Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

Swansea Docks Engineering Staff

In the days of sailing ships and the use of riverside berths and wharves, there was very little mechanical help with the loading and unloading of vessels. The docker of the day had to manhandle the cargo, literally by hand or with the aid of the ship’s block and tackle. There would also have been a number of hand operated mechanical winches, although these would have had very limited cargo-handling capabilities. The invention of the steam engine was to change all this, and the development of steam driven cranes heralded a new era in the loading and discharging of ships. At the same time, the introduction of steam ‘navvies’, or excavators, made possible the construction of improved riverside facilities and, eventually, fully enclosed docks such as the North Dock in Swansea which opened in 1852.

As technology improved, the engineers of the day sought to develop even more efficient dockside handling equipment, and the answer lay in the use of water pressure, or hydraulic power. By setting up power stations with large steam engines driving hydraulic pumps, many quayside appliances could be operated from the same power source. At Swansea Docks, for example, a number of inter-connected hydraulic power stations made possible the operation of cranes, road and rail swing-bridges and drawbridges, coal hoists, capstans, lock gates and other fixed mechanical appliances throughout the dock estate. The hydraulic system required a lot of maintenance, however, and a large number of men were employed to carry out the day to day repairs necessary to keep the equipment operational. The job of Hydraulic Repairer had come into being. Along with fitters, blacksmiths, boilermakers, carpenters and later, electricians, they formed the engineering maintenance section of Swansea Docks.

These hydraulic appliances were to last for many years, but with the introduction of a new power source - electricity - the old water powered cranes were eventually replaced by more modern electric quayside cranes. Nevertheless, hydraulic coal hoists remained in operation at Swansea until the demolition of the last two appliances in 1987, and the Kings Dock lock gates were still being operated by water hydraulics until an oil hydraulic system with PLC control was installed in the late 1990s. As with industry everywhere, however, the introduction of modern machinery and equipment meant that a large engineering workforce, so vital to the port for well over a century, was no longer required and was gradually pensioned off.

The following photos are of some of the engineering staff who kept the wheels turning on Swansea Docks for so many years.

Below is a gathering of the Engineering maintenance staff in 1972

Hover over photo to enlarge it.

Front row L. to R. Glyn Morgan, Ronnie Guy, Harry Roberts, Norman Jenkins, Steve Williams, Dennis Davies, Russell Brown, Jock Harkness, Ron Toulcher, Albert Wassell, John Doel, Anon., Ray Vaughan, Dennis Jones, David Thomas. Seated row L. to R .Charlie Gray, Roy Jefferies, Joe Gerraghty, Stan Charlesworth, Harold Hardy, Viv Howells, Cliff Harvey, Keith Langdon, George Jones, Bill Lewis, Ken McColl, Gwyn Nicholls, Frank Cotgais, Frank James, Glyn White, Sam Jackson, Bill Owen. Included standing L. to R. Jack Charlesworth, John Pilot, Hopkin Hopkins, George Snell, Danny Phillips, Ronnie Robins, Ken Hughes, Alf Popham, Ronnie Payne, Sid Robins, Colin Dyer, Brian Davies, Denis Grant, Harry Dalling, Ron Davies, Wally Evans, Hugh Bevan, Tommy Lloyd, Joe Banfield, Mervyn Delaney, Tommy Doel, John Watchman, Sid Greaves, Evan Evans, John Gray, Jeff Lye, Len Isaac, John Ware, Alan Davies, Arthur Way, Gareth Evans, John Harrington, Will Thomas, George Copham, Phil Davies, Cyril Allen, Ernie Tovey, Raymond Black, Albert Grey, Basil Smith. 

Mechanical Section taken in the 1960s. Front row :- Len Vaughan, Albert Grey, Alan Davies, George Lloyd, Bill Owen, Bill Lewis, Glyn Morgan, Jack Taylor, Gwyn Nichols & Ron Toulcher Rear Row :- Jeff Lye, Steve Williams, Frank James, Will Thomas & Ken McColl. 

Kings Dock Locks and Ring Main Hydraulic Repair Gang, late 1960's From the left:- Ernie Tovey, Cyril Allen, Hugh Bevan, Frank Cotgais, Dick Thompson and Arthur Way.

Back Row :- Ron Toulcher, Billy Owen, Will Thomas & Ken Hughes. Front Row :- Albert Grey, Alan Davies & Glyn Morgan.

Left to right, Ron Payne, Glyn Morgan, Dennis Davies and Jeff Lye. (Photo: Frankie James). Overhauling a turntable on the coal hoists.

Con Rosser, Sid Greaves, Len Vaughan, Cliff Butt and Will Bevan. 

John Doel, Paul Boulton, Will Finn, Tom Doel and Brian Jones.

John Doel, Sid Greaves, Len Vaughan, Cliff Butt and Willy Bevan.

Ken McColl, Frank James, Eddie Grange, Dennis Jones and Frank Mayo.

Steve Jones, John Evans, Mervyn Delaney, Jeff Lye, Ken Stewart and Tom Doel.

Plant and Vehicle Workshops, standing are Brian Evans and Max Morris.

John Llewellyn, Newton Thomas and George Morgan overhauling a crane hoist motor resistance bank.

John Hendricks & Willie Shreeve in the Carpenters' Shop preparing new lock gate timbers (photo courtesy of Paul Smith)

John Stevens, Barry Dean and John Llewellyn.

Brian Flower, Viv Howells, Glyn Morgan, Bill Lewis,and Cliff Harvey.

Ron Toulcher, Billy Owens, Will Thomas, Tommy Lloyd and Frank James.

Len Vaughan, Con Rosser, Syd Greaves, John Doel and Tommy Deakin.

Engineering Staff (continued) - more photos