Dock Feeder Canal

The Dock Feeder Canal runs along the eastern boundary of Bute Park from Blackweir at the north end, south to the Castle, where it turns east, and then along the north side of the Castle. Having left Bute Park it passes under North Road and along the southern edge of Cathays Park to Park Place, where it is culverted. It finally emerges at the southern end of Churchill Way. The canal was created in the 1830s in connection with the construction of the West Bute Dock, though its origins go back to medieval times when it was a millstream. When Cathays Park was purchased by the Council, Lord Bute (the 3rd Marquis) stipulated that the northern bank of the Dock Feeder be planted with trees and enclosed.[1]

Roath Mill in Roath Mill Gardens

Feeder Canal south of City Hall c.1906

The function of the Feeder Canal was to provide a constant supply of fresh water to the dock to keep the entrance channel clear. "This heavy and expensive piece of work was rendered necessary by the fact that the tidal water of the Bristol Channel is unsuited for use in a dock, owing to the large quantity of mud it holds in suspension, and the heavy deposit resulting from it when in a state of quietude."[2]

The Feeder Canal terminated at a reservoir. "This reservoir can be discharged at low water, by means of powerful sluices, with cast-iron pipes, five feet in diameter, and by ten sluices at the sea gates, so as to deliver at the rate of 100,000 tons of water per hour."[3]

Construction of the Feeder began before the work on the dock itself. Notices were published in October 1834 in local papers inviting tenders:[4]

Bute ship canal, Cardiff
To Contractors etc

Such persons as are willing to contract for the erection of the earthwork, brickwork, masonry, etc, in the construction of a feeder from the River Taff to the intended new ship basin or floating dock of the dock of the Bute ship canal, may see the plans and the specifications of the same, and obtain every information thereon, upon application to Mr G Turnbull, the resident engineer at the Bute Ship Canal office Cardiff

The specification included a footpath along the entire length, River Taff to Castle moat. By December 1834 work on the feeder was underway.[5] Blackweir Farm was purchased by Lord Bute (2nd Marquis) to provide the land needed to cut a course from the River Taff at Blackweir. This joined the line of a medieval mill stream after about 200 yards and proceeded south to the Castle.[6]

Construction of the West Bute Dock began in March 1837 and was completed in May 1839. The ceremonial opening took place on October 8th.[7] It was reported that "experience has already shown" that the daily discharge from the feeder reservoir was sufficient to keep the channel clear.[8]

Today the Dock Feeder Canal continues to function, 180 years after its construction. The first phase of culverting was in 1949, in order to create a new City centre road, Churchill Way. The length of covered canal beneath Churchill Way is approximately 518 metres. The rectangular culvert was constructed with concrete walls 20 feet apart and a covering of pre-cast reinforced concrete beams - designed to carry the Ministry of Transport loading for trolley-bus routes.[9]

In September 1986 the South Wales Echo reported that "another stretch of the waterways through Cardiff which has supplied the docks for more than 150 years is to disappear from sight." This was the section of the Dock Feeder Canal running at the rear of Park Place, where seven Victorian buildings were redeveloped and extended to provide offices and car parking space. The canal was covered with 16 sections of "two by three metre pre-cast concrete box culverts, each two metres long." The same report stated that when the West Dock was filled in [c.1970] "the water was diverted to the East Dock, through which it supplies all the others with a flow of around 50 million gallons a day."[10]

Prior to the late 1980s, the entire length of the Canal was maintained by three persons working full time for Associated British Ports (ABP).[11] ABP continues to be responsible for de-silting and other maintenance to ensure the flow of water in the channel. Cardiff Council has responsibility for management and maintenance of the banks in Bute Park.[12] Work was carried out in 2014/15 to repair eroded sections of the west bank, particularly to protect the stone dust footpath along the canal. This included creation of steps, in order to reduce damage to the bank when dogs jump in and out of the water.[13]

Dock Feeder Canal approaching the Castle

Dock Feeder Canal approaching the Castle from the north (July 2011)

Sources of Information

  1. A. A. Pettigrew, The Public Parks and Recreation Grounds of Cardiff, Volume 2, Chapter on Cathays Park.
  2. Illustrated Guide to Cardiff and its neighbourhood 1897, Western Mail Ltd, page 44
  3. Bristol Times October 12th 1839, page 2
  4. The Glamorgan, Monmouth, & Brecon Gazette, & Merthyr Guardian 25th October 1834, page 2 and Gloucestershire Chronicle 25th October 1834, page 2,3
  5. John Davies, Cardiff and the Marquesses of Bute, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1981, page 251
  6. Bute Park Restoration and Development Plan March 2005, pages 89 and 236
  7. The Shipping and Mercantile Gazette Saturday October 12th 1839, page 3
  8. Bristol Times October 12th 1839, page 2
  9. A canal and culvert at Cardiff. Concrete & Constructional Engineering June 1951 pages 183-6
  10. Canal hidden in the flow of time, South Wales Echo Friday September 19th 1986 page 6
  11. Personal Communication (DP and TD)
  12. Bute Park Management Plan 2015-19 page 105
  13. Bute Park Management Plan 2015-19 page 142