Notorious Barry Dock

9 February 2021 ·

Vintage police lantern on an old stone wall outside a police station

During the late 1880’s, due to the massive influx of men that arrived to work on the new docks, it was not safe to be out without protection, often in the form of a gun. As men arrived from all over the UK, Barry was also thought to be a good hiding place for criminals and police were frequently in Barry looking for “wanted men”.

Alcohol was the main cause of all the trouble and every Saturday night after the pubs closed, doctors were often called to help sort out the wounds of men injured in drunken brawls. There were many unlicensed premises in Barry that were called Shebeens. A lot of illegal drinking took place in Barry. The Shebeens originally opened in Cadoxton, but by 1892, there were more in Barry Dock. Women were frequently involved in running the shebeens and drinking in them!!

17th January 1896
18th August 1905
Police reports

Running a shebeen came with the risk of being fined upwards from £5 which is worth roughly £646 today.

The link between the docks and the town centre was Thompson Street. This street was famous among the seamen. This area had traders and residents from all over the world, and was a well known trouble spot. The area was filled with cafes, bars, restaurants and shops, but there were also many side streets and the area was rife with prostitution.

No photo description available.
The Sailors Rest- Thompson Street 1917 – Victorian Barry Experience

There are reports from the time, that state that the prostitutes were “the most ungainly, filthiest and most abandoned type”. The problem seemed to be the property owners who were letting their houses to people who had questionable morals and then converted them into places where illegal drinking and prostitution took place.

** Uncredited report **

“Rowdyism of some kind or another is daily, almost hourly, occurring….it is well known that brothels exist…..under our very eyes without the slightest restraint….men cannot go outdoors at night without being molested and solicited by immoral women living in several of these small streets. About five o clock last Monday afternoon Gueret Street….was suddenly converted into a veritable hell. Every neighbour ran to the door, at least a dozen ruffians and their paramours were engaged in a most ferocious quarrel. Several desperate fights took place and the atmosphere was completely darkened with the foul and debasing language which emanated from the filthy mouths of the gang of blackguards engaged in these disgusting proceedings. To state that in such immoral surroundings as these, shebeens also run riot, is quite unnecessary. This is the hideous state….in which we are obliged to live in these streets, the moral atmosphere of which has lately become a “Modern Babylon”

A big problem in Barry was the crime of Crimping. This involved kidnapping people, and forcing them to work as sailors, by using intimidation and violence. Barry became the first port to regulate and licence the seamen’s boarding houses. Crimping was mainly fazed out by 1895.

Crimping in the news

Other crimes in Barry involved bogus clubs, hotels-de-marl, which was a place where people would meet to drink alcohol and avoid the 1881 Sunday Closing Act. Drunkeness was a huge problem, and there are reports that in 1896, drunken women were taken to Barry Central Police Station in a wheelbarrow.

Not drunk…….

Gueret Street (Belvedere Crescent)

Policemen would not venture onto Gueret Street alone, and this notoriety was noted by the Chief Constable of Glamorgan. Police raids on the illegal shebeens and brothels followed, but were only partly successful. Early in 1895, the alcohol problem was easily coped with, but it was much harder to wipe out the brothels, due to the unscrupulous landlords.


PC Herbert Evans described an arguement that took place on Gueret Street at around midnight.
James Butler- a sailor -reprimanded Richard Curtin for hitting Julia Sullivan. Butler was stabbed twice in the forehead and once in the back of the head by a man named M’Auliffe. He had been commited for trial at the Assizes.
PC Evans was stopped from arresting M’Auliffe by Richard Curtin; he caught hold of him and told him to leave M’Auliffe alone.
Richard Curtin was fined ten shillings in Barry Police Court for the assault on Julia Sullivan.
M’Auliffe case was heard in the Assizes. He was found guilty.


Judge Collins

Picture from the Evening Express 17th November 1893 

Shebeening and brothels – March 1894

In March 1895, three youths set fire to an empty house in Gueret Street, and it quickly spread, also affecting the adjoining properties. When the fire was eventually put out, the owner of two thirds of the properties affected, offered to evict the rest of the objectionable tenants, repair the houses and let them to respectable working class people.

Fire at Gueret Street, 8th March 1895

By March 1896, thirty five houses, all with working class tenants were offered for sale. The District Council changed the name to Hirwaun Street and the notoriety of the street died with its name.

Tales from the tabloids*****

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