Bute Dock: Locks and Half-Tide Basin

Floating accomodation ] [ Bute Dock: Locks and Half-Tide Basin ]

The reason why the floating accommodation worked was an effective lock system. The technology for locks was already tried and tested by 1800 because canals had used lock systems for many years. There was however, an important difference. Whereas a canal lock dealt with one or two vessels at a time, a large dock may have had to cope with twenty vessels at a time. This meant that a bottleneck of queuing ships could build up at the dock entrance waiting to go in and out. The answer to this was a very ‘fat’ lock or half tide basin which could hold a number of ships at a time and lock them out at an intermediate state of the tide without affecting the water level of the dock. 

This new type of basin was commonly known as a ‘half-tide basin’. The Bute Dock had a half-tide basin designed to accommodate a number of coal ships and was a very distinctive oval shape.

The half-tide basin was a clever response to the technology of ship design and the needs of trade in the early nineteenth century. In the 1850s both of Swansea's main docks had large half-tide basins. Docks built later in the nineteenth century tended to have larger basins because they were dealing with large numbers of small ships.
Below: Although this plan was made some 40 years after the dock was built, you can see the oval shape of the basin very clearly. By the time this plan was drawn, a large number of houses and offices had been built on the western side of the dock in an area which quickly became known as 'Bute Town'. The Bute Dock had been renamed Bute West Dock to avoid confusion with the other Bute Dock (known as the Bute East Dock), which was opened in 1855.


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