In these years of the 1850s and 1860s, however, Cardiff owned ships were few. In 1857 thee were less than 100 Cardiff owned ships and their average tonnage was only about 170. Even by 1875 he number of Cardiff owned ships was only 140 and the average tonnage was still less than 200. It was in the 1880s and 1890s that ship owning started to become big business in Cardiff, with 90 ship owners in 1890. A few well known Cardiff companies had been in operation in 1880 eg Cory Bros., Lee and Finch, Short and Dunn, Tellefsen, Turnbull Bros. and Charles Stallybrass, but by 1890 three of the companies destined to be amongst the largest, Morels, Evan Thomas, Radcliffe Co. and John Cory Ltd., had appeared in addition, as well as the West of England Steamship Co., Pyman, Watson & Co. and the Cardiff Steamship Co. It was in the period between 1890 and the First World War, however, that ship owning really took off, with the build up of the Cardiff Tramp Steamer fleet of hundreds of ships which constituted about one tenth of the total tramp tonnage of the UK. These were the years of the expansion of the Evan Thomas, Radcliffe Co. and John Cory Ltd., and the establishment of Tatem Steam Navigation Co, The Reardon Smith Line, W.H.Seager's Tempus Shipping Co., Care & Marquand and several other large companies.

In addition to the export trade, the local Bristol Channel carrier and packet services continued during these years, initially being run mainly by the Bristol Steam Navigation Co and the Cardiff Steam Navigation Co., which amalgamated in 1869 to form The Steamship Company, operating a daily service between Bristol and Cardiff. In addition Danks, Venn and Sanders were operating a water carrier service between Cardiff and the ports along the South Wales and West of England coasts and up river to Gloucester, Worcester, Bewdley and Stourport. By arrangements with canal companies they maintained connections with Shropshire, Herefordshire, Staffordshire and Birmingham, and overland with London and the South of England. Around this time, too, the Burnham Tidal Harbour Co. was running a boat between Bridgewater and Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset and Cardiff.

Longer distance passenger and carrier services were opened up in the 1860s with the Cork Steamship Co. operating to Southern Ireland, and the Glasgow and Belfast Steam Packet Co. to Glasgow and Northern Ireland. The Dublin General Steamship Co was running boats from Cardiff to Dublin and Liverpool on a regular basis. In 1870 the Dutch firm, Van Ess & Co was operating a service to Rotterdam and about 1890 the Cardiff Steamship Co. started a weekly service to Bordeaux. In 1873 the Atlantic Steamship Co of Cardiff commenced a passenger-cargo service direct from Cardiff to New York.

In 1866 the traders of the town had set up the Cardiff Chamber of Commerce; in 1880 the ship owners set up the Shipowners Association and in 1886 the Cardiff Exchange was set up for stock- broking.

A list of seamen, master mariners, fishermen, shipowners, shipbrokers, shipping agents, bargemen etc isAppended

A brief history of some Cardiff Shipping Companies is Appended

A list of ships owned by Cardiff companies or companies that used Cardiff on a regular basis is in course of preparation

Go to my index to Master Mariners in Cardiff Crew Agreements 1863-1913

Go to my index to ships named in Cardiff Shipping Registers, Transactions, Board of Trade Enquiries and Crew and Fishing Agreements


One of the earliest of the Cardiff shipbuilding yards was that of Joseph Davies on the banks of the River Taff (on the site of the old Western Mail Building in St.Mary Street, now demolished). This yard was established before the beginning of the 19th century, and probably built the brig "Brother" of 79 tons in 1788, for Walter Coffin, the Coal Exporter. In 1822 the Davies yard was taken over by William Jones, who ran it until 1843, when it was acquired by Batchelor Bros.

Richard Tredwin has been mentioned above in connection with the opening of Cardiff's first dry dock in 1829 and built a number of vessels from 1830 onwards. In the 1850s his company was still building small boats. Tredwin's yard was taken over in 1857, when Tredwin died, by his nephews John & Thomas Hodges

In 1843, John Batchelor came to Cardiff from Newport and set up in business, with his brother Sidney, as Batchelor Bros. Taking over the William Jones yard on the bank of the River Taff at the lower end of St.Mary Street (as mentioned above) Around 1849 Batchelor Bros moved to a new yard near the West Dock. This company operated very successfully for a number of years and subsequently opened the Mount Stuart Graving Dock and a timber yard in Cardiff. It has been suggested that the downfall of John Batchelor was that he was a strong Liberal reformer and very much anti Bute Estate. As a result the Bute Estate was loathe to allow the Batchelors to expand their business and in 1873 the company went into liquidation. The Mount Stuart Graving Dock was sold by the bankers (as mortgagees) to J Laughlandand who sold it on to Sir John Gunn. The other Batchelor Yard was taken over by Charles Hill & Sons..

In the late 1850s a number of other boatbuilders were in existence in Cardiff, notably Davies & Plain on the East Dock were responsible for constructing many of the pilot cutters used in the Bristol Channel, and the Bute Docks Steam Shipbuilding Co. which launched the first Cardiff built steamship, The Lady Bute, in 1863. By the 1860s Rogers Bros., Barrett & Hill, G.Davies, G.Down, William Rees, William Thomas, Wm.Luxton, Cowell & Robinson, Gullivor & Brown and others were all building small ships at the Docks, and Charles Hill of Bristol (mentioned above as taking over the Batchelor Bros. Yard) had also set up their Cardiff branch launching ships of up to 1000 tons. In addition, on the river estuary the Bute Shipyard was established in 1865 by Maudsley, then taken over by Scott Russell, becoming in 1885 the Bute Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co.Ltd. In the 1870s further companies became established, eg Harvey & Son, Langmaid & Co., W.F.Pile & Co., Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co., the Penarth Shipbuilding and Repair Co., and, perhaps most importantly in the long run, R.H.Mitchell's Bute Docks Steam Shipbuilding Co. (mentioned above) was taken over by Sir John Gunn to become the Mountstuart Shipbuilding, Graving Dock and Engineering Co. Other long lived ship repair companies were also set up in the early 1880s, the Bute Dry Dock and the Cardiff Junction Dry Dock, Cardiff Ship Repair Co., Bute Commercial Dry Dock Co., South Wales Engineering Works and Ship Repair Co., the Channel Dry Docks and Engineering Co., Barry Graving Dock (at Barry), Windsor Slipways Dry Dock and Engineering Co. (later taken over by Mordey, Carney & Co), the Central Engineering and Ship Repairing Works (owned by Mordey, Carney & Co) and Hills Dry Dock and Engineering Co. With the establishment of so many new companies, added to the older established ones, Cardiff became a major World Centre for ship repair, although it never became important in ship building, perhaps as a result of the difficulties of the narrow channel approach to the Docks.

Many of the companies listed above remained in existence up to and after the First World War, when they contributed immensely to the war effort, keeping British shipping afloat at a time of National need.

With the rise of the boatbuilding and ship repairing industries there was an ever growing need for the various ancillary industries and occupations. Anchors, chains, blocks, masts and spars, ballast winches, rivets and nails, were all needed by the industry, as well as, in the earlier years sailmaking and wood turning. Rope-making, too, became important, with Morgan & Sanders and Verity & Coward setting up ropeworks in the 1850s and 1860s. Wire-rope making was also established, by George Elliott & Co. of London.

Shipwrights, and later boilermakers were also required in numbers by the ship repair industry. My own great grandfather, Robert Sanders, being one of those who came to Cardiff from Devon in the 1860s (following his brother, William, who had arrived in the 1850s) initially as a seagoing ship carpenter but settling down to married life ashore as a shipwright working in the shipyards.

A list of many of the vessels known to have been built at Cardiff is in preparation.

A list of shipwrights, boilermakers, sailmakers etc identified in Cardiff & Vale of Glamorgan Parish Registers is Appended


Many of the ship repairing companies were also involved in general engineering, but there were too, many companies which were specifically engineers or more often engineers and founders, eg John Williams (which had been established in 1844), Hayes Iron & Brass Foundry, Tubal Cain Engineering and Foundry Co., all sited near the canal. Further inland were the Grange Foundry (Grangetown), Machen Forge (Blackweir), College Ironworks (Llandaff), Eagle Foundry (Llandaff), Melingriffith Works (Whitchurch), Llandaff Engineering Works (Whitchurch), Atlas Engineering Works (Canton)., Tydvil Engineering and the Vulcan Foundry. These companies produced items for the railway and coal industries as well as shiprepair. The railway industry, of course, also required a great deal of specialised production work and the Gloucester Wagon Co., Newport Wagon Works, Midland Works, Glamorgan Wagon Works, Bristol Wagon Works, Wesern Wagon Co. and Swansea Wagon Co., most of them sited on the East Moors, were established to cater for those needs.

In 1888 the Dowlais Iron, Steeel and Coal Co. obtained a lease of land at East Moors from the Bute Estate on which to site a new iron and steel works. The company had already switched from the use of local ores to Spanish ore and there was, therefore, little need for their steelworks to continue to be sited at Merthyr. Moving to Cardiff, near the docks where the ore was imported and the steel exported was seen as a cost saving exercise, cutting out as it did the need to transport its raw materials and its products long distances by rail. In 1900 the company amalgamated with Keen's of Birmingham to form Guest. Keen & Co. and in 1902 with Nettlefolds Ltd to form Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds Ltd., a name well known in Cardiff and elsewhere for iron and steel production. Subsequently. An additional amalgamation of part of this company in 1930 resulted in the formation of Guest, Keen & Baldwins Iron & Steel Co. These companies were major employers in Cardiff for many years afterward.


Timber had been imported at Cardiff in the early 19th century, particularly in connection with boatbuilding and repair, and saw-mills had been opened on the Canal Wharf by Watson & Co. and by Daniel Thomas in those early years of the century. The requirements of the coal industry for pit-props, however, caused a substantial rise in the numbers of such companies later in the century, and by 1863, John Bland & Co. had been established as timber importers, with their saw-mill at East Canal Wharf. Also at East Canal Wharf, and at East Moors, Alfred Thomas had established the Cardiff Steam Sawmills. Other such companies operating around this date included Trayes & Co., John Howells & Son, Tellefsen, Wills & Co., Sessions & Sons, Slocombe & Sons, Alexander & Co. and John Norman.

Ships which carried coal out of Cardiff often returned with timber from the Baltic, Scandinavia, Russia

and Canada for use in the construction industry, whilst pitwood was imported from France, Spain and Portugal.

Linked to the timber trade was the establishment of the paper mills. In 1867, Brown & Evans established the Ely Paper Co., taken over ten years later by Thomas Owen & Co. and continuing in operation until fairly recently (as Wiggins, Teape & Co.).


Grain had, of course been milled on a small scale locally for centuries and until the vast population expansion of the mid-19th century, Cardiff had been an exporter of grain. One of the oldest mills in the Cardiff area was the Roath Mill, and my great grandfather, George Burfitt, was the last occupier of that mill in the late 19th century. By then, however, Cardiff had become a major importer of grain to feed the increased local population. In the mid- 19th century Spillers & Browne (Joel Spiller & Samuel Browne) had set up a larger scale grain milling business in Cardiff. In 1880 this firm became Spillers & Co.Ltd. In 1882 their mill was destroyed by a fire but was replaced by two new, larger ones, and another existing mill nearby was also acquired and more modern methods of milling were introduced. Wheat was imported by ship from India, Australia, America and Russia in the company's own ships, adding to the importance of Cardiff as a seaport. In 1890 Spillers & Co. Ltd amalgamated with William Baker & Son of Bristol to form Spillers & Bakers Ltd. The company thrived and entered into the production of biscuits and animal feed as sidelines to the milling business in subsequent years and became Nationally known. The company's large building at the top end of the Roath Dock was, for many years, a landmark, and still stands in the redeveloped Cardiff Bay.

Spillers was not the only company involved in grain milling in Cardiff in the 19th century. There were several others eg Lancashire Flour Mills, Liverpool Flour Mills, Rice Mill Co., Wood Bros., Glyn Mill Corn Co. and Weston, Hewlett & Co., and along the coast at Barry, was Spillers main competitor Joseph Rank.

Along with milling came the increase in the linked trades of malting, brewing and biscuit making, but these are outside the scope of this work as they were not directly related to the Port of Cardiff.

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