Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

The Construction of Port Talbot Tidal Harbour

The construction of Port Talbot Tidal Harbour began in 1966 and was completed in 1970, creating the first dry-bulk terminal in the UK capable of accepting vessels of over 100,000 deadweight tonnes. The building of the breakwaters and the unloading jetty was undertaken by a consortium of Marples-Ridgway and Kier; the dredging was carried out by a consortium of K.L. Kalis and the Westminster Dredging Company, and the two original unloading appliances on the jetty were erected by Sir William Arrols.

The main harbour breakwater is over 1¼ miles long, the lee breakwater one third of a mile long, and the amount of stone used in building both structures was in the region of 2¼ million tonnes. The breakwater core consists of stones of up to 2 tonnes each, and the intermediate stones vary between 3 tonnes and 6 tonnes. The main armouring on the south side of the main breakwater weighs anything up to 8 tonnes per stone.

Most of the stone for construction of the breakwaters was obtained from the British Steel Corporation-owned quarry at Cornelly, and was transported to the harbour site in 35 tonne dumper trucks. To avoid congestion on the busy A48 trunk road, a private haul road 9 miles long and 12 metres wide was built between the quarry and the harbour, and this was completed in just eleven weeks. Further supplies of stone were obtained from local quarries within the Neath Valley, and nearly 700,000 tonnes were transported to Port Talbot by train from quarries in Derbyshire.

Built within the shelter of the harbour breakwaters is the unloading jetty, a steel-piled structure 518 metres long and 21 metres wide, with a 305 metre grab-discharge berth along the south side. The jetty incorporates almost 900 piles which, if laid end to end, would stretch for some 22 miles. The grab-discharge berth was originally equipped with two unloading appliances, each with a grab capacity of 21 tonnes, and a third appliance was added in 1975. An additional berth for self-discharge vessels was constructed on the north side of the jetty in 1989, and further dredging in 1996 deepened the harbour by 2.6 metres, thereby increasing the maximum size of ship that can be accommodated to 180,000 deadweight tonnes.

The first cargo of iron ore to be unloaded at the new Harbour jetty was discharged from the m.v. ‘Orotava Bridge’ on the 15th March 1970, almost two months before the official Royal opening of the Harbour by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on the 12th June 1970. The old Port Talbot Docks system was closed to shipping in 1971 but subsequently re-opened in 1998.

Illustration of the Harbour development


View from Morfa Beach


Stone conveyed from Cornelly Quarries along a specially constructed road
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Bulldozer levelling the stone to form the breakwater


Placing stones by crane


Store of piles used to form the jetty


Jetty taking shape


Stone ready to be placed in position


Ore Unloader grabs standing by


Conveyor from the jetty to the ore stockyard


Royal Opening of Port Talbot Tidal Harbour



On the 12th May 1970 the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, officially opened the new Tidal Harbour at Port Talbot. The royal party travelled from Port Talbot station to the marquee reception area on the south side of the docks, and then on to Puckey House where the Queen unveiled a commemorative sundial and plaque.

At midday the royal party inspected the new jetty where the bulk ore carrier ‘Westminster Bridge’ was berthed (see photo above), before returning to the marquee reception area for lunch. The accompanying music was provided by the British Steel Corporation Port Talbot Works Band. At 3.00 p.m. the royal party moved on to the steelworks where the Queen unveiled a plaque to mark the official opening of the new Basic Oxygen Steelmaking Plant.

Above the Orotava Bridge enters Port Talbot Harbour on the 15th March 1970. She was the first Ore Carrier to discharge at Port Talbot Harbour.