I genuinely had a tear in my eye when I saw these photos of a decaying Barry Island fairground being demolished. I might live in Cardiff now, but I was born and bred in Barry and as pretty much all my family are still there, we’re back and forth a lot.
Every part of me hoped someone would ‘save’ Barry Island. Every part of me thought some rich business person would invest a truck load of money and restore it into a tourist attraction we could once again be proud of. But it seems that’s not to be. Yes, there are plans for it to be redeveloped, but part of it will be flats, part of it a leisure complex, although judging from the news reports I’ve read, that term is being used in the loosest sense of the term.
Like Butlins, the Knap Lido (or the baarrhhs as we all called it) and the Theatre Royal cinema before it, another slice of Barry’s heritage is being bulldozed. There are plenty of political points to be made about how everything wonderful in Barry gets left to decay and then demolished, and plenty of people making those points better than I can, so I don’t want to focus on that here. As the old saying goes, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, and so I’m going to focus on the happy times instead. Here are my memories of ‘the Island’, as a girl who grew up in Barry in the 1980s and 1990s. I hope it provides some happy memories for you all.
- The log flume
It’s the decaying log flume that makes me saddest of all because this was always my favourite. I remember the first time I went on it. For years, I had been petrified of this ride but suddenly one summer I felt brave enough – and from then on, I was hooked. I loved every moment of it. You would queue across the wooden bridge, stepping onto the rotating platform when it was your turn as the fairground worker held your boat still with their foot. On you would clamber, knowing your bum would get wet the moment you sat down, and often your feet too, if there was a lot of water in the bottom. And then you were off, gently floating around until you got to the big upwards escalator. Oh, this terrified and excited me in equal measure! You would cling on to the sides of your boat as it went up and up and up, slowly sliding backwards with gravity as the boat click clacked up to the top. Then, a small splash and a journey around the top of the ride, amazing views all around, but funnier to watch the people on the Jungle Ride underneath getting splashed from above as your boat swished about in the water. And then you came to the famous tunnel at the top of the log flume, the one so often shown in photos of the fairground. The boat would pause for a moment, and the whoosh! Down the shoot you would go. You knew you were brave if you let go of the handles and put your arms in the air as you went down. I will never forget that thrill. Sometimes you got soaked, sometimes you escaped with a little splash, but always I was ready to go back on straight again. I can’t imagine driving across the causeway onto Barry Island and not seeing the log flume any more.
- The Fun House
Situated at the back of the park, this was a merry assault course for the daring. My brothers and I would spend ages on the hamster wheel, trying to find a way to get as high as we could as it went round and round – but obviously we never got anywhere. I loved the wooden planks where you would place one foot on each as they would move backwards and forwards. But the highlight was the death slide. I have no idea how high it really was but to a small child, it seemed like Everest. I’m sure it was completely vertical for most of the drop. The worst moment was the anticipation as you sat on the ledge at the top, knowing that if you misjudged the slide, you would burn your skin, or end up free-falling to the bottom, missing the drop entirely. The big boys used to swing from a bar at the top and drop down. That petrified me!
- The upside down pirate ship
It took me a long time to be brave enough to go on this one. I was petrified. We’d all heard the urban myths (at least I hope that’s what they were) about the child who’d fallen out while upside down, or the time the ship got stuck upside down. And the rumours that the fairground staff would stand underneath catching your money as it fell out your pockets. I remember going on this for the first time with my best childhood friend T. We were so scared we held hands. The biggest thrill seekers would rush to sit at either of the ends because before it went upside down it would swing backwards and forwards and the seats at the end would go the highest. You were proper brave if you went upside down with your arms in the air. Needless to say, I never did that.
- The boys working on the Waltzers spinning you round really fast
So many of my friends worked ot the Island when we were teenagers, in the cafés and shops, in the arcades and on the rides. The going rate was £1 an hour. You always felt really smug in front of the tourists when the staff knew your name. The best bit though, was the boys we all fancied always worked on the waltzers. They would always give you an extra spin to make you go round extra fast. We would go on this ride time after time, in the hope they would notice us. Most of the time, they were too busy checking out the female tourists though, I think.
- Band night at the fairground
Band night was brilliant! For the price of about £4 (I think – it was a long time ago) you bought a wrist band that meant you could go on as many rides as you wanted, all night. It was always on week nights, which was extra exciting when you were at school the next day. My birthday is at the end of June and I remember doing this a few times to celebrate. You always felt super cool keeping your wrist band on to show all your friends the next day.
- Uncle P taking me and all my cousins to the fairground every summer
Every summer my Uncle P, Auntie K and cousins J and A would visit Barry from their home in the West Midlands. Uncle P was the first to admit he never remembered any of his nieces and nephews birthdays (there are rather a lot of us to remember, so I can quite understand!), but he always, always took all of us for a trip to the fairground at Barry Island. It was as exciting as Christmas and I remember feeling like I was going to burst with anticipation when this magical day came around. I never quite understood why my cousins who lived away would get so excited when they saw the sea. It’s always there, I used to think to myself. And then when I moved to Cardiff in my early 20s, and couldn’t see the sea every day, I suddenly got it. I miss not seeing that view every day.
- Radio 1 Roadshows
I loved the Radio 1 Roadshows! For one day every school summer holiday, my friends and I would get up at stupid o’clock and walk to the Island as the sun rose, with a bag-full of food and drinks, and pitch ourselves at the front to watch all manner of bands and DJs broadcast live to the nation from our hometown. Thousands and thousands of people from Barry and beyond would turn out for the roadshows. Boys with caps and no tops on would climb up the lampposts and perch themselves there. Older teenage girls would sit on their boyfriends shoulders trying to see. The atmosphere was incredible. I couldn’t tell you half the bands I saw, or who the DJs were, but one year, I saw Kylie, my hero, singing live. Another year Sean Maguire kissed me. That was a big deal back then. His music was rubbish but we all fancied him as Tegs in Grange Hill.
- Watching an endless stream of coaches of daytrippers driving down Park Crescent en route to Barry Island
I grew up just off Park Crescent, one of the main routes for tourists to get to Barry Island. Some weekends literally hundreds of coaches packed full of tourists would drive past the bottom of my street. My best friend T and I were fascinated by this. We used to wave like mad to them. I could see Barry Island’s overflow carpark from my bedroom window and if that was full, you knew it meant the Island would be unbearably busy and best avoided. Which brings me to my next point…
- Feeling smug that as a local you went to Jackson’s Bay instead of Whitmore Bay (that’s the sandy beach at Barry Island)
If you wanted to get away from the crowds of tourists, you would head to Jackson’s Bay instead. I have so many memories of my Grandma taking me, my brothers and my cousins there. She would pile us all into her little orange mini, park up at the top of the cliff, and we would haul all our things down the path, and pitch up for the day. The sand on this beach is more like mud, but we loved being caked in the stuff. Several years later, on the night I got my GCSE results, 40 or so of us had a crazy party on this beach. The fact I don’t remember much of the night probably tells you all you need to know!
- The Friendly Friars
When you got to 15 or so, Friars was the only place to go on a Saturday night. Barry Island’s nightclub was dark and dingy, the floor was sticky, but we loved it. The fashion back then was for girls to wear checked pinafore mini dresses, or miniskirts and slogan t-shirts, and knee high socks, which we had all bought in Nefertiti’s, TopShop or New Look, the only three decent clothing shops in the town centre back then. Beforehand, you’d go for a drink in The Ship, then walk across the causeway to Friars. The boys would always slide down the big lamppost en route and I know more than one who broke a limb doing this. In the Friars, we drank Cinzano and lemonade, maybe stretching to a Southern Comfort and lemonade if we were feeling posh. I’m sure it used to cost us £1.20 a glass. The music was the very finest Brit Pop – Blur, Oasis, Supergrass. There are songs I hear even now, 20 years on, that instantly transport me back to Friars and its glory days. * So many of my childhood and teenage memories feature Barry Island. I admit I took it for granted; of course I did, it was on my doorstep. I never thought it wouldn’t be there. It makes me sad that children growing up in Barry these days won’t get to enjoy the same experiences as their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond. I still visit regularly with my husband and children. They think it’s fantastic – building sandcastles on the beach, trying to win on the penny machines in the arcades, chips and ice cream on the seafront. And it is fantastic. But part of me will always know how much better it once was. I’d love to hear your memories of Barry Island. Please do comment below or join in the chat on my Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or on Twitter @cardiffmummy