High Street is and has always been a central location of trade, but behind the shop fronts a hidden history is waiting to be explored.
Built in the 19th Century, during the time of industrialisation, the shops have provided local residents with everything you might need from traditional fruit and vegetables, baked goods and flowers, whilst now stretching to wellness treatments and locally produced artwork. It is a community, a family brought together for all different reasons united through its loyalty and passion for Barry.
As much a place of convenience, High Street is now identified as a must visit destination. It has been a constant for Barry during times of hardship, economic downturn and regeneration. It holds a special place in many hearts, igniting nostalgic memories of the smell of freshly baked bread, the weight of a traditional pick & mix in your uniform pocket and the labyrinth of the hardware store. Different generations have witnessed businesses come and go, but the joy of trading on High Street is as fresh as its produce.
Nowadays High Street is recognised as an award winning Independent Shopping Quarter, however this idea is not new. It has always traded in local produce with families at the helm. Generation after generation have traded with locals, welcomed holiday makers and held their door open for a neighbouring community. It is not just a line a shops, it is a place to be known by your first name, to have your order memorised and to be immersed in a rich tapestry of history.
Throughout time High Street remains distinguishable. The buildings are grand but practical. The awnings are colourful and attractive. The shops owners are present, waiting to welcome their next customer. Not much has changed with regards to purpose and function; the faces have evolved, but look closely because it might just be a different generation.
High Street is a community and this can be observed in its events which continue to take place. The Easter Bonnet Parade started over 30 years ago and is a calendar highlight for all. Ribbons around chins and the act of balancing a heavily laden bonnet, adorned with yellow chicks and pastel coloured eggs. Bows and trims shadowing the faces of the child models, smiling and promenading up and down the High Street. Onlookers judging and looking for the most spectacular sight.
We meet at the starting line.
Hearts beating, tension rising,
My arm is outstretched.
The Butcher fires the trigger,
The race begins.
Feet finding rhythm,
And moving along the High Street.
Shop fronts blur-
My pace is quickening.
I spot Mam and Dad,
They wave frantically.
But there’s no time to wave back.
The finish line is in sight.
The competition fades into the background.
The frying pan crosses the line first,
Followed by my hurtling body.
I’m the winner and my pancake is the prize.
Another tradition is the ‘Pancake Race’. The pancake has a long history and features in cookery books as far back as 1439. The tradition of tossing or flipping them is almost as old. Traders gathered for Pancake Racing, frying pan in hand, attempting the risky flip of the sugared treat.
Historically, Christmas is the pinnacle of the High Street’s trading calendar. Celebrated with the Christmas Light Switch On, coordinated and celebrated by the traders. This has changed over the years, originating with candles and the natural glow of flames on smiling faces. Now men climb ladders, garlanding lamp posts with flickering fairy lights and small Christmas trees.
There are funny anecdotes too that are still remembered such as the one about poor Reginald!
He was named Reginald.
A 17 year old plumber,
Called out to fix a gas leak,
Lit a candle to find it-
The police from the station,
Came to his aid,
He didn't die,
When people told the story.
On 15th May 1896, Ann Davies was summoned by Barry Urban District Council for contravening the bye laws. William Morgan saw her on the 15th May 1896, shaking her mats in front of her house after 8am in the morning. The case was dismissed with a caution, the defendant promised not to do it again.
Or did you hear the story of “Annie Piddell” (Annie or Agnes Courtenay) – prostitute and regular drunk. Called by the Bench in 1905 and declared a “Pest to the Town”.
Did you know that Victorian housewives were obsessed with the idea that their food might be contaminated? This must have changed the operation of High Street dramatically. It is one of the reasons brands became popular; the promise of reliable quality and much publicised “purity” was worth paying extra for.
The Victorian and Edwardian history of High Street continues to live on and be told by ‘The Victorian Barry Experience’. They offer Walking Tours, an adventure through time and place.
West End Girls
Throughout history, pioneering, adventurous, business minded women have found their home on the High Street. The street has continuously given space to women as shop owners, business partners and generational inheritors.
“High Street is a permanent fixture, the entity that is almost ‘bigger’ than all of us. The businesses come and go, some will stay longer than others, but it’s the mix of those businesses and the people involved in them at any single moment in time that make it the special place it is. Each business owner is a custodian of the Street for that moment in time.”
Fay Blakeley, Owner of Homemade Wales
Fay is a modern woman of High Street but acknowledges the women who have come before her and the women who continue to surround her every day. Anne Bryl, owner of Bryl’s Boutique, has occupied Number 7 High Street since 1988. Anne grew up on the Street, attending High Street Juniors and Seniors and remembers fondly the community that waved her off to school every day. Beginning her trade in children’s clothing with a passion for fashion, Anne now runs a Ladies Boutique and comments on how her loyal customers have always supported her.
The women bring all their experience to their shops and that brings its own strength. For Anne her young daughters inspired her to fill the gap and begin trading in children’s clothing. Whereas Fay saw an opportunity to collaborate with local artists, inspired by her experience of marketing and her time in the creative industries. Jill Mathews fondly known as Mrs Giggles, moved from early years education into running Giggles Toy Shop. Jill believes in her playful approach to trading, “Children love to come and play”, with the shop becoming so much more. This can be found behind all the doors of High Street. You will often find someone to talk to, to catch up with and share in a moment of community spirit. It is this unique spirit that also draws residents to the Street.
Like any good street, High Street represents the commercial and the domestic, the residents and the traders, with some of its shop owners conquering the divide. Cathy Copeland who lives above the infamous O’Donovan’s hardware store, has always been connected to High Street, but she recently discovered that she was more destined to live there than she previously realised. After living on High Street for 7 years, Cathy found a letter sent between her parents which located them on High Street over 50 years ago. Through fate or coincidence, the letter discusses their own embarkment to rent a property above a hardware store. This brings a smile to Cathy’s face, and the feeling of walking in history’s footsteps.
The history of High Street attracts lots of people to live and work there. People can remember family members, friends and legendary Barry characters residing there throughout time. Cathy reflects that the street evokes memories of being a little girl, visiting the haberdashery and being in awe of the pretty hair ribbons, wedding dress patterns and wonderful fabrics. Being a resident on High Street places you at the heart of everything. You pop into shops just to have a chat and the energy and passion of the traders soon begins to radiate upstairs.
Barry has a busy programme of annual events ranging from open-air cinema, triathlons, Gwyl Fach y Fro and artist-led events.