles was "The Melodists", but the best known and most popular was "Bert Miller and his Bindles Orchestra".

The name "Bindles" came about when a name for the new venture was needed. Various suggestions were put forward, until finally one of the directors at the meeting said that her nephew, who was an author, had written a series of books about a character named "Bindle", and that his latest book was called "The Night Club". A resume of the book was given, and when her nephew gave his permission to use the name, it was agreed that the new venture would be named " Bindles".

In 1982 Bindles held its last function and was let to a TV company. It was partially destroyed by fire and later rebuilt as a public house, and Vindini's restaurant. This, like so many other facilities in the town, has been demolished and housing built on the site.

In front of Bindles is the Sunken Bandstand, which was the venue for the local town band concerts for many years. The boxing club held matches there, and it was also used by Trafalgar Ladies, and once a year by St. Aidans Gymnastic Club to show off their talents, and try and impress the young ladies watching. It is now a flower and water garden.



Behind Bindles stood Glan-y-Mor (Translation : Beachway), advertised as "The Modern Residential Centre" for the YMCA. The Countess of Plymouth opened it in 1931. In the year it was opened, it could cater for 130 guests and was advertised as open from Easter until October. Non YMCA members who stayed there could also use the facilities, which included a putting green, tennis courts, photographic darkroom and of course, sea bathing. Concessions were given to residents for boating and swimming at the Knap Pool and Boating Lake.

By the 50's, accommodation had been increased to cater for 200 guests, and sleeping bungalows had been added to the hostel, with more emphasis being placed on social activities, i.e. Parties, Conventions, Fraternals and Reunions.

In the 70's the hostel was used as a student hall of residence by the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, in Cardiff. The warden, "Mrs G", still lives nearby, and the resident students have regular reunions in Barry and their own website.

The hostel was sold in the 80's, demolished, and houses built on site. During building work the remains of a Roman building were discovered, and work was halted until the site was excavated.

Along the Promenade, opposite the entrance to the Swimming Pool, the Council, with the help of a grant from the Neale Trust Fund, erected a clock. After being damaged by stormy weather and vandalism the clock was removed as being dangerous, and never repaired, or rebuilt in a safer and more sheltered position.



During the Second World War, Cold Knap Point was altered to look like the Battery on Nell's Point, with the placement of dummy guns and fortifications. There was also a barrage balloon site built in the swimming pool grounds to give credence to it. This fooled no one, as in the 30's the Graf Zeppelin flew over Barry taking pictures of the port and the surrounding countryside.

One of the most impressive buildings on the Promenade was the Cloakrooms and toilets. These could cater for the large number of people who used the Knap and Watchtower Bay. In the 1950's it was suggested that they be incorporated into the swimming pool grounds for the thousands that were using the pool. A short-sighted council rejected the suggestion, and instead built a totally inadequate toilet block. The cloakrooms were closed, and briefly used as a Water Sports Club headquarters. The building is now used for storage, and as a lifeguard headquarters.



Watch Tower Bay takes its name from the watchtower built there in about 1865, when Barry had a population of less than 90. The building, which is of two storeys, is built of local materials. The ground floor extends back under the ground for about 12ft. When built it had double doors with a slipway to enable a boat to be launched straight out to sea. This entrance was bricked up when the RNLI lifeboat station was built on Barry Island. The old entrance can still be seen from the outside, where the arched window is now. The 6th Barry Sea Scout group still uses the building as a water sports headquarters. Behind the tower is the old rocket shed that was used for the storage of safety equipment, i.e. Breeches buoys, signal rockets, etc.

The Watchtower and Rocket Shed

After the watchtower ceased to be used, Mr Luen rented the building and used it as tea-rooms, before converting the old lime kilns (which is now The Beachcomber) into a cafe. At one time the Luen family catered for most of the visitors to Watchtower Bay. Dudley ran the bottom café, and his brother Sid ran the bungalow on the top of the bank, which was named "The Watchtower Tea Gardens", later to change its name to the "Lido Café". By the 50's it was known by all and sundry as "Luen's Cafe" and was the meeting place for the younger element who used the pool. This name was to change again when it turned into the first teenage disco in Barry. The "77 Club", run by Sam Watters, attracted youngsters from all over Barry. A faint outline of the name can still be seen on the roof.

In 1952 Luen's was used as a school when parents objected to their children being transferred from Romilly School to Barry Island School. This "Parents Strike" was the first recorded incident of its kind in Barry.

Along from the cafe was "The Knap Hotel" which was both RAC and AA approved, and catered for holidaymakers and guests. In the 1930's it was owned and run by Mrs R. Luen, but was later sold to Mrs Dotchon. Upon its demolition, Sea Point flats were built on the site.



This was built in the 1920's by Sir William Graham who owned Friars Point Guest House, and was a managing partner in the dry dock company of C.H. Bailey at Barry. The house contained in its grounds Cold Knap Farm, the oldest continually occupied building in the area. On Graham's death his son John lived there until his untimely death, when it was sold to a Swiss businessman. It then passed to Alan Reardon Smith, the son of Sir William Reardon Smith, founder of the Reardon Smith Shipping Line, and one of the finest nautical colleges in the country. During the war it was used as a hospital. On the death of Alan Reardon Smith in 1975, the White House was sold to Mr Jackson, who later disposed of it to developers who it demolished and built the present houses on the site.



This was built in the 1920s by unemployed workers on a docket system, with funds from the Unemployed Grants Committee. The Lake and Pool was built on the bed of the old Cadoxton River which flowed from the Watchtower Bay end of the pool, towards Bindles, joining the brook which used to run through Romilly Park and out to sea at the Pebble Beach.

The Knap Pool was built as a tidal pool, designed to be filled at high tide by means of a sluice gate, which opened when the pressure of the water outside the pool was greater than pressure of the water in the pool. This system was discontinued when a gas engine was installed, allowing water to be pumped into the pool at high tide. This pump was installed at the deep end near the diving boards. The pool is one of the largest open-air pools in Britain, is 120 yards long and 30 yards wide, and contains over 1,000,000 gallons of water.

A similar tidal system was used at the Bendricks on the diverted Cadoxton River.

On completion of the pool it was leased to Mr Shanly and advertised as Cold Knap Salt Water Bathing Pool. Mr Shanly also had the concession for the hire of deckchairs, etc., at Barry Island. He left Barry in the late 20's as he had the same concession at the Serpentine in London.

On its completion the pool at the shallow end was surrounded by changing rooms similar to the bathing huts at Barry Island but without wheels. The last one was removed in the 1950's.

The manager of the pool in the 20's was Mr Lightbody, later to be followed by Ed Morgan, and then the longest serving manager Harry Baker.

Harry Baker was the most well known manager, and had over 150 rescues to his credit when he retired. From the time that he was appointed pool manager until his retirement, no fatalities were recorded at the pool. Part of the manager's duties was to take classes from the local schools. Most of the school children of Barry had swimming lessons from Mr Baker.

Huts that were used by the military during the war, were used as clubrooms by the swimming club and the lifeguards. The old pump house, which was a corrugated building, was divided. Part was used for many years as a snack bar, and the other part as a first aid post.

The duties of the first lifeguards employed by the council after Mr Shanly left Barry were to supervise Watchtower Bay, Pebble Beach, Porthkerry Bay and the Lake.

In 1937 the enlargement of the pool, with more provision for sun bathers took place. This was achieved by the removal of the wooden fencing that had been there since the pool had been built, and moving the boundary back.

On the death of Mr Shanly, the executors offered the council the equipment that the council had been leasing from him. The council decided to not to purchase it at this time, but to wait until the executors auctioned it off. This they did, and they purchased all the equipment at the pool for a total cost of £83. This included slides, diving boards, wooden chalets and deck chairs.

The same year season tickets for the pool cost 5/-. When the schools annual gala was held, over 2,000 spectators arrived at the pool to watch. Unfortunately there were insufficient seats available, and some spectators had to stand. As the numbers of swimmers was so great that year, the pool stayed open by request until 24th September.


On July 13th 1937, the Welsh Swimming Championships were held at the pool with teams competing from all over Wales. Thousands of spectators came to the pool to watch the events.

After the pool had closed for the season, work commenced on the construction of the concrete chalets. These were designed and erected by the council at a cost of £2,126 and were ready for the 1938 season. That year it was decided that the hire of the chalets would be one Guinea (£1.05) for the season, and that for non-residents the price should be doubled to 2 Guineas. It was pointed out that if non-residents paid more than residents, they would automatically get the chalets, as the treasurer was bound by the councils' own rules to accept the higher offer. In 1938 the total number of chalets available for hire was 38 concrete and 10 wooden, and the council had received 96 applications for them.

In the same year work started on the construction of the pump house, which was to enable the British games to take place there. These were between England, Scotland and Wales. It was decided to purchase diving boards, water chutes, and steps, which were to be fitted to the side of pool to enable the competitors to get out more easily. A boom costing £150 was also to be purchased, to shorten the pool to 50 yards in order to bring the pool up to international specifications, and to enable more matches to take place there.

At the same meeting quotations were sought for the cost of fitting a permanent boom across the pool, and enlarging the shallow end. This never proceeded, owing to the outbreak of war.

By the beginning of April 1939, doubts about the finishing date of the pump house, and the cost of hiring seats for the number of spectators expected, were being expressed. The ASA were expecting in excess of 3,000 spectators per day. The council were worried that even if the pump house was finished before July, with the state of the tides it would take many days to fill the pool, which held in excess of over 1,000,000 gallons. It was decided to ask the local fire service to stand by with their pumping equipment, but by the day of the International, the new pump house worked perfectly, and their services were not required.

The ASA proposed that at the end of the International Match (which England won and Scotland were runners-up) an invitation water polo match be held. As this was on Sunday, the council rejected the proposal on the grounds that water polo was football played in the water, and that football was banned on Sundays.

The pump house was built with a £6,000 grant from the Fitness Council, and a further £5,000 coming from the council. It was capable of circulating over 1,000,000 gallons of water in 12½ hours. Chemicals were not added, as these would react with the seawater, but air was pumped into the water to stop it stagnating, and all solids were filtered out.

Much of the concrete balustrading and other concrete structures were made by Council workmen at the old Destructor site at Barry Road, under the supervision of Mr Lalande.

At the end of the Second World War the pool was returned to the council, and on Saturday 5th August 1944, the pool re-opened after nearly six years being closed.

Once more the council decided that the pool would not open on Sundays. After an outcry by the public, it was pointed out to the council that many prospective swimmers worked six days a week, that Sunday was their only time off, and that Friday would be a better day on which to close the pool.

The following year the swimming club returned to the pool, and on the 15th June 1945 held their opening splash, the first since 1939.

Over the years local schools used the pool for their swimming galas, and Barry Water Polo Club and Barry Swimming Club for their club matches and Internationals.

In the early 50's the pool was again altered, by the addition of a diving pit and higher diving boards, and the construction of a temporary boom across it at 50 yards to enable the British Swimming Championships to take place. Teams from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland took part in the International match.

For a number of years it was the venue for numerous Bathing beauty competitions, the last one was Miss HTV.

The heyday of the pool and lake was the 50's, when over 3,000 people visited the pool daily on Bank Holiday weekends, and over 1,500 daily during the school holidays. Most of these were "locals" who considered the pool to be theirs. It was often said that "Barry Island was for Trippers, but that Porthkerry and The Knap were ours".

An attempt was made by the council to close the pool, but a petition of over 15,000 signatures, together with the addresses of the persons signing it, was presented to the council.

The remains of the Knap Lido

Three years later an uncaring and unlistening council closed the pool for ever. It has now been allowed to decay past all hopes of recovery, and current plans are for the pool to be filled in, the buildings to be demolised, and the area landscaped.


© T. CLEMETT 2003

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