A block of Crown Patent Fuel.

A block of Crown Patent Fuel.

The Terra Nova taking on Crown Patent Fuel in Cardiff, 1910.
The Terra Nova taking on Crown Patent Fuel in Cardiff, 1910.
The Discovery taking on patent fuel in Cardiff, 1901.
The Discovery taking on patent fuel in Cardiff, 1901.
Facsimile letter sent by Scott from winter quarters at Cape Evans

Facsimile letter sent by Scott from winter quarters at Cape Evans 23 January 1911 to the Crown Patent Fuel Company commending the success of the patent fuel supplied by the company to the Terra Nova at Cardiff.

Age of Polar Expeditions

The early 20th century was a time of great heroic explorations to the Antarctic continent. Crown Patent Fuel from south Wales was the fuel of choice for these Antarctic expeditions.

Crown Patent Fuel

In addition to 100 tons of steam coal from south Wales coal companies, Captain Scott's 1910 British Antarctic Expedition was also given 300 tons of fuel blocks by Cardiff's Crown Patent Fuel Company. This, along with other sponsorship from Cardiff and south Wales, persuaded Scott to designate Cardiff the home port of his ship, the Terra Nova. He sent the Terra Nova to load fuel in Cardiff rather than have it sent by rail to London.

The Crown Patent Fuel works were situated alongside the Glamorganshire Canal at Maendy. The works was one of a number along the canal and, together with a number of works at other south Wales ports, made the region the largest producer of patent fuel in the world. Most of the patent fuel was exported, with France being a major customer.

Scott commends Welsh coal

The fuel was made by mixing and heating waste small coal with pitch, the residue from distilled coal tar, and ramming the mixture into moulds. Various size blocks were produced, ranging from 7lbs to 56 lbs, with 28lbs being the most common — and the size taken on Scott's expedition. The blocks stacked well and took up less space than coal.

When the expedition reached their base at Cape Evans on Ross Island in Antarctica, the fuel blocks were used to build a back wall to the stables for the expedition ponies.

Earlier expeditions

In 1901 the Discovery, Captain Scott's first Antarctic expedition ship, took on 200 tons of Patent Fuel in Cardiff. The Aurora, the ship of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-14), was also in Cardiff taking on Crown Patent Fuel on 4 August 1911 before sailing for Australia and Antarctica.


Marc Haynes Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
3 July 2019, 12:15

Hi Stacey,

Thank you very much for your message. One of our curators will contact you about your interesting find.

Best wishes,

Digital Team

2 July 2019, 21:52
Hi guys, I’m currently working on Cardiff Docks on the site where they are building the new training centre for the Royal Naval Reserves.
Looking at the photos of The Terra Nova and The Discovery being loaded, I believe the site I am on is the same dockside that the crane loading the ships was.
Today 2/7/19 I unearthed around 30/40 (so far) of these Crown Patent fuel blocks all of which seem to be stacked on top of each other around 1.5 meters under the current floor level. I’ve started to put them to one side and if anyone was interested in having a few then just let me know.
Jennifer Protheroe-Jones, Principal Curator – Industry Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
1 June 2018, 09:41

Thank you, Caroline, for news of a maritime find of Crown Patent Fuel in Ghana. It is always interesting to learn of new finds that extend knowledge of the geographic range of the Welsh patent fuel trade.

The measurements that you provided for the blocks indicate that they are standard blocks of around 28 pounds weight. This size of block appears to have been standard from the late nineteenth century until production ceased in the 1960s, so I am afraid that it does not seem possible to date them more closely than this near-100 year span.

West Africa in general grew to be a modestly important destination for Welsh patent fuel in the first decade of the twentieth century. In 1900, 6,000 tons of patent fuel was exported from the UK to the region. By 1910 this had grown to 60,000 tons. I do not have post-First World War figures but believe them to probably be slightly lower.

Thank you for your interest in the Museum and in its collections.


Caroline Gruter
29 May 2018, 21:40
I am writing to add to your log of Patent Cardiff Coal findings. Here we have 2 more, we found found them (not together) washed up on a delta estuary island beach on the Volta River, Ghana, West Africa, where it meets the Atlantic. They are 8" x 10" x 6"if that can help date them. It's been a fascinating historical find , and we are grateful for the things we find out on Google and your publication!.
Jennifer Protheroe-Jones, Principal Curator – Industry Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
22 May 2018, 13:35

Thank you, Dominic, for your message.

The Museum has previously been contacted by divers and by the Receiver of Wreck concerning the cargo of the SS Skaala and is not at this point seeking further photos of finds from the wreck. Patent fuel blocks appear to survive quite well on wreck sites. I have recently also been contacted about wrecks off Chile and another off Florida that also contained well-reserved examples of Welsh-made patent fuel blocks.

Thank you for your interest in the Museum.

Jennifer Protheroe-Jones
Principal Curator - Industry

Dominic Robinson
17 May 2018, 20:41
I thought you'd like to know that there is a wreck called the Skaala lying in 48m of water off Bolt Head, Devon that is full of these blocks. Many divers, including myself, have one as a souvenir. If you'd like then I can send you some photos of the blocks in the wreck?
Jennifer Protheroe-Jones, Principal Curator – Industry Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
21 October 2016, 10:45

Thank you Andrew for a report of this find – it’s the second time I’ve heard of Welsh-made patent fuel blocks being trawled up.

The previous find was of ‘Phoenix’ patent fuel blocks (made in Port Talbot and Swansea) which were trawled up in the south western approaches.

As you’ll appreciate, because you’ll have trawled over a considerable distance, it is not possible to pin point which wreck the blocks may have come from. ‘Crown’ patent fuel blocks were manufactured in Cardiff from the mid nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century. Like other patent fuel blocks, they are made of crushed coal moulded together with hot pitch.

South Wales was the world’s largest exporter of patent fuel, with around 1.5 million tons a year exported in the early twentieth century, especially to France, Spain, Italy and South America where they were mainly used by steam railway locomotives. Large numbers of ships carried cargoes and part-cargoes of patent fuel which was a frequent and commonplace export from the south Wales ports.

This makes chance finds such as yours almost impossible to date or to link to a specific ship. However the sizes of blocks did change over time, so if you can get in touch via email to exchange a photo and measurements, it might be possible to provide a somewhat tighter date for your find.

Thanks for contacting the Museum – it is always interesting to hear of new finds of Welsh-made industrial products.

Jennifer Protheroe-Jones, Principal Curator – Industry

Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
13 October 2016, 15:51

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for getting in touch about your discovery! I'm going to pass your question on to the curator and they'll reply here for you.


Digital Team

Andrew markey
13 October 2016, 14:22
Hi my name is Andrew and I own a fishing trawler .while we were fishing approximately 70 miles south southwest of cork we pulled up in our net's a block of coal with the patent Cardiff stamp on it .was this coal given to a particular ship ? Or to many ships at that time .
Sara Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
28 September 2016, 10:20

Hi Ryan

Thanks for your comment. I've passed it on to the curator, who will get in touch with you.

Best wishes

Digital Team

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