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The Life and Work of James Abernethy, C.E., F.R.S.E
Cardiff (Mon.)

THE commercial history of Cardiff begins with the present century, and its development is strictly contemporaneous with that of the mineral wealth of the county; archaeologically it dates back to the first century, when Aulus Didias founded a Roman station at the mouth of the River Taff.

Situated at the end of the Taff valley, the town furnished the most accessible outlet for the products of the minerals in the hill districts to the northward, and it was further endowed with the great natural advantages of a roadstead, a harbour, and a river whence the minerals could be shipped. These given advantages, as well as the knowledge of the wealth lying hidden close at hand, became fully realized towards the close of the eighteenth century, and next year, 1898, will mark the centenary of the first serious attempt to open up the produce of the surrounding country, for it was ’in 1798 that the Glamorganshire Canal from Merthyr Tydvil to Cardiff, 25 miles distant, at which point it was connected with the Bristol Channel by a sea-lock, was completed and opened.

So great was the increase of traffic following the opening of the canal that thirty-three years later it was found necessary to make the first of the Bute Docks, and the Marquis of Bute applied for advice to some of the leading engineers and nautical experts of that day, Mr. Telford, Mr. Green, and Sir William Cubitt, Captains Beaufort and W. H. Smyth, R.N., the latter being subsequently entrusted with the chief direction of the work, and upon its completion obtaining the post of Dockmaster at the Bute West Dock. Twelve years later a second dock was found necessary to accommodate the traffic, and on this occasion, Sir John Rennie was engaged in conjunction with Mr. W. S. Clarke, who designed the Bute East Dock, the contractors for carrying out the work being Messrs. Hemmingway and Pearson.

In 1866, when the present marquis had succeeded to the title, the trustees who then acted for his lordship under the late marquis’s will, applied for an Act to construct the Roath Basin, and on this occasion they first sought and enlisted Mr. Abernethy’s services as consulting engineer to prepare the parliamentary plans. This Roath Basin of 12 acres became in its turn insufficient for the requirements of the port, and in 1882, together with the late Mr. McConnochie, C.E., he prepared new designs for the Roath Dock, which was opened on August 24th, 1887, by the Marquis of Bute. This fine dock has an area of 33 acres, and is upwards of 2,400 feet long and 600 feet wide, and the depth of water varies from 36 feet to 25 feet, according to the tide. It is entirely enclosed with walls of masonry, thus affording the largest practicable extent of quayage, as well as the greatest facilities for loading and discharging vessels. The length of quay space, including the jetty, is 7520 lineal feet, or nearly 1 mile, while the area for the storage of cargoes and the general carrying on of the trade of the dock is over 60 acres, and its capacity as a dock is equal to 5,000,000 tons per annum. It is approached through the Roath Basin by a magnificent lock—the largest in the world —600 feet by 80 feet, with a depth over the sills of 36 feet at ordinary spring tides and 26 feet at neaps. The moveable hydraulic cranes by which the coal is shipped with the least possible breakage, and which by being moveable on rails obviates the necessity of shifting the vessel from its berth, or from hatchway to hatchway, while loading, are the invention of Sir W. T. Lewis, Bart., general manager of the Bute estates, and are most efficient both in the saving of time and in the lessened labour of trimming the coal when shot into the vessel.

The increase in tonnage and carrying capacity of steamers plying to Cardiff for coal a few years later, called for additional, and even better, accommodation than that already found there, and in 1894 the Bute Dock Company, who had, by an Act obtained in 1888, secured sufficient additional foreshore to construct a new dock within the limits authorized, again successfully applied to Parliament for power to effect the work. Mr. Abernethy, in conjunction with Mr. Hunter, the Engineer to the Bute Docks Company, designed and submitted the scheme. The requisite area has been reclaimed by an embankment since obtaining the Act in 1894, and the actual work is now on the point of being begun in earnest, and is upon a scale which should meet the requirements of the port for many years to come.

The entrance lock will be 750 feet by go feet, and will be approached by an Outer Tidal Basin, recessed clear of the navigable channel leading to the existing dock entrances so as not to interfere with the shipping passing to and fro, and there will be a depth of 41 feet 6 inches over the sill at high water ordinary spring tides, and 31 feet 6 inches at high water ordinary neap tides.

The dock itself will have an area of 42 acres, 2570 feet in length and 650 feet in width, the depth being 46 feet 8 inches below the coping, and with a varying water depth of 37 feet to 32 feet. Between this new dock and the Roath Dock there will be a communication passage 300 feet wide for the first 700 feet of its length, and 80 feet wide for the remainder of its junction with the Roath Dock. By means of this passage large steamers will be able to pass to the new deep entrance lock and thence seaward. At present, owing to the defective size of the Roath Basin Lock, passing the larger steamers ;n and out involves levelling down the water in the Roath Basin itself, and consequently a serious waste of water, as well as loss of time. The Parliamentary estimate for this new dock accommodation was 585,717 for the embankment, 42,935, and for the railways and sidings, 8291, making a total of 636,944.



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