Industrial history - Barry Dock

Barry Dock – Wales’ foremost coal port

Walking along the Wales Coast Path at Barry today, it is hard to imagine that this was once the busiest coal port in Wales.

In 1870, Barry was a tiny community of barely a hundred souls, but just thirty years later it was a bustling town with a population of some 40,000. It was also the foremost coal-exporting port in the world, an accolade more normally given to its near-neighbour, Cardiff.

How did such a transformation take place?

Barry’s transformation was largely due to the vision and industry of one man – David Davies of Llandinam (1818-90). Starting life as a tenant farmer and sawyer in mid-Wales, he went on to build many road bridges in mid-Wales before turning his hand to railway construction in the late 1850s. He subsequently built railways in all corners of Wales, with his most notable achievement being the great cutting at Talerddig on what is now the Shrewsbury-Aberystwyth line.

Ever ready to grasp new commercial opportunities, he took out mineral leases in the upper Rhondda valley, sinking a pit at Maindy in 1864, the first in what would eventually become the Ocean Coal Co. Ltd.

The transport of coal from the Rhondda at that time was dominated by two concerns – the Taff Vale Railway and Cardiff’s Bute docks. Ever-increasing coal traffic rendered these two bodies increasingly ineffective and by the late 1870s Davies was at the head of a group of fellow coal owners advocating a new railway system and dock somewhere on the south Wales coast.

The choice fell upon Barry and there followed a lengthy battle with the Bute interests in Parliament before the enabling act was secured in 1884. The dock opened in 1889 and soon overtook Cardiff in terms of coal exports; at the height of the coal trade in 1913, Cardiff exported 10.5m tons whilst Barry exported a little over 11m tons.

Barry Docks present dayToday, all the Ocean collieries have closed, as has much of the Barry Railway system, whilst the docks at Barry see little use. But on the edge of the docks at Barry and on the roadside in Llandinam, the fine statues of David Davies still stand, a fitting tribute to one of the most remarkable men in Victorian Wales.

The seashore and pebbly Knap beach at Barry are a great place to have a family walk and picnic, and the sea water monitoring shows that the water cleanliness is now considered to be high quality if anyone feels brave enough to dip their toes in!

To plan a trip and enjoy a walk on the Wales Coast Path in this area visit our South Wales Coast and Severn Estuary page.