Milford Haven Town Council
Milford Haven Town Council

THE HISTORY OF MILFORD HAVEN

When relating the history of an area it is contended that it can begin at a point in time you wish it to begin. 

 

In the case of Milford Haven, if we go back 12 thousand years at the time of ice age the coastline was very different to what it is today, including the Milford Haven waterway.

 

That well worn phrase 'global warming' raised temperatures and the last receding ice age resulted in vast quantities of melt water being released.

 

This raised the levels of the sea by some 30 metres creating the coastline we have today and in the process forming Milford Haven waterway - one of the world's finest natural harbours.

 

Evidence to support this change can be found in many places along the west coast - in Newgale at very low spring tide evidence can be seen of an ancient forest.

 

Over all the years since, many people have visited our waterway.

 

Vikings first established contact in 845 AD.  This relationship continued for over 300 years and names of Norse origin prevail to this day in the area including Gelliswick, Hubberston and Herbrandston.

 

Departures were also made including the invasion of Ireland in 1169 by Strongbow, which was quickly followed by Henry II in 1171.

 

Later in 1399 Richard II launched his invasion of Ireland from Milford Haven.

 

Probably the most famous arrival was in 1485 when Henry Tudor was born at Pembroke Castle before being evacuated to the continent as a child.

 

Henry Tudor returned to the county when he landed with his army in Mill Bay (near Dale) to start his march to Bosworth Field, recruiting on his way.

 

There he achieved a historic victory and went on to take the title of Henry VII - establishing the tudor dynasty and putting an end to the Wars of the Roses once and for all.

 

At this time there was still no sign of the town of Milford Haven.  There were settlements and distinct buildings including North Farm, which today is on the corner of Warwick Road, and Beacon Church on the Rath known as Saint Thomas a Beckett Chapel.

 

Many settlements surrounded the area of the land which was to become the town of Milford Haven, and these included Hubberston, Hakin and Pill.

 

Now we fast forward to 9th June, 1790 to the Act of Parliament guided through legislation by William Hamilton who saw the potential of land on the northern shore of the Milford Haven waterway.

 

Hamilton was able to do this because he had married Catherine Barlow, the last member of the rich and influential family from Slebech which had secured large areas of Pembrokeshire over many years, particularly the land of which Milford Haven was soon to be built.

 

On her premature death, Hamilton inherited all his wife's fortune and land, and was faced with the difficult task of developing Milford Haven as well as meeting his ambassadorial duties in Naples.

 

To overcome this problem he appointed his nephew Charles Francis Greville as his agent and successor.

 

The deal involved a strange arrangement - Charles had groomed and educated Emma Hart and she was passed to his uncle in return for his future security.

 

Charles set about his task with gusto - whalers from Nantucket were facing a difficult time since the American war of independence and were seeking another area to ply their skills.

 

Subsequently, in 1792, 23 families led by Folgers and Starbucks arrived in Milford Haven to be followed by 1797 by Nantucket entrepreneur Benjamin Rotch.

 

The close relationship between Quaker and Milford Haven lasted some 20 years and many of these were not particularly happy for the whalers as portrayed in personal Quaker diary accounts of the time.

 

The most prominent legacy left by the Quaker community is the Friends Meeting House in Priory Road.

 

Another important immigrant arrived in 1796 in the shape of Jean-Louis Barrallier, a refugee from war-torn France.  He was charged with the task of establishing the Royal Dockyard outside that area where the Milford Docks is today.  Meanwhile, William Hamilton was not entirely pleased with the lack of progress as money was disappearing quickly.

 

Sometime previously one Horatio Nelson happened upon Naples with his fleet and very soon established a strong relationship with the young second Lady Hamilton - Emma Hart.  William Hamilton appeared to turn a blind eye to the goings on, but when the time was right he felt he could call in a few favours.

 

He prevailed upon Nelson to visit Milford Haven and they duly arrived in town.  The journey took several days and they rested at many points along the way - each stop claiming a strong and lasting connection with Nelson despite him only stopping in places for short times.

 

In Milford Haven a banquet was prepared in the New Inn and Nelson gave a speech.  Today the building carries the title of the Lord Nelson, on Hamilton Terrace.  As a result of this short visit to the town many myths have grown up around the name Nelson.

 

One myth claimed his and Emma's close attachment to Castle Hall (which was demolished in the 1930s and located at the former mine depot on the banks of the Pill), but this never existed.  Another story said that Nelson fleeted in and out of the Haven at frequent intervals, but this bares no resemblance to the truth.

 

In fact Nelson visited the area not by boat but by coach.  In 1803 Hamilton died and the Grevilles came into their own.  Charles Francis Greville, who had been involved since the 1780s, died in 1809, the year after the building of St. Katharine's Church (now known as St. Katharine and St. Peter's Church in Hamilton Terrace) was completed.

 

The building of this place of worship created much discontent because it lay within the parish of Steynton and was always considered inferior to the ancient church at Steynton.  This was not resolved until Milford Haven gained parish status towards the end of the 19th century.

 

Charles Francis Greville was succeeded by his brother Robert Fulke Greville who held the reins until his death in 1824.  They were taken up by his son Robert Fulke Murray Greville who was an absentee landlord until 1850 when he became aware of the railway beating westward.  He felt on arrival great opportunities and potential would exist.  However, these plans and ideas were to be frustrated by one Isambard Kingdom Brunel who advised that the line should not terminate at Milford Haven but at Neyland.

 

In order to overcome this problem, Robert Fulke Murray Greville paid for a spur to leave the main rail line at Johnston and head for Milford Haven, arriving in 1863.  He further commissioned the building of two bridges - one across the Pill (now Blackbridge) and another at Hubberston Pill (now Victoria Bridge) before he died in 1867.

 

As a result of extravagant development of Castle Hall and the expense of the railway spur, his estate was declared bankrupt and taken into the ownership of the National Providence Society.

 

In eight decades a flourishing estate and legacy had been reduced to nothing.

 

The death of the last Greville marked the end of an era, but street names within the town today remind us of those bygone years.

 

Such names include Hamilton Terrace, Charles Street, Greville Road, Murray Road, Fulke Street, Starbuck Road and Barlow Street, which today is just a residential cul-de-sac - ironic as the Barlow family fortune was what funded the development of the town of Milford Haven.

 

The Robert Fulke Murray Greville estate was purchased by the Thomas family in 1900 and remained in their ownership until recent years.

 

As the 19th century rode on, thoughts about building a dock to attract and accommodate transatlantic passenger liners were formed.  But it wasn't until the sixth Act of Parliament in 1874 that the project finally kick started.

 

The building of the dock was, however, a tale of woe.

 

It was hoped the construction would take three years and budget adhered to, but the scheme was littered with bankruptcy and engineering difficulties and took fourteen years before it was finally completed.

 

At last on 27th September 1888 the gates opened and in sailed not a passenger liner but a little trawler called Sybil.

 

Its fish were landed and transported to distant markets and the quality and freshness of the catch attracted great interest, causing merchants to cast their eye towards Milford.

 

Over the ensuing years they moved into the town and Milford became a commercial fishing port by accident.

 

It took a long time for the dock company to recognise the future lay with fishing rather than transatlantic movements, but eventually this fact had to be recognised.

 

In its heyday the fishing industry in Milford Haven employed a workforce of some 4,000 and it grew to be one of the largest fishing ports in the UK.

 

Milford was directly embroiled in two world wars - one of the most significant events of the First World War was the arrival of many Belgian families who settled in the town for the duration and were made welcome and cared for.

 

Such was their appreciation of the hospitality they received that at the end of the hostilities these visitors funded the obelisk at the top of Slip Hill.

 

Fishing had made Milford and many parts of Pembrokeshire prosperous, but alas all good things must come to an end and the industry began its painful decline.

 

An indication of this trend is clear when you compare the fact that there was more fish landed in August 1946 than in the whole of 1961.

 

Milford had become a fishing port by chance, and the next development saw it turn into a very significant oil port, also by accident.

 

In 1956, the Suez crisis rendered the canal impassable and ships carrying oil from the east were diverted around the southern coast of Africa in tankers whose size had been limited by the capacity of the Suez canals.

 

Transporting such small quantities of oil over a very long distance was not economically viable.

 

Larger oil tankers had to be built and ports to accommodate them had to be found in the UK.

 

Eyes once again turned to Milford Haven and its capacious harbour.

 

Subsequently, Esso Oil Refinery opened in 1960 to be followed by BP in 1961, Regent (now Valero) in 1964, Gulf in 1968 and finally Elf in 1973.  1974 saw the implementation of local Government reform.  Milford Haven Urban District Council and Pembrokeshire County Council were replaced by Milford Haven Town Council, Preseli District Council/South Pembs District Council and Dyfed County Council.  The 1980s saw a decline in the oil industry.  Esso Refinery and BP Terminal ceased operation as did Gulf Oil Refinery in 1997.

 

In recent years the port has been bolstered by the gas age.  Milford Haven waterway now receives approximately 23% of the gas needs of the whole of the UK.

 

It is hoped this will be recognised and the area's economy suitably rewarded.

 

It is also essential to highlight the achievements of Milford Haven Urban District Council which ruled supreme from 1894-1974.

 

It pioneered many worthwhile projects such as water supply from Preseli Hills and gas and electricity developments in the town.

 

Since 1958 the Milford Haven waterway has been cared for by the Conservancy Board, more recently known as the Port Authority.

 

In 1990 the wonderful town of Milford Haven celebrated its bicentennary.  Long may it preserve its pristine waters so that leisure and pleasure sit comfortably alongside commercial activity.

 

It is hoped that Milford Haven has many glorious years ahead.

 

 

-- Councillor E. R. Harries

MAYOR OF MILFORD HAVEN 1979/80, 1990/91, 2006/07, 2010/11, 2014/15

 

 

Address


Town Hall
Hamilton Terrace
Milford Haven
SA73 3JW

 

Tel: +44 01646 692505+44 01646 692505

 

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