Retired Section Swansea Docks


     Next Page     Home Page



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.

Bridges over the New Cut &

North Dock, Swansea

 Built in 1843 for pedestrians, horse-riders and horse-drawn carts and carriages, the first road bridge across the New Cut consisted of two steel sections that swung apart to allow sailing ships to pass through. Referred to as a 'swivel bridge', it was operated by a hand-winch on either side of the New Cut. Some years later, around 1851, a wooden double-bascule railway bridge was constructed over the New Cut to convey patent fuel from Warlich's fuel works in St. Thomas across to the North Dock for shipment.

In 1847 a swingbridge known as the 'Pottery Bridge' was constructed at the top end of the North Dock, and in 1851 a manually-operated drawbridge was installed across the lower entrance of the North Dock (Quay Parade) by the Millbrook Iron Company of Landore, Swansea. This bridge was replaced in 1868 by a hydraulically-operated drawbridge with adjacent hydraulic pump-house, and replaced yet again in 1903 by a new hydraulic drawbridge constructed by Andrew Handyside & Co. of Derby at a cost of £9,000.

In 1852 the Swansea Vale Railway erected a railway bridge across the upper end of the New Cut, and this was later upgraded by the Midland Railway to a hydraulically-operated drawbridge. In 1863 the high-level Vale of Neath Railway drawbridges spanning the New Cut and the lower North Dock entrance were constructed, and later upgraded with hydraulic operating machinery installed by Wm. Armstrong & Co. in 1873.

By 1866 the original 'swivel' road bridge and double-bascule rail bridge over the New Cut had both come to the end of their useful lives, and so tenders were put out by the Swansea Harbour Trust for the provision of a new 22' wide combined road & rail drawbridge to replace these obsolete structures. Opened on the 18th October 1867, the new iron drawbridge was manufactured by Hennet & Spink of Bridgewater, and the masonry-work built by Thomas Watkins & Jenkins of Swansea.

The New Cut drawbridge saw 30 years service before being replaced by a 45' wide swingbridge in 1897. The new swingbridge, designed by the Harbour Trust's engineer A. O. Schenk, was constructed by Andrew Handyside & Co. of Derby at a cost of £20,000. The operating machinery, which was supplied by Wm. Armstrong & Co. for £5,000, included a high-pressure hot water system to prevent the bridge mechanism from freezing up during the winter months. This new swingbridge spanned the New Cut for over 60 years until replaced in the early 1960's by the lower of the two road bridges we see today.

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

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



Top of Page