History of Pembroke Dockyard

Extracts from an article by John Guard

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Be that as it may, H.M. Dockyard Pembroke was formally established by Order in Council of 31st October 1815. By this time the construction of a '74' and four frigates was well under way in the area immediately to the east of Carr Rocks and the first houses of what was to become the town of Pembroke Dock were already completed on what is now Front Street, along the shore just east of the land taken up for the yard. The first four houses were built in 1814 and occupied by the Foreman of Shipwrights, the Foreman of Blacksmiths, the Issuer of Stores and, predictably, a publican. The publican's house was almost certainly what is now the King's Arms.


The whole dockyard was enclosed within a high stone boundary wall. Twelve building slips were established (of the eventual thirteen) but the original two were now outside the wall and presumably not in use. The graving dock was also complete, being required for the removal of the launching cradles from newly-built hulls. Behind these were a line of storehouses, workshops and offices. Behind again were the timber stacks and saw pits and along the inside of the dockyard wall were the beginnings of the elegant terrace of houses for senior officers with the Dockyard Chapel at the end. Only the first pair of houses, for the Master Shipwright and the Clerk of the Cheque and Storekeeper were complete.


Outside the wall the town was already taking shape. It was a model of its kind with wide streets and solid stone houses (most of which survive to this day) which were large for their class and with sizeable gardens. A sharp contrast to the slum alleys of the old dockyard towns. The Admiralty Reservoir supplied both the yard and the town. The dockyard wall had enclosed the landing place previously used by the local people, in recompense the Navy Board built the present Common Hard on Front Street. The new community needed a market, the Navy Board built one at considerable expense. By ancient charter, the right to trade within the Borough of Pembroke, which included the dockyard, was reserved for Freemen of the Borough. In addition to the cost of building the market, the Admiralty had to pay 3,000 to the Freemen to breach their monopoly. Having pocketed their share, presumably those Freemen who wished to do so then proceeded to trade in the market! It was purchased by the council in 1881 and is still in use.



. Perhaps most credit is due to their representatives in Pembroke, the Dockyard Officers. In 1830 the Superintendent of Works was a Captain Savage of the Royal Engineers and perhaps most credit is due to him. At that time the other officers in post were the Master Shipwright (Thomas Roberts), Clark of the Cheque and Storekeeper (Edward Laws), Timber Receiver, Warden (the original Dockyard Police Officer?), Chaplain, Surgeon and Assistant Surgeon. All were civilians, there were no naval officers appointed to the yard.


. The work force numbered 500.


As noted in the previous chapter, in 1832 the Navy Board and Board of Admiralty combined. One outcome of this was that naval officers were appointed in charge of all Royal Dockyards and Pembroke received its first Captain Superintendent, Captain Charles Bullen, CB. So long afterwards, having seen so many reorganisations of the Offices of State and Forces of the Crown, it is not easy for us to appreciate the concern with which some of those involved viewed this seemingly obvious and inevitable step. Master Shipwright Thomas and Storekeeper Laws, comfortably ensconced in their new houses, must have awaited the arrival of Captain Bullen with some trepidation.


By the 1850's architectural styles in the town were changing with the times but the high standard of construction had been maintained as the town grew. As the Centenary Memorial in Albion Square(18) proudly proclaims:

'The town was built almost entirely by the working classes, by whose thrift and industry upwards of 2000 houses were erected.


To thrift and industry one could add 'and ingenuity in acquiring timber from H.M. Dockyard' because by mid-19th Century a notable feature of local domestic architecture was apparent. Even in the most modest dwellings most of the woodwork is solid teak or oak, beautifully worked by the shipwright builders. Local tradition has it that this was obtained by men throwing timber into the tideway from the yard when the tide was right and subsequently collecting it as flotsam off Front Street, having passed innocently through the Dockyard Gate. There may be some truth in this but it seems likely that the taking of reasonable quantities of timber was, at least, condoned. As already noted, the Dockyard Officers were benevolent landlords and when to build a ship-of-the-line required the equivalent of 2,500 full grown oaks the timber for a whole street was insignificant in comparison.


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