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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, made of polished mahogany and bearing the Coats of Arms of the Marquis of Worcester, the Borough of Swansea, and the Swansea Dock Company, 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 on July 17th 2008.

The popularity of pubs and hotels in this part of the town is illustrated by the map below of 1880

The old part of Swansea circa1880 showing 14 public houses or hotels namely :-
1. Gloucester Hotel, 2. Queens Hotel (prior to moving to her 1892 position), 3. Hotel De Paris,
4. Adelaide Hotel, 5. Burrows Inn, 6. Harbour Hotel, 7. Somerset Hotel, 8. Centre Hotel,
9. Christopher Hotel, 10. Cambrian Hotel, 11. Beaufort Arms, 12. Vivian Arms Hotel,
13. Thames Tunnel and 14. Arches Hotel.

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.

Note:- 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 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 on July 17th 2008.

The Pump House in 2007.

Sailing ship in the Cambrian Dry Dock.

 The Paimpolaise, which sank in the river in 1936. She is on the mud behind the South Dock approach jetty.

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.

Steam Ship in the Cambrian Dry Dock.


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