Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

Bridges over the New Cut & North Dock, Swansea

This 1939 aerial photo shows, bottom left, the North Dock entrance bridges, and bottom right the New Cut road and rail.bridges. Top right are seen the Pottery and Midland bridges. The Scherzer bridge is further upstream.

Built in 1843 for pedestrians, horse-riders and horse-drawn carts and carriages, the first road bridge across the New Cut consisted of two steel sections that swung apart to allow sailing ships to pass through. Referred to as a 'swivel bridge', it was operated by a hand-winch on either side of the New Cut. Some years later, around 1851, a wooden double-bascule railway bridge was constructed across the New Cut to convey patent fuel from Warlich’s fuel works in St. Thomas over to the North Dock for shipment.

In 1847 a swingbridge known as the ‘Pottery Bridge’ was constructed at the top end of the North Dock, and in 1851 a manually-operated  drawbridge was installed across the lower entrance of the North Dock (on Quay Parade) by the Millbrook Iron Company of Landore, Swansea. This bridge was replaced in 1868 by a hydraulically-operated drawbridge with adjacent hydraulic pump-house, and replaced yet again in 1903 by a new hydraulic drawbridge constructed by Andrew Handyside & Co. of Derby at a cost of £9,000.

In 1852 the Swansea Vale Railway erected  a railway bridge across the upper end of the New Cut, and this was later upgraded by the Midland Railway to a hydraulically-operated drawbridge. In 1863 the high-level Vale of Neath Railway drawbridges spanning the New Cut and the lower North Dock  entrance were constructed, and later upgraded with hydraulic operating machinery installed by Wm. Armstrong & Co. in 1873. By 1866 the original 'swivel' road bridge and double-bascule rail bridge crossing the New Cut had both come to the end of their useful lives, and so tenders were put out by the Swansea Harbour Trust for the provision of a new 22’ wide combined road & rail drawbridge to replace these obsolete structures. Opened on the 18th October 1867, the new iron drawbridge was manufactured by Hennet & Spink of Bridgewater, and the masonry-work built by Thomas Watkins & Jenkins of Swansea.

The New Cut drawbridge saw 30 years service before being replaced by a 45’ wide swingbridge in 1897. The new swingbridge, designed by the Harbour Trust’s engineer A. O. Schenk, was constructed by Andrew Handyside & Co. of Derby at a cost of £20,000. The operating machinery, which was supplied by Wm. Armstrong & Co. for £5,000, included a high-pressure hot water system to prevent the bridge mechanism from freezing up during the winter months.

This swingbridge spanned the New Cut for over 60 years until the first carriageway of a replacement bridge was completed and opened to traffic in 1962. The redundant swingbridge was then dismantled to make way for the construction of the second carriageway and, on the 18th June 1965, the new bridge was officially opened by Jim Griffiths MP, Secretary of State for Wales. A second bridge across the New Cut was completed in the early 1990s.


Midland Railway Drawbridge, top end of New Cut, Swansea

When the bridge was open to shipping as in the above photo (c.1900), it rested on two pairs of rollers, one pair on the riverside abutment and another pair on the central wooden pier. The abutment rollers were higher than the central pier rollers so that, in this open position, the bridge platform rested at a slight angle to be clear of the fixed railway track leading to the river’s edge.

The bridge was operated by horizontal hydraulic rams mounted on a separate platform below bridge level, between the abutment and the central pier. To allow for the passage of rail traffic, the bridge would be run out to its full length, at which point it would be balanced on the central rollers only, and with the nose slightly down. Then a small hydraulic ram on the receiving pier would raise the nose of the bridge and bolt it securely in place.

Before opening the bridge again to shipping, the hydraulic ram would release the bolts and allow the nose of the bridge to drop, thereby raising the opposite end so that it could be drawn back clear of the fixed railway line on the abutment side of the river.

Sailing ships in the New Cut in 1860. The Midland Railway Drawbridge can be seen in the background.

Pottery Lock Swingbridge, top of North Dock

Pottery bridge 1960s

North Dock, Pottery bridge on left

Scherzer bridge, Morfa

Scherzer Bridge For years the link between the ICI Morfa Works and Upper Bank

Note: The Scherzer bridge, situated near the Liberty Stadium alongside the road and pedestrian bridges, is at present (2019) the subject of a £200,000 refurbishment being undertaken by Swansea City Council, with the aid of a Welsh Government grant. The centre span section has been removed for overhaul. Let us hope it will not end up dumped on the Swansea foreshore, like the fate of another historic bridge refurbishment embarked upon by the council!