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 or Ocean Dry Dock adjacent to the Weavers building on the north side of the North Dock Basin was constructed c.1860 by the Central Graving Dock & Engineering Co. It was bought out in 1895 by the Ocean Dry Docks Co. (Swansea) Ltd. who operated the facility until the company's 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. No. 1 & No.2. (These were variously referred to in later years as the Commercial Dry Docks or the Corporation Dry Docks.) Both dry docks were constructed around 1865, although Harris Bros. No.2 was completely rebuilt in 1895 and remained in operation until the early 1960’s, after which it was converted into a slipway for the Swansea Yacht & Sub Aqua Club.

Within the South Dock half-tide basin, adjacent to the lock entrance, was the Swansea Globe Dry Dock built in 1859 by the Swansea Dry Docks & Engineering Co., This was later taken over by the Victoria Dry Docks Co. (Swansea) Ltd. and in 1908 was converted into a wet dock. It was filled in after the closure of the South Dock in 1971.

The final dry dock to be built at Swansea during the 19th 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. In the mid 1970s, having been redundant for many years, the dry dock was filled in but was re-excavated in recent years to form part of the new SA1 redevelopment scheme. It is located alongside the Trinity St David University campus.

The twentieth century witnessed the building of three more dry docks at Swansea. Firstly, in 1918 the third of the Cambrian Dry Docks, Harris Bros. Dry Dock No. 3,, 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 much used by Consolidated Fisheries Ltd. for the dry-docking and maintenance of its Swansea-based fleet of deep-sea trawlers until the company's withdrawal from Swansea in 1957. Converted into a wet dock, it remains today as part of Swansea Marina.

Palmers Dry Dock at the western end of Kings Dock was completed by Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co. Ltd. in 1924 and taken over in the mid 1930s by the Prince of Wales Dry Dock Co. (Swansea) Ltd. who later built the adjacent Duke of Edinburgh Dry Dock which opened in 1959. Today these two remaining dry docks are operated by Swansea Drydocks Ltd as a ship recycling facility.

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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 the left, 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




Four-masted barque Osborne in Swansea's Central Dry Dock c.1900. Built in 1892 by W H Potter & Sons of Liverpool, she was sold to German owners in 1910 and renamed J C Vinnen


Four-masted barque Ville de Rouen in the Central Dry Dock, Swansea c.1895. In October 1901 on a voyage from Cardiff to Perth the ship ran aground and eventually broke up on a reef off the western coast of Australia still known today as the Ville de Rouen reef.


The Ocean Dry Dock Company's Central Dry Dock & Wharf on the west bank of the River Tawe c.1910


Albion dry dock built c.1850 on the site of the former Richardson's Patent Slip on the east side of Swansea's North Dock


Danish cargo ship Anine undergoing repairs in Cambrian dry dock No.2 c.1910


An aerial view of Cambrian dry dock No.3 c.1920. On the right is the lock entrance to Swansea's South Dock


Swansea-registered trawler Radnor Castle in Cambrian dry dock No.3 c.1945. All three Cambrian dry docks were owned by ship repairers Harris Bros. of Swansea.


Refrigerated cargo ship Haparangi in the Prince of Wales dry dock (formerly Palmers dry dock) in 1949


The newly-completed Duke of Edinburgh dry dock can be seen alongside Palmers dry dock in this aerial photo. Both dry docks were operated by the Prince of Wales Dry Dock Co. Swansea Ltd.


The newly-completed Duke of Edinburgh dry dock prior to opening in 1959


The newly-completed Duke of Edinburgh dry dock prior to opening in 1959. The tanker Silverdale on the right is in the former Palmers dry dock


Blue Funnel ships Elpenor (left) and Dolius (right) in the Prince of Wales Dry Docks at Swansea c.1965


Tanker Esso Tyne in the Duke of Edinburgh Dry Dock – 1990


The following photographs are included courtesy of Swansea Dry Docks Ltd.



An aerial photo of Swansea's two remaining dry docks after the port's dry-docking operations were taken over by Swansea Dry Docks Ltd. in 2009


Svitzer tug HT Cutlass in Palmers dry dock for hull painting & steelwork repairs


Alexandra Towing Company tug Canning in the Duke of Edinburgh dry dock Built in 1954, the tug is currently on display in Swansea Marina


Helwick lightship LV91 in the Duke of Edinburgh dry dock. The lightship, built in 1937, is currently on display in Swansea Marina


P&O Irish Sea freight ferry Norbank in Swansea's Duke of Edinburgh dry dock c.2015


Seatruck Isle of Man freight ferry Arrow in Swansea's Duke of Edinburgh dry dock c.2015