Greenfield Dock - Flintshire - North Wales
Greenfield Dock 2010 (photograph JD Jones)
On the left side of the photograph is the car park and ramp used by local fishermen and the RNLI.
On the right side can be seen the newly appointed car-par and viewing point.
In the center is the bridge, immediately behind this is the old sluice gate and the flushing pools.
In the distance behind the bridge can be seen the village of Greenfield and the town of Holywell.
There has been maritime activity at Greenfield since (and most probably from before) the Roman occupation of Britain (remains of a Roman hypocaust had been discovered whilst digging the foundations for a brass rolling mill, proof of a Roman settlement in the area).
The entire area was thickly wooded and before the time of St. Winifred, what we know today as the Greenfield Valley was then known as Sychnant (dry valley). Does this mean that in those times, the Holywell Stream did not exist?
Until St. Winifred’s Chapel, Basinwerk Abbey and Basinwerk Castle had been established it is more than likely that only local fishermen used the area, but when the legend of St. Winifred had spread and the chapel and Basinwerk Abbey had been built, many pilgrims began to visit the Holy Well, many of them coming by sea, at one point a ferry service brought pilgrims to Greenfield Dock from Lancashire.
A couple of water driven mills were built on the banks of the stream to provide for the monks, one, a corn mill was converted later to a pin manufactory and later still, the first paper mill was established there. Eventually, when the potential power afforded by the stream had been realised, other mills and factories were built on the banks of the stream. lead, copper, brass, snuff and cotton were some of the goods produced or processed along the valley. the majority were exportedthrough the then developing Greenfield Dock
As manufacturing increased so did the passage of goods through the dock, Thomas Pennant stated that up to 40 vessels were employed with burdens of between 30 and 50 tons.
The gradient of the stream running through the valley was quite high, but on reaching the area near the dock the current was not sufficient to cope with high tides. Silting of the estuary caused problems at the dock, a breakwater had been erected to the north west of the quay which had cranes and moorings, a flushing pool along with sluice gates was provided so as to scour silt out of the harbour. A proposal to construct a canal between Greenfield and Flint was put forward but never realised. a tramway carrying limestone was built and eventually, a railway with branches to either side of the wharf was installed
All ports along the Dee estuary suffered due to silting, the worst affected being at Greenfield. many attempts were undertaken including the construction of a canal organized by Samuel Boydell. This proved to be an outstanding feat of engineering and organization. between tides (3½ hours) 1250 men aided by a great many horses dug a 15ft. wide by 7ft. deep channel a mile out into the estuary; they also dug out the flushing pools and installed sluice gates.
In his book “A Topographical Dictionary of the Dominion of Wales 1811” Thomas Carlisle makes the following observation;
"The mark, or place where the vessels lie to receive or discharge their loading, is about two miles from the turnpike gate. the channel of the Holywell river is seen to be meanderinto it, and might prove an useful means of improving the commerce of the county. At present, the vessels must, on the recess of the tide, lie dry, and in hard gales, before they get afloat, are subject to much danger. the sands also shift, and make the mark or anchoring ground often precarious. Several manufactories upon a very extensive scale are carried on here: and in digging the foundations for the brass melting-houses, an ancient Roman hypocast was discovered, which proves that they had a stationary settlement in this place."
During the eighteenth century the slave trade played an important part in Greenfield’s industrial development. Liverpool was the main slaving port of Britain. Vast amounts of goods were shipped into and out of Greenfield Dock, black manillas (made of drawn copper then coated in lead) were made and shipped out in huge quantities to africa, these became currency and were used as such until recent times, as were bright manillas (plain copper) which were worn as armbands. Large copper vessels known as neptune cups were also shipped out in vast quantities. These were used to extract valuable salt from seawater by an evaporation process. Goods such as these were shipped to Liverpool and then on to Africa where they were exchanged for slaves, the slaves ended up in America where they were exchanged for raw cotton, some of this, on reaching Liverpool was sent through Greenfield Dock to cotton mills including those in the Greenfield valley.
In the early 1800’s, a ferry service using a sailing ship was introduced and for a short while it ran between Greenfield, Parkgate and Liverpool eventually losing out to Bagillt. In 1857 a new service running between Greenfield and Liverpool was running using the steamer Fanny, the return fare being 3 shillings (4 shillings for cabin passengers) (15p. & 20p.). this service lasted for about ten years.
The improved roads, the coming of the railway along the North Wales coast, together with the continuing battle with the silting of the dock began to take its toll. Attempts to run ferry services in the 1870s, using ships such as the St. Winifred and the Shamrock came to a dismal end.
The largest company In Greenfield at that time, Newton Keates,closed down, other, smaller concerns could not afford the cost of maintenance, the dock fell into disuse and in september, 1901 the dock was put up for sale.
A very ironic quotation from the book "Tidal Lands" by Cary & Oliver:-
"Experts state that:- the engineering blunders perpetrated have had a disastrous effect on what should have been a great artery of commerce.
There is no physical reason or geographical reason why the dee should not carry as large a volume of trade as the Mersey”