The town that was murdered — how Porthcawl was viewed by some 50 years ago

For generations who worked underground in South Wales, the annual two week summer break meant one thing: Porthcawl or Barry Island. The large sandy and rocky and beach was once just that, until the late fifties and early sixties, when it started to be used to site the increasing numbers of caravans for which the area is now synonymous. By the mid sixties, there were 4,300 caravans on the former sand dunes on the eastern side of Porthcawl, more than the number of houses in the town. At peak times, the holiday population was greater than the 14,000 that lived in the town permanently, with eight miles of tarmacked roads, 25 toilet blocks, 750 water points, half a dozen laundries and even a church. Yet despite the tourists they brought in, and their financial contribution to the local economy, not everyone was enthused and an old BBC film from 1965 sheds some light on how the number of caravans were viewed at the time. In the film, one councillor calls for the concentration of caravans to spread amongst other resorts along the south Wales coast, others for the site to be abolished completely, with chalets being offered as a better option. The footage says one planning consultant commissioned by the civic council described the huge number of caravans as ‘like a cloud of regimented locusts, still settled in a place they had reduced to a desert, their apparently endless lines thrusting their multitudinous murder onto every view’. The explosion in the number of caravans coincided with the Beechings Cuts - the huge reduction in the UK’s railway network and stations, which diminished access to the town. Dennis Theodore used to visit Porthcawl as a child with his family, who identified a potential business opportunity for the growing popularity of caravanning. One of those to take advantage was Sir Leslie Joseph, a former army major and an amusement park entrepreneur who devised popular water chutes, first at Coney Beach in Porthcawl, and later at Battersea. “Foreign travel has become so popular that many of the resorts that depended on the old traditional type of holiday maker for their revenue will have to change”.