In the 1700′s, dishes, saws, knives, flints, a scraper, a prehistoric horn celt with strange markings, a spokeshave and some arrowheads from the Neolithic Period were found. These are now safely housed in the museum in Cardiff, but at the time no one thought to organize an excavation and later a housing estate was built on the site.
An ancient Roman kitchen replete with cooking utensils and food remains was also abandoned without investigation. In 1533, Leland, the King’s Antiquary, was ordered to visit ‘all places where records are held’. It took him nine years and he wrote of Barry Island:
“It is about a mile in circumference and has good corn, grass and some wood, and there is no dwelling on the Island, but in the midst of it is a fair little Chapel of St. Baruch which is visited by many pilgrims. It took the name Barri from this holy man who was buried there and whose remains are yet on the Island”. (The Welsh name for Barry is Y Barri).
Vikings raided the coastline of south Wales in the Tenth Century often taking hostages from the monasteries, but they did not seek to settle the area. The island was known as the ‘Saints’ Retreat’ or the ‘Island of Saints’ for a long time. Later, in the Sixteenth Century, the island was used by smugglers and pirates and was known locally as the ‘Smugglers’ Fortress’. This occurred at the same time as Bristol, Britain’s second largest port, was growing rapidly.
Barry Island soon became the centre of piracy and smuggling in the Bristol Channel. In 1784, the island became known as the “Fortress of Knight”. Knight was the most prolific pirate and smuggler in the channel and people were to terrified to speak out in court against him., although he was also considered a bit of a local hero. His armed ship was called ‘John O’ Combe’. He was eventually forced out to Lundy, which he also fortified. He and his successor, Arthur, returned to Barry so frequently that H.M. Customs asked the government to station a cutter in Penarth and 60 troops to Barry.
The seaside village of Rhoose was so renowned for its wreckers that George II sent troops to break up the gangs. They landed at Aberthaw, just up the coast a bit, “the Rhoose men’s favourite landing zone, from where they could easily transport the contraband along Port Road to Cardiff, the main market for such things”. While building the docks at Barry in the late Nineteenth Century, several large caves were filled in. They were probably used by the pirates who were moved on again in or about 1850.