Great Western Railways, Cardiff and Penarth Docks, Records

Scope and Content

Export trade statistics 1925-1959; import trade statistics 1923-1958; Cardiff through traffic 1951-1954; arrivals and sailings 1934-1937, 1942-1959; monthly imports 1911-1912 and 1936-1959; yearly imports 1932-1945; report on exports 1959; traffic removals accounts 1949-1950; private trade arrangements 1942-1948; tonnage dues 1948; tonnage in unregistered spaces 1939-1954; docks charges 1928-1936; landing stage accounts 1935-1937; record of export movements 1933-1949; shipping register 1949; indexes to accounts 1937-1942 and 1950-1959; registers of ship arrivals 1953-1956; traffic 1944-1952; cargoes 1954-1957; outward and inward arrivals 1949-1959; wharfage rates c.1930; indexes to rates 1933, 1943, 1947, 1954; labour rates 1942; tonnage rates c.1950; harbour and pitching dues 1936; various accounts 1949-1953; National Docks Labour record 1942-1954; timber ledger 1937-1946; stock issued 1933-1942; overcharges and allowances 1942-1959; demurrage and siding rents c.1947-1956; C.P. Bell Ltd. weighing books 1955-1959; royalty accounts 1944-1955; indexes to vessels 1947-1949, 1951-1955, 1957; merchant seaman's identity card 1943.

Administrative / Biographical History

Records relate to the Cardiff docks and Penarth Dock and harbour. The first Bute Dock (later the ‘West Dock’) was constructed under Act of Parliament 1830 and opened in 1839 at the expense of the second marquis of Bute (d. 1848) partly through pressure from the ironmasters such as the Dowlais Iron Co. further up the Taff valley. The East Bute Dock (‘East Dock’) was built at the expense of his trustees 1852-1859. Cardiff trade consisted largely of the export of iron and coal which had to be taken to the first dock by way of the Glamorganshire Canal (opened 1798) until 1841 when the Taff Vale Railway was completed. The Rhymney Railway followed in 1858 paid for by the Bute estate. The stranglehold which the Bute estate had on the TVR and Rhymney Railway was partly overcome when the latter constructed the Ely Tidal Harbour 1859 and leased the Penarth Dock 1863. The Bute trustees secured management of both docks in 1865. The inadequacy of space at the docks led to the transfer, under the Bute Docks (Transfer) Act 1886, of management to the newly-formed Bute Docks Company in 1887. This company changed its name to the Cardiff Railway Act 1897 and in the same year obtained powers to construct railways to improve access from the coalfield to the docks. This enabled the construction of links to the Taff Vale Railway and Rhymney Railway and the company’s own line to Trefforest in 1911. Capacity at the docks was greatly increased by the opening of Roath Basin in 1874, the connecting Roath Dock in 1887, and Queen Alexandra Dock in 1907. Most of the space required for the new docks and facilities was obtained by reclaiming the foreshores at the harbour and along part of the Bristol Channel. Warehouses, but a large area containing small service railways and warehouses extended from the harbour along the Bute Docks to Herbert Street and Splott for more than a mile.

Cardiff possessed 12 graving and floating docks and a gridiron owned by the Great Western Railway. The Cardiff and Penarth docks are best known for their export of coal but they were also important locations for the import of livestock, fruit, meat, grain, timber, iron ore and other minerals. Cardiff possessed cold stores at the Queen Alexandra Dock and Roath Dock for food storage. Coal and coke made up about 90% of exports by tonnage in 1924 but Cardiff and Penarth also exported substantial quantities of patent fuel, iron and steel rails and ironwork, and general merchandise among these. Imports were headed by iron ore and pit wood, closely followed by general merchandise. Smaller, but substantial, imports included grain and flour, timber and deal, pig iron and general ironwork. Cardiff’s overdependence on the coal trade and relatively low profits from tonnage exported, coupled with superfluous shipping capacity among shipping companies, led to the gradual decline of the port, particularly after the First World War. The coal trade had slumped during the latter and failed to recover owing to loss of overseas markets. Shipping companies proved unable to cope and argued over docking fees and pilotage duty.

In 1921 British railway companies were authorized by central government to form groupings dominated by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, the London and North Eastern Railway, the Great Western Railway and Southern Railway. The legislation came into effect on 1 January 1923 and gave the GWR a near-monopoly of all the ports between Newport and Fishguard. The Cardiff and Bristol Channel Incorporated Shipowners’ Association advocated that the LMS take over the Rhymney Railway, the Cardiff Railway, the Taff Vale Railway and the Barry Railway. Improvements to dock facilities and fluctuations in the prices of commodities failed to halt the decline during and after the Depression. The gradual disappearance of the coal trade led to the collapse of shipping companies. Penarth Dock closed in 1963 and the Bute West Dock in 1964 and in the same year the British Transport Board decided to concentrate coal exports at Swansea and Barry. By 1987, only two shipping companies remained in Cardiff.

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Archivist's Note

Compiled by [INSERT NAME] for Glamorgan Archives, with reference to [NAME ANY PUBLICATIONS USED].