Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

Swansea’s Fishing Industry

South Dock Fishmarket, 1934

Although known throughout history as a small fishing port, Swansea’s deep-sea fishing industry didn't begin until the latter end of the 19th century when, in 1889, new facilities, including a fish-landing wharf, fish-market and ice factory, were built on the east bank of the River Tawe.

The ice factory building, with its tall landmark chimney, can still be seen on the river bank today. Some years later, in 1901, the Swansea Steam Trawler Company Ltd was established, but failed to fulfil its shareholders’ expectations and was wound up around five years after its inception.

Fishmarket wharf on the east bank of the River Tawe

Barrels of fish ready for shipping out from the riverside fishmarket, most likely by rail via the spur that provided a direct link to the Midland Railway line at St Thomas. From there the fish would be transported to the Midlands via Hereford and Hay on Wye, and be ready for sale on fishmongers' slabs by the following morning.

An interior view of the fishmarket constructed on the east bank of the River Tawe in 1889. Included in the development was a new 300ft fish-landing wharf and a large ice factory/cold store. The old ice factory building still stands today, now housing a ground-floor restaurant and modern apartments on the upper floors.

In 1904 the Castle Steam Trawler Company transferred its operations from Milford Haven to Swansea, but found the existing fish-market wharf unsuitable for the berthing of the it's extensive trawler fleet. Following negotiations with the Swansea Harbour Trust, the Castle Steam Trawler Company built a new fish-landing wharf, fish-market and ice factory on the opposite side of the river within the South Dock Basin, The new fish-market was served by a direct rail connection to the LMS Railway main line. These facilities were soon taken over by the Swansea Harbour Trust so that fishing vessels other than ‘Castle’ trawlers could land their catches at the new fish-market wharf.

Fishmarket - South Dock Basin, 1909

In 1919, Consolidated Fisheries Ltd. of Grimsby established a base at Swansea, complete with dry dock facilities, engineering & repair shops and ships’ stores, all located within the South Dock Basin area. Consolidated Fisheries operated a fleet of around 40 deep-sea fishing vessels from Swansea – including many of the ‘Castle’ trawlers – up until 1957, when the company finally closed down its operations at the port. A list of Swansea registered trawlers is shown at the bottom of this page.

'Castle' trawlers in Swansea's South Dock Basin c.1935

The decline of the fishing industry in Swansea is clearly illustrated by the following figures for fish landings at the port:-

1930 – 15.000 tons

1952 – 3.669 tons

1970 – 279 tons

The South Dock was closed to shipping in 1971 and the remnants of the port’s fishing industry were transferred to a new fish-market in ‘I’ Shed on the West Wharf of the Prince of Wales Dock. The industry’s decline continued unabated, however, and ‘I’ Shed was eventually vacated by the trawler-men and demolished in 1997.

These colourful views of the fishmarket in the Prince of Wales Dock were taken by Mrs R England of the Pennard WI

'Castle' trawlers in former Globe Dry Dock, South Dock Basin

Swansea trawler Clyne Castle in the South Dock Basin

SA33 Barry Castle (No.1) built 1933, was requisitioned for war service in 1939 as anti-submarine ship FY198. Mined & sunk off Dover on 15th March 1940

SA35 Conway Castle alongside the ice factory in the South Dock. Built in 1916, requisitioned for war service the same year as WWI minesweeper No.1987, and requisitioned again in 1939 as WWII minesweeper FY509

A56 Radnor Castle, seen here in Cambrian Dry Dock No.3, was built in 1917, requisitioned for war service in 1939 as minesweeper FY511, and scrapped in 1947

SA89 Tenby Castle (No.2) built 1928 and requisitioned for war service in 1940 as minesweeper FY629. Scrapped at Briton Ferry in 1960

SA92 Caerphilly Castle, featured in this painting by Neville Sotheby Pitcher, was built in 1919 and requisitioned for war service in 1939. Bombed & sunk by enemy aircraft off the west coast of Ireland on 27th January 1941, killing three of the crew

All together for a group photo in the South Dock Fishmarket, taken sometime in the 1950s

Swansea boatman Bill Gwilliam unloading fish from a trawler at Swansea's fishmarket wharf in the South Dock. The boatmen were self-employed and, when not fully occupied with their own work, they would often take on extra jobs on the docks to provide additional income. (photo courtesy of Jamie Gwilliam)

Raising funds for the Red Cross - Consolidated Fisheries' carnival float outside the Harbour Office building in Adelaide Street (date unknown)
Consolidated Fisheries advertisement from 1947