In his latest nostalgia column in the Western Telegraph, JEFF DUNN discusses old times and the Thomas W Ward Ltd’s Castle Works, known as “Ward’s Yard,” in the Castle Pill area.

My old “Vicary” neighbour, Brian Oughton, has once again reminded me of old times in the Castle Pill area, particularly the oft remembered Thomas W Ward Ltd’s Castle Works, known to us all as “Ward’s Yard,” which was one of the most significant employers in the area for many years, and at its peak, the mid to late 1940’s, employed over 1,200 men.

Brian’s grandfather was one of them, having been a Ward’s of Sheffield employee who’d relocated, with his family, from Sheffield to Milford in the 1920’s. He taught the men how to use acetylene burners. Wards’ of Sheffield had opened their Castle Works and shipbreaking yard in Milford during the early 1920’s,  having bought the Milford Haven Dock and Railway Co. from the Milford Estate.

The historical build up to Wards’ arrival ...In 1867 the Milford Haven Dock and Railway Co. commenced the construction of the railway connecting up with the Great Western Railway to Milford, and the debris from the deep and rocky cuttings in the course of the work was used to make up embankments across part of the harbour entrance to Castle Pill to lead to the erection of a bridge to carry the railway to Newton Noyes, where a substantial iron pier was eventually built and carried out to deep water.

The work, of course, was part of the plan to attract the Atlantic Passenger Service to and from America.  When that scheme failed, the railway and pier were more or less derelict for some years.

It was at the turn of the 20th Century that the firm of T.R. Oswald & Co Ltd moved their  shipbuilding business from Woolston, Southampton down to Milford, where they constructed workshops and a shipbuilding yard on what would become the Wards yard.

Their first contract was the building of four steel sailing ships, each of about 5000 tons register for a Liverpool firm of owners.  After that they built steamships and eventually built a fleet of steam trawlers which the company managed and worked from Milford Docks.

A few years later the yard was taken over by a Bristol Shipbreaker, then again became vacant until the arrival of Thomas W Ward Ltd.  

The group picture is from 1930 and includes Brian’s grandfather. In the 1950’s, to many youngsters like me, the yard became part of our “playground,” always a vibrant and exciting place to be...and we were often chased away from the “danger area” by the watchmen on duty. I know for a fact there are many Wards “tales to be told” from that era.

During its time the Castle Works broke up a huge variety of boats and ships, including trawlers, cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Many of the trawlers were Milford trawlers like the Thomas Booth and Milford Consort, and the final ship to be demolished there was the trawler East Coast, in 1958.

Among the destroyers that were broken up was HMS Faulkner, in which Field Marshal Montgomery of Alamein sailed to the 1944 Normandy landings, providing gunfire at Juno beach.

Built by Yarrow Shipbuilders on the river Clyde in 1935; 1475 tons; 343’ long. 5x 4.7” guns; 8x12.7 mm. AA machine guns; 8x21 inch torpedo tubes. 20 depth charges. First ship to sink a U Boat  (U39) on 14th Sept 1939. Took part in Norwegian Campaign; was at Mers El Kabir for the attack on the French fleet. Also took part in at least 8 Russia convoys including P17. Was involved in attack on the Tirpitz in 1942; Was at Sicilly and Anzio landings.

The Faulknor arrived at Wards, Milford Haven on 4th April 1946, and was part of the “Wards Ships Collection” that my old Pill pal, the late Ivor Day, gave me, which included this pic of her. In 1982 the land was bought by Messrs K & M Davies and the Wards name became another distant memory.

Teaser time: A man describes his daughters: "They are all blonde, but two; all brunette but two; and all redheaded but two."  How many daughters does he have?

Time to split, I leave you with this from Aldous Huxley: "The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm."
Take care, please stay safe.