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Swansea’s Fishing Industry

Although known throughout history as a small fishing port, Swansea’s deep-sea fishing industry didn't begin until the latter end of the 19th century  when new facilities, including a fish-landing wharf, fish-market and ice factory, were built on the east bank of the River Tawe. The ice factory building, with its tall landmark chimney, can still be seen on the river bank today. Some years later, in 1901, the Swansea Steam Trawler Company Ltd was established, but failed to fulfil its shareholders’ expectations and was wound up around five years after its inception.

In 1904 the Castle Steam Trawler Company transferred its operations from Milford Haven to Swansea, but found the existing fish-market wharf unsuitable for the berthing of the it's extensive trawler fleet. Following negotiations with the Swansea Harbour Trust, the Castle Steam Trawler Company built a new fish-landing wharf, fish-market and ice factory on the opposite side of the river within the South Dock Basin, The new fish-market was served by a direct rail connection to the LMS Railway main line. These  facilities were soon taken over by the Swansea Harbour Trust so that fishing vessels other than ‘Castle’ trawlers could land their catches at the new fish-market wharf.

In 1919,  Consolidated Fisheries Ltd. of Grimsby established a base at Swansea, complete with dry dock facilities, engineering & repair shops and ships’ stores, all located within the South Dock Basin area. Consolidated Fisheries  operated a fleet of around 40 deep-sea fishing vessels from Swansea – including many of the ‘Castle’ trawlers – up until 1957, when the company finally closed down its operations at the port.

The decline of the fishing industry in Swansea is clearly illustrated by the following figures for fish landings at the port:-

1930 – 15.000 tons
1952  –  3.669 tons
1970   –   279  tons

The South Dock was closed to shipping in 1971 and the remnants of the port’s fishing industry were transferred to a new fish-market in ‘I’ Shed on the West Wharf of the Prince of Wales Dock. The industry’s decline continued unabated, however, and ‘I’ Shed was eventually vacated by the trawler-men and demolished in 1997.

This painting is of Wind street in 1650s. This is the first reference to a Fish Market we can find. If anyone can supply further information please Email us.

The first market was erected in Swansea in 1652 for the sale of fish, vegetables and corn, it was sited in Market Square , between Wind St and Castle St. It consisted of a roof supported by ten pillars, the roof was covered by lead stripped off a chapel of St David's Cathedral, and how this lead got to Swansea was a matter of some conjecture. It was mooted that it was a gift from Oliver Cromwell to "a gentleman of Swansea". It happened that Colonel Phillip Jones was then Governor of Swansea [and a close associate of Cromwell and later Lord Jones of Fonmon in the Vale], and this alleged disposal of the St David's lead was raised at his impeachment, as was Bishop Barlow so accused of the same deed.

This market was soon too small to meet the growing commercial demands of Swansea. In 1828, Calvert Richard Jones (father of Rev.C.R.Jones-photographer/artist) gave land at Rope-walk Field to the town on condition it always remained a market-place. The new market opened in 1830 being replaced by a larger market in 1897. This market however was destroyed in the Three Nights' Blitz of 1941.


The painting on the left is a view of Swansea Castle in the 1840s The one on the right is the Prince of Wales Dock shortly after it opened


The Ice Factory

 Built around 1880, the Ice Factory would have supplied ice to trawlers berthed at the nearby fish wharf on the east bank of the River Tawe, and also to the adjacent fish market where the trawlers’ catches were sorted and sold. Apparently, the original freezing floor of the ice factory is still in place, as is the tall chimney of the engine house where a large coal-powered steam engine would have provided the compression needed to manufacture the ice.

 In 1901 the trawlers moved into the South Dock Basin where a new ice factory and other facilities were established for the deep-sea fishing industry and so the original ice factory became redundant. In 1926 it was taken over by ships’ chandlers McSymon & Potter, who traded from the premises for almost half a century, whilst adding several extensions to the original building. In more recent years it was occupied by local flag-makers Mott & Jones.

 The old ice factory is a Grade II listed building, and is currently undergoing extensive renovation for future use as a restaurant. In addition to the photos below, several more views of the ice house in varying stages of refurbishment can be seen in our section on New Development. 


The  picture shows a Victorian machine for making ice from water in London. This is a type that used a chemical, ether, as part of the ice making process and it was powered by a steam engine. Later, different processes were invented and more efficient machines were used. Maybe the Ice House at Swansea had a similar machine.     

From Steam to Ice

 Whilst we have no record of the actual equipment used in the ice factory, it would undoubtedly have followed Davey, Paxman & Co.’s method of using a large steam engine to drive vertical or horizontal ammonia compressors. James Paxman’s expertise in the design and manufacture of high quality reciprocating machinery had proved an ideal basis for the building of compressors, and an agreement between Paxman, Thomas Bell Lightfoot, and the Linde British Refrigeration Company led to the large-scale manufacture of this type of refrigeration equipment. The business developed quickly and, by the end of the 19th century, a wide range of steam-driven compressor units was being designed and supplied to ice factories and cold stores both in the UK and overseas, as well as for installation aboard refrigerated cargo ships.




Above is a horizontal steam engine.

To the left is a vertical steam engine

Both of these were made in the late 1800s.


The above map from the 1880’s shows the location of the ice factory, the fish wharves
and the fish market on the east bank of the River Tawe.

Boatman William Gwilliam ( known as Billy Gullam) unloading fish in the South Dock.The boatmen,
if not busy with their own work, would work on the trawlers unloading fish or any other duties they were
asked to do. They were self employed and this work provided extra income

We thank Jamie Gwilliam for sending us this photo.

To see a film clip of Consolidated Fisheries trawler ‘Green Howard’ entering the South Dock Basin, and of fish being discharged onto the wharf and packed in ice, click on the button below. The tug at the beginning of the clip is the ‘Majestic’, owned and operated by Britannia Steam Towing Co.

We would like to thank Worms Head Productions for permission to use this clip
which is taken from their DVD ‘The Changing Face of Swansea’.  

Fleet of trawlers in the South Dock in the 1930s.

South Dock Trawlers in the 1930s

The following is an extract from the West Wales Guardian dated Friday, 8th January 1960:-

 ''Messrs Peter Hancock's trawler ‘Tenby Castle’, is dying hard. Condemned to the breaker's yard shewas being towed to Messrs T W Ward's basin at Briton Ferry when she was swept aground bya twenty five foot tide on Sunday morning, two miles from her destination, at the entranceof the river Neath. With the tides dropping it is not expected that theTenby Castle’ will be refloated until the next twenty foot tide on January 28th.”

 One of the famous ‘Castle’ trawlers, the Swansea-based ‘Tenby Castle’ was built for Consolidated Fisheries in 1928
 by Cochrane & Sons of Selby. She was requisitioned for war service as the minesweeper HMS ‘Sawfly’ during
 the Second World War, after which she returned to her base at Swansea. The ‘Tenby Castle’ was sold to
Peter Hancock & Sons of Milford in 1956, and scrapped at Briton Ferry in 1960.

Fish Market in the late 1930s.

Jack White the Skipper of the Trawler Stalberge operating out of Swansea
landed the bigest catch of hake amounting to 1380 boxes in April 1947

This photo of the market is a few years later than the one above.

An advertisement for Consolidated Fisheries, established in the South Dock, Swansea in 1919.

Workforce of Consolidated Fisheries raising money for the Red Cross in the early 1900s.

Consolidated Fisheries Football Team.

The team played in Loughor to raise funds in aid of the loss of the Mumbles Lifeboat and the sinking of the Samtampa in 1947. ( The team lost having missed 3 penalties).

Back Row :- Jack ???, Charlie Ridd, Bill Williams, Peter Hemp, Hughie Edwards, Mel Lewis (Goal Keeper), Les Brown, Arthur Tanner, Billy Wilkins, Will Edwards, Gwyn Davies.
Front Row sitting :- Referee, Bill Lewis, Jack ???, Billy Abrahmson, Mayor of Swansea, Ivor ???.

On the left Albert Cozens 2nd left Haydn Edwards. Thanks to Tyrone Bevan for sending
us a name of the 2nd Left. They all worked in the Fish Market


Consolidated Fisheries Party.

Centre in the back :- Bill Lewis ( Apprentice Ship Wright),  Walter Bateman ( Shipwright).
Centre of photo :- Major Ronald (bow tie), to the right Dai Rees (Manager), next right Mr. Leadbetter.
Also including :- Bill Davies, Bill Yeomans, Fred Yeomans, Mr. Minors, Charlie Griffin and Albert Hopkins.

We thank Mr. Bill Lewis for supplying the two photos above.


When the Fish Market closed in the South Dock the market carried on in J Shed you can see the inshore trawlers
along side A Shed Wharf. In the foreground is the tug Thomas

University Survey Vessel Ocean Crest

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