Penarth Dock, South Wales - 150 years - the heritage and legacy  
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Volume Three - The Pontoon Era - The decline of the coal trade at Penarth commences . . .

Oil could be stored in tanks anywhere, allowing more efficient design of ships, and it could be transferred through pipes without reliance on stokers, reducing manning. Refueling at sea was feasible, which provided greater flexibility. In 1912, The First Sea Lord, Admiral John Fisher wrote to Churchill, "What you do want is the super swift, all oil, and don't fiddle about armour; it really is so very silly! There is only one defence and that is speed!" How much speed is required to outmaneuver the German fleet? The answer was 25 knots or at least 4 knots faster than possible at the time. Churchill concluded, "We could not get the power required to drive these ships at 25 knots except by the use of oil fuel." This was enough for him. The loss of such a large market for coal supply to the navy and major steamship companies commenced the decline of the coal trade at Penarth and the other South Wales ports.

The table below [075] indicates the sheer tonnage of coal exported from the UK, averaged over the period 1909 - 1913.

Secondly, the effect of victory in the Great War of 1914-18 and the resultant "Treaty of Versailles" effectively flooded the important European markets of the South Wales collieries with cheap coal mainly from the Saarland of Germany. Penarth, being a coal exporting port was most vulnerable since it was almost entirely dependent upon these exports. The loss of key markets resulted because Germany was paying reparations in coal and other commodities such as iron and steel. The rate of decline continued to escalate after 1913 when the Penarth Dock and Ely Tidal Harbour finally reached the zenith of exports. 4,660,648 tons of coal was exported that year, after that, the end, alas, was neigh!

On a lighter note, however, there were other threats to South Wales operations as well. Only a few miles away at The Cardiff Gas Light & Coke Company’s works in Grangetown, “foreign” coal was being imported from Yorkshire! In 1900, 18,200 tons was shipped in 2,500 ton steamers to Penarth Docks and then transported on by rail to the works. There was however, some technological reason for its use which was gradually overcome. However, South Wales coal was eventually substituted and National pride fully restored!


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