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Swansea’s Fishing Industry

South Dock Fishmarket, 1934

Although known throughout history as a small fishing port, Swansea’s deep-sea fishing industry didn't begin until the latter end of the 19th century when new facilities, including a fish-landing wharf, fish-market and ice factory, were built on the east bank of the River Tawe. The ice factory building, with its tall landmark chimney, can still be seen on the river bank today. Some years later, in 1901, the Swansea Steam Trawler Company Ltd was established, but failed to fulfil its shareholders’ expectations and was wound up around five years after its inception.

Fishmarket & Ice Factory on the east bank of the River Tawe c.1890

In 1904 the Castle Steam Trawler Company transferred its operations from Milford Haven to Swansea, but found the existing fish-market wharf unsuitable for the berthing of its extensive trawler fleet. Following negotiations with the Swansea Harbour Trust, the Castle Steam Trawler Company built a new fish-landing wharf, fish-market and ice factory on the opposite side of the river within the South Dock Basin, The new fish-market was served by a direct rail connection to the LMS Railway main line. These facilities were soon taken over by the Swansea Harbour Trust so that fishing vessels other than ‘Castle’ trawlers could land their catches at the new fish-market wharf.

Fishmarket - South Dock Basin, 1909

In 1919, Consolidated Fisheries Ltd. of Grimsby established a base at Swansea, complete with dry dock facilities, engineering & repair shops and ships’ stores, all located within the South Dock Basin area. Consolidated Fisheries operated a fleet of around 40 deep-sea fishing vessels from Swansea – including many of the ‘Castle’ trawlers – up until 1957, when the company finally closed down its operations at the port.

'Castle' trawlers in Swansea's South Dock Basin c.1935

The decline of the fishing industry in Swansea is clearly illustrated by the following figures for fish landings at the port:-

1930 – 15.000 tons
1952  –  3.669 tons
1970   –   279  tons

The South Dock was closed to shipping in 1971 and the remnants of the port’s fishing industry were transferred to a new fish-market in ‘I’ Shed on the West Wharf of the Prince of Wales Dock. The industry’s decline continued unabated, however, and ‘I’ Shed was eventually vacated by the trawler-men and demolished in 1997.

These colourful views of the fishmarket in the Prince of Wales Dock were taken by Mrs R England of the Pennard WI

'Castle' trawlers in former Globe Dry Dock, South Dock Basin

Swansea trawler Clyne Castle in the South Dock Basin

1949 - the trawler 'Barry Castle' sank at her moorings in the South Dock Basin while loading 60 tons of ice in readiness for her next voyage. Raised after 17 days by the combined efforts of the salvage ship 'Ranger' and the port's 100 ton floating crane, she was dry-docked for inspection and repair before returning to service

All together for a group photo in the South Dock Fishmarket, probably taken sometime in the 1950s

Swansea boatman Bill Gwilliam unloading fish from a trawler at Swansea's fishmarket wharf in the South Dock. The boatmen were self-employed and, when not fully occupied with their own work, they would often take on extra jobs on the docks to provide additional income. (photo courtesy of Jamie Gwilliam)

Raising funds for the Red Cross - Consolidated Fisheries' carnival float outside the Harbour Office building in Adelaide Street (date unknown)

Consolidated Fisheries advertisement from 1947

The Ice Factory

Built in the latter part of the 19th century, the Ice Factory supplied freshly-made ice to the trawlers berthed at the nearby fish wharf on the east bank of the River Tawe, and also to the adjacent fish market where the trawlers’ catches were sorted and sold. The original 'freezing floor' of the ice factory is still in place, as is the tall chimney stack belonging to the engine house where a coal-powered steam engine provided the compression required for the manufacture of ice.

In 1904, when the Castle Trawler Company established its new fish-landing facilities in the South Dock Basin, the original ice factory on the east bank of the river became redundant. It was taken over in 1926 by ships’ chandlers McSymon & Potter of Glasgow who traded from the premises for almost half a century while adding several extensions to the original building. In more recent years it was occupied by local flag-makers Mott & Jones.

The Ice House prior to renovation (© Ken Dickinson)

The old ice factory, which is a Grade II listed building , has undergone extensive renovation in recent years, and today it is home to the Ice House Apartments and the Riverside Restaurant.


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