Former Bute East Dock, Cardiff

Link to Welsh translation

This rectangular lake is the surviving part of a dock built in the 1850s for the thriving coal and iron industries. Further south, the dock curved south-westwards to the lock where ships entered from a large basin.

Aerial view of Atlantic Wharf and east dock in 1950The new dock was needed because the locks at Cardiff’s first big dock, opened in 1839, were too small for the larger ships which had become increasingly common. The original 18-acre dock became known as Bute West Dock when the 45-acre Bute East Dock was established.

Excavating the east dock and building the quay walls and wharves began in January 1852, soon after many people were displaced by Ireland’s potato famine. The dock project provided work for many Irish labourers. Some were housed with their families in a new community north of the new dock which for generations was known as ‘Little Ireland’.

When the first half of the east dock opened in July 1855, the construction contractor gave a dinner for the 700 men it employed on the project. The first ships to enter were arranged by nationality, starting with an English one (while the band played Hearts of Oak), then French, Sardinian and American (to appropriate tunes).

The completed east dock opened in September 1859. Railway tracks lined the wharves, and above were sidings where coal was tipped from wagons into ships. On the west side was the Taff Vale Railway, on the east the Rhymney and South Wales railways.

The northern end, free of coal tippers, featured dry docks, flour mills and warehouses. Initially it also had shipbuilding yards. The dock was replenished by the feeder canal from Blackweir via the junction canal, which joined it to the Glamorganshire Canal via Bute West Dock. Part of the feeder canal in the city centre was uncovered in 2022.

Aerial photo of Bute west and east docks in 1956
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Other docks were built in Cardiff from the 1880s as ships grew even larger. The aerial photos are shown here courtesy of the Welsh Government. The upper photo shows Bute East Dock’s northern end in 1950, with Atlantic Wharf and the dry docks on the far side.

The broadside photo shows the west and east docks in 1956, when redundant Royal Navy ships were being stripped of components before scrapping. At least one of those pictured was scrapped in Milford Haven and another in Briton Ferry.

The truncated east dock became a water feature when the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation redeveloped the area. The 1933 crane displayed on the east side came from Queen Alexandra Dock, and was originally at a dry dock south east of Bute East Dock.

Postcode: CF10 4UW    View Location Map

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