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Ceredigion : Journal of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society


Vol. 10, nos. 1-4 1984-1987

Cardiff tramps, Cardi crews : Cardiganshire shipowners and seamen in Cardiff, c.1870-1950 /

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Cardiganshire Shipowners and Seamen in Cardiff, c. 1870-1950*
During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Cardiff was transformed
from a modest borough town on the banks of the river Taff to one of the
foremost coal-exporting ports in the world. At its commercial peak in
1913, some 10 Y2 million tons of coal were exported from the port to
destinations all over the globe. The provision of ships to handle these vast
quantities of coal attracted seamen and shipowners from all over the
British Isles and further afield to Cardiff: many of them were Welshmen,
and a significant proportion of them came from Cardiganshire. From the
1870s until the 1950s, the 'Cardis' made a significant contribution to
Cardiff's seafaring traditions, with some tramp steamers sailing from the
port at the turn of the century manned to a considerable degree by men
who lived within a few miles of each other in villages such as New Quay
or Llangrannog. It is, moreover, a remarkable fact that no fewer than
four shipping companies established in Cardiff between 1881 and 1903
were founded by master mariners from the village of Aber-porth; few
other villages in Wales could boast such a concentration of entrepre-
neurialism at that time. It is the aim of this paper to examine this fascinat-
ing episode in the maritime history of Wales, but it is first necessary to
examine briefly the background of the story, both of Cardiff and along the
coastline of Ceredigion.
As a port of national and international significance, Cardiff cannot
boast the same long-established commercial heritage of ports such as
London, Liverpool or Bristol. Until the late eighteenth century, its dock
facilities consisted of little more than a quay on the river Taff in the
vicinity of the present-day National Stadium, a quay that dealt almost
exclusively with the export of agricultural produce from the Vale of
Glamorgan to Bristol. It was the development of the iron industry along
the Heads of the Valleys and the construction of the Glamorganshire
Canal from Merthyr Tudful to Cardiff in the 1790s that provided the
initial stimulus for the improvement of dock facilities at Cardiff. In 1798
Whilst this paper was being prepared for publication, the author was saddened to
hear of the death of Captain Daniel Owen Jenkins of Swansea on 24 July 1987. A
native of Tresaith, Captain Jenkins spent many years serving aboard Cardiff tramp
steamers, including those of Evan Thomas, Radcliffe & Co. His death has left a large
gap amongst the ranks of those few surviving mariners who can recall the hey-day of
Cardiganshire men serving aboard Cardiff tramps, and this paper is respectfully
dedicated to his memory.
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