The Vale of Glamorgan History

Early History
The area now occupied by Barry has seen human activity in every period of history. Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age microlith flint tools have been found at Friars Point on Barry Island and near Wenvoe] and Neolithic or New Stone Age polished stone axe-heads were discovered in St. Andrews Major. A cinerary urn (pottery urn buried with cremation ashes) was found on Barry Island during excavations of Bronze Age barrows and two more were found in a barrow at Cold Knap Point. A large defended enclosure or Iron Age promontory hillfort was located at the Bulwarks at Porthkerry and there was evidence of the existence of an early Iron Age farmstead during construction of Barry College off Colcot Road.

Barry CastleIn Roman times farmsteads existed on the site of Barry Castle and Biglis and there were verbal reports of discovery of a cemetery including lead coffins with scallop-shell decoration. Both St. Baruc's Chapel and St. Nicholas Church have re-used Roman bricks and tiles incorpoarated in their building fabric and a Roman villa was discovered in Llandough. In 1980 a Roman building consisting of 22 rooms and cellars in four ranges around a central courtyard was excavated at Glan-y-môr and is believed to be a third century building associated with naval activity, maybe a supply depot.

The Vikings launched raids in the area and Barry Island was known to be a raider base in 1087. Flat Holm and Steep Holm islands in the Bristol Channel have their name Holm name derived from a Scandinavian word for an island in an estuary. The excavation of the Glan-y-môr site revealed the site had been reused in the 6th and 7th century and also between AD 830 and 950 as a dry stone sub-rectangular building with a turf or thatched roof.

Medieval Barry
The main feature of the area at this time was the island in the Bristol Channel, separated from the mainland by a tidal estuary. It is described in Giraldus Cambrensis or Gerald of Wales' Itinerarium Cambriae ("Journey through Wales", 1191). He states that Barry derives its name from St. Baruc whose remains are deposited in a chapel on the island. The local noble family who owned the island and the adjoining estates took the name of de Barri from the island.

Following the Norman conquest of England the area was divided into manors with the Barry area split into two large lordships, Penmark and Dinas Powys. Penmark was split into the sub-manors of Fonmon, West Penmark and Barry. Dinas Powys was split into the sub-manors of Cadoxton and Uchelolau (Highlight). The sub-manor of Barry was granted by the de Umfraville family to the de Barri family and the seat of the manor was Barry Castle, located on high ground overlooking the Bristol Channel, a site occupied in Roman times by a native homestead. The castle was a small fortified manor house, built to replace an earlier earthwork. By the late 13th century the castle had two stone buildings on the east and west sides of a courtyard. Early in the 14th century the castle was strengthened by the addition of a large hall and gatehouse on its south side, the ruins of which are all that survive today. By now Barry had grown into a village and port with its own church and watermill but in the 14th century its population was decimated by the Black Death and the consequences of the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr. It took the population some 300 years to recover and once more hold the title of village, essentially a sparsely populated area with a few scattered farms and much of the land a marsh that a small river flowed through. By 1622 the pattern of fields, where enclosure was almost complete, around Barry village was pretty much as it was to remain until the growth of the modern town. According to the 1673 Hearth-Tax list the parish contained thirteen houses.

Industrial history
Barry Waterfront, Vale of Glamorgan- July 2007By 1871 the population of Barry was over the 100 mark there being 21 buildings, the new estate-owning Romilly family being involved in the build up of the village but it remained a largely agricultural community. It grew when it was developed as a coal port in the 1880s. The coal trade was growing faster than the facilities at Cardiff in Tiger Bay ever could and so a group of colliery owners formed the Barry Railway Company and chose to build the docks at Barry. Work commenced in 1884 and the first dock basin was opened in 1889 to be followed by two other docks and extensive port installations. The Barry Railway brought coal down from the South Wales Valleys to the new docks whose trade grew from one million tons in the first year, to over nine million tons by 1903. The port was crowded with ships and had flourishing ship repair yards, cold stores, flour mills and an ice factory. By 1913, Barry was the largest coal exporting port in the world.

Behind the docks rose the terraced houses of Barry which, with Cadoxton, soon formed a sizeable town. The railways which had played a major part in the development of the dock did a great deal, too, to make Barry Island a popular resort.

Following the rise of diesel and electric power on the UK's railways, the marshalling yards at Barry Docks became the largest repository of steam engines awaiting scrapping in the UK. Eventually a significant proportion of the engines were saved by rail preservation organisations, although many were vandalised or looted by souvenir hunters.

During its industrial peak a number of ships sunk off the Barry coast


Roman times
Main article: Cowbridge Roman Town
The town's origins appear to be Roman and many remains of a settlement of that era have been found during archaeological excavations. It is identified by some scholars as the site of the Roman fort of 'Bovium', partly because of its name of the present town. However other scholars believe this was Boverton (which is recorded as 'Bovium' in medieval Latin). Llantwit Major and Swansea Museum support this latter theory[citation needed]. The town's Welsh name, Y Bont-faen, means literally 'the stone bridge'. The river Thaw or Ddawan flows through the town.

Middle Ages
The town centre is still arranged on its medieval plan, with one long street divided into "burgage plots". It is one of very few medieval walled towns in Wales, and substantial portions of the walls, together with the south gate, are still standing. On 13 March 1254, Cowbridge received its first borough charter from Richard de Clare, the Lord of Glamorgan. Richard de Clare was one of the most powerful Barons of the day, having huge estates stretching across much of South Wales and also lands in southern and eastern England.

From 1243 de Clare was actively extending his authority in Glamorgan; in 1245 he seized the manors of Llanblethian and Talyfan from Richard Siward, and the lordships of Miskin and Glynrhondda from Hywel ap Maredudd. In Llanblethian he founded the town of Cowbridge and in Miskin he founded the castle and town of Llantrisant. The largely medieval church of the Holy Cross was initially a chapel of ease to the parish church at Llanblethian. In 1307 Earl Gilbert de Clare, grandson of Richard de Clare, began work on the stone fortifications of St Quintins Castle in Llanblethian.

Owain Glyndwr
The Battle of Stalling Down was fought nearby when the large English army of King Henry IV of England met with a combined force of French and Welsh soldiers of Glyndwr in 1403.

Georgian times
The 18th century antiquary, Iolo Morganwg, inventor of the present-day rituals of the National Eisteddfod of Wales kept a bookshop in the High Street, the location of which is now marked with a plaque inscribed with the words 'Y Gwir yn erbyn y Byd' in Welsh and ogham script. It was just outside the town that he held the first meeting of the Gorsedd, an assembly of bards, in 1795. Cowbridge Grammar School was founded in 1608 and had close links with Jesus College, Oxford through its later benefactor, Dr Leoline Jenkins. Its famous pupils included the poet, Alun Lewis, and the actor, Sir Anthony Hopkins. The old grammar school eventually merged with Cowbridge High School for Girls to became a comprehensive school, and the original buildings, having for some time lain derelict, have been converted into private accommodation.

Notable buildings
Cowbridge Museum is located in the town hall, a building dating back perhaps as far as the Elizabethan era, which served as a prison until 1830, when it was converted to replace the former Guild Hall, demolished at that date. The main street contains a number of Georgian houses, including the former town houses of important local families such as the Edmondes and Carnes. The Carnes town house is known as Great House, a Grade 2* listed property of Medieval origin.


Penarth is a Welsh name and could be a combination of the word: pen meaning head and arth meaning bear, hence ‘Head of the Bear’ or ‘Bear’s Head’. This was the accepted translation for several hundred years and is still reflected in the town’s crest which actually depicts bears. However it was never fully clear why a bear would be associated with the area, although it was conjectured that a bear could have lived in the once heavily wooded area during medieval times or even that Penarth Head could once have resembled a bear's head before erosion changed its profile. Modern scholars have since suggested that the derivation is more likely to have been shortened from an original “Pen-y-garth”, where garth means cliff, hence ‘Head of the cliff’ or ‘Clifftops’. The true meaning is buried so far back in time that it may never be satisfactorily explained.

The town civic insignia and crest was drawn by a Cardiff architect in the late 1890s from a detailed brief prepared by the Town Board. It features the aforementioned and now somewhat suspect bear's head above a shield supported by two further bears standing. The shield contains a Welsh 'ddraig' to denote that the town is in Wales and a sailing vessel recognising Penarth's long association with sea commerce.

Penarth's medieval walled Sherrif's Pound, an early form of multi purpose gaol, remained in use until the late 1700s as a place to retain stray sheep, cattle and pigs or to imprison thieves, rustlers and vagabonds. It was located roughly where the car park now stands at the rear of the Natwest Bank in Plymouth Road.

In 1803 Penarth is recorded as having between 800 - 900 acres (3.6 km2) of land under cultivation as several farms. In the 1801 census there were just 72 people living in the Manor. Even as late as 1851 Penarth was little more than a small rural farming and fishing village since medieval times with just 24 houses and 105 residents being one of five parishes contained within the Hundred of Dinas Powys, with a combined population of just over 300. Before the pier and dock were built there was a tiny fleet of local sail-powered fishing vessels based on the main town beach that tied up on the seafront quayside.

The manor lands had belonged to St. Augustine's Priory on Penarth Head and later the Cathedral in Bristol, but had been leased to then later acquired by the Earl of Plymouth of St. Fagans Castle. The Plymouth estate office assumed considerable control over the planning, building and development of the new town, offering 99-year leases and remaining the ground landlord. All householders in Penarth were tenants of the Plymouth Estates and paying an annual grount rent. The situation would not change until the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 that gave householders the choice of purchasing their freehold or negotiating 999 year extensions on their short leases.

The earliest homes built in the town were streets of terraced houses with busy corner shops and public houses on almost every corner, following the contours of the headland and in the rapidly expanding Cogan area near to the docks. Local grey limestone, all quarried from what is now Cwrt-y-vil playing fields, gave a particular character to the older buildings of the town that can still be seen. To the south of the town centre, imposing detached villa residences along the cliff tops looked across the Channel to the Somerset coast and the islands of Flat Holm (Welsh: Ynys Echni) and Steep Holm, built by wealthy shipping and dock owners from Cardiff, who were moving out of the industrialised city to establish a more gentile and sophisticated lifestyle

The contract for the building of Penarth Dock was placed in 1859 and the dock was opened six years later, constructed by a workforce of around 1,200 mostly Irish 'navvies'. At the Welsh coal trade's zenith in 1913 ships carried 4,660,648 tons of coal in a single year out of Penarth docks. In 1886 Isambard Kingdom Brunel's SS Great Britain, originally a passenger vessel but later converted as a coal trader departed from Penarth Dock on what would become its final voyage. A disastrous fire during the voyage all but destroyed the vessel and she foundered on the Falkland Islands, where she remained until salvaged and returned to Bristol Docks for restoration in the 1970s.

By 1861 the number of people in the five parishes had increased to 1,898 and to 3,382 by 1871. In 1875 three of the constituent parishes - Penarth, Cogan, and Llandough - were merged together into the Penarth Local Board, giving a population of 6,228 persons by 1881. This figure had doubled by 1891 with the opening of the railway and had increased even further by 1901 to 14,228 persons.

The town of Penarth thus owes its development to the massive expansion of the South Wales coalfield in the 19th century. Its proximity to Cardiff, which was the natural outlet for the industrial valleys of Glamorgan, and its natural waterfront meant that Penarth was ideally situated to contribute in meeting the world’s demand for Welsh coal through the construction of the docks.

One feature of Penarth Dock long forgotten today is the tunnel underpass that connected Penarth to Grangetown under the River Ely (Welsh: Afon Elai). Not quite wide enough for motor vehicles it was used by commuting pedestrians and cyclists as a short cut to work in Cardiff. The circular tunnel was about half a mile long with an entrance foyer at each end. Lined with cream and green coloured ceramic tiles the route was lit originally by gaslight and later by electricity. Built in 1902 the tunnel remained in use until 1965 when it was closed and the ends bricked up, after a series of violent muggings, repeated vandalism and the cost of maintenance became uneconomical. The tunnel entrance at the Penarth end was located near the lock gates between the outer basin and the number one dock. This historic short cut route was 'almost' replicated and replaced in June 2008 with the opening of a pedestrian and cycle route across the new Cardiff Bay Barrage.

The development of the town continued to be rapid and Penarth soon became self sufficient with its own local government, a thriving shopping centre and many new community facilities. What is now the main shopping area of Windsor Road was originally residential housing, but the owners sacrificed their front gardens to build shop extensions although the original house architecture can still be seen above the current shops. Most of the town's fine architectural features owe their origin to the landowners of the time and the results of their vision can be seen by the many grand buildings and parks which make Penarth what it is today. Thanks to the generosity of those far sighted landowners, Penarth earned its wide reputation as "The Garden by the Sea" because of its beautiful parks and open spaces. Furthermore, many of the buildings and features of the town have led to a substantial part of the town being designated as a Conservation Area because of its Victorian/Edwardian architecture. Penarth's town library was donated by the famous Victorian philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. The town's gothic style Police Station and town gaol opened in 1864 opposite the Windsor Arms brewery.

With the arrival of the railway connection to the Welsh valleys in 1878 came the regular influx of day trippers, often hundreds of them at weekends and bank holidays. According to correspondence held in the Glamorgan Record Office the Plymouth Estates Office sought to actively discourage the "rabble from the hills" who came by train to spend brief hours of leisure at the seaside from ruining the ambience of the town. Earl Plymouth's land agent actively disapproved of commercialisations such as fairground rides or donkeys on the beach, that were encouraged by other seaside resorts. He also disapproved of "those persons who swim in the sea either without a bathing costume, or without sufficient modesty to change into one hidden from public view." A permanent air of gentility in the town was the continuing aim of Plymouth Estates.

The developing summer holiday trade was supported by a large number of quality hotels that provided nearly two thousand bedspaces. The biggest and grandest of the hotels were the Esplanade Hotel on the seafront built in 1887, The Marine Hotel at the mouth of the docks, The Royal Hotel at the top of Arcot Street, The Washington Hotel opposite the library and The Glendale and Lansdowne hotels on Plymouth Road. Apart from the major hotels, accommodation was also available at the smaller Dock Hotel, Penarth Hotel, Ship Hotel, Westbourne Hotel, Plymouth Hotel, Windsor Hotel, Railway Hotel and dozens of mariners' lodging houses at the top end of the town. All have now closed with the exception of the Glendale and a handful of small and more recent bed and breakfast establishments.

A Royal Navy minesweeper was named HMS Penarth after the town in 1918 and survived the last nine months of the First World War, but only served for twelve months when it was ironically sunk off the Yorkshire coast in 1919, by a mine, probably a British mine. The vessel is remembered on the Royal Navy Memorial at Portsmouth.

At one time Penarth had two grand and decorative cinemas. The first was the Windsor Kinema on Windsor Road, originally converted from a 19th century Territorial Army drill hall and now in use as Monty Smith's garage. The even grander Washington Cinema was built opposite the library in 1936 with a classical 'Art Deco' frontage, on the site of a former hotel and its tennis courts. The Washington closed as a cinema in 1970 and after several years as a busy Bingo Hall is now converted as a coffee house and art gallery, while retaining its original frontage.

Penarth's other distinctive art deco structure was the new General Post Office that was built in Albert Road in 1936. Closed in the 1980s the building is grade II listed and now converted as an ethnic restaurant, The rear yard, once used to stable horses for the horse-drawn Penarth to Cardiff bus service, is still used by the Post Office for mail and parcel sorting.

Llantwit Major

Evidence has been found of domestic seaside settlement at Llantwit Major, dating as far back as the Neolithic period. For 350 years, the area was ruled by the Romans, Roman villas have been found, with bathrooms and the mosaic pavements dating from the mid 2nd century. However, Llantwit came to the prominence after the Romans had left, with the foundation of a monastery by St Illtud in the late 5th century. This rapidly became as a seat of learning as much as religion, attracting students from all over the world, and was reputed to have had seven halls, 400 houses and 2000 pupils.

It attracted royalty as well as St David himself, and is named as a royal burial place. It was also a busy mission centre for founding new churches, yet nothing solid remains to show where the monastery was sited or what it looked like.

The Church Halls and individual cells were probably made of timber, and this would account for the lack of remains. Traditionally, the site of the monastery is supposed to be just north of the present church of St Illtud, and maybe the ancient foundations still lie buried beneath later houses. Nothingcan now be seen of the monastery apart from a small collection of 9th century in St illtud's church.

St Illtud's church is a mixture of different periods of building strung out, in line, one behind the other. The Western (or old) church was the original parish church built on pre-Norman foundations. A tall, slim tower was built onto the eastern end in the 13th century and was followed by a new Eastern (or monastic) church and chancel at the far western end of the original building. The now ruined Lady chapel (or Galilee), was added later. There are traces of a number of medieval wall paintaings, and in the Western Church, a remarkable collection of carved Celtic crosses and carved memorial stones, bear moving testimony to the renown of this hallowed centre of Welsh Christianity.

Llantwit has grown considerably in recent years, but the winding narrow and high-walled streets of the town centre still preserve its ancient character. The town also retains a number of fine old buildings, including a 15th century town hall, a medieval gatehouse and a circular dovecote near the church, and some 16th century inns and houses. A mile to the south, near Colhugh Beach, there are ditches and earthworks belonging to an early Iron Age fort.

St Donat's Castle, a couple of miles to the west of Llantwit, is a 13th century fortress which has been lived in since the time it was built.

To meet the needs of its inhabitants, the castle has continually undergone alteration and extension, most notably in the early part of this century when it was bought by Randolph Hearst, an American newspaper magnate, and completely modernized. The castle is now the home of Atlantic College, an international sixth form school.

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