Cardiff's Bute Dock - the 1828 Report

Bute West Dock - A chronology ] What was Cardiff's trade and industry like before the Bute Dock was built? ] Why was there a need for a new dock in Cardiff? ] What was transport like around Cardiff in the early 1800s? ] The Second Marquess of Bute ] What did the Bute dock do? ] Was there opposition to the Bute Dock scheme? ] What were the consequences of building the Bute Dock? ] What was trade and industry like after the dock was built? ] Bute Dock - Vocabulary and Definitions ]

By the 1820s the ironmasters of Merthyr Tydfil were very dissatisfied with the transport facilities in Cardiff. Although they used the facilities of the Glamorganshire Canal and the town quays, they did not own them and therefore they had little power to develop them further. The land around the port area of Cardiff was almost entirely owned by the marquis of Bute.

The marquis was put under great pressure to develop better transport facilities for the ironmasters who were in many cases his tenants and providing him with his income. By 1828, the marquis decided to commission a report to investigate the true facts behind the constant requests and criticisms he was receiving from the Merthyr Tydfil iron masters. By this time, the marquis was in a somewhat difficult position, he was being criticised by many influential industrialists and he may have not known exactly what to do for the best. He was probably very wise to commission the 1828 Report because it put into clear perspective the problems that the South Wales iron industry and Cardiff in particular, were facing in the crucial years of the Industrial Revolution in Wales.

The report was to examine the state of all harbour facilities at Cardiff and list the problems arising. The report concluded that the sea-lock of the Glamorganshire Canal was inadequate. Its entrance was 2¼ miles from low-water mark, up a winding channel which caused ‘great inconvenience and danger’. Larger vessels could enter only for a few hours each tide, and some vessels could not get in at all, but had to load from lighters outside the sea-lock. The sea-lock itself shoaled from 14ft 8in at the sea end to 10ft at the town end, so that ships could only part-load at the town end, being forced to complete loading from barges at the sea end. Delay and confusion ensued. Not surprisingly, the report concluded that the trade of Cardiff was being hindered from developing to its maximum possible extent:

 “…and more especially in the article of coal with which the interior of the county abounds, and which although now sold with all the existing disadvantages of the canal at a lower price than at Newport, little is shipped in comparison with that port, the reason of which is generally attributed to the detention of vessels in the canal and the intricacy of the approaches to it.”

One of the disappointments of the report is that it highlighted the inadequacy of the sea lock which had been expected to solve much of the criticism when it was completed. The report highlighted a number of long standing arguments between the marquis and William Crawshay, the most influential and dominating iron master. Crawshay did not want to pay the high costs that were necessary to develop better facilities at the sea lock end of the Glamorganshire Canal. Crawshay saw himself as a producer of iron and did not see the need to involve his company in the expense and distraction of developing improved transport facilities. As chairman of the Glamorganshire Canal he prevented any improvement of the sea lock area, even though a number of his businessmen friends from Merthyr desperately wanted to rebuild the area. As the land owner, the marquis was equally reluctant to develop the sea lock area mainly because he was unsure of the success of the scheme. In the absence of any clear information on what to do for the best, he did nothing.

The report did help to provide a clearer picture of the problem and the remedy. The sea lock was too far away from the low water mark in Cardiff Bay to provide a good and safe navigable channel. No amount of rebuilding or improvement could remedy this problem. The solution was a proper dock built closer to the established navigable channel that provided the space necessary for ships to load regardless of the state of the tide. It was a clear recommendation, and even if other businessmen had already come to the same conclusion, only the marquis was in a position to do anything about it. No one else had the access to the necessary land.

  The report gave a number of conclusions:

  “…with all the advantages which the new harbour would afford to the shipment of coal…this article would become a principal source of revenue independently of the export of iron…The benefits which the present shippers of coal would derive from the new harbour must ensure their using it in preference to the present canal, but should there  prove to be a reluctance on their part to do so, the working of some of your lordship’s own extensive fields of coal would amply supply the demands of the market to any extent that could be required.”

The important point about the conclusion is that it firmly joined the idea of large scale coal exports to the development of the dock. It sewed an idea in Bute’s mind that a dock would help exploit South Wales coal reserves and a considerable profit would follow. The iron industry was not part of the calculation. The question of the 1820s was who would or could provide the new facilities which were recommended, that is, a new dock parallel to the sea-lock, joining the Taff less than a mile from low-water.

Below: A sketch map showing the basic findings of the 1828 report.

The 1828 Report summarised.


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