Former entrance to Bute West Dock, Cardiff
Millions of tons of coal passed between the curved stone walls you can see here. They formed the entrance to Bute West Dock, whose opening in 1839 turbo-charged Cardiff’s growth into the world’s busiest exporting port. The photo from c.1902 shows a ship entering.
Coal and iron were shipped through Cardiff via the Glamorganshire Canal from the 1790s. As coal mining expanded rapidly, construction of the Taff Vale Railway’s main line from Abercynon to Cardiff (opened in 1840) coincided with the new dock’s excavation.
The dock was promoted by the Second Marquess of Bute. He owned much of the land in Cardiff, including Cardiff Castle and the “Cardiff Moors” – his chosen site for the dock and its warehouses. The dock’s 18 acres of water could accommodate 300 ships at a time. It had more than 1.8km of wharves for vessels to tie up for loading.
Ships arriving here would pass through a sea lock to enter a large oval basin (c.1.5 acres) to await passage through the main lock into the dock. The water outside the sea lock was tidal before the Cardiff Bay Barrage was built in the 1990s.
The dock project included digging a dock feeder canal from Blackweir. The canal water also topped up a 15-acre reservoir (south of where County Hall now stands) which flushed out the dock entrance at each low tide, to prevent siltation.
The dock became known as Bute West Dock after Bute East Dock (45 acres) opened in the 1850s. Even that extra capacity was outgrown, and further docks were built further east. In 1896 Cardiff overtook New York as the world’s busiest port for exports (dispatching 6.9 million tons to New York’s 6.5). Cardiff was Britain’s second busiest port for imports, after London.
The aerial photo, courtesy of the Welsh Government, shows the basins of both Bute docks in 1948. No longer needed after the Second World War, Bute West Dock was filled in and the site used for the housing and green spaces east of Lloyd George Avenue. The tops of the basin walls now delineate Roald Dahl Plass, a public open space.
You can see another aerial photo of the basin on our page about the Pierhead Building, which was built in 1897 between the Bute dock entrances. Pleasure steamers departed from pontoons nearby.
Postcode: CF10 5BZ View Location Map