Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

Swansea’s Fishing Industry

South Dock Fishmarket, 1934

Although known throughout history as a small fishing port, Swansea’s deep-sea fishing industry didn't begin until the latter end of the 19th century when new facilities, including a fish-landing wharf, fish-market and ice factory, were built on the east bank of the River Tawe. The ice factory building, with its tall landmark chimney, can still be seen on the river bank today. Some years later, in 1901, the Swansea Steam Trawler Company Ltd was established, but failed to fulfil its shareholders’ expectations and was wound up around five years after its inception.

Fishmarket wharf on the east bank of the River Tawe

In 1904 the Castle Steam Trawler Company transferred its operations from Milford Haven to Swansea, but found the existing fish-market wharf unsuitable for the berthing of the it's extensive trawler fleet. Following negotiations with the Swansea Harbour Trust, the Castle Steam Trawler Company built a new fish-landing wharf, fish-market and ice factory on the opposite side of the river within the South Dock Basin, The new fish-market was served by a direct rail connection to the LMS Railway main line. These facilities were soon taken over by the Swansea Harbour Trust so that fishing vessels other than ‘Castle’ trawlers could land their catches at the new fish-market wharf.

Fishmarket - South Dock Basin, 1909

In 1919, Consolidated Fisheries Ltd. of Grimsby established a base at Swansea, complete with dry dock facilities, engineering & repair shops and ships’ stores, all located within the South Dock Basin area. Consolidated Fisheries operated a fleet of around 40 deep-sea fishing vessels from Swansea – including many of the ‘Castle’ trawlers – up until 1957, when the company finally closed down its operations at the port.

'Castle' trawlers in Swansea's South Dock Basin c.1935

The decline of the fishing industry in Swansea is clearly illustrated by the following figures for fish landings at the port:-

1930 – 15.000 tons

1952 – 3.669 tons

1970 – 279 tons

The South Dock was closed to shipping in 1971 and the remnants of the port’s fishing industry were transferred to a new fish-market in ‘I’ Shed on the West Wharf of the Prince of Wales Dock. The industry’s decline continued unabated, however, and ‘I’ Shed was eventually vacated by the trawler-men and demolished in 1997.

These colourful views of the fishmarket in the Prince of Wales Dock were taken by Mrs R England of the Pennard WI

'Castle' trawlers in former Globe Dry Dock, South Dock Basin

Swansea trawler Clyne Castle in the South Dock Basin

All together for a group photo in the South Dock Fishmarket, taken sometime in the 1950s

Swansea boatman Bill Gwilliam unloading fish from a trawler at Swansea's fishmarket wharf in the South Dock. The boatmen were self-employed and, when not fully occupied with their own work, they would often take on extra jobs on the docks to provide additional income. (photo courtesy of Jamie Gwilliam)

Raising funds for the Red Cross - Consolidated Fisheries' carnival float outside the Harbour Office building in Adelaide Street (date unknown)
Consolidated Fisheries advertisement from 1947