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Identified by The National Library of Wales as an 'Important part of Wales' documentary heritage' Kenfig - The Complete History (e-Resource) - A Welsh Documentary Heritage Website
Identified by The National Library of Wales as an 'Important part of Wales' documentary heritage'
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The History of Porthcawl Docks

The History of Porthcawl Docks

The Beginning

As early as 1818 the provision of providing an outlet to the sea for industries being developed in the Llynfi Valley & the Cefn Cribbwr areas had materialised. On 19 September 1818 a number of persons met at the Globe Inn, Bridgend to consider the construction of a tramroad from the Llynfi Valley to the mouth of the River Ogmore.
The minutes of that meeting (signed by John Edwards MP) show that a committee, to include (the Hon.Wyndham Quinn & Sir John Nichol) was appointed to consider... 'the practicability of making a safe and sufficient harbour at the mouth of the River Ogmore' and also the qualities & quantities of coals, minerals & limestone along the proposed line of the tramroad. Nothing came of this scheme.
The idea was revived some years later but this time with the outlet to be in the parish of Newton Nottage.
An old map shows that the site of the old harbour at Newton was considered, but a point on Pwll Cawl Bay in the lee of the present Porthcawl Point was selected.
On Saturday 22 Janurary 1825 a meeting of interested parties was held at the Wyndham Arms Inn, Bridgend.
The minutes of that meeting resolved that the necessary measures be immediately taken to obtain an Act of Parliament authorizing the construction of the tramroad and the improvement of 'the port of Pwll Cawll'. The meeting also appointed a committee to include (the Earl of Dunraven, Sir John Nichol MP, Mr Talbot, Major Mackworth, Colonel Henry Knight, The Rev. Robert Knight & other landlords & a number of industrialists, Messrs Guest, Crawshay, Coffin and Buckland).
The Act received Royal Assent on 10 June 1825 with the 1st general meeting of its shareholders being held on Saturday 02 July 1825 at the Wyndham Arms, Bridgend.
The preamble to the Act stated that it was for the purpose of making & maintaining a railway or tramroad for the passage of waggons from a place called Dyffryn Llynfi in the parish of Llangynwyd to a bay called Pwll Cawl, otherwise Porth Cawl, in the parish of Newton Nottage and extending & imporoving the said bay by the erection of a pier, jetty or otherwise.

The Initial Costs

The estimated cost of 40,000 had already been subscribed in 100 shares by 57 people and the company was given authority to borrow a further 20,000 if necessary, on mortgage. The names of the original shareholders are given, the majority coming from South Wales - of the persons holding the original 40,000 share capital only 21 then came from South Wales, and except for 2 who came from Ireland, the remainder were from various parts of southern England.
16 of the shareholders were from Bath & 11 from London - the latter group included Benjamin D'Israeli of 2 Grosvenor Gate, Park Lane who held 3000 who was the largest shareholder. Sir Robert Price of Foxley, Herefordshire (1786-1857) lost all his ventures in this area, in addition to holding 10 shares - he was the largest mortgagee having taken up 6000 of the 1st mortgages.

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History of Porthcawl Docks - continued...

Laying of the Tramroad

The tramroad was laid by John Hodgkinson of Newport who had made the estimate and who was the engineer for other tramroads in South Wales & Monmouthshire.
It was commenced in 1825 & opened for horse-drawn traffic in 1828. The small tidal basin had also been constructed by 1828 for a ship the William and Mary was forced to seek shelter in it on the night of Tuesday 18 March of that year (Details in The Cambrian 19 April 1828).
In 1831 an Admiralty survey of Nash Sands etc, shows that the original dock was merely a rectangular area of water enclosed by 4 walls, in the eastern one of which was a gap for the boats to enter & leave. The position of this gap which was filled in when the inner basin was constructed can be detetcted to this day.

The Duffryn Llynvi & Porthcawl Railway Company

This company was handicapped for some years by lack of capital and by having to contend with high tides on an open coast without river shelter. By the end of 1828 it had spent its 40,000 share capital & the 8000 it had been able to raise by mortgage but the breakwater and other works had not been completed & land was required for yards, wharfs and ballast tipping.
An Act of Parliament authorizing increased capital was sought which received the Royal Assent on 14 May 1829.
Lack of shelter, gales & high tides caused the number of ships using the dock in winter to be very small, and even in 1832 after the 2 lighthouses had been erected at Nash Point by Trinity House, the dock was largely a summer port.
After consultations as early as 1829, recommendations were accepted which included the making of a southern entrance to the basin in order to afford shelter to vessels at an earlier & later state of the tide. A beginning was made with this project in 1833 by removing the rock immediately behind the breakwater of the day - it appears that this must have been abandoned as a southern entrance had not been made in 1864 when the inner basin was commenced.

Rise in Company Profits

During the first 3 complete years of working, the company's income from the tramroad & dock rose from 494 (1829-30) to 1526 (1831-32) but the expenses including the mortgage interest also rose from 1142 to 2107. In the year ending 30 April 1833, the number & tonnage of the ships that used the harbour increased to 441 and 19,046 respectively, the income from the road & port became 2583 and the 1st dividend, one of 1 per cent was declared.
After a setback in 1833-34 (due to a dispute at the Maesteg Ironworks) the income of the company again reached over 2000 a year but the expenditure on the railroad & port continued to increase more rapidly than the income which resulted in the annual surplus falling to under 200 in 1836-37.
By 1837-38 the Maesteg Ironworks, the Coegnant Spelter Works and those at Bryn-du were busy & the company's income reached 2856 but the actual position of the company wasn't any better for the expenditure had risen to 2941 and the year's working again showed a debit balance.
The report of the management committee for 1837-38 revealed that the dock was still at a disadvantage during the winter months, that it wasn't equipped to deal with the increased quantities of coal expected from the new colleries lately opened along the line of the road & that it should be enlarged and improved to deal with the great increase of trade anticipated from the iron works (The Cambrian Ironworks) to be erected at the head of the Llynfi Valley and the new furnaces at Ton-du.
Considerable expenditure on both railroad & port was therefore urgently necessary - the company was faced again with the problem of obtaining additional capital.

Another amending Act of Parliament

Another amending Act of Parliament was obtained in June 1840 and work was proceeded with - apart from providing new facilities for the loading of coal, the major structural improvements carried out were the removal of the northern cross wall of the basin, the extension of the quay wall 50 yards to the north & the deepening by excavation of the area thus addeed to the dock. The tithe map of 1843 confirms that the northern wall of the rectangular structure originally forming the dock had been removed.

Further Improvement in Company Trade

Cefn Cwsg Iron Works
Map - Dyffryn Llynvi & Porthcawl Railway
Last section of the Tramroad at Porthcawl
The development of the Cambrian Iron Company, the ironworks at Ton-du and those at Cefn Cwsg led to further improvement in the company's trade & by April 1841 its annual income had reached over 4000 - this exceeded the normal expenditure & mortgage interest by more than 1500. After adjustments, the undivided profits now amounted to 3367.18s.0d (British monetary value pre-decimalization) - the tide had turned and the earnings of the company continued to increase.
During the year ending 30 April 1845 the tramroad carried over 35,000 tons of coal & over 21,000 tons of iron - its income reaching more than 6000. The profit on the year's working was nearly 3000 & half-yearly dividends of 3½ and 4 per cent were declared.

Development of Steam Traction Railway

The expansion of its trade and the tremendous activity in railway promotion were no doubt responsible for a movement on the part of the company to convert the horse-drawn tramroad into a steam traction railway with branches to the neighbouring valleys. A special meeting was held at the Wyndham Arms, Bridgend on 26 September 1845 for the purpose of considering the propriety of applying to Parliament for the necessary powers - nothing came of the proposal.

Glamorgan Central Mineral Railway Company - Proposal

Moves to convert the company into 'The Glamorgan Central Mineral Railway Company' with a capital of 500,000 and with powers to change to steam traction, to construct branch railways to the mineral valleys, to connect with the proposed South Wales Railway and to enlarge & improve the dock. A committee was formed with secretary & solicitors appointed and the required plans were deposited with the Clerk of the Peace preparatory to applying to Parliament for the necessary Bill - this was also abandoned & the old tramroad undertaking was absorbed soon afterwards by a new company.

Llynvi Valley Railway Company

The Llynvi Valley Railway Company was incorporated in 1846 and on 22 July 1847, despite some opposition, an Act of Parliament was passed which provided for the new company to take over the Duffryn Llynvi and Porthcawl Railway Company. The new Llynvi Valley Railway Company made little progress due to financial and other difficulties resulting from the depression in the iron industry & the shortage of money due to over-speculation in railway construction.
On 15 June 1855 a reviving Act (The Llynvi Valley Railway Act, 1855) was obtained authorizing a broad-gauge locomotive railway to run from Dyffryn Llynfi to a junction at Bridgend with the South Wales Railway, which had been opened from Chepstow to Swansea on 18 June 1850.
On 10 August 1861 this new broad-gauge steam line from Dyffryn Llynfi via Ton-du tot Bridgend was opened for mineral traffic and about the same time broad-gauge rails replaced the old tramroad from Ton-du to Porthcawl harbour. In the meantime horse-drawn trams had continued in use on the old tramroad making 5 regular through journeys in each direction daily - each journey taking just over 6 hours.

The Brogdens

The Brogdens, who in 1853 had purchased the controlling interest of Sir Robert Price in the Ton-du Ironworks and were now opening up coal mining in the Ogmore Valley, were the principal promoters of the Ogmore Valley Railway Company. The company was incorporated in July 1863 to build a standard gauge line from Nant-y-moel to Ton-du with power to lay a 3rd rail from there to Porthcawl dock. When this line was opened on 01 August 1865 Porthcawl dock became the terminus of locomotive railways from both the Llynfi & Ogmore valleys.
Under Brogden influence also the Llynvi Valley & Ogmore Valley Railway Companies jointly obtained an Act of Parliament in June 1864 for the improvement of Porthcawl harbour. It authorized the construction of a dock with entrance and gates and other works at the northern end of the exisiting tidal basin, the substitution of a southern entrance for the one on the side, the extention of the breakwater by 100 yards and the erection of an inner pier 70 yards long. The Act also provided for a committee of 2 directors from each company to own & manage their harbour.
The new dock was completed at a cost of 250,000 and was opened on 22 July 1867 with great rejoicing - the important part played by the Brogdens was indicated by the place of honour given to their screw steamer the John Brogden in the opening ceremony.

Size of the Dock

The dock covered 7½ acres and the depth was 16ft at neap & 26ft at spring tides. On 01 July 1866 the Llynvi Valley & Ogmore Valley Railways Amalgamation Act created the Llynvi & Ogmore Railway - when the new harbour was opened in 1867 it was part of that railway system and therefore the outlet for the developing industrial area served by it. The trade of the new dock grew rapidly - in 1864 only 17,306 tons of coal passed out of the old outer basin while in 1871 the new inner dock shipped over 165,000 tons.

Great Western Railway Company

In July 1873 the Great Western Railway Company took over the management of the Llynvi & Ogmore Railway which included the new dock, the prospects of the latter undertaking must have appeared good as they guaranteed the Llynvi & Ogmore shareholders a dividend of 6 percent.

Extract from the dock shipping register 1874
The port was in fact busy for its size, for during the year it shipped more than 136,000 tons & docked more than 700 vessels. These were however generally small boats; the registered tonnage of ⅔ of them was under 100 tons and in less than 40 cases didn't exceed 300 tons.
The S.S. The John Brogden of 547 tons was the pride of the dock. They were also very large sailing ships, for only about a sixth were steamers; they were also almost wholly engaged in coastal trade, for only one in every sixteen left for ports outside the British Isles.
Less than half the incoming boats brought in cargoes, which were very largely iron ore for the blast furnaces & pitwood for the collieries of the hinterland. The remainder came in 'light' or in ballast to pick up cargoes, over 90 per cent of which were coal. It is of interest to note that 11 of these coal cargoes left in barques to round Cape Horn for Valparaiso. The port was very largely a Brogden outlet for ⅗ of the outgoing cargoes were consigned from their undertakings.

Depression in Iron Industry

The depression in the iron industry in South Wales following the introduction of the Bessemer process & the implementation of high-grade ore from Spain compelled many of the ironworks in Mid Glamorgan to close down. In 1872, the Brogdens formed the Llynvi, Ton-du & Ogmore Iron and Coal Company with a capital of over ½ million to acquire and carry on these works as well as their own in these areas.
Trading conditions however grew worse and despite all the Brogden efforts the company failed to prosper and an Official Receiver was appointed by the shareholders in 1880. The trade of the port that was the outlet of the area was naturally affected. By 1878 its coal shipments had fallen to just over 68,000 tons, of which all but 700 odd tons were confined to coastal trade.

Collapse of Iron Industry

The collapse of the iron industry however led to an expansion of coal mining due to the new capital becoming available was invested in collieries and because North's Navigation Collieries Company, formed in 1889 to acquire the Brogden undertakings, concentrated upon the mining of coal.
The coal trade of the dock revived and its coal shipments improved to 1892 when they reached their highest figure. The following year, 1893 saw the onset of a progressive & rapid fall in its trade which resulted in the virtual closure of the dock.
Details related to decline of docks in 1892:
The number of boats docked during the year had risen to over 800 and their total cargo capacity to over 227,000 tons - 22% were now over 400 tons burden & 5% over 1000 tons burden. Steamers had now become little less than half the boats docked. Of the incoming cargo space, 68% came in light or in ballast to take out coal, 30% brought in either pitwood or high grade ore, the latter largely from Bilbao and only 2% came in with general cargoes.
Of the outgoing cargo space more than 75% left carrying coal, over 20% (the larger boats that brought in pitwood or iron ore from foreign ports) left light for Cardiff, Barry & Swansea to pick up cargoes and only 0.2% (two small boats of only 420 tons) left with other cargo. Only 5% of the shipped tonnage left for foreign ports and approaching half the incoming & outgoing boats were consigned to or from North's Navigation Collieries Company.
The port had therefore more than recovered its early prosperity, its shipments were up, more & larger vessels were docked and a larger proportion of them were steamers. But two characteristics of its trade already observed in 1874 had become more significant.

Dependent upon Coal

The port had become almost dependent upon coal for this now formed all but a few 100 tons of the cargoes it shipped and almost ¾ of the incoming cargo space entered light or in ballast in boats that docked only for the purpose of taking out coal. It was failing to compete with the bigger docks as far as the larger boats were concerned (many of these were now over 1000 tons burden), brought in French pitwood and Spanish iron ore, but left light to pick up their return cargoes in nearby larger ports.
These facts foreshadowed the events to follow:-
By 1895 the quantities of pitwood & iron ore imported and the tonnage of coal shipped had decreased to almost a third of the 1892 totals. In 1892 Porhcawl had been a busy little port - 3 years later a substantial part of its trade had been diverted elsewhere and its was very rapidly on the down grade.

Development of modern Docks & the Railways

Apart from Cardiff & Ogmore brach line, constructed in 1876, Porthcawl dock had continued to be the main outlet for the coal mines & industries of the area served by its railway system which as a result of extensions had grown to 50 miles by 1883 when it was merged in the Great Western Railway.
In 1898 the docks circumstances completely changed and the advantage it had previously enjoyed dissapeared for 2 large modern docks, one close at hand were opened.
The nearest, Port Talbot was fed by railway lines that made it a convenient outlet for coal of the Llynfi, Garw & Ogwr valleys which then formed more than 99% of the shipments from Porthcawl. The other, Barry was much farther away and its rail connection with the Mid Glamorgan valleys through Bridgend & the Vale of Glamorgan Railway was much less convenient.

To be continued...

Source: The Mariner's Mirror 1964. Vol.50, No.4 (The Rise & Decline of Porthcawl Dock, L.S.Higgins), Porthcawl Museum & Historical Society, Bridgend Library & Information Services, The Kenfig Hill & District Music & Art Society, The Cefn Cwsg Ironworks (M.A. Thesis in Local History - Ralph Greenslade), Wikipedia.
Web Page author: edited & sub-edited by Rob Bowen, Local Community Group 2013.










  • Bridgend County Borough Council Library & Information Services
  • The Rise and Decline of Porthcawl Dock - L.S.Higgins
  • The Mariner's Mirror, 1964. Vol.50, No.4
  • Porthcawl Museum & Historical Society
  • Rob Bowen - Local Community Group

Webpage Author

  • Rob Bowen - Local Community Group, 2013

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