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Barry Docks
Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, UK
Barry Docks
associated engineer
Sir John Wolfe Barry
date  14th November 1884 - 1889, 1893 - 1898
era  Victorian  |  category  Docks/Slipway  |  reference  ST120672
ICE reference number  HEW 1233
photo  Chris Morris
Barry Docks were constructed between Barry Island and the mainland for the export of coal from south Wales, easing the burden on the port of Cardiff. David Davies, owner of Ocean Collieries and leader of the Rhondda valley mine owners, championed the development.
In 1884, parliament authorised construction of new docks at Barry as part of a combined dock and railway project that was being promoted by colliery owners from the Rhondda, Ogmore and Llynfi valleys. Construction commenced in November 1884.
The site was enclosed by the building of cofferdams to facilitate the excavation of some 3.8 million cu m of material and to construct the docks in dry conditions. A Cornish engine — brought from the Severn Tunnel works — was used to pump out the excavation.
On 29th June 1889, water was let into No.1 Dock, which opened to shipping on 18th July 1889. It is curved in plan and measures just over a kilometre in length by 335m wide. Its western end is divided into two arms by a mole (The Mole), 396m long and 61m wide. The total enclosed area of water is some 30 hectares.
A graving dock (dry dock) was also opened at this time, located at the north-east corner of Dock No.1, adjacent to a site that would later accommodate Barry Docks Railway Station. The graving dock was 226m by 30.5m, with an 18.3m wide entrance closed by a floatable caisson, and was backfilled after 1996.
A tidal basin (called the Basin by the Barry Docks Company, sometimes referred to as No.3 Dock) 152m by 183m was constructed to the south east of Dock No.1, separated from it by wrought iron gates across a 24.4m wide entrance. Similar gates were fitted to the south entrance from the outer harbour. They were among the first gates to be operated by hydraulic rams rather than chains. Over the two main docks, hydraulic hoists (31 fixed, 10 movable) were used to tip the coal out of railway wagons into the holds of ships. A rolling bridge (extant) of plated iron girders provided access over the Basin's north entrance.
A pumping station situated at the south-west end of No.1 Dock housed steam-driven electricity generators, and its high-pressure hydraulic mains supplied pressure for the operation of equipment around the docks, including coal hoists, lock gates, capstans, caissons and rolling bridges. Later, another pumphouse was located at Battery Hill, Barry Island, and a third on the north-east side of No.2 Dock (1894-8) at the Bendricks. In the period when hydraulic power use was at its height, six accumulators were strategically located around the docks to boost the pressure of the hydraulic mains.
Walls of massive limestone blocks, 14.2m high from dock bottom to coping, were built around the Basin and south-east sides of the wet docks. Brick piers, some with arches, were constructed off-quay at many of the hoist positions to support the machinery. Elsewhere, the excavations have sloping sides. Excavated material was used to form the cores of breakwaters constructed across the entrance. The breakwaters extend some 210m on the eastern side of the entrance and 430m on the western side, and are faced with 4 tonne stone blocks.
A second graving dock, of similar design and adjacent to the first, was in place by 1893. it was developed from an old shipway that had led to a large timber pond just to the north. This graving dock was aso originally closebale using a floating caisson. The dock still exists (2017), though it is flooded to the level of Dock No.1.
The 14 hectare No.2 Dock, originally also just over a kilometre in length and 122-183m wide, was constructed to the north-east of No.1 Dock in 1894-8. It was connected to No.1 Dock by a channel (New Cut, or Junction Cut), once isolatable by possibly an hydraulically-operated lock gate, or a floatable caisson — it's not clear which was initially installed.
Two rail tracks over the cut are shown on 1893 maps, but track diagrams of 1927 indicate a single track, which points to the later installation of the swingbridge (including timber footway) that operated here (removed 1999). The control cabin was on the south-east side, and a groundframe-controlled semaphore signal was located at each end of the bridge. The bridge swung through a skew angle of approximately 65 degrees.
In 1893-8, to enable shipping to enter the docks at all states of the tide, a deep water lock — Lady Windsor Lock — was constructed on the west side of the Basin and parallel to it. The lock connects the south-east corner of No.1 Dock with the outer harbour and the Bristol Channel.
Lady Windsor Lock is 197m long and 19.8m wide. It was built with three pairs of timber gates — one pair was at either end. An intermediate pair (now removed) was 71m from the south end of the structure. All three pairs were later replaced in steel. The lock opened officially on 4th January 1898, at which time it was the deepest in the world.
A third graving dock (later C.H.Bailey's dry dock) is indicated on 1901 dock plans. It lies west of Lady Windsor Lock and parallel to it. It was operated privately, and had its own pump house and machinery, which could send seawater into No.1 Dock if required, as well as pump out the dry dock. Like the other two graving docks, it was sealed using a floating caisson, and incorporated a single track rail line on the caisson deck (rails removed 1950 when the caisson was renewed).
At its peak in 1913, Barry exported more than 11 million tonnes of coal, making it the largest coal exporter in the world.
No.3 Dock, referred to locally as the Basin, was used in later years for the importation of bananas from the Windward Islands. Seaspeed Ferries ran a roll-on roll-off ferry service from this dock to Dublin for a while after 1960. It is hardly used now, except for the occasional passage of vessels with beams wider than 18.3m for access to No.2 Dock via the New Cut.
After 1964, the coal hoists at No.1 and No.2 docks were gradually dismantled and the remaining hydraulic pumping station (that operated them) at the south-west end of No.1 Dock taken out of use. The other two pumping station had been demolished much earlier, so a new high-pressure hydraulic pump was installed for the swingbridge over New Cut, and new individual pumps for each set of lock gates were gradually put in place.
The Barry Docks complex is now owned and run by Associated British Ports. Commercial decline has had an effect, and cranage facilities have been removed from the quayside. Ships now use their own derricks, or hired mobile cranes. No.2 Dock is used for handling cargo, including shipments of hazardous chemicals and occasional timber imports. Goods previously handled here, such as coal and fruit are no longer shipped through Barry. Scrap metal shipment had come and gone by 2012 but there seems to be a move to re-establish it.
In July 1990, the docks office building (pictured above) was Grade II* listed.
The rolling bridge at Lady Windsor lock was removed after 1950. The rolling bridge and its control cabin located between the tidal basin and No.1 Dock are derelict but still in place on the east side of the basin lock gates (No.1 Dock side) and are heritage listed structures. The swingbridge at the north end of the New Cut, which provided road and rail access from the north-west to the south-east sided of Dock No.2, had been removed by 1999.
The last owner of the third graving dock was C.H. Bailey. When its operations ceased, the graving dock's pumping station and equipment was demolished (after 2002). Seepage has caused the flooding of this dock.
In 2016, the hydraulic pumping house at the south-west end of Dock No.1 opened as a residential/retail complex after a five-year adaptive reuse project. Some of the original crane gantry rails, ironwork and roof trusses have been preserved in the interior.
The statue is of colliery owner David Davies.
Resident engineer: John Robinson
Assistant engineers: Henry Marc Brunel, Thomas Forster Brown
Contractor: Thomas Andrew Walker
RCAHMW_NPRN 34234, 33739, 91514, 91515, 308595, 308857
Research: ECPK, Brian Mills
"The Lady Windsor New Deep Lock, Barry Docks", The Engineer, pp.135-137, 7th February 1896

With additional information kindly supplied by Brian Mills of the South & West Wales section of the Permanent Way Institution

reference sources   CEH W&W

Barry Docks