Industry and isolation on the deep estuary of Milford Haven
Milford Haven’s spectacular harbour, with more than 70 miles of sheltered coastline fanning out from an entrance to the open sea only 1 1/2 miles across, has seen almost every kind of vessel down the centuries. Coastal colliers and fishing trawlers, sailing warships and supertankers have found berths on its waters, and even the ranks of refineries which today line stretches of the shore fail to mar its unchanging beauty.
The neat gridiron of streets at the heart of Mifford Haven shows that the town was deliberately planned. The land on which it stands was owned by Sir William Hamilton, husband of the Emma who became Nelson’s mistress; Hamilton’s nephew, Charles Gre-ville, was the driving force behind the planning ol the town.
The town’s original trade was founded on whaling. A colony of Quakers from Nantucket in the USA had fled to Newfoundland to avoid the fighting of the War of’ Independence. There, however, they found themselves too isolated from the main market for their produce – sperm oil to light the streets of London – and they moved to Greville’s new harbour at the beginning of the 19th century. Another boost for the new town was a contract to build ships for the Admiralty, then heavily involved in the war against the French.
Two blows then struck at Milford Haven’s new-found prosperity. First, as a result of Greville increasing his prices, the Admiralty transferred its shipbuilding to a new site at Pembroke Dock in 1814. Later, the whale-oil market collapsed with the introduction of gas-lighting in the London streets. To save the situation, new docks were then built to form the basis of a fishing industry.
In recent years fishing, too, has declined, but Milford has now found a new lease of life as a base for one of the largest oil ports in the whole of Europe. It seems as if the fortunes of this little town, which as well as its harbour facilities has a wide range of seaside attractions for holidaymakers, are assured at last.
This little town has been blessed with three names in 200 years. Until 1859 it was known as Milford Haven, and when Milford itself adopted this name, it became known as New Milford. The present name dates from the beginning of this century. In Victorian times, its importance rivalled that of Milford itself, and with the coming of the railway in the 1860s it became the terminal for the packet service to Ireland.
Isambard Kingdom Brunei, who built the railway, knew what a good anchorage Neyland offered for ocean-going ships, and he established a special mooring there for the largest of his three steamships, the Great Eastern, a decision commemorated by the name of Great Eastern Terrace in the town.
To the eastern side of Llanstadwell Church, there is a shingle bank which provides shelter for small boats and a stretch of water with safe swimming.
A line of sheltered rock and shingle coves, edged with grass, starts from the western end of Llanstadwell, itself a long and straggling village spread out along the foreshore and separated from Milford Haven by the Gulf Oil refinery.
AN ARTIST IN WALES
The artist Graham Sutherland (1903-80) is perhaps best known for his tapestry Christ in Glory in Coventry Cathedral and for his controversial portrait of Winston Churchill. However, the Pembrokeshire coastline was a constant source of inspiration to Sutherland, and many scenes he painted there are displayed in the Graham Sutherland Gallery at Picton Castle.
There is an inn almost on the beach, and bathing is safe except a round the point to the west of the inn, when the tide is falling.
The name of this riverside village may be a corruption of the Flemish Lang lieim, ‘a long way from home’, for it was founded by Flemish refugees fleeing from religious persecution in Europe in the 16th century.
Tucked away at the head of a muddy creek, the villagers kept intruders away by stoning them. They earned their living by mining and by fishing for herrings and oysters, and their tough womenfolk walked 12 miles to markets at Tenby carrying baskets of fish on their heads.
Hidden on the edge of a quiet reach of the Western Cleddau 4 miles below Haverfordwest, Hook still bears some marks of its industrial past. Visitors can see the old quay where coasters tied up to be loaded with coal from local pits. Some of these are bell-pits -little more than huge holes in the ground where, in the 17th and early 18th centuries, miners using picks and shovels hacked away at the seams just under the surface, working outwards from a central shaft. Hook Pit closed as late as 1949, and the remains of rail and tramway links which served the old industries can still be seen.
Walking the steep streets of Haverfordwest today, beneath the bulk of its 12th-century castle, it is difficult to imagine that the town was a busy port for more than 200 years. This was the tidal limit of the Western Cleddau, and ships could just reach the quays below the New Bridge at high water. Now the river offers pleasant walks.
There are still links with the past. One of the town’s pubs is called the Bristol Trader, and the town’s mayor is still entitled to call himself Admiral of the Port of Haverfordwest. John Nash, the architect responsible for the Regent’s Park terraces in London, also practised in his home county of Pembrokeshire; Foley House, in Goat Street, is a good example of his work, and there are other fine Georgian houses in the narrow streets and alleyways of the town. The castle now houses a museum.
The castle was built in the 12th century, and was taken and sacked by Owain Glyndwr in his rebellion of 1405. It is the home of the Philipps family, and its gardens are open to the public most days in summer.
Near by, the road drops down to the bank of the Eastern Cleddau, whose banks are lined with the twisted trees which appear in many paintings by Graham Sutherland, who was a frequent visitor to this part of the Pembrokeshire coast. The Graham Sutherland Gallery, opened in 1976 at the rear of Picton Castle, is open most days in summer.
At Picton Ferry, trams of coal from the local pits were carried by boat across to the opposite bank, to be dragged to Landship-ping for loading on to coasters.
Another forgotten industrial centre, Land-shipping Quay was once a busy little port where coastal colliers tied up to fill their holds with coal from local mines. It was a prosperous, but always dangerous, trade; at nearby Garden Pit, 45 men and boys died in an accident in 1845. Now the quays are derelict, almost hidden by the lovely riverside scenery.
Because of Milford Haven’s fiord-like contours, a picturesque little hamlet like Law-renny, though more than 12 miles from the sea, can still offer deep enough water close inshore to provide superb moorings for large, deep-draught yachts. A picnic site on the hillside above the church offers lovely views of the Carew and Cresswell rivers, tributaries of the Daugleddau.
The name of Carew may be an adaptation of the Welsh word caerau, meaning ‘fortresses’, and if so it is appropriate enough, since Carew is best known for its Norman castle. It is a massive rectangular fortress with a tower at each corner, and was built by Sir Nicholas de Carew in the late 13th century. It later belonged to Sir Rhys ap Thomas, one of the followers of Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII after his victory at the Battle of Bosworth. A later owner, Sir John Perrot, Lord Deputy of Ireland under Elizabeth I, built the North Gallery, but before his work at the castle was finished he had fallen out of royal favour and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The castle was besieged during the Civil War and left in ruins afterwards. The ruins are open to the public on most days in summer.
Near by is Carew mill, which relied on the rise and fall of the tides to work the machinery for grinding corn. The mill’s existence was first recorded in 1541, but the present building dates from the early 19th century and remained in operation for about 100 years. It has been restored and is open to visitors daily in summer.
When Charles Greville put up his shipbuilding prices at Milford Haven, during the most critical phase of the Napoleonic Wars, the Admiralty called his commercial bluff by moving its operations to the little hamlet of Pater Church in 1814. There they built a new dockyard, and above it grew up the town of Pembroke Dock.
The wide, straight streets of Georgian houses are set out in a gridiron pattern, sloping down the hill towards the old dockvard where, over more than a century, more than 200 ships were built; they included all the Royal yachts except the earliest (Charles II’s Mary) and the latest (today’s Britannia). The biggest three-decker man-of-war ever built, the Duke of Wellington, left Pembroke Dock in 1852 to become the flagship of Admiral Napier in the Crimean War.
The dockyard closed in 1926, but during the Second World War it was a base for Sunderland flying boats protecting the Atlantic convoys, and as a result the little town came under heavy German bombing attack.
Pembroke’s main street is a delightful jumble of styles and periods of building, dominated at the upper end by the castle, a massive fortress centred on its great circular keep, almost 80 ft high with walls 20 ft thick. This was the birthplace in 1457 of Henry Tudor, later Henry VII, but Pembroke itself dates back to a charter of 1090. It was defended by its own walls, some stretches of which still survive, and by the waters of two small rivers which provided it with natural moats on three sides.
A Museum of Gypsy Caravans, Romany Crafts and Lore is open daily in summer. A big fair is held in October.