12a. Early Quays and Docks

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Right: A detail from Paul Padley’s view of the town in the 1790s, showing the crowded public quays. The quay is shown in the map below just to the right of Wind Street. Early Quays and Docks

As the port trade increased, it became desirable for easier unloading facilities to be provided. As various owners leased different parts of the Strand they built or rebuilt the river banks to suit their own preferences. A variety of different quays and wharves were built. Often at different heights to reflect the variety of boats using the port. Any small stream or inlet into the Town Reach was pressed into service as a primitive dock. In the late 1500s, two new quays were built in response to increasing demand from the burgesses. In 1615, the then Port Reeve, Thomas Walter built another quay at his own expense. Once built the quays were considered important assets for the town. Anyone found damaging them was liable to be fined quite heavily. In 1618 a Breton was fined 3s. for ‘breaking of the quay.' The surviving evidence suggests that foreign traders were fined quite heavily for such misdemeanours, although probably not too much lest they be discouraged from using the port to trade!

Right: Part of B. Jones’ map showing the Town Reach in the 1770s, indented with numerous docks and quays.


In 1624 comes the first reference to a dock. These first docks were ‘dry docks’ in the sense that they were merely shipping places cut into the river bank and lined with better quality wharves. There was no attempt to build lock gates to impound water to enable the boat to remain afloat regardless of the state of the tide. The hope was that the dock would accumulate soft mud and produce a good layer for ships to settle in. Whilst other large ports such as Bristol and Liverpool were investigating the viability of 'wet docks' or 'floats', any momentum for such progress in Swansea was discouraged by the nature of the ships used for the coal trade - small, squat designs capable of using tidal harbours with little or no damage.



The View for Sunday 4 December 2000

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