Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

Town Float, or North Dock

The Town Float, later to become known as the North Dock, was created by diverting a section of the River Tawe into a newly-excavated channel known as the New Cut, and converting the original section of river bed into a 'floating dock' - that is to say, a dock in which ships could remain afloat at all times as opposed to being grounded on low tides.

The excavation of the New Cut commenced in 1840 and was completed in 1845. The first ship to sail the length of the New Cut was the brig 'Charles Clarke' on the 11th March of that year. The Cambrian newspaper reported that "she passed through amidst the firing of guns, etc., in the most gallant style without touching either sides or bottom or meeting any obstruction to her free navigation".

By 1851 the top 'Pottery' lock and the seaward lock of the North Dock had been completed, and on the 1st January 1852 the dock was formally opened as the paddle steamer 'Lord Beresford' sailed in from the River Tawe to become the first ship to enter Swansea's new 'floating dock'.

The construction of the lower North Dock Basin was commenced in 1859 and completed the following year. In 1897 the reinforced-concrete Weavers building was erected on the north-east side of the basin, fronted by Victoria Wharf. In 1902 the installation of a new lock entrance into the North Dock Basin was completed, allowing an increased draft (depth) of ship that could enter from the original 26 feet (8 metres) to around 32 feet (9.75 metres).

By the 1920s the North Dock had become largely redundant as the centre of Swansea's shipping trade had moved over to the east side of the River Tawe with the development of the Prince of Wales Dock, Kings Dock and Queens Dock. In 1930 the North Dock was finally closed to shipping, although the North Dock Basin remained open until 1969. It was filled in after closure and the area is now occupied by Sainsbury's supermarket and car park.

South and North Dock, the Beaufort Dock (highlighted in red) and the proposed East Dock (Prince of Wales Dock)

Sailing ships in the River Tawe in 1845

Sailing Ships in the river at Cobre Wharf 1847

Sailing ship in the upper basin of the North Dock

Steel-hulled 'windjammer' in Swansea's North Dock

Ships in Pottery Basin, top end of North Dock

s.s. Falshaw berthed at a GWR coal hoist in the North Dock

s.s. Cognac entering the North Dock from the outer North Dock Basin

Sailing Ship loading coal in the North Dock

Ship loading coal in the North Dock

Strand Power Station. North Dock in the background

The next two images show the North Dock in 1934, having closed to shipping in 1930

Filling in the North Dock behind Unit Superheaters

Haulage Depot on the filled in North Dock in the 1950s

North Dock Basin (see also Weavers Flour Mill page)

Ships in Swansea's North Dock Basin

Three-masted barque Winterhude discharging grain from Australia to Weavers flour mills in Swansea's North Dock Basin c.1930. The steel-hulled vessel, built in 1898 as a full-rigged ship but re-rigged as a barque in 1912, was bought by Gustav Erikson in 1925, sailing 12 voyages between Australia and the UK before being de-rigged in 1939 for use as a grain storage hulk in Stavanger, Norway

s.s. Flora discharging grain to Weavers flour mills in the North Dock Basin, Swansea c.1930. Built in Sunderland in 1918, the vessel was lost in 1934 after grounding near Cape St. Vincent while carrying a cargo of coal from Swansea to Venice. Although re-floated, the ship sank shortly afterwards some 5 miles off the Portuguese coast.

s.s. Delilian discharging grain to Weavers flour mills in the North Dock Basin, Swansea c.1930. Glasgow-built in 1923, the ship survived a U-Boat attack off the south-east coast of Iceland in 1941 and was eventually scrapped at Port Glasgow in 1954.

Steel barges Severn Side & Severn Merchant in the North Dock Basin

Aerial photo of the North Dock Basin in the 1930s

Dutch coaster Beekbergen on Victoria Wharf, North Dock Basin

North Dock Basin filled in with Weavers Mill alongside

The following was taken from an advertising poster issued by Swansea Harbour Trust:


North South and Beaufort Docks 34-1/2 acres

Great reduction on shipping or Tonnage Rates and Abolishment of levelling Charges


Giving the Ship owner The choice of Ports and greater command of the Freight Market. The only Telegraphic Ship Signal System in the Bristol Channel is OPEN on the Mumbles Head at the Lighthouse belonging to Swansea Harbour Trust directly connected with the General Post Office system of Telegraphs and Officially styled ‘’Swansea Bay’’ Ship Owners, Brokers and others desirous of having their Vessels reporting direct to them will be good enough to signify the same to the General Superintendent of Swansea Harbour, charges as customary.

Messages filed by Vessels calling for ‘Orders’ open for this purpose day and night Swansea is the first Port in the Bristol Channel, 85 miles from Lundy Vessels can enter the Bay and find good sheltered anchorage under the Mumbles Head at any state of the tide, free of all charges whatever. Full particulars and every information may be obtained by application either personally or by letter of Mr. Capper General Superintendent of Swansea Harbour, Harbour Office Swansea. Steamers chartered for the South Wales Ports, save one or two, if not 3 Tides, by loading and discharging at Swansea, and the cost of some hours steaming up the Channel past that Port, and down again to Sea


The new modern improvements including the introduction of a Patent Dioptric Lens has been recently applied to the Mumbles Lighthouse and maintained by the Harbour Trustees free of charge to the Shipping now consists of one large lantern 114ft above the sea. Exhibiting a bright fixed light distinctly visible in clear weather 18 to 20 miles distance. It is in Lat’51 Lon’3-57-20 West.

The postal office telegraph is immediately opposite the Harbour Office

The population of Swansea is 20000 in the last census. It has almost doubled in 20 years

Shipping Office for Seamen and the Sailors Home next to the Harbour Office

Steamers are not required to Wait Turn at the Roadstead and are docked with the assistance of Tugs.

The Lock Gates are of Iron and Timber and worked by Hydraulic Power. Erected by William Armstrong are the fixed and portable Cranes and Coal Hoists.

Direct Railway communications from the ships side in the dock and new cut to all parts of the Kingdom.

Ships can obtain water direct from the Corporation Water Works where mains run along the quay.

Vessels frequenting the Docks are allowed to adjust companies free

Coal from the well known Aberdare and member coal fields shipped to any extent with utmost dispatch

Depth of Water at entrance of Harbour, 28ft O.S.T. (being deepened) Deepest Dock Cill 26ft Springs, 18ft Neaps.

Full particulars and every information may be obtained by application either personally or by letter of Mr. Capper General Superintendent of Swansea Harbour Trust