Spotlight on Cardigan

Spotlight on Cardigan

Cardigan Branch Monthly meeting 8th April 2024



                Harbours, Railways and Airports in Pembrokeshire

Our talk this evening on April 8th was by Edward Perkins, a very interesting speaker with a wealth of local knowledge.

If you pick up a tourist leaflet it will tell you that Pembrokeshire is famed for its rich farmland, stunning landscapes and unspoilt beaches whose beauty rivals anywhere in the world.  Yet a hundred years ago Pembrokeshire was quite a different place, famed instead for industrial activity.  Quarries, ship building, lime kilns, military airports and a railway to transport the goods produced have all but disappeared now though look carefully and you can still see signs of them on the landscape.


Harbours in Pembrokeshire were busy, thriving, industrial places unlike the picturesque tourist destinations today. If we stepped back in time and walked through Newport we would see ships being built in the harbour and all the signs of a successful fishing trade which may have taken place there since Roman times.  It is difficult to imagine how pretty little Newport with its holiday cottages and cafes looked then.

Fishguard, whose name comes from the old Scandinavian word Fiskigaror, meaning to catch or keep fish, is now just a very small town with a pretty harbour but once relied on a thriving fishing industry, as the name implies.  Fish were exported as far away as the Mediteranean and ship building also took place there although the last ship to be built in Fishguard was in 1845.  Fishguard had a natural harbour but this was improved between 1894 and 1906 for the Irish ferry trade. It was also a starting point for ships to sail to America.  The luxury liner the RMS Mauretania sailed from Fishguard harbour to New York in 1907.  On the return journey the ship brought mail from America which was then transferred to land by a Lighter.

Solva was a very important harbour where lime came in.  The lime had to be transported from the ships up the beach to the kilns where it was burnt, raked out and loaded onto carts for use on farm land.  It was very hard and dangerous work as lime will burn skin so the men would cover their arms and faces with rancid butter to give them some protection.

Porthgain was a small industrial harbour used for transporting stone from two big quarries.  From around 1850 slate, brick and then granite were shipped from the harbour.  You can still see the lime kiln, harbour and pilot’s house.




The coming of the railway transformed Pembrokeshire.  Brunel had intended that the Great Western Railway would connect London and Bristol with Wales where it would provide a link with Ireland and New York.  Brunel wanted to transform Fishguard into an international port but instead the terminus was built at Neyland on the Milford Haven waterway.  When the railway came to Fishguard the population increased and more houses were needed so Harbour Village were built to house the labourers.  So many people were employed in Fishguard at that time that when the school opened in 1913 300 children came.   Cattle were exported from Ireland to Fishguard and transported by railway trucks and sent all over the country.  

Airports in Pembrokeshire (sorry no holiday flights!)

During the First World War Fishguard harbour became a Seaplane base with six planes.  The site covered three acres but accommodation was in tents with the Officers mess in the Fishguard Bay Hotel.  A map of Milford Haven harbour made in 1724 may have been carried on board a French warship during the French Invasion. In 1941 during the Second world war the Luftwaffe  took photographs of Fishguard Harbour, perhaps planning the second invasion of Fishguard!

RAF Brawdy started as an RAF base with planes flying out over the Atantic Ocean collecting weather information.  They also took part in air sea rescues.   It was operational between 1944 and 1992 with the RAF and the Royal Navy using it before the site was turned over to the British Army. 

During the Second World War the airport at St Davids supported  Halifax bombers and their crew.  They  were spending ten to twelve hours in the air looking for German submarines off the coast .  In February 1944 plans were drawn to build an Oceanic air base at St David’s stretching over three miles with three runways.  It would have meant the destruction of over fifty farms, buildings and houses to make way for it.

 Fortunately the plans for an airport were scrapped and St David’s remains an unspoilt and peaceful town in the beautiful and tranquil Pembrokeshire countryside of today.


Fiona Thomas

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