Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

Swansea Fishing Industry

An extract from The Cambrian Daily Leader Industrial Supplement, Nov. 1913

Swansea, which is referred to in some of the old chronicles as a little fishing village, has now become a fishing centre of some considerable importance in connection with which the port is admirably adapted for the purposes of distribution. The first attempt to develop the business on anything like a big scale was made about 12 years ago. Prior to that a few small mackerel and herring boats used to land their catches occasionally in the South Dock Basin alongside the slipway where the old sailing Pilot Boats used to moor. But steam trawlers were rarely, if ever, seen in the port from one year’s end to another.

Twelve years ago (1901) there was formed what was known as The Swansea Steam Trawler Company, with a capital of some £30,000. A market was erected on the eastern side of the river opposite Harris Dry Docks for the accommodation of the trade. The company, whose shareholders were drawn almost, if not entirely, from the town and neighbourhood, owned seven boats from which fish was landed daily and sold by auction at the market. Misfortune, however, seemed to dog the footsteps of the undertaking, and after a somewhat chequered existence extending over a period of five years, the concern was wound up. Thus the prospect of ever making Swansea a large fishing centre seemed remote.

The Castle Steam Trawler Company

This company first made an appearance in Swansea in 1904, after previously running their vessels into Milford. The advantages of using Swansea quickly became apparent and, in the latter months of 1904, the company transferred its operations to Swansea. The company were not overly impressed with the site of the old market on the Eastside of the river due to damage to vessels in the winter months. Approaches were made to the Harbour Trust, and the company was offered a wharf on the beach side of the South Dock Basin. Several factors influenced the company’s decision to relocate to Swansea, the most obvious being the availability of cheap coal for their vessels. Swansea’s proximity to other large towns and their markets was another.

The construction of the fish market at the South Dock was paid for by The Castle Steam Trawler Company, and initially it was just for discharging their own vessels. When it was decided that a general encouragement to extend Swansea’s fishing industry was part of future planning, the company disposed of its interest to the Harbour Trust. As a result of this disposal, a concession was made to the company that the Trustees would “spare no effort to provide every facility as the business extended”.

The Castle Company have spent upwards of £200,000 and currently operate a fleet of 21 vessels, and have another £50,000 worth of vessels on order. The current vessels consume over 50,000 tons of coal per annum and this will increase when the new vessels arrive. The wages paid to the men in the company’s employ amount to £1,000 per week. The whole of the stores required for these vessels are purchased locally. Directly and indirectly, the port is benefiting between £3,000 - £4,000 per week.

The latest enterprise on behalf of the company has been the erection of a fish meal and liver oil works near the Kings Dock. Consignments of meal are sent weekly to Hamburg while the oil finds its way to Bristol, Glasgow and other centres. It is mostly used for tanning, but some is further refined and used for medicinal purposes.

Acknowledgement must be made of the enthusiastic interest displayed in the welfare of the industry by Mr. Roger Beck. The port and the community are both deeply indebted to Mr. Beck, but for whose keen and kindly encouragement at a time when a dark cloud overhung the industry, Swansea would have not enjoyed its reputation it possesses today as a fishing centre; a centre, moreover, which promises to become in the near future one of the largest and most important in the Kingdom

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