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Pictured above is the wheelbarrow and shovel used at the ceremony for the ‘cutting of the first sod’ of the South Dock on the 26th February 1852. The wheelbarrow was of polished mahogany, enriched with carved foliage and bearing the Coats of Arms of the Marquis of Worcester, the Borough of Swansea, and the Swansea Dock Company.  Its wheel was engraved with the motto "Per Ardua" (Through Adversity) and the spokes consisted of carved plumes of feathers. The shovel was of burnished steel with a handle of polished mahogany.

Around 70,000 to 80,000 persons were assembled in Burrows Square to witness the Marquis cutting the first sod of the new dock and depositing it into the ceremonial wheel-barrow, whereupon it was conveyed by the vice-chairman of the Swansea Dock Company, Captain Morgan, towards the seaward margin of the proposed new works. This wheelbarrow is currently on exhibition at the Swansea Museum in Victoria Road, Swansea.

Financial complications set in during construction of the South Dock, however, and the Swansea Dock Company found itself unable to complete the project. The company was bought out by the Swansea Harbour Trust, who finished the work and officially opened the dock on the 23rd September 1859. The opening ceremony was performed by Miss Emily Charlotte Talbot, daughter of the Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan, Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot.

The South Dock handled commercial shipping for well over a century, and was famous for its thriving fishmarket and for the export of coal – at one time there were ten coal-shipping appliances in the main dock area. Other cargoes included iron ore, timber, sand & gravel, and potatoes. Sadly, a general decline in trade lead to the closure of the South Dock in 1971 but, within a few years, it had been acquired by the City Council and was being developed as the Marina we see today.

The original entrance to the South Dock was through a single pair of lock gates leading from the river into the outer half-tide basin. The passage between the basin and the inner South Dock formed a further lock entrance, this being fitted with three pairs of lock gates. Some time in the 1890’s, the original swingbridge across this passage was replaced with a more substantial swingbridge which can be seen in later photographs.

In 1903 a new lock entrance from the river into the half-tide basin was completed, along with a new impounding station on the north side of the lock head. The half-tide basin became a fully-impounded part of the South Dock, and the new entrance, fitted with two pairs of lock gates, meant that the old lock gates in the connecting passageway could be dispensed with.

The ‘new’ entrance to the South Dock Basin can still be seen today, although the original lock gates are long gone, having been replaced by modern ‘sector’ gates which allow leisure craft to enter and leave the Swansea Marina. Next year (2009) will mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the South Dock, and it’s good to see that the old Swansea Dock Company’s original vision is still benefiting the City of Swansea after all these years.


Commencement of the construction of the South Dock, 26th February 1852

Work in progress building the South Dock.  In the background, Burrows Lodge.

Same view taken on July 17th 2008.

The popularity of pubs and hotels in this part of the town is illustrated by the map below of 1880

The old part of Swansea circa1880 showing 14 public houses or hotels namely :-
1. Gloucester Hotel, 2. Queens Hotel (prior to moving to her 1892 position), 3. Hotel De Paris,
4. Adelaide Hotel, 5. Burrows Inn, 6. Harbour Hotel, 7. Somerset Hotel, 8. Centre Hotel,
9. Christopher Hotel, 10. Cambrian Hotel, 11. Beaufort Arms, 12. Vivian Arms Hotel,
13. Thames Tunnel and 14. Arches Hotel.

South Dock Pumping Station and the original Swing Bridge.
On the left is the church of St Nicholas, which was built as
a mission church for seafarers in 1868.


The South Dock hydraulic pumping station was built in 1904 to provide hydraulic pressure for the operation of all dock-related machinery in both the South Dock and North Dock - machinery such as coal hoists, quayside cranes, lock gates, capstans and, of course, the South Dock swingbridge – part of which can still be seen on the quayside next to the Pump House today. It may well have powered the road and rail bridges which crossed the lock entrance between the North Dock and its outer half-tide basin, and it is also known to have provided a supply of high-pressure water to wash down the hard-standing areas of the South Dock Fishmarket.

When built, the pumping station was powered by coal-fired boilers and steam driven pumps until it was converted to electricity with the installation of four Chester electric pumps in about 1955. The hydraulic (i.e. water) pressure was maintained at a constant 800 p.s.i. by an accumulator, which comprised a large vertical cylinder and ram housed in the square tower adjacent to what is now the Pump House restaurant. The top of the ram had a crosshead attached to a tank filled with ballast which surrounded the cylinder, and when the pumps pressurised the hydraulic main, the ram and tank would rise about twenty feet to a point where a sensor would automatically stop the pumps.

Hydraulic pressure was maintained as the ram slowly descended and, as it neared the bottom of its stroke, the pumps automatically restarted again. The pressure stored in the accumulator was required to cope with sudden demands for hydraulic power when a number of appliances were operated at the same time, and it also allowed time for the pumps to run up to full speed to prepare for any additional demand. The last cargo-handling appliance to use hydraulic pressure from the station was a coal hoist used for bunkering Consolidated Fisheries’ deep sea fishing fleet, until the fleet was finally withdrawn from Swansea in 1957. The station was finally closed on the 31st of May1971 when the lock gates and swing bridge operated for the last time

There was also an impounding station on the bank of the River Tawe (in the building which now houses the Swansea Yacht and Sub Aqua Club) and this pumped water from the river into the South Dock to maintain an adequate water level for ships using the dock and for the safe operation of the lock gates.

Florence Musfrat in the South Dock in 1910. Note the new bridge installed in the 1890s.

South Dock swing bridge with the South Dock power station in the background. The boiler house and stack were demolished when the pumps were changed over to electricity in the early 1960s.

All that remains of the old swing bridge. Photo taken on July 17th 2008.

The Pump House in 2007.

Sailing ship in the Cambrian Dry Dock.

 The Paimpolaise, which sank in the river in 1936. She is on the mud behind the South Dock approach jetty.

South Dock 1888.

South Dock early 1900s.

South Dock 1908.

Conversion of the Globe Dry Dock to a wet dock at the South Dock Basin in 1909.

South Dock early 1900s.

Steam Ship in the Cambrian Dry Dock.


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