Port Talbot Docks & Tidal Harbour
Aberafan – originally a small natural harbour at the mouth of the River Afan
– had been a coal port since the seventeenth century and, from around 1750,
with the development of tramline connections to coal mines within the
coastal area, the level of trade rapidly increased. The establishment of
copper and iron industries towards the end of the eighteenth century further
augmented trade through the harbour.
In 1834 parliamentary powers were
obtained to improve the facilities of the port, and the ‘Aberavon Harbour
Company’ was set up to undertake this work. A further Act of 1836 – in which
the company was renamed the ‘Port Talbot Dock Company’, authorised the
diversion of the River Afan into a new channel or ‘cut’, and the
construction of a new dock on the original course of the river bed. This
work was completed in 1837, and is considered to have been the first major
dock ever to be constructed on the South Wales seaboard.
In 1874 the lock entrance to the new dock
was enlarged, and in 1894 the ‘Port Talbot Railway & Dock Company’ was
formed to further expand the capacity of the port. A large extension to the
existing dock together with a new lock entrance was completed in 1898, and a
railway system was built to connect the port with coalfields in the
neighbouring Llynfi and Garw valleys.
By the beginning of the twentieth century
the iron & steel producers of the Welsh valleys were becoming increasingly
dependent on imported foreign ores and, as a result, were relocating their
industries nearer to the coast. The founding of the Port Talbot Steelworks
in 1902 and the Margam Steelworks in 1916, for example, resulted in a
significant increase in iron ore imports through Port Talbot Docks – imports
that were to reach 300,000 tons per annum by 1930 and 3,000,000 tons per
annum by 1960.
the dimensions of the entrance lock at Port Talbot meant that no ship
carrying more than 10,000 tons of iron ore could enter the docks, and this
restriction naturally precluded the use of the new large bulk carrying
vessels that were able to transport iron ore at a much lower unit cost.
Therefore, in 1966, work commenced on the construction of Port Talbot Tidal
Harbour - an entirely new facility situated to the south-west of the
existing docks system. Completed in 1970, this was the first dry-bulk cargo
terminal in the UK capable of accepting ships in excess of 100,000
deadweight tonnes. Further dredging in 1996 deepened the
harbour by 2.6 metres, thereby
increasing the maximum size
of vessel that can be accommodated today to 180,000 deadweight tonnes.
In 1998, after being closed to shipping
for more than a quarter of a century, the old docks at Port Talbot were
re-opened to handle coastwise cargoes of ground and granulated blast-furnace
slag for Civil & Marine’s new cement works at Rio Tinto Wharf. Other cargoes
handled in the docks have included timber, sand, stone, and heavy lifts.