A holiday in West Wales in the early Autumn of 2022 led to a little research on the railways in the area.
This is the third article about Pembrokeshire’s Railways. The first focussed on the pre-railway age, the second focussed on the mainline railways of the county. The links to these two posts are provided below. This article looks specifically at some of the industrial railways in Pembrokeshire, particularly those in the vicinity of Milford Haven.
Railways in West Wales Part 1A – Pembrokeshire – Before the Railway Age
Railways in West Wales Part 1B – Pembrokeshire – the Mainline Railways
The industrial railways of Pembrokeshire include:
- The Saundersfoot Railway (covered in a later article)
- The Milford Haven Docks Railways
- The Milford & St. Bride’s Bay Light Railway and proposals for expansion of the Docks at Milford Haven
- The Royal Navy Armaments Depot at Newton Noyes (RNMD Milford Haven)
- The Royal Navy Armaments Depot at Trecwn (RNAD Trecwn) (covered in a later article)
- Milford Haven Oil Refineries
- The Freystrop Colliery Railway.
- The Hook Colliery Railway.
1. Milford Haven Docks Railways
In 1790 an Act of Parliament granted William Hamilton permission to: ‘make and provide Quays, Docks, Piers and other erections and establish a Market with proper Roads and Avenues’. Several plans were proposed for the construction of quays, piers and all weather docks in the first half of the 19th century, but nothing was done. In an attempt of kick start the town to life the Milford Improvement Bill of 1857 led to the construction of a pier and two wooden bridges: Black Bridge and Hakin Bridge, both now replaced by modern structures. 
Once construction of the Milford Junction Railway was completed in 1863, further work became essential to the docks. This was completed in the early 1870s and more railway track was laid towards the docks complex in 1875. A spur to Newton Noyes, known as the ‘Estate Line’, was completed in 1882. It connected with a cast-iron pier, which was reached via a lifting bridge at Castle Pill; the junction with the Milford line was opposite the station. 
The docks were finally opened in 1888, with dry-dock facilities in Castle Pill. The docks were intended for the transatlantic passenger trade, but were only very sparsely used for this purpose. 
The port development highlighted Milford station’s less than favorable location, although equidistant between the two major populations of Milford and Hakin, it was at a distance from the quayside and with no discernible pedestrian access. To rectify the issue, the short-lived Hakin Dock Station was constructed in 1889. 
Hakin Dock Station was ideally placed to be the alighting point for passengers embarking to North America. Wing Commander Ken McKay notes particularly the Gaspesia.  Hakin Station also welcomed passengers disembarking from New York, the inaugural voyage being the City of Rome in 1889. 
Ultimately, Hakin Dock Railway Station’s proximity to Milford Haven railway station, and the fact that transatlantic trade did not develop at the port, meant that the station was quickly dismantled and absorbed into the Milford Haven Docks complex.  The track was later used for freight traffic servicing the fishing industry. 
As the 20th century dawned, Milford Haven Docks became a significant fishing port and maintained this role throughout the first half of the 20th century. Sharp decline in the fishing industry occurred in the 1950s. 
The railway lines and facilities at Milford Haven are shown in a series of map extracts below. …
The next two aerial images are extracts from the same aerial image and show the western dock wall and the railway sidings which served them
Milford Haven Docks Co. Locomotives – this short section will need expanding as and when more details are available. …..
Three photographs of Milford Haven Docks Company Locomotives can be found on Smugmug by following this link: https://transportsofdelight.smugmug.com/RAILWAYS/BRITISH-INDUSTRIAL-LOCOMOTIVES/DOCK-PORT-HARBOUR-COMPANIES/i-mfQ7gHk/A
The images on the link are all protected by copyright and so cannot be reproduced. They show the following Milford Haven locomotives:
- AJAX (2 photographs) – Fletcher NER Class 124 LNER Class J76 0-6-0T – built 1882 by Darlington Works as NER No.598 – 1926 sold to MDC and named AJAX – 1944 scrapped – seen at Milford Haven, 04/39.
- NEPTUNE – Fletcher NER Class 964 0-6-0T – built 1875 by Robert Stephenson & Co. as NER No.973 – 1914 sold to Milford Dock Co. as NEPTUNE – seen at Milford Haven, 07/38.
A number of Peckett locomotives were based at Milford Haven. :
- PARIS – 0-4-0ST Peckett Locomotive, built June 1938 under works number 1949 was sent to Milford Docks Company. 
- Swansea Harbours’ 0-4-0ST Peckett No. 929 was loaned to Milford Haven Dock Co. It was recorded as present at the GWR engine shed to the North of the railway Station on 5th April 1947. 
- Other locomotives are referred to in the sections below which relate to specific branch-lines.
2. The Milford & St. Bride’s Bay Light Railway and proposals for expansion of the Docks at Milford Haven
This railway was a proposed industrial line which would have brought coal from the St. Bride’s Bay area to Milford Haven Docks. Correspondence dated between 1911 and 1926 can be found in the Milford Docks Company Records and Correspondence which were deposited in the Pembrokeshire Records Office and are held by Pembrokeshire Archives and Local Studies. 
As early as 1865 proposals had been put forward for a link between pits on St. Bride’s Bay and the port of Milford Haven. The possibility was raised again in 1911 when colliery owners put forward a plan for a pontoon in the middle of Nolton Haven with an aerial ropeway carrying the coal to the pontoon for onward distribution by ships. [1: p141]
The Port Authority at Milford Haven saw the potential competition as a problem and put forward a railway of 11 miles in length and some significant improvements to the port facilities at Milford Haven. Connop-Price provides plans of the the proposed railway and the enlargement of the Docks. [1: p139-141]
Apparently, the Order for the Light Railway was obtained in 1916. Attention during the war years, was focussed on the operation of the existing docks. After the War ongoing objections from local landowners seem to have prevented further work on the proposal. [1: p141]
3. The Royal Navy Armaments Depot at Newton Noyes (RNMD Milford Haven)
RNMD Milford Haven is a decommissioned Royal Naval Armaments Depot located on the North shore of Milford Haven between Milford Haven and Llanstadwel in the County of Pembrokeshire, Wales. The area is known as Newton Noyes. 
The Newton Noyes area was previously occupied as a ship breakers yard. Known locally as Wards Yard, it was connected to the mainline railway via a spur from Milford Haven which crossed Castle Pill via a swing bridge. A cast iron pier was built in 1872 with the intention of encouraging transatlantic traffic to unload, allowed a rail / marine interchange.
With developing tensions in Europe in the 1930s, the Admiralty began preparations for possible conflict. In 1934, Thomas Ward’s ship breaking yard was purchased. Construction work began the following year and by the outbreak of war in 1939 the Depot was ready for action.
Wikipedia tells us that, “The site consisted of an extensive storage facility of six armament sheds, comprising tunnels built into the neighbouring valley. A reservoir was constructed on higher ground to the north in case of explosion or fire. All of the tunnels were connected by rail, which also extended to the pier. Housing for the naval officers was located near the former mansion of Castle Hall. At the height of World War II, it employed 1,000 people, and thereafter hundreds of people from the local area. By the 1970s its future was identified as being at risk.” 
“The tunnels that ran beneath the site were about 100 meters (328 feet) long and provided access to the underground storage. The mines were stored on a raised platform at the height of a railroad car. There was also an overhead crane with a lifting capacity of 10 tons that was used to load and unload the mines.” 
The site was closed in the 1980s. It was subsequently purchased by Gulf Oil, then considered as a potential large scale development site for a retail and residential complex. It was sold again in 2015 and then again in 2017. The most recent purchase was by the Port of Milford Haven. 
Some excellent pictures inside the depot and underground can be found on Flickr, taken by Newage, (Flickr @newage2). The following pictures are used by kind permission. 
There were a series of tunnels stretching back into the land behind the shore, each one secured against accidental ingress. In the 21st century the metal doors are not all secure and the site itself has been fenced off but not before a number of different people were able to make a photographic and video record of the site.
Coflein’s Maritime Officer (RCAHMW) described the site in May 2012. The previous use as a shipyard is recognised and their webpage continues: “The depot utilised the site of the Newton Noyes farmstead (NPRN 4176748) and the former Oil and Manure Works (NPRN 416749). It was served by the railway line and steamer pier built in 1872. Incoming deactivated mines were transferred from the standard gauge railway to a narrow gauge system linking the massive armament sheds and the six underground magazines (see NPRNs 270769-771). Each of these magazines was sealed off by ventilated blast door and thick concrete walls. The tunnels providing access to the underground magazine are some 100m in length which opens into a large storage bay with a raised platform to allow mines to be stored at the height of the railway wagon. An overhead 10 ton crane faciliated loading and unloading. A large reservoir (NPRN 416750) was constructed by damming the stream to provide a water supply in case of fire. During World War II, the depot was used to arm minefields in the Western Approaches. After 1943, when the U-boat threat diminished, the depot’s role change from activating mines to preparing them for shipping to the North Africa for use by the Mediterranean Fleet.” 
After decommissioning, the above-ground facilities which remained were recorded in a baseline aerial reconnaissance survey for the CHERISH Project. (Crown: CHERISH PROJECT 2017). Produced with EU funds through the Ireland Wales Co-operation Programme 2014-2020. All material made freely available through the Open Government Licence. 
28dayslater.co.uk paid a visit to the site in 2011 when access was relatively easy. Their site provides photographs of these buildings from ground-level and some internal photographs. 
A video of the site can be seen below. … 
4. Milford Haven Oil Refineries
Milford Haven Refinery (Robeston) began operating in 1973 under Amoco’s ownership, but in its final days it was owned by Murco Petroleum. It was on a 1200 acre site close to Milford Haven. 
The closure of the refinery was announced in November 2014. The site was sold to Puma Energy in 2015 for use as a petroleum storage and distribution terminal.  The branch-line which served the refinery remains open as of 2022. Regular movements along the branch continue.
The Gulf Refinery, Waterston was opened in August 1968 by Queen Elizabeth II. The plant, constructed at a cost of approximately £35 million, produced a range of petroleum products and occupied an area of 300 acres (121.4 ha). Up to 119,000 barrels (18,900 m3) of oil could be processed a day at the facility. 
Gulf Oil’s crude oil was principally obtained from Nigeria and Kuwait through joint ventures with BP. Crude was shipped to Bantry Bay in Ireland in 312,000 DWT (deadweight ton) ships. From there it was shipped in 100,000 DWT ships to Gulf’s refineries in Milford Haven, Denmark and Rotterdam. The Milford Haven refinery was integrated with a petro-chemical plant, using oil products from the refinery as feed-stock for the chemical plant. It employed about 280 people. About 23% of the refinery output was exported by train via a rail link to the national rail network. About 75% was exported by ship. 
The line ran roughly North-South from to the refinery which was sited to the East of Milford Haven just a short distance beyond the RNMD Milford Haven site referred to above.
The line ran roughly North-South from to the refinery which was sited to the East of Milford Haven just a short distance beyond the RNMD Milford Haven site referred to above. The pier and rail connection to that site at Newton Noyes can be seen on the left of the image above.
The video below comprehensively covers the design and construction of the 4 km long branch serving the oil refinery.  The refinery closed, eventually, in 1997.
The route of the old branch leaves the national network to the West of the A477 as can be seen on the satellite image below.
The Esso Refinery was opened in 1960 by the Duke of Edinburgh. Construction cost £18 million and the refinery had the initial capacity to process 4.5 million tons of crude oil a year. As originally conceived the refinery worked in conjunction with Esso’s older, larger refinery at Fawley on Southampton water. Milford Haven refinery supplied the west coast and Fawley the rest of the country. Milford Haven also supplemented Fawley’s fuel oil deliveries to the London area. The refinery shipped semi-refined heavy gas oil to Fawley for further refining. There were also shipments to Ireland and northern Europe. Most of the refinery’s crude came from the Persian Gulf shipped in tankers such as the Esso Scotia of 249,952 deadweight tons. 
Wikipedia tells us that most of the product from the refinery, about 95%, was sent out by ship. However, the refinery was connected to the national rail network. Trains carrying liquefied gas were sent to the Midlands and Scotland. The refinery closed down in March 1983. 
The rail link ran from the national network at Herbrandston Junction via the refinery at Robeston to the Esso Refinery. The picture below, at first sight (and in the light of the notes reproduced beneath the image), suggests that it is a picture of that link, but actually shows sidings at Milford Haven Station. The line to the Esso Oil Refinery was build much later than 1910!
The Pembroke Refinery is to be found at Rhoscrowther in the community of Hundleton on the South side of the Milford Haven opposite the town of Milford Haven. It first came on stream in 1964 and was Regent/Texaco’s only British refinery. The refinery occupies a prominent position on the south bank of the Milford Haven Waterway and can be seen for many miles. Around a quarter of the site is within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park which was created in 1952. 
The refinery came on stream in 1964. It was initially owned by the Regent Oil Company, a large domestic marketer of Trinidad-produced oils. Regent was fully acquired by Texaco in 1956 (although the brand name was only phased out in the UK in favour of Texaco in the late 1960s). When it first came on-stream, most of the crude oil for the refinery came from the Middle East with some from Libya, Venezuela and Trinidad. Products were shipped to all parts of Britain 96 per cent going by ship as there was no rail link to the national rail network.  Valero, who currently own the site say: “The refinery receives all of its feedstocks and delivers some of its products by ship and barge via deepwater docking facilities along the Milford Haven Waterway, with its remaining products being delivered through our Mainline pipeline system and by trucks.” 
Pembroke refinery also supplied fuel oil to the nearby oil-fired 2,000 MW Pembroke power station (commissioned in 1968). Chevron acquired Texaco in 2000. Valero Energy Corporation bought the refinery from Chevron in 2011. 
5. The Freystrop Colliery Railway
The Freystrop Colliery Company was formed in July 1900 to take over and redevelop the site of the former Cardmakers’ Pool at Freystrop. [1: p134, 136]
On 10th July 1901, the Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph and General Weekly Reporter for the Counties of Pembroke Cardigan Carmarthen Glamorgan and the Rest of South Wales reported That works at Freystrop Colliery were in an advanced state and that prospects for the coal industry were promising. At the beginning of their article they wrote:
“The works at the newly-opened colliery at Freystrop are now in a very satisfactory state of progress. The company have laid down the latest machinery and have spared neither trouble nor expense in providing the best possible plant available. The main shaft, which has been sunk in the centre of their taking (extending from the Freystrop road to the railway line at Johnston) has now been brought down to a depth of over 50 yards. For 35 yards of this distance an excellent brick lining, with occasional patches of concrete where extra strengthening was required, has been laid on the sides, but, as the rock has now been reached, there is no necessity for continuing it further.” 
At that time, the Company still had a great deal of work to do before all the preliminaries were finished. The prospects were seen as very promising, and, as around £100 was already being expended on weekly wages, locally hopes were high for a great future. 
The reconstruction of the mine took time, “but it became obvious that the anticipated output would make the previous practice of carting coal and culm either to the quays on the river or to Johnston station quite impractical. As the colliery was only one and a half miles east of Johnston, the natural solution was the construction of a rail link.” [1: p136]
Much of the land between the colliery and the railway station was a marsh. Nevertheless the Pembroke Herald reported in the Autumn of 1901 that work would begin on the branch-line. 
Connop-Price tells us that the construction of the railway and ancillary works took the best part of two years. He tells us that the Pembrokeshire Herald reported that, ” now it is possible for the wagons belonging to the company to be filled under the huge screen, five at a time, with different qualities of coal.” At the time of this report the company output was around 400 tons of coal and culm per week and expected to rise significantly. [1: p136]
Connop-Price notes that directors of the Milford Docks Company were on the board of this venture and that as a result the connection to the mainline was laid facing south to Milford Haven. The venture encountered geological problems and output was intermittent. Eventually it was decided to abandon the enterprise and the branch-line was closed officially in 1911. Connop-Price goes on to state that, “In its brief career it had been worked at different times by two tank locomotives. The first cannot be identified now., but the second was an 0-4-0 saddle tank built in 1905 by Andrew Barclay and Co. of Kilmarnock.  The locomotive shed was situated about 300 yards from the junction at Johnston, facing towards Freystrop.” [1: p136]
Coflein describes the site of Johnston station as, “formerly Milford Road Station on the South Wales Railway, now merely site of a halt, with all buildings demolished.” Their site carries two photographs of the original station, these are shown below. 
6. The Hook Colliery Railway
The National Library of Wales holds the papers associated with Hook colliery. They tell us that “Hook Colliery, Llangwm, Pembrokshire, was opened in 1850, and operated until 1947. An attempt was made in the 1950s to re-open it as a private mine by Hook Colliery Co., under T. W. Harcourt Roberts., geologist and mining engineer, and General Manager and Managing Director of Hook Colliery, Pembrokeshire.” 
At its peak, over 40,000 tons of anthracite was mined at Hook colliery each year and employment provided for well over 100. Until the rail link was built in the early 1900’s to link the village with the main line at Johnston the vast majority of coal left by sea from Hook Quay. 
Connop-Price tells us that the “Margaret Pit was sunk at Hook in 1910, and initially coal was moved to Hook quay in small trams over the narrow-gauge railway built in 1888 to serve the older West Park colliery. This was an endless rope-worked tramway, driven by a stationary engine at the colliery. The side-tipping trams … were not grouped together as a train, but spaced out about thirty yards apart along the line. This space was needed to give time for the loaded trams to be knocked off when they reached the incline, and the empties hooked on. .. At the quay the coal had to be transferred to barges which were then worked down to Llangwm Pool for loading onto sea-going vessels. Later the river was dredged in the vicinity of Hook quay to allow small coasters to come alongside for loading, but this system of transport was still slow and labour-intensive, and a handicap to the colliery.” [1: p136]
The Colliery Company owned several sea-going vessels most of which traded to the French and London markets. The coal was in great demand for smelting and also heating the sophisticated homes of the capital city. It has been recorded that Queen Victoria had a distinct preference for the practically smokeless Hook anthracite and it was used extensively in the Royal palaces. 
Some detail of the operations of the various sea-going ships owned and used by the colliery can be found here. 
The Pembrokeshire Virtual Museum entry for Hook Colliery tells us that, “Hook Colliery Railway operated as a standard gauge mineral line and ran from Johnston station on the G.W.R. to Hook Colliery some 4 miles away. During the late 1920s the Pembrokeshire coal industry appeared to be on the verge of collapse with only the collieries at Hook and Bonvilles Court (closed in 1930) still in operation. It was clear that if Hook Colliery was to survive then new investment was necessary especially in moving coal to its markets. … It was decided in 1929 to build a railway line to move the coal instead.” 
Despite the need for a railway being recognised as early as 1919, nothing, however, was done until 1929 when the decision was taken to construct a railway. [1: p136/137] “The railway was built in 1930 and was completed by November of that year. It ran for part of its length along the route of a disused railway line to Freystrop Colliery (please see the section on this line above), which saved considerable engineering work.” 
Connop-Price tells us that the cost of the work was around £40,000, and “this time the junction at Johnston was laid facing North to allow direct running towards Haverfordwest and Carmarthen. … Pembrokeshire Council raised an objection to the level crossing over the main road near Johnston (one of five such crossings on the line0 but eventually the problem was resolved. A siding for the use of the nearby Johnston brickworks was also provided. a permanent connection with the GWR mainline was made on 13th November 1930, and the railway opened to traffic.” [1: p137]
“Once completed the railway enabled easy export of coal and production then rose until it peaked in 1934 when 40,000 tons were produced, the largest ever annual total from a Pembrokeshire colliery and some 35,000 tons were moved by the railway. From that point on, however, output declined and in 1945 only 20,000 tons were produced. The colliery and its railway were nationalised in January 1947 (Hook was the only Pembrokeshire colliery to be nationalised) but the pit flooded in that year and it was considered uneconomic to put it back into operation. In early 1948, the railway closed after moving the last of the stored coal.” 
“The railway operated two of its own 0-6-0 saddle tank locomotives, neither of which appear to have carried names. It also had its own private owner wagons which moved the coal on the railway and then via the G.W.R. to its markets. At Johnston station exchange sidings were built from where Hook wagons would be collected and deposited by G.W.R. freight trains.” 
Connop-Price mentions the two locomotives: “The contractors’ locomotive, D.M.D.Ltd No.10, an 0-6-0 saddle tank built by Peckett of Bristol, was retained, but another engine said to have been at Hook, an 0-4-0 saddle tank built by Hawthorne Leslie, was transferred to Davies, Middleton and Davies at Caerphilly.” [1: p137]
Later, by 1934, “the colliery railway had acquired an engine from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, an 0-6-0 saddle tank built by Avonside of Bristol in 1910.” [1: p137/138]
The company owned a modest number of open wagons.
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