Barry Island Pleasure Park, Wales

Barry Island Pleasure Park, Wales

Barry Island Pleasure Park is an amusement park situated on the coast at Barry Island in the Vale of Glamorgan, about 10 miles south west of the capital city Cardiff, Wales. The park opened annually at weekends from Easter onwards and daily during the school summer holidays, until the first weekend in September.

Barry Island contains shops, bars and restaurants. The Pleasure Park was once famous for its Scenic Railway which dominated half of the site in the mid-20th century, but was partially destroyed in a gale in 1973 before being dismantled. Many of the scenic railway’s beams were used in the building of the Log Flume ride, which was one of the park’s most popular attractions.

The Pleasure Park has over thirty attractions and rides. However lack of investment in the park resulted in the majority of these being removed, notably the Viper rollercoaster and the Log Flume. Park entrance is free of charge.

Several Amusement arcades are located around the pleasure park.

Barry Island Pleasure Park is part owned by Ian Rogers, who ran Welsh discount chain Hypervalue before it ran into financial difficulties. In 2006, Hilco UK Ltd who specialise in dealing with failing retail businesses assumed control of the ailing Hypervalue group and commenced disposing of various Hypervalue stores and settling accounts with the many creditors. Mr Rogers now owns part of the reorganised group, renamed Hypa Xtra. The park was operated by showman Vernon Studt between 2010 and 2014 under a lease from the joint owners.


Access to the island

The only access to Barry Island before 1896 had been either by foot across the sands and mud at low tide or by Yellow Funnel Line paddle steamer when the tide was in. As a further incentive for visitors to come to Barry, an extension to the railway line, through a boxed in tunnel on a 250 yard long pier structure, was built from the mainland to a new station next to the main Barry Pierhead. This enabled visitors to board the paddle steamers that plied in the Channel to Bristol, Clevedon and Weston-super-Mare. Once the rail link was completed the visitor numbers to the island exploded and one Bank Holiday weekend, over 150,000 visitors were recorded arriving on the island, and most of those came by train. Trains were arriving every ten minutes and by 5 p.m. were leaving at the same rate. The station opened in time for the August Bank Holiday week in 1896 giving the impetus for the development of further attractions on the island.

Early rides

Until 1897, there was no established fairground on the island apart from a few carousels run by Bavarian showman Jacob Studt, a set of swing-boats hand-made by Sydney White of Cardiff and a playground slide set up on the main beach for each summer season. In that year the first major ride attraction was built. A Switchback Railway had been designed and built by the famous American coaster engineer LaMarcus Thompson specially for the Cardiff Empire Exhibition at Sophia Gardens in 1896, dismantled following the year-long exhibition and put up for sale. It was bought by the White family and installed at the western end of the beach edge on the present day site of The Olde Pavilion Café (named after the Pavilion Theatre, which had been situated amongst the sand-dunes). Barry Athletic Club’s car park now stands where the Switchback ride ended.

With no competition the Switchback was a very popular and crowded attraction with Victorian holidaymakers and day trippers from the South Wales Valleys for fifteen years until a much larger Figure 8 roller coaster, also built by LaMarcus Thompson, opened on the edge of the beach level with the present pleasure park site in the spring of 1912. The Switchback’s trade declined, in competition with the more exciting Figure Eight and it only operated for another two years, finally closing in 1914 just as World War I in Europe started and the number of holiday visitors dropped off dramatically. A military hospital was established on the island, near the fairground and thousands of injured soldiers recuperated on the beaches and sand-dunes.

A change of ownership

When in 1923 Barry Town Council replaced the previous rough tarmac shoreline roadway with a new brick and concrete Promenade, together with a more substantial road connection with the mainland constructed along a raised causeway, the fairground was relocated from the beach onto its current permanent site where the sand dunes were levelled and the site enclosed inside an iron railing fence. The White Bros (sons of Sydney White who died in 1938 at the age of 78), who held the beach concession, bid for and became the first tenants of the newly formed Barry Island Pleasure Park on land rented from the Whitmore Bay Pavilion Syndicate.

The White brothers remained in control of the park until the close of the 1929 season. That year the White Brothers had outbid Pat Collins, showman from the famous Collins fairground dynasty, for his lease on a highly profitable and major pleasure park at Evesham in the West Midlands, that served day trippers from metropolitan Birmingham and Wolverhampton. When the brothers returned from a period of touring with their mobile fair rides and tried to renew their own Barry Island lease, the following year in 1930, they were stunned to discover that Pat Collins had outbidden them on their home territory.

To make it clear why he had taken this step Collins, tongue in cheek, renamed the park as ‘The New Evesham Pleasure Park’, a name it carried until 1950. The White Bros moved their operations across the road to a new and much smaller site, which they named ‘White’s Cosy Corner’ and established a restaurant, an amusement arcade and a dodgem cars rink. Cosy Corner was destroyed by arson in 1999 and the shell demolished, but after several stalled planning applications the site was redeveloped and reopened in 2007 as a family entertainments centre.

Visitor numbers increase

A measure of the growth in trade on the island is that in 1934 during the seven days of the August Bank Holiday week the official estimate of the number of visitors to the fairground was in excess of 400,000. It was recorded that 1,200 coaches and char-a-bancs, 8,000 motor cars, 3,000 motor cycles and over 10,000 bicycles had paid for parking or garaging during the week. In addition rail and public bus services had brought tens of thousands more to the island. The 1938 Bank Holiday Monday saw a crowd of over 250,000 arrive at the island in a single day. Cars, buses and motor cyclists had to be diverted by harassed police to carparks at the Knap, Porthkerry Park, and even as far away as Sully and Rhoose when it was found that it was impossible to cram any more vehicles on the island. By six o’clock in the evening the homeward trek began with a continuous slow moving line of cars and buses stretching all the way from Barry to the roundabout at Culverhouse Cross in Cardiff. A resident in Colcot Road reported that she had been kept awake by the continuous rumble of traffic passing her house till well after three AM on the Tuesday morning.

Scenic Railway

In 1938, Pat Collins secured the contract to provide the major rides at Billy Butlin’s fairground to be attached to the Glasgow Empire Exhibition. His younger brother John designed a Scenic Railway as a direct copy of the Great Yarmouth Scenic Railway also installed for Pat in 1932 (as a rebuild of the Erich Heidrich designed 1929 – 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition Scenic Railway), but with slightly larger dimensions and at an enormous cost of £150,000 (£4,000,000 in today’s terms). When the exhibition closed the ride was dismantled and shipped to Liège in Belgium where it was to form the centerpiece of the planned International Water Exhibition. The ride was nearing completion in late 1939 when Nazi Germany undertook the surprise invasion of Polandand World War II broke out. Construction was ceased and the ride dismantled again before being brought back to the UK and rebuilt instead at Barry Island, on a site originally occupied by St. Peirio’s Monastery (Barry Island was once known as Ynys Peirio).

With a track of just over a mile long and an initial climb and drop of seventy two feet 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. Arriving on the island in the late autumn of 1939 the ride was built over the winter and was ready to be opened by Easter 1940. Along with the other traditional scenic railways the ride’s wooden framework was covered in rippled thick plaster and painted to resemble a rocky mountain landscape. The original colour scheme featured turquoise and purple rocks with white tips at the highest points to represent snow. In later years the ride was painted in shades of brown and green before returning to its original turquoise. The massive ride only just fitted into the available space and ran almost the full length of the park, although the top entrance (giving access to the island’s railway station) had to be moved by several yards.

The Scenic Railway towered over Barry Island for the next thirty three years and remained a popular attraction throughout its operating life. The structure was partially dismantled, serviced and rebuilt in 1963 but the ride had to be demolished in 1973 after being badly damaged in a severe winter gale and deemed uneconomical to repair. It was also becoming outdated and unable to compete with the newer and more modern high speed ‘white knuckle’ enclosed-steel-runner 360° looping thrill rides that were starting to be introduced.

Now located on the site where the Scenic Railway once stood is the present and much smaller Log Flume ride built during 1980. Wooden beams from the Scenic Railway were salvaged, stored and reused in the construction of the Flume and other beams formed the basis of the Wacky Goldmine (now renamed the Haunted Mine) which was destroyed in a controlled fire in September 2014.

Other wooden coasters

The scenic railway still in existence at Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beachis identical to the demolished Barry Island ride, only slightly smaller in its dimensions and incorrectly called a “rollercoaster”. The only other surviving scenic railway in the UK is located in Dreamland Margate. The Dreamland Scenic Railway is a Grade II* Listed Building, the ride was partially destroyed by an arson attack in 2008 but was fully restored and reopened to the public in 2015.

Changes at Pleasure Park

Log flume at Barry Island
Log flume at Barry Island, partially constructed with the timbers originally from the historic scenic railway

In 1950, an ailing Pat Collins had handed over control of the park to his younger brother, John, who took over and ran the fairground until 1966, when it was passed on to John’s two young sons, also named in the family tradition John and Pat. That year the Butlins holiday camp opened and provided the park with more regular customers than it had ever had before. With the increased income generated by Butlins campers the Collins brothers purchased the freehold rights to the Pleasure Park in 1969.

Apart from the years immediately after the park opened, the busiest and most profitable period were the ten years spanning the opening of Butlins in 1966 and the mid-1970s when foreign package holidaysstarted to grow. Apart from the Scenic Railway, the Waltzer, several carousels and most of the side stalls that were owned and operated by the Collins brothers the majority of the other major rides in the park were operated by another fairground dynasty family (since the mid-19th century), the Summers. George Summers was a major employer between the late 1950s and his death in the early 1970s when control of the firm was handed to George’s sons Robert and George Jr. Other rides were operated by John Corrigan from the historical showground family.

The Summers family ran the Big Wheel, Dive Bomber, Moon Rocket, Revolving Jets and Tipping Paratrooper rides along with the Mirror Maze, two One Arm Bandit Arcades and several “Prize every time”

The Collins brothers went their separate ways during the early 1980s, and Pat took the reins himself. Due to a later bankruptcy the park then changed hands, and bought by Ken Rogers, the millionaire owner of the Hypervalue Group, a chain of twelve “£1 an item” budget stores in South Wales. Rogers had been attempting to buy the pleasure park for several years, mainly because hiis Hypervalue brand had been born twenty five years earlier in the form of a tiny market stall on a rental site near the main entrance to the Barry Pleasure Park.

Pre Danter

After securing ownership of the park Ken Rogers made improvements, including the demolition and construction of the major rides. In 2000, just as the park’s fortunes had been turned round, Rogers died suddenly and ownership passed to his son Ian. Following a restructure of the business, Hypervalue is now trading as Hyper Xtra and is owned 50/50 between Ian Rogers and Hilco UK, including the pleasure park. For the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons the park has been let to an independent showman Vernon Studt, a descendant of Jacob Studt who operated the original beach carousels in the 1890s. In 2014 Vernon Studt pulled out of the Pleasure Park. Investment in Barry Island Pleasure Park continued in consultation with the local authority.

Pat Collins, the son of John Collins, as well as Pat Collins’s son also named Pat Collins, still maintains a presence on the Island and holds the lease for The Square on the Promenade where he first established four rides on the site, including a helter-skelter, children’s go-karts, a trampoline and a flight simulator module. Their rides for 2011 and 2012 were Stagecoach-Horse and Carriage ride, Teacups, Swinging chairs, Hook-a-duck, Bungees, Trampolines, Balloon Wheel and Slide. They lease the Pirate Adventure Golf Course nearby the Square.

Patrick Collins (Jnr) also leases Porthkerry Forest Cafe and the deck chairs on Barry Island as well as operating a kiosk selling sweets, opposite the former Butlins site and Pleasure Park.

Henry Danter Era

Showman Henry Danter, and his family, continued with their £20m investment plan after purchasing the park, in which they hope to see the fairground attraction and Barry Island transformed into Wales’ top tourist destination within the next five years.

Mr Danter has already brought the £1.2m Pirate River log flume to the town with the Barry Eye Ferris Wheel.

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