Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

South Dock Pumping and Impounding Stations

South Dock Pumping Station and the original Swing Bridge. On the left is the church of St Nicholas, which was built as a mission church for seafarers in 1868.

South Dock Hydraulic Power Station

(today the Pump House Restaurant)

The South Dock hydraulic pumping station was built c.1899 to replace the original hydraulic pump house built some 40 years earlier. It provided hydraulic water pressure to operate all dock-related machinery in the South Dock and South Dock Basin – appliances such as coal hoists, quayside cranes, lock gates, capstans and, of course, the South Dock swingbridge – part of which can still be seen on the quayside next to the Pump House today. It also provided a high-pressure water supply to wash down the hard-standing areas of the South Dock Fishmarket.

When built, the pumping station was powered by coal-fired boilers and steam driven pumps until being converted from steam to electricity in the mid 1950s with the installation of four Chester electric pumps. Hydraulic pressure was maintained at a constant 800 p.s.i. by an accumulator which comprised a large vertical cylinder and ram housed in the square tower adjacent to what is now the Pump House restaurant. The ram was weighted by a ballast tank and, as the pumps pressurised the hydraulic main, they also pumped water into the cylinder, forcing the ram and ballast tank inside the cylinder up to a height of around twenty feet (6 metres), at which point a sensor would automatically cut in to stop the pumps. As the ram slowly descended and eventually neared the bottom of its travel, the pumps would automatically start up again.

The water stored under pressure in the accumulator was needed to cope with sudden demands for hydraulic power when a number of hydraulic appliances were being operated at the same time, and it also allowed time for the hydraulic pumps to run up to full speed in preparation for any further demand. The last cargo-handling appliance to use hydraulic pressure from the power station was a coal hoist used for bunkering the trawlers of Consolidated Fisheries’ deep-sea fishing fleet until, in 1957, the fleet was withdrawn from Swansea.

There was also an impounding station on the South Dock lock head which pumped in water from the River Tawe to maintain a constant level of impounded water within the South Dock & South Dock Basin. Today this building is home to the Swansea Yacht and Sub Aqua Club.

Florence Musfrat in the South Dock in 1910. Note the new swing bridge installed in the 1890s.

South Dock swing bridge with the South Dock power station in the background. The boiler house and stack were demolished when the pumps were changed over to electricity in the early 1960s.

All that remains of the old swing bridge. Photo taken in 2008.

View of Pump House and swing bridge.(to the right Consolidated Fisheries Ice Factory is being demolished. )

The Fairwood was the last vessel to leave the South Dock on May 31st 1971. The bridge was closed and never opened again.

The Pump House in 2007

South Dock Impounding Station, (now the Swansea Yacht and Sub Aqua Club)

Barrels covering the suction pipes for the impounding pumps in the bottom bar of the club