Nineteenth Century Pembroke

Turner engraving Pembroke Castle Wales 1826











1854 Gastineau - High Street Pembroke

In the previous century, Pembroke had already caught the attention of painters. In the 19th Century many great landscape artists were attracted to the picturesque Castle ruin - the great Turner himself came here on more than one occasion. The above engraving was published in his Picturesque Views in England and Wales

Unfortunately the town itself was largely ignored by artists at this time. This image (left) by Gastineau in 1854 is one of the few.

We are indebted to Mr St John Stimson for allowing us to copy his collection of prints, many of which are featured in the Gallery.


So how did Pembroke fare in the Nineteenth Century?

Pembroke as a port was in decline.

In the early 18th Century, Daniel Defoe had written about Pembroke that it was “the largest and …most flourishing town of all South Wales”; but the maritime trade on which it had flourished was declining, losing out to the new towns of Milford and Haverfordwest. Early in the nineteenth century also, a new town was growing up where the Royal Dockyard was founded in Pembroke Dock in 1814. Many people found employment in the new shipbuilding industry in the Dockyard and both towns (Pembroke and Pembroke Dock) were combined into one borough.


The coming of the railway

It was the railway which gave the final death-blow to Pembroke’s shipping industry. Trains provided a far easier way of transporting raw materials; although sailing ships did continue to use Pembroke Quay until the mid 20th Century.

The Tenby to Pembroke Railway

The Pembroke and Tenby Railway Act was passed on 21 July 1859, and a company was formed by local businessmen to build 11 miles of railway between Pembroke and Tenby. It was not until 1862 that David Davies of Llandinam, the first Welsh millionaire, went into partnership with Ezra Roberts to actually build the line, which was opened on 30 July 1863.

A regular service of three trains per day ran (10am, 3.15pm and 7.30pm), and a connecting coach service took passengers on to Hobbs Point to meet with the Irish packet for the ferry trip across the Cleddau to join up with Brunel’s terminus at Neyland. In 1864 the rail service was extended to Pembroke Dock.

The railway also changed the landscape of Pembroke: a huge embankment at the eastern end of the Mill pond was constructed in order to extend the railway to Pembroke Dock.


The end of North Gate and the building of the Mill

The old North Gate

Increasing traffic caused by the new horse-drawn transport, led to the demolition of the old North Gate which alone of the original three had remained following the Cromwellian demolition. The Quay area was further altered by the erection of a new five-storey Corn Mill to replace an earlier mill, various incarnations of which having stood there since the time of King John.

To view more old photographs of the Quay, click here.

South Quay with Mill South Quay and Mill from the Castle

Health and Welfare

The Victorian Poor Law and the Workhouse

Since the reign of Elizabeth I, and also the Poor Law Act of 1601, a poor rate had been levied to provide money for looking after paupers. Such people were maintained at home by small grants from the parish fund; but the Victorians changed this arrangement. In 1834 a new Poor Law Act was passed putting a halt to this practice and instead sending any impoverished people to a workhouse to labour.


These workhouses, immortalised by Charles Dickens in his story Oliver Twist, were never popular: the grim buildings with their harsh regimes were much more like prisons than the caring institutions which had been intended. Poverty-stricken families were split up and anyone who was perceived to be able-bodied was expected to toil at hard and repetitive tasks in return for a very basic diet and a roof over their heads.

Riverside, on the site of the former Pembroke Union Workhouse


The Pembroke Union Workhouse

The parishes constituting the Pembroke Union extended from Angle in the west as far as Tenby Out Liberty, Caldey Island , Redberth, Gumfreston, Carew, and Lawrenny in the East and also took in Rosemarket, Burton, and Llanstadwell across the Cleddau. Pembroke, Pembroke Dock and Tenby were also included. The Union was run by local gentry and prosperous farmers, traders and magistrates.

In 1837, these 'Guardians of the Poor' first met and elected Earl Cawdor as Chairman. They bought three acres of Green Hay Field, on the north bank of Pembroke Millpond (where the Riverside housing estate now stands) for £450, and the building was completed in 1839 at a cost of £4898, 13s 4½ d.

Pictured above, the workhouse building was later to serve as a hospital and, after extensive rebuilding, was converted into a residential home for older people and renamed Riverside. It is now a hostel for homeless people.

The old hospital

Health Care and the building of a hospital

The Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Infirmary and Dispensary was established in 1862. In 1897 it moved to a purpose-built premises on the East Back. Built as a Diamond Jubilee Memorial for Queen Victoria, by 1906 it had seven beds. This was considerably more than nearby Pembroke Dock which, until 1902 had to make do with a warship - the HMS Nankin- as its town hospital.

Growth of the Town

From 1870 onwards several new satellite complexes were built around the town. Orange Gardens (originally known as Orange Town) was the first, situated to the south of the town on land owned by the Orielton Estate. It was a grid iron development built between 1870 and 1900 and was probably created for two reasons – initially as housing for dockyard workers in nearby Pembroke Dock; and secondly as accommodation for workmen in the small trading estate which sprang up along the Commons in these years. Here there was a gasworks, a slaughterhouse, a tanyard, a smithy and an iron foundry.


Improvements to Infrastructure

In 1828 a new water supply was procured for Pembroke. Large reservoirs were built, being supplied or fed by springs at South Down. A gas works was built by the Pembroke Dock and Town Gas Company in King William Street in Pembroke Dock, and this provided lighting for both communities. Pembroke had its own gas works on the Commons.


Family Businesses

Researching into our more recent times forms an important part of our project. By interviewing our senior citizens, it is not too late to piece together a picture of life in Pembroke even as far back as Victorian times.


The Stephens Family

Thanks to Peter and Felicity Hurlow-Jones we have much material on Peter’s family – the Stephens’ and Hurlow Jones’ – which both played an important part in Pembroke’s story at this time. In researching their family history Peter and Felicity have uncovered a remarkable number of photographs and documents relating not only to Victorian family life but also to industrial acitivity and life in Pembroke in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Stephens Engineering Works, East Back Pembroke

Brothers Archibald and John Stephens started business in 1870 as engineering smiths, in a premises in East Back which was later for a long time Cartref Residential Home, and which is now being renovated by family members for alternative use. Archibald and John did much repair work for the Admiralty Dockyard at Pembroke Dock, hired out traction engines and threshing machines, had steam road rollers for hire by local councils, and for a time ran a limestone quarry by the river behind the Green in Pembroke. They introduced the so-called 'Castlemartin' bicycle to the district – buying the parts from Birmingham and assembling them at their premises in the East Back.

To find out more, click here

The Colley Family

The Colley Monumental Masons Business

Miss Joyce Colley remembers how "My grandfather was William Colley and he was a monumental mason. His father was one of three brothers who came down from Yorkshire and helped to build the Martello towers in the Dockyard. They also built the Dockyard Church." [This would have been around 1820.] "They were Master Stonemasons and I gather that they specialised in building marine buildings. They settled down here and after that my grandfather started the Monumental Masons’ business in Holyland Road."

To find out more click here