Site of pleasure steamer terminal, Cardiff Bay

From here steamers departed for Weston-super-Mare, Minehead, Ilfracombe and other places. Gangways led to two pontoons between wooden towers, several of which still stand.

Aerial view showing paddle steamers at Pierhead in 1956The 1956 aerial photo, courtesy of the Welsh Government, shows two paddle steamers here: Bristol Queen (nearest the camera) and Cardiff Queen. In the foreground are the Mountstuart dry docks. Top left: the Pierhead Building, between Bute docks entrances. Top right: the Custom House, later moved to become a pub.

For a steamer to leave, boatmen would row a rope from the stern to a mooring point nearer the Pierhead. The steamer pulled on the rope to turn while reversing. The captain then had to navigate past cargo ships along “the drain”, the crowded waterway leading into the docks.

Photo of MV St Trillo at Cardiff Pierhead in 1963In 1834 the Neath Abbey Iron Company started a Cardiff to Bristol service, which continued under various operators until 1914. A ferry service ran to Burnham 1858-1888, when many people from Somerset moved to South Wales’ booming industrial towns. There was a Cardiff to Penarth ferry service 1865-1903.

The White Funnel Fleet captured the leisure market in the 20th century. It was founded by Peter and Alexander Campbell, from a family of Clyde shipowners. They moved a steamer from Glasgow to Bristol in 1887 and never looked back. From 1894 the fleet provided an annual fundraising trip for the Cardiff Infirmary and Royal Hamadryad Seamen’s Hospital. In 1910 it took 400 Cardiff workhouse children on a free trip to Weston.

Photo of top of White Funnel Fleet timetable 1965Eight White Funnel ships were sunk in war service in the First and Second World Wars. In 1956 the company’s HQ moved from Bristol to Cardiff, its busiest terminal.

The lower photo, by Peter Clark, was taken from the departing Bristol Queen in May 1963 and shows the White Funnel diesel ship MV St Trillo boarding for Weston. St Trillo, smaller than other ships of the fleet, was the Weston ferry before and after its summer seasons in North Wales – where it once came near disaster while carrying American tourists.

Photo of 1963 leaflet for White Funnel cruises and connecting trainsIn 1979, on board MV Balmoral during the fleet’s final sailing to Weston, passenger Sid Wake of Rhiwbina told a Western Mail reporter the ferry had taken him to and from boarding school in Weston in the 1920s. He recalled the roast meats, salmon and salads available in the ship’s long room.

MV Balmoral and the Clyde paddle steamer Waverley, both charity-owned, provide pleasure trips from Penarth Pier in season. Boat rides around Cardiff Bay and upriver to Bute Park are available year round from here.

Postcode: CF10 5BZ     View Location Map

MV Balmoral website

Waverley Excursions website

Website of Cardiff Cruises boat trips

Website of Aquabus boat trips