Swansea Canal

Swansea Canal

The Swansea Canal was a canal constructed by the Swansea Canal Navigation Company between 1794 and 1798, measuring some 16 miles long and running from Swansea to Hen Neuadd, Abercraf in South Wales.


The canal was constructed to transport coal from the upper Swansea Valley to Swansea docks for export, or for use in the early metallurgical industries in the lower Swansea Valley. The period 1830-1840 saw the development of towns around the canal: Abercraf, Clydach, Penwyllt, Pontardawe, Ynysmeudwy, Ystalyfera and Ystradgynlais came into being as early industries developed at those locations.

In 1817, Fforest Fawr (English - Great Forest of Brecon) was enclosed or divided up into fields, and large parts of it became the property of John Christie, a London businessman. Christie had already developed a limestone quarry at Penwyllt, and decided to develop lime kilns there as well. In 1820 he moved to Brecon, and developed the Brecon Forest Tramroad. This network consisted eventually of over 100 miles of tracks connecting the farms of Sennybridge and the Fforest Fawr (where Christie wanted to improve the land through application of lime), with the charcoal burning centres and coal extraction below Fforest Fawr, with the lime kilns at Penwyllt and ironworks at Ystradgynlais, and the Swansea Canal dock for other industries down stream. Unfortunately, before he could complete the system, he went bankrupt [ [http://history.powys.org.uk/school1/ystradgynlais/gtforest.shtml Victorian Ystradgynlais - The Brecon Forest Tramroad ] ] .


There were originally 36 locks on the canal to raise it from sea level at Swansea to 375 feet at Abercraf, and aqueducts at Clydach, Pontardawe, Ynysmeudwy, Ystalyfera, and Cwmgiedd to carry the canal across major rivers.

The boats were 65 feet long, 7 feet 6 inches wide and carried 22 tons of cargo when fully laden. The last narrowboat built on this canal was 'Grace Darling' in 1918 at the Godre'r Graig boat yard.


The canal company sold the canal to the Great Western Railway Company in 1872. The tonnage of coal carried on the canal was very high, with 400,000 tons transported down the canal to Swansea in 1888 alone. The canal remained profitable until 1902, when losses were first reported. This decline in revenue and profits was largely due to the competition from its railway rival - the Neath and Brecon Railway. The last commercial cargo carried on the Swansea Canal was in 1931, when coal was conveyed from Clydach to Swansea. Boats continued to operate on the canal after that date but only for maintenance work, with horse-drawn boats last recorded at Clydach in 1958.

The Swansea Canal was nationalised in 1947 and became part of the British Transport Commission. 1962 saw control of the canal passed to British Waterways, who remain responsible for the maintenance of the waterway and its structures to this day.


In-filling of much of the canal has taken place in the past 50 years, particularly the northern section to create a new road around Ystradgynlais. Just five miles of the canal remains in water, from Clydach to Pontardawe where it is now a popular trail and is part of the route 43 of the National Cycle Network.

The canal empties from a viaduct into the River Clydach at the point where it joins the River Tawe. A project is underway to dredge the canal and to remove the Japanese knotweed that grows extensively around the Swansea Valley. The canal is an important habitat for water birds who mainly feed on the eels that live there. Local youngsters from Clydach often set up fishing off the banks of the canal to catch the eels.


External links

* [http://www.britishwaterways.co.uk British Waterways]
* [http://www.SwanseaCanalSociety.com Swansea Canal Society registered charity]
* [http://www.waterscape.com Waterscape.com]
* [http://swansea-waterlinks.com/ Swansea Community Boat]
* [http://www.geograph.org.uk/search.php?i=2832332 www.geograph.co.uk : photos of the Swansea Canal]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/southwest/sites/local_history/pages/swansea_canal.shtml BBC Wales feature on the canal]

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