Being an old "Pill boy," over the many years I've been doing these TRM's I've always been fascinated by Castle Pill's history and tried to reflect its relevance and importance to the town's make-up. The town, of course, being Milford Haven.

Some of the Castle Pill memories we've shared are of the days of the RNAD, both during, and after the war; the magnificent history of Castle Hall; the origins of Black Bridge; the never-to-be-forgotten heyday of the Rath outdoor swimming pool; the excitement of Ward's Shipbreaking Yard... oh, and yes, and my glorious childhood days as a Gunkle guerilla!

A photograph I stumbled across recently has prompted me to once again turn my attention to Pill… but to a time long before my short trousers could be seen hanging out to dry on the washing line at the back of our Vicary Crescent steel council house, embracing the odours wafting up from the Fishmeal Factory below the crescent.

I'm talking centuries…

Western Telegraph: The photo of Castle Pill with Black Bridge and the toll houseThe photo of Castle Pill with Black Bridge and the toll house (Image: Jeff Dunn)

I found the photograph in my box of memories, it's of Castle Pill from the time when the J & W Francis Shipbuilding yard was operating from the shoreline and in the background you can see Black Bridge along with its Toll House.

And it prompted me to see what info I could dig up regarding Milford's earliest ship building days which led to my taking a general look at sea trading in Pembrokeshire prior to 1900.

"Between 1565 and 1603 the number of Pembrokeshire-owned ships varied from around 18 to 26… The majority were less than 20 tons and even the larger vessels of the continental trade rarely exceeded 40 tons… except for the "Perrot," a 50-ton barque owned by Sir John Perrott of Carew, which traded with Newfoundland in 1566, and also the "Lion of Milford," a vessel of 100 tons, which traded with France and Newfoundland between 1600 and 1603.

The usual crew was two or three and only occasionally as many as seven.

Some of the timbers and spars were grown locally and the sails, fittings and ropes were usually the work of local craftsmen.

In 1796, the wily Greville, aware that Britain's war against France, which had been raging for three years, had taken its toll, persuaded the Navy Board that Milford was the ideal place to build some new ships. Seven vessels were launched: the "Milford"; the "Lavinia"; the "Nautilus"; the “Portsmouth"; the "Surprise"; the "Myrmidon" and the "Rochfort."

The shipyards around Milford Haven increased in importance after 1830 and some of the largest sailing ships ever built were launched. Hubberston Pill… Hogan & Roberts Brothers were the most significant builders, (see photo) but closed in the 1870's, giving way to the new, highly anticipated, docks construction. 

Western Telegraph: J&W Francis Shipbuilding YardJ&W Francis Shipbuilding Yard (Image: Jeff Dunn)

Castle Pill then became Milford's main yard, and J & W Frances built schooners and ketches there until 1909, when they launched the "Democrat" for owners in Braunton. One of their ketches, the "Enid" was still trading in 1951.

Shipping Registers show that Pembrokeshire ships were sometimes owned by a dozen or more people and it seems that shipwrights, merchants, joiners and even 'gentlemen,' as well as shopkeepers and farmers, might have part shares in a vessel.

Despite competition from railways a number of sailing coasters worked well into the 20th century, their life being prolonged by fitting small auxiliary diesel engines.

It was only when the motor lorry arrived in the 1920's to deliver from door to door that the fleet finally disappeared. Many were abandoned in creeks and are still rotting away all along the edges of the tidal rivers. The last survivor was the "Kathleen and May," a wooden, three masted schooner built in 1900, which continued to visit Milford Haven regularly until 1960."

That's about it for now, I think I'll drop anchor before I get a touch of mal de mer, hope you've enjoyed this little seafaring special.

I leave you with this thought from Elizabeth Coatsworth: "During much of my life I was anxious to be what someone else wanted me to be. Now I have given up that struggle. I am what I am."

Take care, please stay safe.