Barry Island 'Pleasure' Park

19th November 2012
A recent conversation with the organiser of the RPS contemporary group, suggested a trip to Barry Island. Although I have been aware of the presence of the pleasure beach, mainly from its inclusion in the comedy Gavin & Stacy, I am ashamed to say that in all the years I have lived in South Wales, I have never been to this historic site and my tardiness resulted in my failure to see the site in operation. The pleasure park closed its gates for the final time at the end of this Summer.

The history of the park is quite fascinating and it is interesting to see how the passage of time has led to the sombre images I took this week.

Barry Island is situated in the Vale of Glamorgan, some 10 miles South west of Cardiff. Although not technically an Island, the area was largely inaccessible until the 1890s when a rail link opened up the coastal area to day trippers. During the summer months beach attractions, such as carousels, swing boats and playground slides were set up on the beach to attract visitors. In 1897, Sydney White, the local manufacture of the beach swing boats, purchased the Switchback railway (one of the first wooden ‘roller coasters’ designed by LaMarcus Thomson) that had been a major attraction at Cardiff ‘s Fine Art, Industrial and Maritime Exhibition the previous year and installed it on the seafront. This became a very popular attraction for the Victorian holidaymakers and the White family continued to develop the attractions, installing a figure 8 rollercoaster in 1912 and establishing the Barry Island Pleasure Park in 1923. In 1930 they lost control of the park when they were outbid for the lease by legendary showman Pat Collins (after they themselves had outbid Collins on his Evesham Pleasure park the year before and in retaliation for the next 20 years Barry Island pleasure park was renamed “the New Evesham Pleasure park”!).

The Pleasure Park became an established tourist destination and the 1938 Bank Holiday Monday saw a record crowd of well over 250,000 arrive at the island in a single day. The introduction of a spectacular scenic railway to the park in 1940 caused a sensation and with a track of just over a mile long and an initial climb and drop of 72ft it was the biggest wood-built roller coaster ever erected in the UK. It was also one of the last such railways to be built in this country and towered over Barry Island for the next three decades. The park continued to flourish until the 1970s when the ride had to be demolished in 1973 after being badly damaged in a severe winter gale. Unfortunately the changing leisure habits and customer demands for more exotic (and sunnier) destinations saw the resort become out-dated and unable to compete with the newer and more modern high speed 'white knuckle' rides offered elsewhere. The closure of the nearby Butlins Holiday resort in the 1990s led to a marked decline in customers and in recent years a large number of the rides were sold and not replaced. Today only the shell of the wacky goldmine log flume and the rusting ‘Evolution’ ride remain on the site of the Pleasure park and the site is closed. Recently Town Counsellors have approved outline plans to redevelop the site to create an undercover scheme, which includes 121 flats and a 60 bed residential care home as well as leisure/entertainment elements such as a cinema.