General History


The History Wheels of Time

The Pembroke Story exhibition was held during the Pembroke Festival 2009, the theme of which was The Wheels of Time. The exhibition as a whole traced the development of land transport from the invention of the wheel to present day motor vehicles.

In the Beginning ...

The first people on Earth had to walk to get around. They moved from place to place searching for food, following the same paths each year.

first sledge

3,500 BCE

Some time around this date the single most important discovery ever made occurred in Mesopotamia – the invention of the wheel.

There is no proof to show exactly when this great discovery was made – it probably developed from the roller, and at first would have been a solid wooden wheel like a bullock cart of the Far East.



2,500 – 800 BCE

At this time the sledge served well for ordinary loads, but the people of the Bronze Age sometimes needed to shift huge weights.

In order to erect massive stone monuments like Stonehenge rolleres would have been used - round logs laid under the object to be moved,



Before the Romans came here the Britons had scarcely any form of paved roads but used tracks worn down by people and cattle over the course of many centuries.

Most of these tracks were on high land and along the crests or ridges of hills, well above the forested river valleys “Ridgeways” – locally the route from Lamphey to Penally was such a track. But with land travel being difficult, boats were the main means of travel.



For many centuries following the collapse of Roman rule towards the end of the fourth century AD, travelling on land was difficult and often dangerous. War was a constant factor in the lives of the people who lived here and this period is often called The Dark Ages.

The sea remained the chief highway.


With the gradual establishment of more stable times there was no development of wheeled transport. Only the foot traveller and the horse rider could be sure of making progress. Any wheeled vehicles risked being hopelessly bogged down in the substandard roads.


MIDDLE AGES 1066 - 1485

Travel on wheels still had many drawbacks. Clumsy carts were used for farm work by the Anglo Saxons and Normans but if a journey had to be made on land the traveller would walk or ride a horse, taking his or her goods on pack-horses. These animals were harnessed with special pack-saddles to which baskets or bundles of goods could be fastened, and the horses moved in procession nose to tail.




Poor land communications meant that trade had to be carried out by ship and this benefitted Pembroke. Because of its strategic position on the tidal waters which ran up to the Mill bridge, Pembroke grew into a major port.



By the 14th Century a form of ladies' carriage was used: a heavy, springless wagon with a curved canvas hood completely covering it.

It would have been accompanied by numerous servants to help when the wheels got stuck in the mud and to guard against attack from outlaws. Men rode on horseback unless feeble (royalty excepted).


Whenever women travelled on horseback they rode astride; side saddles were unheard of in England until 1380, and were not in common use for some time after that date.


16th and 17th CENTURIES

It was not until the mid 16th century that the coach was introduced into England (used long before on the Continent). Queen Elizabeth had the first English State Coach in 1571.



Around 1640 the stage coach was a significant development. Records exist of a stage coach service between London and Chester. It was run by William Dunstan, Henry Earle and William Fowler in 1657. Cooperation between inns along the road ensured that at the end of each stage (between 10 and 20 miles) a fresh team of horses was provided; the discarded team would be fed and rested to be ready for a stage when the coach returned.

The stage coach carried 6 to 8 passengers. Outside passengers sat on the roof facing the rear; inside passengers were shut in by leather curtains, there being no glass in the windows. These early coaches travelled only in summer and never at night.




Through the 17th Century coaches improved in design and comfort. Glass windows were introduced – James, Duke of York had the first English coach fitted with windows in 1661 and called a glass coach.



Riding still remained the common mode of land transport. Long distance travellers in a hurry often made use of the system of post-horses, whereby horses could be hired for stages marked out by inns; at each inn the horse could be changed.






For centuries the constant drawback of travelling was the wretched state of the roads. An Act of Parliament in 1555 directed that each parish should maintain its own roads or be heavily fined. Every able-bodied man of the parish had to work on the roads for 4 days running each year; however this was often disregarded.

During the 18th century 2000 Road Acts were passed because the increase of wheeled traffic had broken down the road surfaces so much. The state of the roads was appalling.



A system of tollgates or turnpikes was set up to make road users pay for the roads’ upkeep. At intervals a strong gate was placed across the road, guarded by a small house in which lived the turnpike keeper. In order to pass through the strong gate, travellers had to pay a toll which was used to pay for road repairs.

We can see evidence of such a toll gate on the outskirts of Pembroke at Penny Bridge.



The improvements in road surfaces were making possible an increase in public transport services. In the 18th century there emerged three great road engineers:

JOHN METCALFE (1757-1834) who, although blind, became a great road-building engineer, making 180 miles of road in Yorkshire. His greatest feat was a roadway across the bog between Huddersfield and Manchester;

THOMAS TELFORD (1757-1834), the son of a Scottish shepherd, who trained as a mason and became an engineer skilled in the design and building of bridges, aqueducts, canals and roads; and

JOHN MACADAM (1756-1836). It is to Macadam that we owe modern road construction and it's use of “tarmac”.



Post travelling

Improved roads led to improvements in coach services. The old idea of post-riding with relays of saddle-horses was carried a step further in the middle of the 18th century when the system of post travelling in carriages was introduced into England. Chains of posting inns were established along the main routes, each holding relays of carriage-horses. A traveller arriving at a posting inn had their horses unhitched and a fresh team harnessed up while the used team was fed and rested.



Pembroke at this time was a prosperous town boasting three coaching inns of note: of these The Kings Arms and The Lion are still inns while the third, the former Green Dragon, is now the National Westminster Bank.



The Lion - in older and much smarter times

Several Acts of Parliament were passed to safeguard travellers – there was much overcrowding on coaches and frequent accidents due to careless and drunk coach drivers.



The Nineteenth Century saw a great development in transport - from horse power to the railway, and with the invention of the internal combustion engine, coach travel was becoming increasingly popular and accessible and with it came the need for change and innovation.


A casualty of increased road transport was Pembroke’s mediaeval North Gate, which was demolished in 1825 to ease traffic flow.




In 1831 the Packet Service from Milford Haven to the South of Ireland developed to such an extent that it was decided to improve the mail-coach roads throughout South Wales. Hobbs Point was selected for the construction of a pier to accommodate the packets and this would connect with the mail coach road leading from Carmarthen to Pembroke named, appropriately, London Road.

The daily arrival and departure of mail-coaches running between Hobbs Point and London was an exhilarating sight, and townspeople regularly assembled to welcome the appearance of the coaches and to see them off. Much news and gossip, accumulated en route, were obtained from the coach drivers and passengers and quickly spread around the town and district.

The coaches were drawn by four horses which had been changed at different posting houses along the way, and after a while the service operated as far as Gloucester, where it linked to a railway service to London.



Experiments with transport in the 18th Century continued - at first land vehicles were tried but these gave way to the much more efficient railways, the great symbol of Victorian engineering.



In the middle of the 1820s began the great era of road steamers, and the first successful one was built by Sir Goldsworthy Gurney. In 1827 he patented a steam coach; it weighed 2 tons, with a speed of 10 mph and carrying 18 passengers. Gurney's steam coaches were famous in south-west Engand but due to heavy tolls, and with the opposition and enmity of the railways, promoters ceased to run his vehicles in the early 1830s.




Railway development and heavy tolls served to cripple the road steamers, and the final blow came in the Locomotives on Highway Act 1861, which came into force in 1865. All mechanical road vehicles were restricted to a speed of 4 mph on country roads and 2 mph in towns; there had to be 3 people in charge of the machine and a man carrying a red flag had to walk in front of it.

This law made steam road transport hopeless, and held up the development of other road machines in Grerat Britain.


Making the county's roads. Steam rollers were made by the firm of Stephens, in the East Back Works in Pembroke.




In 1859 the Pembroke and Tenby Railway Company was formed, and an Act of Parliament on 21st July 1859 authorised the construction of the Tenby to Pembroke Dock section with powers to raise the necessary capital of £80,000 and a further £26,000. For two years the scheme was delayed until enough capital was raised, and David Davies of Llandinam and Davies' business partner Ezra Roberts were appointed as contractors agreeing to construct the Pembroke and Tenby line for the full £106,000.

In 1862 construction began on the first stage of the railway from Tenby to Pembroke, which fully opened on 30th July 1863. The stretch from Pembroke to Pembroke Dock involved much heavier construction work including a tunnel.



A Sad Tale

In Mrs Peter’s History of Pembroke Dock is an account of one of the local drivers of the mail coaches – a popular and skilled driver called Bramble. The sight of him guiding a four-horse team at full gallop was a spectacle not to be missed. In the 1860s the mail service was switched from the stage coaches to the railway and this so upset Bramble that during a bout of depression he hanged himself in a stable at Tenby.



Back on the roads another vehicle was making its mark - the bicycle.

In 1818 the first bicycle made its debut – not quite a bicycle as we know it as it was without pedals. The rider straddled across the top bar and propelled the machine by kicking it along with his legs. It was named the “hobby-horse” or “dandy horse” – dandy meaning at that time novel or strange.


Experiments followed in mechanization of the dandy horse but the big step forward took place with Michaux’s Velocipede in 1868 when pedals were fitted to the front wheel. It had a main frame of solid iron, with wooden wheels and iron tyres. It was popularly known as “the boneshaker” – the wheels were made of wood with iron tyres, giving a very bumpy ride indeed!


But a rival was to appear In 1874 when Safety Cycles were produced by H J Lawson who later became the first chairman of the Daimler Motor Company. At first his bicycles were fitted with solid rubber tyres; but it was the replacement of these with the pneumatic tyre by John Boyd Dunlop in 1888 which was to terminate the use of the Penny Farthing on British roads in the early 1890s.

So far there has been sight of only a few early pushbike pictures associated with Pembroke - however the photograph below shows a cyclist in front of the East Gate hotel (in the possession of Mr Peter Hurlow-Jones).




However soon a new invention gaver rise to motorised transport,k and which was to make the most far reaching impact on all our lives. Many early inventors worked upon the idea of an internal combustion engine: but German and French engines were surging ahead in development since the British could not compete due to our restrictive laws of the time.

In 1885 Karl Benz built his first motor car in Germany – a three-wheeled “horseless carriage” as it came to be known. It was a two-seater, with three wire wheels with solid tyres.

In 1891 the first car with a modern design was built in France by Emil Levasseur and Rene Panhard.

In 1887 in England Edward Butler produced a motor tricycle. However he was not permitted to run his machine on the roads because of the transport acts of of 1861-5 restricting the use of mechanical road vehicles to 4mph. At last in 1896 this law was eased and the speed limit was raised. A great celebration excursion was organised on November 14th 1896, when forty cars set off from London to Brighton, with thirteen of them actually finishing some eight hours later!