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Barry Island - A personal account by Neil Hilton Back

The following is a personal reflection of the experiences and detail of the camp as fondly remembered by Neil Hilton. Thanks to Neil for sharing this with us.

Butlins Holiday Camp Barry Island South Glamorgan was the last and therefore the newest holiday camp that Billy Butlin built. This was always a curious choice of location as one side of the camp faced east towards Barry docks (an unpleasant view) whilst the front of the camp faced west over the resort of Barry Island. The buildings, cascading down the hillside, were clearly visible from the main road down into the town of Barry Island which was the only real access route to the resort. On a clear day with binoculars the Barry Island camp could be seen from the sea front at Minehead and vice versa. Land and space was always going to be at a premium on this site and maximum use of space was an important consideration in its design.

Barry Island was one of the smallest camps but hosted the usual attractions and Billy even managed to slot in the now essential chairlift ride. The outdoor roller skating rink was built down the hillside on the roof of a pavilion / shelter building forming part of a coastal path on the sea front. Other small buildings were acquired and refitted.

The main entertainment venues were built in the traditional Butlin style but the architecture of the chalets was different. Most of the chalets were built around the headland known as Nell's Point. The geography allowed for panoramic views of the sea from many of the chalets. Many were south east, south and south west facing with the sea view. Their position on the hilly slope allowed for these chalet blocks to be built three storey on one side rising to two storey on the other side.  The chalets were built in the then modern flat roof style with extensive wooden cladding / panelling. This made the chalets look cosmetically attractive but due to the wet British climate it was to prove an expensive mistake. Many of the accommodation problems encountered in subsequent years arose as a result of this poor mid 1960's fabrication and architecture.

There were only three main entertainment buildings at Barry Island comprising the Princess Building, Gaiety Building and Regency Building. The Princess Building  was three storey at the west side rising to two storey at the east side. The Princess Building housed the main Dining Halls, Games Room and other small venues. One end of the building looked out over Barry dockyard and the other end over the Gaiety Building roof. A large clock hung over the road between the two buildings.

The Gaiety Building was two storey at the west side rising to one storey at the east side. The Gaiety Building was the biggest building and the whole Gaiety complex was divided by a functional camp road built through the central arcade thoroughfare. This building housed the main reception, Gaiety Theatre, Shopping Centre, Pig and Whistle Bar and other small venues and retail outlets.

The Regency Building was the usual two storey building and housed the Indoor Heated Swimming Pool and Playhouse Theatre. It also boasted the modern Mardi Gras bar with outdoor seating area by the pool. An embankment to the front of this building facing west went right up to the front perimeter fence and was a popular sunbathing area.

When it first opened the camp was adorned with the fancy striped illumination lanterns which were a feature of all the camps at that time. The red neon sign lighting also made nightime scenes very illuminating and the position of the Gaiety and Regency Buildings adjacent to the outdoor pool allowed for spectacular colourful reflections on the water. This view was used as a camp picture postcard scene.

Although the location was arguably less attractive than some of the other camps this site did benefit from the mild climate provided by the Gulf Stream. This enabled the planting of many subtropical shrubs and trees found mainly at Pwllheli and Minehead. There were even lawned areas with colourful flower beds and a sports field located at the highest point of the holiday camp in the central area.

The outdoor and indoor (covered) amusement park was also located next to the sports field and housed the east chairlift station and small Santa Fe railway.

Barry Island was a place you either loved or hated. It was hilly and compact when compared with other camps but this provided for a more panoramic setting and close proximity of amenities. In my opinion it was a very good camp and holidaymakers could expect all the entertainment and facilities associated with the Butlin brand name. It is regrettable that this camp came to a sticky end and is now substantially demolished. It holds fine memories for many holidaymakers and will live on in many peoples hearts. I am one of them.

I have not been back to the site since Butlins owned it as I was distressed by the fate of it. I have examined the pictures on this site in the section 'Barry Island In 2002' and have to say I am appalled by the way this camp was left to go to ruin. Thanks to those who arranged that visit in conjunction with the Council and for the pictures supplied.

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