Maritime History of The United Kingdom - Ports and Harbours

Ports and Harbours

Around the coast of Britain there are hundreds of ports and harbours, varying from the tiny (such as Porlock Weir) to the large (such as the Port of Felixstowe). Ships were also simply drawn up on beaches. Over the centuries the relative importance of each port and harbour has changed due to such factors as silting and trade alterations. In later periods deep water access has been a major factor in determining a port's success.

In the 18th century there were major harbour improvements with dredging of channels and construction of piers. Wet docks were built at London, Liverpool, Hull and Bristol.

London was still the largest port in the 19th century when new docks were built. Cardiff became a major coal exporting port after a railway link was built, as did other South Wales ports. The railways were responsible for developing new ports such as Newhaven as ferry terminals and the Manchester Ship Canal enabled Manchester to become a significant port though far inland.

When oil replaced coal after the First World War, coal ports like Cardiff declined. London, Southampton, Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow increased in trade during the inter-war years, and ferry ports such as Harwich and Dover grew. Oil terminals were built from the 1920s and the larger ships required new docks at existing ports. After the Second World War new cargo handling methods were introduced, such as pallets (1950), containerisation (1960s) and roll-on/roll-off ships. Dockers at some ports resisted this change so leading to the development of new facilities at ports such as Felixstowe and Tilbury.

Older port facilities became redundant and were redeveloped, such as Canary Wharf in London. In 1977 the major ports of Britain were London, Tees and Hartlepool, Grimsby and Immingham, Forth, and Milford Haven. Many of the small ports were redeveloped as marinas, such as Watchet.

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