Penarth Dock, South Wales - 150 years - the heritage and legacy  
Penarth Dock, South Wales - the heritage & legacy . . .

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Volume Six - Pre-Victorian to the Present Day - Select Aspects - The subway under the river Ely story . . .

The various Acts which authorised the construction of Penarth Dock, the Ely Tidal Harbour and associated railway infrastructure, stimulated the need for improvement for access for workers to cross the Ely estuary. A ferry service, or rowing boat sufficed until the docks were complete in 1865 when a double ended chain ferry, initially operated by manpower and later by a steam winch plyed passengers between the river banks - see images above. Whilst there was a jetty at each shore, the ferry would have been grounded and unable to operate at low water or, during rough weather, the crossing would be somewhat bumpy! The Taff Vale Railway Act 1896 (59 & 60 Vict ch.ccxxxiii) of 7th August 1896 authorised the construction of a subway under the River Ely. The following account of the construction of the subway is based mainly upon a report by Brian Colquhoun And Partners commissioned by the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation and published in 1991 entitled "Investigation into the Condition of the Ely River Subway." [009]

There was also an imperative to supply the coal handling facilities at the Ely Tidal Harbour with hydraulic power to operate the coal loading process. The solution was to construct a tunnel under the river and this was first given consideration in 1893. It would fulfil two objectives, personnel access and the route for hydraulic power. It wasn't until March 1897 that according to the TVR minutes "the tender of Mr Tom Taylor for the construction for the sum of £26,203 had been accepted." Mr. Taylor was a mining, quarrying and civil engineering contractor from Pontypridd.

The subway was constructed using a series of cast iron rings which were 10 feet (3.05m) in diameter which provided an internal diameter of approx. 8' - 9" (2.7m). Because the sections were circular, a false floor was added which was 6 feet (1.83m) wide and reduced the internal headroom to approx. 7' - 6" (2.3m). Each of the cast iron rings were 1' - 6" (0.46m) long and assembled using seven individual segments with a key block arrangement at the top dead centre. Each segment being bolted to the other to form one extremely robust ring.


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