Race riots in Barry – Law and order, courts and firefighting 1886 – 1914 Barry history by Laurie Owen

- Local People

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Local historian Laurie Owen continues his series, looking at the rapid growth of Barry, from a small village to a large town, around the turn of the 19th century.

Thousands of men working on the docks and railway from 1884 gave rise to the building of many licensed hotels and the appearance of illegal ‘shebeens’.

The village bobby could no longer maintain control, as drunken men often led to fighting and prostitutes added to the problem.

To combat this new menace, the county police station was built on the corner of Holton and Court Road in 1886 by TA Walker, the contractor who built the docks. With four cells and quarters for the superintendent, two sergeants and constables, East Barry and Iddesleigh Street later had just two cells.

The celebrations for the grand opening of the docks in July 1889 were expected to attract a great many of the ‘light-fingered fraternity’, but the police resolved that those with ‘priggish propensities’ would not ‘glean the harvest’ they desired.

One such villain who stole a woman’s purse was set upon by the large crowd then chased and apprehended by PC 269 Stephen Davies and brought before the court. After pleading the influence of drink and his dying child, he was sentenced to two months hard labour.

Superintendent Wake, the deputy Chief Constable attended licensing sessions as a character witness, whether for a theatrical licence with no alcohol or a fully licensed hotel or public house, of which there were many.

In 1889 an inquest was held at the Wenvoe Arms Hotel and another at east Barry police station, but mostly they took place at Holton Road, as did local courts. With crime on the increase there was urgent need of a separate facility to allow occasional County Courts to be held, thereby saving time and money.

Offences were mainly drink-related, for which the fine was usually 2s 6d; and non-payment of rates cropped up quite often.

Women also appeared and when one slapped another for trying to steal her husband she was fined 2s 6d. For riding on a cart with no reins the fine was 1s and 5s for selling petrol without a licence.

When new JPs for Glamorgan were announced in May 1891, insultingly there would be ‘no appointment for Barry and Cadoxton until suitable gentlemen come to reside in the district’.

A few months later, Jones & Son of Penarth built a new Court adjoining the police station, with Inspector Rees in charge. A large airy room accommodated 20 magistrates, a clerk and legal advocates, witness and press area, with a large box to hold 20 prisoners.

There were 100 public seats, a Justices’ retiring room and gas lighting throughout. Local Board member JC Meggitt could imagine fortnightly local courts increasing to weekly, then a branch of the County Court and finally its own.

In September 1892, 25 new constables were appointed to deal with the rapidly-growing population.

Two years later, local builder HJ Money enlarged accommodation in the station for ‘visitors’. Police gave evidence to magistrates proving that a local publican was ‘harbouring prostitutes and permitting drunkenness’.

Holton Road at the top of Thompson Street was ‘literally infested with men and women of immoral character’, but now the public could be assured that this ‘moral pest would be considerably minimised’.

In a landmark moment, telephone connections were made between the police stations of Cardiff, Barry, Penarth, Cowbridge and St Nicholas, allowing officers to contact colleagues. With prices being sought for the equipment, Glamorgan CC agreed to contribute £5pa subject to a vague proviso linked to fire-fighting.

In 1895, JC Meggitt and J Lowdon were now deemed suitable to be County Magistrates, even though both had been gentlemen and very active in the growth of the district.

After seven long years, in November 1898 Judge William Stevenson Owen presided over the first sitting of Barry County Court with local solicitor Alfred Jackson as Registrar and J Wagstaff his Chief Clerk.

One of the first cases was upholsterer James Edward Tallboy suing William Hillier for 23s loss of rent, but with his own vague evidence and William’s rent book, he was unsuccessful.

Mr Tallboy was a bit of a rogue with several previous court cases and a bankruptcy; but of interest to older readers, his sons James and Luther were in Barry by 1911 trading as a ‘fruit dealer’ and ‘fishmonger’. In Kelly’s directory of 1923, James Tallboy & Co were fruit merchants in Greenwood Street and also at 255/7 Holton Road.

They would deliver their wares, including Corona lemonade to customers’ homes into the 1960s and beyond. Other cases were for non-payment of goods supplied, ranging from 4s.9d, £1.3s.3d to £63 for hay and corn. Dr O’Donnell sued for £2.3s.6d unpaid medical attendance and a man claimed £5 for a one-eyed horse which had collapsed and died.

An early photograph shows a sergeant, two constables, a wife and a youngster in his Boys’ Brigade uniform, posing outside Cadoxton police station in Iddesleigh Street, opposite Quarella Street. Living with PC Ben Davies at number 19 in 1891 was his wife Louisa, eight year old son Joseph and PC David Roberts.

The following year it was renamed Main Street and by the next census, Ben had been promoted to Sergeant and was joined by constables William Jones, Thomas Kemp, Jacob Lovelock and John Richards.

Surprisingly by 1911, Ben was a police pensioner at just 58 years of age, living at 23 Kenilworth Road with Louisa, son Joseph and daughter-in-law May.

In June 1903, Glamorgan CC and the Joint Police Commissioner inspected a piece of land opposite the Wenvoe Arms as a possible site for a new station. Sanitary Inspector Samuel Sommerfield recently left the old house and premises known as ‘The Cot’ and the property was being offered To Let. Though seemingly ideal, a new police station was built six years later on Weston Hill, by William Britton at a cost of £2,795.

East Barry had a new station early in 1890 at 43/44 High Street, on the corner of East Street. In the census, John Evans was the 41-year-old sergeant at number 43 with wife Rachel, four sons and three daughters. Next door were constables WH Thomas from Llancarfan and William Handcock from Somerset.

Ten years later, Devon-born John Abraham was the sergeant at number 43, with wife Margaret, a son and five daughters. The three young constables next door were William Dowry, Albert E Savage and Patrick O’Brien. In 1911, constable Joseph Foy (unsure of exact surname) was at number 43 with Charles Harrison from Paddington and Edward Beresford from Worcestershire living next door. Staff transferred from High Street to the new County Police Station on Harbour Road in June 1914, which our generation knew as Ship Hill.

Erected by WA Jones of Bridgend for £3,700, Sergeant WJ Angus was Officer in charge of six constables. On the ground floor was a mess-room, charge room and household conveniences, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and lavatories up above, while outside was an exercise yard. With electric bells, the three cells were for the ‘temporary lodgement of prisoners’.

Early in 1900, Barry Island police station was in a private house on an annual tenancy and Dr O’Donnell wanted the joint Police Committee to erect something more permanent, but they were even refused a telephone connection. Inspector David Pugh was at the Police Lodge in 1901, with wife Ann and seven children, whereas ten years earlier he had been a docks policeman.

Though outside the timeline of this story, an event occurred in the long hot summer of 1919, for which Supt DG Morris and his men received lavish praise. Young men who survived the horrors of war came home to unemployment, poverty and the sight of hundreds of ‘coloured’ immigrants in their town.

With some having married white girls and intensified by the heat in June, a series of ‘racial riots’ erupted in south Wales. In Barry, a local dock labourer was fatally stabbed by a sailor from the French West Indies, causing thousands to raid the ‘negroes’ quarters’. There followed reprisals on both sides, many armed with revolvers and the police were caught in the middle trying to protect the coloured men who were vastly outnumbered.

GEM?NOTE: Certain words in the preceding two paragraphs are not in use in modern parlance, but we have chosen to retain the language of the period.

Fire-fighting, 1889-1913.

By 1889, 45 fire hydrants had been installed around Cadoxton and ED Jones’ request for some in east Barry was approved, but with hydrants and T-pieces costing £2, this was one more drain on finances. Firemen could not always find the hydrants and when they did, they were often choked up with bricks and stones.

A year later, Shand, Mason of London supplied three sets of ‘fire extinguishing and escape appliances’ with 30 feet ladders for £150, to be stored in newly erected sheds near the police stations. They were horse-drawn with water being pumped manually at 150 gallons a minute, but many fit and strong men were needed to replace colleagues, exhausted after just five minutes on the pump.

With equipment in place, who would be responsible for their operation and management?

In other areas of south Wales it fell to the local constabulary at the princely sum of £10pa. Superintendent Wake, with 12 constables and two others on the way, was willing to undertake the role but turned down assistance from 12 volunteers.

Over the next few years, there was some concern over the suitability of constables with basic extinguishing appliances being tasked with fighting a large fire. In June 1899, a volunteer fire brigade seemed imminent with JG Walker as its Captain, but after a great deal of discussion the idea was shelved, mainly because of cost.

Two years later, Supt Giddings agreed that the police would continue in their role with his staff wages increasing from £15 to £60pa.

Sketch plans for a new fire engine station had been presented to committee as early as May 1897, but it would be four years before Dr PJ O’Donnell, as chairman of the Health Committee, carried out the formal opening on Court Road.

Built by Jones Bros, it was three storeys high with an engine room, apartments for the men and officers, a watch-room, stables and a hose-drying tower. With manual pumping now superseded by a Shand, Mason ‘vertical steam fire engine’, it could pump 350 gallons of water per minute to a height of 161 feet via a 1.5 inch jet pipe.

The combined hose, tender, fire escape with 60 feet telescopic sliding carriers and all the latest improvements, still needed horses to transport it. Inspector Morris was brigade leader and James Hutton as Fire Superintendent was paid 35s a week plus housing, coal, gas and uniform.

A public mortuary and post mortem room was erected in the yard at the rear, bringing the total cost to £3,500.

After the exertions of the morning, the officials and guests enjoyed an excellent lunch at the Royal Hotel.

As part of a major rethink on the whole question of fire-fighting, in 1903 the district was theoretically divided into two separate areas. The docks had a special system of dealing with fires and buildings along the dockside, being served by hoses from the dock fire floats.

The steam fire engine had never been used and the fire station was described as a ‘white elephant’ which could be put to better use, so councillors decided to abandon the engine and revert to the manual system.

Fire engineer Mr Hutton was sacked with one month’s wages. It was then hotly debated whether to convert the building to an accident hospital instead of Kingsland Crescent, or to accommodate pupils from Holton School. In fact it was rented by the Education Committee for £100pa with the final loss on the steam fire engine recorded as being only £118.

The Fire Engine Sub-Committee were once again discussing a steam fire engine in July 1910, with councillors JT Hogg and JA Manaton against spending another £500 when water pressure in town was high.

To illustrate the point, when a fire occurred opposite Lloyds Bank in Thompson Street, water was manually pumped from the hydrant over houses into Sydenham Street. By a vote of 4–3, it was decided to borrow £1,000 for a modern ‘steam fire engine’, but no record has been found to confirm it actually happened.

Within three years it was announced that the fire station was now needed to house a new ‘Motor Fire Engine’.

In February 1913, the UDC sought applications for a Voluntary Fire Brigade, meaning the end of 23 years of police involvement, which had long been sought by ratepayers and others. The Captain would be paid £10.10s pa + 7s.6d per call and 2s an hour after the first hour; the vice-Captain £5.5s pa + 5s and 1s.6d; firemen £1.10s pa (20 drills) + 2s.6d and 1s; rates to be doubled for fires outside the district.

Also required were a driver and wife to both act as caretakers of the station with some cleaning at Holton School, for £1.15s a week with living accommodation.

The Fire Brigade committee, presided over by PJ O’Donnell, announced that Francis R Hybart would be Captain with E Guest as vice-Captain, assisted by 12 firemen. Mr Hybart was the assistant Surveyor to the UDC and Mr Guest, the chief Water Inspector.

The Merryweather Hatfield Motor Fire Engine duly arrived at the Fire Station on Court Road, with its petrol four cylinder engine capable of 40mph and able to deliver water at 500 gallons a minute. With 1,000 feet of canvas hose and all the latest equipment, a full complement of firemen sitting and standing could be conveyed.

Horses were finally redundant – until it broke down.

Soon after its arrival and en route to a fire, as the driver turned into Dock View Road from Castleand Street, the vehicle ‘ran wild probably through skidding’ so Sergeant D Rees and others jumped off, fearing a collision.

Driver D Matthews kept control and Inspector RH Thomas seated next to him was safe, but vice-captain E Guest was thrown out violently and badly injured. The fire itself was very minor. With some police officers still present, the new brigade was possibly not yet fully trained.

Mr Guest was back in work within two months and in October 1915, was presented with a smoker’s cabinet and tobacco by the brigade, just prior to leaving on active service.

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