Industrial history - Pembroke Dock

Pembroke Dock naval yards

The Pembrokeshire stretch of the Wales Coast Path is famous for its tranquillity and stunning natural beauty, but things were not always so peaceful.

The Milford Haven waterway has long been recognised as a fine and easily defensible natural harbour and it is not surprising that the Admiralty decided to locate a naval shipyard on the haven in 1802.

Initially located near Milford Haven itself, it was moved across the haven in 1814 to what was then an agricultural community called Paterchurch, but which would later become Pembroke Dock.

The first ships to be built there were launched in 1816, heralding an era of shipbuilding which would last for a little over a century. Amongst the more important ships to be built there were HMS Tartarus, the first steam ship in 1834 and HMS Lion of 1847, the largest vessel in the Navy at the time.

In the 1860s, however, the Royal Navy began to develop iron-clad warships, and this placed Pembroke Dock at a severe disadvantage, as it was so far from the UK’s industrial centres, especially the shipbuilding areas. Composite vessels (wooden hulls on iron frames) were built for some years, but by the early twentieth century the yard was hopelessly out-dated and unable to build the great steel ‘Dreadnought’ battleships of the day.

Pembroke Dock present dayClosure eventually came in 1926, plunging the community into hardship, but in 1930 the RAF established a flying-boat base in the town which undertook important convoy protection operations during the Second World War, using Sunderland flying boats. This facility closed in 1957 and the yard has since seen a number of uses, including merchant shipbuilding and, in 1979, an Irish ferry terminal, still operated today by Irish Ferries. But the days when Pembroke Dock was one of the foremost shipyards of the Royal Navy are long gone.

Visitors to the area today can follow the Coast Path through the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and pass through some of Britain’s most spectacular and breathtaking scenery, including 58 beaches, 14 harbours and the UK’s smallest city - St Davids.

To plan a trip and enjoy a walk on the Wales Coast Path in this area visit our Pembrokeshire page.