Pembroke story history




1817 Charles Norris - Pembroke Castle and part of town

Pembroke 1830 - Henry Gastineau


1826 Turner Pembroke Castle Wales

In the previous century, Pembroke had already caught the attention of artists. 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.   Unfortunately the town itself was largely ignored by artists at this time: this image by Gastineau 1854 (centre) is one of the few.

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 found employment in the new shipbuilding industry in the Dockyard and both towns 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. 

Pembroke Railway


The Pembroke and Tenby Railway Act was passed on 21 July 1859, with a company 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, opened on 30 July 1863.

A regular service of 3 trains per day ran (10am, 3.15 and 7.30pm) a connecting coach service took passengers on to Hobbs Point to meet with the Irish packet or for the ferry trip acoss the Cleddau to join up with Brunel’s terinus 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 the old North Gate and the building of the Mill

The old North Gate c1818

Increasing traffic, horse of course, 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 Corn Mill, 5 storeys high, which replaced an earlier mill.  A mill had stood here since the time of King John.

The old South Quay c 1900 The Mill Bridge and Mill c1900


Health and Welfare

The Victorian Poor Law & the Hated Workhouse

Since Elizabeth I’s reign, trhe Poor Law Act 1601, a poor rate was levied to provide money for looking after paupers.  They were maintained at home by small grants from the parish fund but the Victorians changed that.   In 1834 a new Poor Law Act was passed stopping this practice and instead sending these poor unfortunates into a Workhouse.

The workhouses, immortalised by Dickens in Oliver Twist were never popular: the grim buildings with their harsh regimes were far mosre like prisons than caring institutions. Poor families were split up and all who were able-bodied were expected to toil at hard and repetitive tasks in return for a very basic diet and a roof over their heads.

 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, also taking 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, tradesmen and magistrates.

1837, the Guardians first met and elected Earl Cawdor as Chairman.  They bought 3 acres of Green Hay Field, on the north bank of Pembroke Millpond (where Riverside now stands) for £450 and the building was completed in 1839 at a cost of £4898 13s 41/2 d.

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

The former Pembroke Cottage 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 7 beds – which was considerable more than nearby Pembroke Dock which, until 1902 had to make do with a warship the “Nankin” as its town hospital.

Growth of the Town

From 1870 onwards several new satellite complexes were built around the town from 1870 onwards.  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 in King William Street by the Pembroke Dock and Town Gas Company 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. 

Thanks to Peter and Felicity Hurlow-Jones we have much material on Peter’s family – the Stephens’ and Hurlow Jones’ –who played an important part in Pembroke’s story at this time.  In researching their family history they have uncovered an amazing amount 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.

Brothers Archibald and John Stephens started business as Engineering Smiths. In 1870, in a premises which is now a private residence.


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Through the Ages




Round House
Iron and Rome


Celtic pattern
Dark Ages




Earldom of Pembroke


Medieval Pembroke


Tudor Rose
Wars of the Roses


Henry VII


Religious and political change


Stuart & Civil War


18th Century


Pembroke-Tenby Railway
19th Century


Modern Times