Ports and Harbours in North-east Wales
A new initiative designed to identify and protect the historic ports of Wales
Historic ports and harbours have played an important role in Welsh history, although their nature and extent is often not well understood. Many important sites have considerable potential for archaeological remains, whether upstanding, buried or submerged, and these are becoming increasingly threatened by development. The present study, which is funded by Cadw, has therefore been designed to provide a detailed assessment of this important archaeological resource to improve our understanding of ports and harbours, their development, significance and potential, providing a baseline from which to develop future management strategies.
right: Landing stage near Queensferry. © CPAT 2079-023
The north-east Wales coast, and the Dee Estuary in particular, has a rich concentration of small ports and harbours which are important to our understanding of communications, trade and industry in this area. The project includes a variety of ports and quays, including the medieval ports associated with Rhuddlan and Flint, those harbours listed in the Welsh Port Books 1550-1603 (Lewis 1927), and those which developed during the 18th and 19th centuries following the industrialisation of the Dee Estuary hinterland, most of which are no longer active. Also included, on the basis of their archaeological potential, are the conjectured Roman ports at Prestatyn and Flint.
There is ample evidence to suggest that the Welsh coast has been an important resource since prehistoric times. However, the present study focuses not on the use of the coast, but on the growth of ports harbours and quays which are assumed to have developed from the Roman period onwards.
Although there is no direct evidence for Roman ports within the study area it is clear that the River Dee in particular was a significant waterway during the period, providing maritime access to Chester. The excavations undertaken at Prestatyn and Flint have, however, led to the suggestion that both may have been associated with nearby ports.
During the medieval period the construction of the Edwardian castle at Flint from 1277 and the founding of the adjacent borough depended heavily on the use of the river as a means of transport and there is evidence that both the castle and town had their own quays. Indeed, the castle could still be reached by sizeable vessels as late as the mid-19th century. At Rhuddlan too, Edward founded a castle and borough in the same year as Flint, the importance of coastal access being clearly demonstrated by the cutting of a new channel for the River Clwyd through marshland to the east of its original course.
The Welsh Port Books 1550-1603 provide a valuable source of information on the nature of post-medieval ports in the area which, in 1566, lists Welsh Lake, Wepra Pool, Picton Pool and Foryd as the only havens along the coast of Flintshire. There are no recorded landing places in Denbighshire which should not, however, be taken to imply that coastal trade and activity were entirely lacking. Instead, although the coastline of the county does not present any natural harbours, its beaches do offer ample places where small fishing or trading vessels can be drawn up onto the foreshore, and this is likely to have been the case at Abergele, Llanddulas and Llandrillo-yn-Rhos.
Right: The Old Quay House, Connah's Quay. © CPAT 2079-028
By the 15th century the Dee was already affected by silting and the earliest account of difficulties is a 'Royal Brief' in 1449 which assessed the City of Chester and proposed the construction of a quay at Neston for the transfer of cargoes into smaller vessels. A survey by Captain Andrew Yarranton in 1674, published in 1677 and entitled England's Improvement by Sea and Land, concluded that the river was so choked with sand that a vessel of twenty tons could not reach Chester, proposing the construction of a new channel along the Flintshire shore to provide deep water navigation to Chester. At this time the deep water channel followed the Cheshire shore, with the Flintshire shore largely consisting of the mudflats of Saltney Marsh.
The River Dee New Cut, was eventually constructed in 1737, following the existing southern bank from Chester to Saltney and then, after a slight bend, a straight line to Golftyn along the Flintshire shore. A stone pier was built at Golftyn for the protection of vessels proceeding to and from Chester and waiting for a fair wind, and this formed the nucleus of what became the port of Connah's Quay. The New Cut was responsible for the birth of Saltney, Sandycroft, Queensferry and Connah's Quay, affording easy water communication for the importation of materials to the hinterland and the export of coal and minerals to Chester, Ireland and as far as northern France and Spain.
The development of the railway network from the mid 19th century brought further expansion for most of the ports, particularly Connah's Quay and Mostyn. During the same period, however, Rhuddlan began to decline due to silting of the River Clwyd, which in turn led to the growth of Foryd. With the exception of Rhuddlan, the ports were at their peak during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the industries on which they had been founded also prospered. It was the subsequent decline in the local industries of coal, lead, brick, engineering and shipbuilding that marked the end for all of the smaller ports, so that today only Mostyn has survived as a major port, and indeed has seen recent expansion. Connah's Quay also remains active, although a shadow of its former self, while the other small ports have all but disappeared.
Although a Roman port has been postulated and the early medieval settlement is very likely to have been associated with the river, the earliest definite evidence of a port is in connection with the Edwardian castle. The course of the river would originally have flowed against the western side of the outer ward, although today the channel lies 70m further to the west. The Edwardian port was an integral part of the castle, occupying part of the moat.
Left: 19th-century quay at Rhuddlan. © CPAT 2160-001
During the later post-medieval period a small quay developed on the seaward side of the bridge, below the church. Early 19th century prints show that the quay was of timber construction and was equipped with a warehouse and a loading crane. Immediately adjacent to the bridge a stone-revetted wharf was added during the 19th century, close to which several, possibly associated, buildings are depicted on the early editions of the Ordnance Survey.
The port was once the most important in north Wales, serving Denbigh and the Vale of Clwyd until the construction of the bridge at Foryd in 1880 prevented masted schooners from sailing to Rhuddlan. Rhuddlan became a depot supplying coal, groceries etc to a number of towns in the Vale of Clwyd, but the principal trade was the export of grain and timber and, from the Talargoch mines, lead ore.
Any industrial development at Rhuddlan was restricted to the western bank of the river where the Phoenix Iron Foundry and a tannery developed during the 19th century, each with an adjacent small wharf. The foundry imported moulding sand from St Helens.
Foryd is located at the mouth of the River Clwyd, on its western bank, opposite Rhyl and 3.8km north-west of Rhuddlan. The earliest documented quay appears to have been a stone pier built by Hugh Robert Hughes of Kinmel Hall sometime before the mid 1850s, although the harbour was clearly in use before this. The pier was occupied by a building, which is depicted in a number of late-19th-century photographs, as well as by the Ordnance Survey in 1877. A quay was later added on the seaward side of the pier in 1866 at the terminus of the Vale of Clwyd Railway, which also serviced the timber yard. Several landing stages developed on the opposite side of the estuary, although the western shore remained the main quayside. The growth of Foryd can be directly linked to the fortunes of its neighbours: the decline of Rhuddlan due to silting of the River Clwyd led to a corresponding expansion at Foryd, while as Rhyl expanded as a holiday resort, Foryd became an even busier busy port with steam packets sailing regularly to Liverpool.
Left: Aerial view of Foryd Harbour. © CPAT 06-c-338
The silts within the harbour contain the remains of at least two timber vessels. On the western side, close to the old pier, is the wreck of the Alice, a hopper barge, which was probably built in the late 19th century and was bought by Rhyl Town Council in 1913 for use in dredging sand. On the opposite side is the City of Ottawa, which was built on the St. Lawrence River, Quebec, Canada in 1860. The ship had three masts with square rigging and between 1863 and 1889 it travelled widely, visiting Bombay, Genoa, Aden, Canada, Pensacola and Rio de Janeiro, sailing from a variety of ports including Cardiff, Swansea, Barrow, Plymouth, London, Portsmouth and Newcastle.
Right: Foryd Harbour with the wreck of The Alice in the foreground. © CPAT 2160-016
Foryd supported a boatyard on the eastern bank of the Clwyd, which in the late 19th century, was owned by Robert Jones and included its own slipway. During the later 19th century Charles Jones timber yard and sawmill developed on the site of the old Lifeboat House. The timber yard remained in use until relatively recently but the site has now been cleared. Foryd was also notable for the local fishing industry, which once supported a considerable number of families and a sizeable fleet.
Talacre is located at the seaward end of the Dee Estuary, 16km north-west of Flint. Although Picton Pool is recorded as a harbour as early as the 15th century there is no evidence for any man-made structures until after the reclamation of Picton Marsh in the early 19th century when quayside structures included a granary, a Sluice House and a footbridge across the harbour entrance. The harbour was maintained by use of a tidal flushing pond, located between the railway and reclamation embankment.
Left: Aerial view of Talacre Harbour. © CPAT 06-c-333
Its present form, however, is associated with Point of Ayr Colliery, which opened around 1865 and remained in production until it closed in 1996 owing to geological faults. The colliery constructed its own landing stage as part of the main complex, located at the seaward end of the channel and served by a series of railway sidings. Since the closure of the colliery the site has been cleared and the harbour is now sited and abandoned.
The origin of the harbour at Mostyn is unknown but it was certainly in operation during the Civil War when guns and ammunition were smuggled in, and it has been claimed that Jasper Tudor, uncle of Henry VII, escaped from here in 1471 having been imprisoned in Mostyn Hall. It is likely that the earliest use of Mostyn as a port consisted of no more than drawing boats up to the high water mark and there are certainly records of this close to the Honest Man inn into the 18th century. By 1742 a more formal quay had developed including a pier, which it may be assumed is the same structure which survived largely intact until fairly recently, forming the north-western side of the docks. A fairly substantial port had developed by the 1840s and the Tithe survey of 1839 depicts the pier with a quay along the eastern side and an adjoining reservoir, or flushing pond.
Left: Aerial view of Mostyn Docks. © CPAT 06-c-325
By 1872 the port had expanded considerably. The Mostyn Colliery and Darwen and Mostyn Iron Co. had developed on reclaimed land and a new dock had been built, protected by a breakwater on the north-east side and with a new flushing pond to the south-east. The original flushing pond had been partly infilled with the construction of the Chester to Holyhead railway and replaced by two smaller reservoirs. Railway sidings ran along either side of the original dock and along the new dock, as well as serving the colliery and ironworks. By the end of the 19th century waste from the dockside industries had been dumped along the edge of the estuary reclaiming new ground and had also been used to construct a 680m-long breakwater alongside the Mostyn Gutter.
The 1960s saw a two-phase redevelopment of Mostyn, rebuilding the old timber quay and installing dockside railway tracks and cargo-handling equipment. The first phase was completed in 1967 and the second in 1969 with a new 363ft-long quay and transit shed complete with nine large cranes and space for five vessel.
Mostyn is now the only active port of any size on the Dee and has recently been extended to take on roll-on roll-off ferries and to accommodate larger cargo ships, including the shipment of aircraft wings for the European Airbus, constructed at nearby Broughton.
Llannerch-y-môr was a small private dock, located between Mostyn and Flint and constructed as part of the nearby leadworks, which in 1905 handled 847 tons of cargo. The quay developed at the mouth of a small inlet, which appears to have been canalized as far inland as the main coast road. It is uncertain, however, whether the whole of this length was used by vessels, and indeed, the railway which crosses the inlet would have prevented any masted vessels from progressing further.
Left: Aerial view of Llannerch-y-môr Quay. © CPAT 06-c-316
The wharf lay on the western side of the inlet, on land reclaimed from the saltmarsh following the construction of a large embankment in the second half of the 18th century. By 1899 there was a railway siding linking the wharf with the nearby Chester to Holyhead Railway.
More recent developments included the construction of a new quay with concrete revetment, and the dock is now home to an ex-British Rail Isle of Man ferry 'Duke of Lancaster' which, with a small barge alongside, now lie abandoned at the mouth of the inlet. The quayside is now disused and fenced-off.
The origins of the smelting works are uncertain, but were certainly in existence by 1742, and by 1773 they were being operated by John Richardson. By the 19th century the leadworks was being operated by the North Wales Lead Works Company. The smelting chimney, the last surviving example on Deeside, was built around 1860 with flues running under the road.
Although a small port may have been associated with nearby Basingwerk Abbey, it was the industrial development of the 18th and 19th centuries which led to the growth of Greenfield. Copper goods were manufactured in the Greenfield valley from the 1730s but production was at its height from 1780 onwards when Thomas Williams set up works at the lower end of the valley to process copper from Parys Mountain on Anglesey. The raw copper was smelted at Ravenhead in Lancashire, and later at Amlwch on Anglesey, before being shipped to Greenfield.
Left: Aerial view of Greenfield Harbour. © CPAT 06-c-311
During the 18th century Greenfield traded extensively with Liverpool and by the 19th century ferries were bringing pilgrims from Lancashire to visit Holywell. By the later 19th century the harbour had wharfages on either side with a railway leading directly onto and along the south-east side of the quay. The north-west side was formed by an artificial breakwater which extended out into the Dee, along which there were several cranes and mooring posts. A large flushing pond lay immediately to the southwest of the harbour, connected to it by a sluice, and fed by the stream which ran through Greenfield valley.
Bagillt is located 3km to the north-west of Flint and although there was a settlement here during the medieval period the port developed with post-medieval industrial expansion. In the late 17th and 18th centuries Bagillt was a very busy port although its position meant that there was often some difficulty in reaching the deep water channel and boats could be held in port for days waiting for tide and wind. Bagillt had two quays, one known as 'Dee Banks Gutter', which handled most of the passenger trade, including at one time a passenger ferry to Parkgate on the Wirral, while Bagillt Dock to the south-east handled the cargo
Left: Aerial view of Bagillt, Dee Banks Gutter. © CPAT 06-c-301
The Dee Banks Gutter appears to have been the main quay at Bagillt which, during the 19th century, had a wharf along the north-west side on land reclaimed from the saltmarsh, with a railway siding connecting it to the Dee Banks Leadworks. By the early 20th century the leadworks had expanded with lead and blende dressing sheds being constructed immediately to the north-west of the quay. The dock was kept clear of silt as a result of the flushing effect of the nearby Milwr Tunnel which was built in 1896 by the Holywell-Halkyn Mining and Tunnel Company to drain the mines in the Holywell District and to search for new mineral veins. Although Bettisfield Colliery was located just to the south-east of the quay the proximity of the Chester to Holyhead Railway meant that this was the preferred means of transport for coal.
Bagillt's other quay, 1km to the south-east, developed as a cargo wharf during the 18th and 19th centuries, initially with tramways connecting it to Wern Colliery and another in the centre of the village. The quay had a timber-revetted wharf along the north-west side of a gutter and was maintained by two flushing ponds, one on either side of the railway. A second wharf was located further down the inlet at the end of a former railway embankment. At its height the dock handled 1000 tons of coal per week, as well as lead, copper and zinc.
Both gutters are now used by small fishing vessels, although silting has prevented access to the original quays and moorings are now some distance out across the saltmarsh.
During the medieval period there were two quays at Flint, one serving the castle and the other the town. The castle quay was sited at the seaward end of the moat to the south-east of the tower keep, with the town quay on the opposite, external side of the moat.
Left: Aerial view of Flint Castle and the site of the medieval castle and town quays. © CPAT 06-c-297
The post-medieval quay at Flint was located at the mouth of the River Swinchard 440m north-west of the castle and was associated with the nearby leadworks and later chemical works. Flint had a long history of lead smelting probably pre-dating the works operated by Daniel Peek from 1699. The leadworks was owned by a succession of entrepreneurs until the site was bought by Messrs Muspratt & Huntley in 1852, after which it became an alkali works which was eventually bought by Courtaulds in 1921, who built a rayon factory on the site. By the early 20th century Flint was a busy port handling 8429 tons of cargo in 1905, the main trade being in coal, lead and also chemicals.
Right: Aerial view of Flint's industrial quay. © CPAT 06-c-293
The coastal location gave rise to a saltworks which had closed by the end of the 18th century and by the early 19th century a small shipyard had developed. In 1840, the Scottish firm of Ferguson, McCullum and Baird started a shipbuilding yard in Flint, producing wooden sailing vessels. The yard was take over by the expansion of the chemical works and the business transferred to Connah's Quay in 1858, where it remained as Ferguson and Baird until its closure in 1916.
Following the completion of the New Cut in 1737 a small port developed at the seaward end of the channel at Golftyn, where a breakwater had been constructed to shelter boats waiting for favourable winds and tide to navigate to and from Chester. One of the reasons why Connah's Quay developed as such a major port, rather than those higher up the Dee, was that it was far less reliant on favourable tides and winds.
Left: Connah's Quay Dock I. © CPAT 2079-031
Much of the development of facilities at Connah's Quay was directly related to the various companies who operated the tramway, and later the railway, which terminated at the quay. The earliest of these was the Irish Coal Company which began building the Wepre Iron Road in 1799 from collieries at Northop. This was later owned by the Northop Hall and Dublin Coal Company Ltd, and was effectively replaced by the Buckley Railway in 1862.
Although Connah's Quay was primarily an industrial port, from the mid 1860s it also saw a degree of passenger traffic with the advent of rail excursions incorporating a trip by steamer to the likes of Llandudno. There was also a passenger service along the river to and from Chester.
Left: Aerial view of Connah's Quay. © CPAT 06-c-283
By the 1880s the main exports from the docks were coal and bricks, but also included chemicals and fertilizers, with the main import being timber, including pit props, from Norway and the Baltic. In 1884 ships were recorded leaving the port for Barrow, Cardigan, Ireland, France, Germany, Nova Scotia and Norway.
The firm of Ferguson, MacCallum and Baird started building ships at Flint in 1840, but the business transferred to Connah's Quay in 1858, where it remained as Ferguson and Baird until closure in 1916. The company built only wooden ships, which eventually led to its demise. The yard was reopened in 1920 by J Crichton and Co. Ltd, who built metal ships. There was also a smaller shipyard at Connah's Quay next to the Old Quay House on Dock Road, operated by William Butler, specialising in lifeboats, including those for the Mauritania.
Under the Act of Parliament which permitted the construction of the New Cut, a ferry was to be provided to transport passengers, cattle and vehicles. This was originally known as Lower Ferry, but was renamed King's Ferry around 1750 in honour of George III, and in 1837 became Queen's Ferry, in honour of Queen Victoria. In the early days horse whims were used to power the ferry, later to be replaced by a ferry with a windlass capstan, operated by two men on board. By 1861 the ferry appears to have been mechanically operated with an engine house on the Queensferry side, and in 1897 the ferry was replaced by the Victoria Jubilee Bridge.
left: Queensferry Quay. © CPAT 2079-023
A quay developed at Lower, or King's Ferry, for the shipment of coal from about 1740 when the Mancot Tramway was built to link Big Mancot Colliery with the River Dee. Around 1793 this was replaced by an iron plateway.
Aston Quay, as it came to be known, expanded further following the construction of a system of tramways linking various industries between Buckley and the river.
Around 1885 Smith and Co. started building small iron vessels and barges on a site 250yds west of the ferry, later moving to a site adjacent to the small inlet further to the east. In 1892 'Reliance' was built by Messrs J Wilson and Co., and by 1894 the yard was operated by the Queensferry Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. It changed hands again in 1908/09, this time to Isaac J Abdella and Mitchell Ltd. The company concentrated on lighters and barges, but also made stern-wheel steamers, such as the 'Manoel Tomaz' in 1912, which was destined for Brazil, and the 'Broughton' which went to Nigeria. The yard closed in 1925, although the name continued in other short-lived firms into the 1930s.
Sandycroft Quay developed around a small inlet known as Fowl Pool Gutter. About 1751 a lease was granted by the Glynnes of Hawarden Castle which permitted the construction of a tramroad from Sandycroft Colliery, Buckley, along Moor Lane to the River Dee, although it is possible that only the section along Moor Lane was ever completed. This was later replaced by the Sandycroft Railroad, which may have been built by Sir John Glynne around 1790.
A small shipyard developed alongside the inlet during the mid 19th century, operated by Thomas Cram & Co. Around 1852 they began building the 'Royal Charter', an iron sailing clipper with an auxiliary steam screw. The vessel was launched in July 1854 and wrecked off Moelfre, Anglesey on 27 October 1859 with the loss of over 400 lives.
Left: Sandycroft Quay. © CPAT 2079-003
By the mid 19th century a foundry had developed on the eastern side of the inlet. The site was taken over by John Taylor in 1862, a firm which had been established as the Mold Foundry at Rhydymwyn in 1837. The company specialised in making machinery for the mining industry. In 1874 the company became Messrs Bricknell, Taylor and Co., and around 1890 changed its name again to the Sandycroft Foundry and Engine Works Company Ltd. In 1886 the South Africa gold mines were opened and the company was overwhelmed with orders, also supplying machinery to India, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and numerous mines and collieries throughout Britain. By the 1920s competition had increased significantly and in 1925 the works closed due to lack of orders