Port Talbot docks

Port Talbot docks

The Wales Coast Path detours around the docks, which are across the river Afan from you if you’ve just scanned the QR codes.

Photo of Port Talbot docks in 1949
Port Talbot docks in 1949, courtesy of the RCAHMW and its Coflein website

The first dock was built in 1837 for local copper, iron, tinplate and coal industries. Copper smelting at Cwmavon had started in 1776, and ore was brought in through the new dock. The main wharf was on the north side of the triangle of land opposite the QR-code location.

The dock was named Port Talbot after the Talbot family of nearby Margam Abbey. Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot was MP for Glamorgan 1830-1890. He chaired the South Wales Railway (which opened the main Swansea-Chepstow line in 1850) and was a Great Western Railway director. Port Talbot’s main-line station was still surrounded by fields in the 1870s, when Port Talbot’s housing and the Port Talbot Inn were on the opposite side of the docks.

Swansea’s copper industry and docks had eclipsed Port Talbot’s by 1894, when the Port Talbot Railway & Docks Company (PTRDC) was formed. The company turned Port Talbot docks into a major coal exporting facility, connected by railways to the Llynfi, Afan and Rhondda valleys. Coal exports here peaked at 2.7 million tons in 1923. The original main wharf was renamed “Talbot Wharf”.

Photo of Port Talbot and docks in 1947
Port Talbot docks and steelworks in 1947, courtesy of the RCAHMW and its Coflein website

The company embraced new technology, using concrete for dock walls. In 1899 the PTRDC imported two powerful locos from the USA to haul coal trains over the hilly railway from Maesteg to Port Talbot via Bryn.

The aerial photos, courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales, are from the Aerofilms Collection of the National Monuments Record of Wales. The upper photo shows the docks entrance in 1949, with the river flowing right to left. The lower photo shows the docks from the north east, with the river’s S-shaped course on the right and the original steelworks in the foreground.

Coal exports petered out in the 1960s but iron-ore imports had grown, after the opening of Port Talbot’s integrated steelworks in the early 1950s. This had become Europe’s biggest steelworks by the time the outer harbour, south west of the old docks, opened in 1972 for larger ships to unload iron ore.

Parts of the docks are now used for leisure activities, with quayside areas redeveloped for new industries and housing.

Postcode: SA12 6BT    View Location Map

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