Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

Swansea South Dock

Pictured above is the wheelbarrow and shovel used at the ceremony for the ‘cutting of the first sod’ of the South Dock on the 26th February 1852. The wheelbarrow was of polished mahogany, enriched with carved foliage and bearing the Coats of Arms of the Marquis of Worcester, the Borough of Swansea, and the Swansea Dock Company. Its wheel was engraved with the motto "Per Ardua" (Through Adversity) and the spokes consisted of carved plumes of feathers. The shovel was of burnished steel with a handle of polished mahogany.

Around 70,000 to 80,000 people were assembled in Burrows Square on the 26th February 1852 to witness the Marquis of Worcester cutting the first sod of the new South Dock and depositing it into the ceremonial wheelbarrow, whereupon it was conveyed by the vice-chairman of the Swansea Dock Company, Captain Evan Morgan, towards the seaward margin of the proposed new works. The wheelbarrow is on permanent exhibition at the Swansea Museum in Victoria Road, Swansea.

Financial difficulties set in during construction of the South Dock, however, and the Swansea Dock Company found itself unable to complete the project. Under the Swansea Harbour Act 1857, the company was bought out by the Swansea Harbour Trust, who finished the work and officially opened the dock on the 23rd September 1859. The opening ceremony was performed by Miss Emily Charlotte Talbot, daughter of the Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan, Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot.

The South Dock handled commercial shipping for well over a century, and was famous for its thriving fishmarket, which was established in 1905, and for the export of coal. At one time there had been eleven coal-shipping appliances in the main dock area, although this number had fallen to just four by the mid 1930s. Other cargoes included iron ore, timber, sand & gravel, and potatoes. Sadly, a general decline in trade lead to the closure of the South Dock in 1971 but, within a few years, it had been acquired by the City Council and was being developed as the Marina we see today.

The original entrance from the river into the South Dock half-tide basin was fitted with just a single pair of dock gates, while the passage between the half-tide basin and the inner South Dock (the main lock) was fitted out with three pairs of lock gates. In 1903 a new lock entrance from the river into the half-tide basin was completed, and the half-tide basin became a fully-impounded part of the South Dock. The new entrance, which was fitted with two pairs of lock gates, meant that the original lock gates in the connecting passageway could be dispensed with. In 1901 a new impounding station was built on the north side of the lock head and, in 1905, the original swingbridge across the communicating passage was replaced by a more substantial structure, which can be seen in later photographs.

The ‘new’ entrance to the South Dock Basin can still be seen today, although the original lock gates are long gone, having been replaced by modern ‘sector’ gates which allow leisure craft to enter and leave the Swansea Marina. 2019 marked the 160th anniversary of the opening of the South Dock, and it’s good to see that the Swansea Dock Company’s original vision is still benefiting the City of Swansea after all these years.

Commencement of the construction of the South Dock, 26th February 1852

Work in progress building the South Dock. In the background, Burrows Lodge.

Same view taken in 2008.

South Dock 1888

South Dock early 1900s

South Dock 1908

Conversion of the Globe Dry Dock to a wet dock at the South Dock Basin in 1909

South Dock early 1900s

South Dock with the cargo shed on the right, later to become the maritime museum

Unknown trawler. On the left a cargo shed, now the Maritime Museum, with three Quayside cranes

The South Dock Jetty

This view of Victoria Station was taken from the South Dock high level railway