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Archaeology Cymru reveal how Barry once had an island

THIS week we turn to Barry Island and the Old Harbour.

This week we examine a view from Barry Island over towards the Barry mainland and the Ship Hotel. I wish to look at this location of the Old Harbour for a few reasons. Firstly, I occasionally on local history and archaeological walks that we organise, hear the surprise from some participants that Barry Island was once, indeed, an Island.

It is very difficult to imagine, I know, but before 1884, only 137 years ago, ‘The Sound’ that we now look at completely at high-tide made Barry Island, just that, an island. Much of the two decades from when the first sod of earth was cut, Barry Island became more and more connected to the main land, and the harbourage that we now see saw a breakwater constructed; first to carry a railway, and then pedestrians and roadway all up to the year 1898.

Back in the 1980’s the Old Harbour was mainly just mud and sand, and it was not the haunt of shipwrecks.

Today the location is being overtaken by sand marsh grasses, and rotting hulls of boats, and alas none are from the period of the pirates or the Vikings. But, nevertheless some of the secrets of the harbourage located in front of the modern Ship Hotel can offer up the occasional piece of Roman tile as mentioned in my latest book, ‘Romans in South Wales’, and the fragment of Medieval pottery, but beware of the mud, many an unfortunate explorer has lost a boot or two.

The main export at this harbour was lime, well into the late 1800s, but that is a story we will keep for another day. The harbour just ceased to attract any trade after the main port of Barry had opened beyond the 1890s, but it would always be a place of polite walks and reminiscing as I have undertaken today. And one major point that I haven’t made is the attraction of the limestone geology, from the folds and faults of the rock, of the Jurassic and then the Carboniferous period (350 million years ago) dominate the horizon within our ‘Old Harbour’, not forgetting the occasional ‘devils toenail’ that you can pick up, better known to the geologist as a Gryphaea, the shell of a 150 million Jurassic oyster.

Next week we visit Highlight. Many thanks for taking this visit with us to the Barry and District.

Karl-James Langford

Archaeology Cymru

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