Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

Dry Docks at Swansea

During the nineteenth century a total of nine new dry docks were built within the Port of Swansea and, listed from north to south, these were as follows:-

The Villiers Dry Dock, built in 1852, and the Jersey Dry Dock were located on the west side of the River Tawe above the top lock of the North Dock, near what is today the southern end of Morfa Road. The Villiers was operated by G B Meager & Co., and the Jersey by a Mr. W. Lewis until taken over by the Jersey Dry Dock Co. in 1898.

Alongside the top lock of the North Dock was the Phoenix Dry Dock, originally operated by the Ocean Dry Docks Co., and taken over by a Mr. W Meager in 1910 before going into liquidation and closing in 1916. On the east side of the North Dock itself, on the site of the former ‘Richardson’s Patent Slip’, was the Swansea Dry Dock, which would later become known as the Albion Dry Dock. This was owned and operated by the Swansea Dry Docks & Engineering Co. until being taken over by the Victoria Dry Docks Co. (Swansea) Ltd. in 1898, and later by the Ocean Dry Docks Co. in 1916.

The Central Graving Dock on the west bank of the River Tawe lay next to Weavers Flour Mills, and was constructed by the Central Graving Dock & Engineering Co. It was bought out by the Ocean Dry Docks Co. (Swansea) Ltd. in 1895, who operated the facility until going into liquidation in 1938. Also on the west bank of the River Tawe, between the entrances to the North Dock and the South Dock, were the first two Cambrian Dry Docks, owned and operated by Harris Bros. and known as Harris Bros. Dry Docks Nos. 1 & 2. (These were variously referred to in later years as the Commercial Dry Docks or the Corporation Dry Docks.) Constructed in 1864, Harris Bros. Dry Dock No. 2 was completely rebuilt in 1895 and remained operational until the early 1960’s, after which it was converted into a slipway for the Swansea Yacht & Sub Aqua Club. (further information about this dry dock can be seen in Roger Jones’ section under ‘Contributors’)

Within the South Dock itself was the Swansea Globe Dry Dock which was built in 1859 by the Swansea Dry Docks & Engineering Co. and later taken over by the Victoria Dry Docks Co. (Swansea) Ltd. This was converted to a wet dock in 1908 and now forms part of the Swansea Marina. The final dry dock to be built at Swansea during the nineteenth century was the Prince of Wales Dry Dock which opened in 1898. Located alongside the original lock entrance to the Prince of Wales Dock, the dry dock was owned and operated by the Prince of Wales Dry Dock Co. (Swansea) Ltd. The site of this former dry dock, which lies within the SA1 redevelopment area, is where the new lock entrance into the Prince of Wales Dock is being built today.

The twentieth century witnessed the building of three more dry docks at Swansea. Firstly, in 1918, Harris Bros. Dry Dock No. 3, also known as the Cambrian Dry Dock, was constructed on the site of the original lock entrance to the South Dock Basin (a new entrance lock had been completed in 1903). This facility was later taken over by Consolidated Fisheries Ltd. for the dry-docking of trawlers, after which it was converted to a wet dock and is now a part of the Swansea Marina.

In 1924, Palmers Dry Dock was built at the western end of Kings Dock by Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co. Ltd., followed by the largest of Swansea’s dry docks, the Duke of Edinburgh Dry Dock, which was constructed alongside Palmers in 1959. The Palmers and Duke of Edinburgh dry docks were the last to remain open at Swansea, having been operated over the years by various companies such as the Prince of Wales Dry Dock Co., C H Bailey Ltd., Trushippers Ltd., Bristol Channel Ship Repairers, and George Prior Engineering. Sadly, they are now closed and derelict, finally bringing to an end the long-established tradition of ship repairing at the Port of Swansea.

On the above plan, the Jersey and Villiers Dry Docks can be seen at the top, whilst the Phoenix Dry Dock is shown to the right of the upper Half Tide Basin.


1880 plan of the Jersey Dry Dock


1880 plan of the Villier's Dry Dock


This plan shows Swansea Dry Dock on the east bank of the North Dock, and the Central Dry Dock to the north of the lower Half Tide Basin


Harris Bros. Dry Docks 1 & 2 and gridiron. Swansea Globe Dry Dock is at the bottom right of the picture


Cambrian Dry Dock to theleft, and on the opposite side of the river is the Prince of Wales Dry Dock


Palmers Dry Dock and the Duke of Edinburgh Dry Dock alongside the Kings Dock Lock entrance to Swansea Docks


List of Swansea's Dry Docks


Ocean Company's Dry Dock and private wharf viewed from the river in 1910


Sailing ship 'Ville De Rouen', in the Ocean Dry Dock in the 1900s