Barry as we now see it only really began to grow with the building of the docks in 1884. However, people had been living in this part of Wales long before that, as Bronze Age burial mounds, found at Cold Knap and Friars Point, prove. In later years the Romans took an interest in the area and at the Knap built what is thought to have been a supply depot for their Bristol Channel fleet, the remains of which can still be seen.It is thought that the name Barry possibly derives from Saint Baruc who was drowned in the Bristol Channel and buried on Barry Island. The ruins of the chapel dedicated to him can be seen on Friars Road. Cadoxton, too, takes its name from an early saint, Sant Cadoc, and it is around the medieval church of Saint Cadoc that the old village grew up. The church still survives, as do some of the older village houses.
The early years were troubled ones for Barry, with constant Viking raids making life difficult. Barry Island, for example, was known to be a raiders’ base in 1087. Soon after this date the Normans arrived to divide the lands of the Vale of Glamorgan into manors and parishes. Barry became a sub-manor to Penmark and by the 12th-13th centuries had grown into a village and port with its own church, water mill and castle. Fragments of the latter dating from 13th & 14th centuries can be seen on the hill above Romilly Park.
The 19th Century brought enormous changes to South Wales with the extensive mining of coal and iron in the valleys to the north of the vale. Barry and the coast around it, however, remained rural until well into the second half of that century. The Romilly family bought the estate and was responsible for new building but Barry was still only a village in the 1860s and Barry Island was still referred to as a place that abounded with rabbits! Things, however, were to change dramatically, and Barry and Cadoxton were to develop in leaps and bounds. The ever-growing coal trade was far outstripping the facilities at Cardiff Docks and so a group of colliery owners formed the Barry Railway Company and chose to build the dock at Barry. Work commenced in 1884 and the first dock basin was opened in 1889 to be followed by two other docks and extensive port installations.