Newport Docks


Newport Docks
The modern docks from the Transporter Bridge

Newport Docks is the collective name for a series of docks [1] in the city of Newport, South Wales.

Contents

Background

Newport was a small fishing port and market town until the coming of the industrial age at the beginning of the 19th century. The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, opened around 1800, was used to bring down coal from the coal mining operations and iron from ironworks in the South Wales valleys for shipment abroad and around the UK, and soon Newport's docks were doing more business than almost any other port in the United Kingdom. [2].

History

The Town Dock, which opened in 1842 and continued in use until it was filled in 1930, was the first floating dock facility in Newport. The construction of the dock played an important part in the town's growth in the mid-nineteenth century. A rapid expansion of trade caused by the development of the canal system in South East Wales had led to the need to improve the port's berthing facilities. Particularly for large American export vessels which risked damage when beached at the wharves for unloading. If the town was to continue to prosper and compete with the growing port of Cardiff a dock needed to be constructed.

At a public meeting held at the King's Head Inn in March 1835 the plans of the floating dock were agreed. A committee, made up of some of the leading gentlemen of Newport, was appointed to examine the provisions of the Bill that was to be put before Parliament.

The Newport Dock Act was given Royal Assent in July 1835 allowing the Newport Dock Company to begin construction work. The estimated cost of the dock was to be £35,000 which was raised by selling 350 shares of £100 each. The first sod was cut by John Owen, Mayor of Newport, on 1 December 1835 to the sound of the bells of St Woolos, the firing of guns and the celebrations of the Navvies, who had been supplied with several barrels of Castle Brewery beer for the occasion.

However, the construction of the dock did not run smoothly. A number of contractors had to be used at various stages and as early as 1836 there were labour disputes. Consequently, even by the end of 1837 little work had been completed. In 1838 another £15,000 needed to be raised but progress continued to be slow. This was against a background of the burgeoning labour movement, Chartism - with many Chartists active in Newport - and the Newport Rising of 1839. More funds needed to be raised in October 1840 and by then the estimated cost of the project had risen to £120,000. Work was halted in December 1840 following the failure of another contractor and was to halt again in 1841. After more funds were raised work resumed for a fifth time in April, but by then the total estimate had grown to £131,000. Financial problems and industrial unrest continued to plague the construction to the very end. In September 1842 a further £10,000 had to be borrowed and workers walked out to demand higher wages, an event which led to a body of well armed police being sent to quell the disturbance.

The official opening of the Dock on 10 October 1842 was marked by a programme of festivities that attracted tens of thousands of visitors to the town. In the morning a mile long procession proceeded along High Street through Commercial Street and Commercial Road towards the Dock. The procession contained elements of the major clubs and societies of Newport in this period such as the Freemasons, the Oddfellows, The Hibernian Society and the Teetotallers. Near the head of the procession the Mayor and Aldermen travelled in open carriages whilst at the rear marched a large number of the inhabitants of the town, amongst whom many of the gentlemen wore white rosettes.

At 10 o'clock the lock gates were opened, as the Monmouthshire Merlin reported, to the sound of “the shouts and cheers of the spectators, the thunder of cannons, firing of musketry and pealing of bells.” The first vessel to enter the dock was the Henry.

Following the official opening the programme of events continued throughout the day. Highlights included a dinner for 300 gentlemen of the area at the National School, boat races on the dock reservoir and a firework display at Rodney Wharf. In the evening a ball was held for the gentry at the King's Head Hotel. The Clubs and Societies also held their own balls and dinners at Inns throughout Newport, a Tradesman's Ball at the Steam Packet Inn was reported to have “kept up with much spirit until morning”. The Monmouthshire Merlin newspaper does not report on how the town's population felt the next day!

However, shortly after its opening it was apparent the existing dock was not sufficient to deal with the increasing trade. In July 1854 a second act was passed giving the Newport Dock Company permission to extend the dock to the north. Work commenced in June 1856 and was completed in less than two years. The official opening on 2 March 1858 was declared a public holiday and was greeted with similar celebrations to when the dock was opened in 1842.

The dock expansion was not initially the success that the Newport Dock company hoped for and the company faced severe criticism, especially after they increased their charges. It was now obvious that the Town Dock alone was no longer sufficient to meet the volume of trade passing through Newport. In 1865 an act was passed to allow the construction of a second dock and in 1868 work began on the Alexandra Dock, which opened in 1875. Unsurprisingly, the opening of the rival dock had a detrimental effect on the trade of the Town Dock, although it was the accident involving the Constancia and the Primus which ultimately led to the demise of the Newport Dock Company.

G.W. Elliott & Son, shipping purveyors established 1887

On 10 January 1882 the two vessels attempted to pass through the lock at the same time but the Primus became stuck on the sill of the outer gates and the ships collided. The Monmouthshire Merlin describes how the situation became critical as the tide began to recede because "the bottom of the lock being concave in form, as the water ebbed the steamers heeled over one on the other, the Primus carrying away her masts, breaking in two amidships and, of course, subsiding to the bottom, whither she was followed by her companion in misfortune." The lock was completely blocked and the vessels already in the dock trapped for nearly two weeks. The accident incurred substantial expense for the Newport Dock Company and further eroded customer confidence in the company. A year later the Newport Dock Company was sold to the Alexandra Dock Company for £150,000. From this moment the Town Dock was used for dealing with the smaller vessels whilst larger cargoes were concentrated at the Alexandra Dock. By 1900 the Town Dock was used primarily for the general import trade, particularly in timber. However, its relatively small size and position further up the river estuary than the Alexandra Dock made the Town Dock particularly vulnerable. Unable to survive the downturn in trade in the 1920’s the Town Dock was finally closed in October 1930.

  • The Newport Dock Bill received assent in 1835 to develop an inland port. The Newport Dock Company was the forerunner of the Alexandra (Newport and South Wales) Docks and Railway Company. By 1864, the docks were becoming congested with the increase in water and inland traffic. In 1865, the first Lord Tredegar, Sir Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan, Baronet (1792-1873), formed the Alexander Dock Company. The North Dock and Lock was opened in 1875. Following an Act of Parliament of 1882, the two dock companies, the Alexandra (Newport) Dock Company and the Newport Dock Company, were amalgamated to become the Alexandra (Newport & South Wales) Docks and Railway Company (ANDR). The new company took over the Old Town Docks in 1884. The company decided to construct a railway line connecting the docks to Pontypridd. The Pontypridd, Caerphilly & Newport Railway Company (PC&N) was incorporated in 1878, but not completed for many years. In 1922, the ANDR was amalgamated into the Great Western Railway Docks department, then became part of British Railways following Nationalisation in 1948 [3]
  • Merlin. 20 June, 1887: Fifty Years a Queen - There is no town in the Kingdom, whose progress has been more marked, than that of Newport during the period of fifty years, which today marks the Jubilee of Her Majesty's reign. On 20 June 1837, docks were unknown at Newport, the slight railway accommodation to the Borough would in these days be regarded as quite worthless; from the river to High Street a narrow pill slowly wended its way, whilst the width of the roadway did not exceed ten or eleven feet. In 1837 nearly the whole of the traffic with Newport, was conveyed by the Monmouthshire Canal, whilst passengers had to content themselves with the old stage coaches, carriers vans, and omnibuses. Compared with today Newport was simply a rural village. Its population did not exceed 9000, the inhabited houses being about 1500. Today, the population of the town exceeds 40,000, the number of inhabited houses is fully 7000. The Alexandra and Newport Docks have been constructed, a perfect network of railways runs into the town, and we are exporting over three million tons of coal per annum. These particulars, brief though they are, will serve to show the wonderful development of Newport from that day, precisely fifty years ago, when Victoria was informed that she had succeeded to the throne [4]
Alexandra Dock 2-6-2T No. 1205 at Cardiff Canton Locomotive Depot 1951

Rail connections

The docks already had connection to

But the need for transportation capacity to the colleries in the upper Aberdare and Rhondda valleys was escalating, as the number of shafts sunk and coal produced quickly escalated.

During 1877 at a board meeting of the Alexandra (Newport) Docks and Railway Company (ANDR), Lord Tredegar and Sir George Elliot of Powell Duffryn collieries agreed that the only way to secure the future income of the Alexandra docks was the provision of a direct railway route[5]. The MP David Davies offered financial assistance, but withdrew his offer at a later date as he became involved with the Barry Docks and Railway Company.

Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway

Although formed by the same directors of the Alexandra Docks & Railway Company, the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway was formed as a separate company to the Alexandra Docks & Railway Company for various investment, tax, political and operational reasons. Incorporated by an Act of Parliament on 8 August 1878, the line was engineered by Sir James W. Szlumper, and double tracked from Pontypridd to Rhymney, where it joined the metals of the Rhymney Railway at Penrhos junction to access Caerphilly station.

Local passenger trains terminated at Caerphilly, but through passenger and freight services continued over the Brecon and Merthyr Railway's Caerphilly branch to Bassaleg, where at West Mendelgief junction the PC&NR trains joined the metals of the Alexandra Docks railway; through passenger services terminated at Newport railway station for connection to either the Great Western Railway or the London and North Western Railway.

The single track from Caerphilly to Bassaleg provided both too little capacity for the freight traffic, as well as a challenging 1:39 climb out of Caerphilly station for loaded trains. The Machen Loop Act of 1887 gave the PC&NR the right to double track the route, with a diverged route from Gwaun-y-Bara junction to Machen providing a 1:200 slope for loaded trains. The new double track came into operation on 14 September 1891, and was immediately transferred to the Brecon and Merthyr Railway; which in return paid 50% of the annual net earnings from the Caerphilly branch to the PC&NR.

In 1883, PC&NR agreed a plan to use the Nixons Private Railway and Powell Duffryn Private Railway to run up the valley from Abercynon to Aberdare.

Chronology

The chronology for the line is as follows:[6][7]

Date Activity
1865 Alexandra (Newport) Dock Company incorporated. Subscribed to by Lord Tredegar, Crawshay Bailey and other ironmasters from Cwmbran, Nantyglo, Tredegar and Rhymney. Act also allows construction of railways
1875 Alexandra North Dock opened
8 August 1878 Pontypridd Caerphilly and Newport Railway Act passed. Promoted by J.C. Parkinson of the Alexandra Docks and Railway and Sir George Elliot of Powell Duffryn collieries. Engineer is Sir James W. Szlumper
1882 Alexandra (Newport) Dock Company is re-named the Alexandra (Newport and South Wales) Docks and Railway (ANDR)
1883 Act to take over Newport Town Dock passed
1883 PC&NR agrees plans to use the Nixons Private Railway and Powell Duffryn Private Railway to run up the valley from Abercynon to Aberdare
1884 Taff Vale Railway works PC&NR line from Pontypridd to Alexandra Docks.
1884 ANDR takes over Newport Town Dock
6 June 1897 PC&NR taken over by the Alexandra Docks and Railway
2 November 1903 The Roath Dock Branch is opened in conjunction with the Great Western Railway and the Cardiff Railway. Joint line connects Pengam Junction to Queen Alexandra Dock, Cardiff
1 September 1904 Local services taken over by ANDR. New service from Pontypridd (Tram Road) Halt to Caerphilly started. Uses two steam railmotors built by the Glasgow Railway and Engineering Company of Govan. Seven halts opened on route
1 January 1906 ANDR starts bus service from Docks Office to the Corporation Tram Terminus
30 April 1906 Taff Vale Railway stops operating trains from Pontypridd to Alexandra Docks when Alexandra Docks company takes over with ten engines bought from the Mersey Railway
July 1907 Queen Alexandra Dock, Cardiff opened. Cardiff now had 165 acres (0.67 km2) of docks and 38,000 feet (12,000 m) of quayside
2 July 1909 Newport Docks disaster - 39 workmen killed when a retaining wall collapses during excavations to build the extension to the Alexandra docks.
1920 Newport Town Dock closed and filled in
1922 As a result of the Railways Act 1921, the ANDR and the PC&NR are merged into the Great Western Railway
1933 Bus service within Docks withdrawn
17 September 1956 Passenger services withdrawn on Pontypridd, Caerphilly, Machen, Newport route
1963 Freight services withdrawn on Pontypridd, Caerphilly, Machen, Newport route
3 September 1979 Maesglas Junction to East Mendalgief Junction closed
29 October 1979 Dock Street Depot to Town Dock Sidings closed.

See also

References

Further reading

  • Leonard, T. Newport Town Dock 1835 - 1842. (qM160 627.3 LEO)
  • Spanswick, B J. A Study of the Origins and Early Development of Newport Docks. (qM160 627.3 SPA)
  • Spanswick, B J. A Study of the Alexandra (Newport & South Wales) Docks & Railway Company. (M160 627.3 ALE)
  • Smith, T. G. A Customs History of the Port of Newport Local History No. 46 (Spring 1979) (M000 900 GWE)
  • THE NEWPORT DOCKS AND RAILWAY COMPANY, By John Hutton, ISBN 1 85794 163 2

External links

Coordinates: 51°33′33″N 2°58′49″W / 51.55917°N 2.98028°W / 51.55917; -2.98028


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