In the 1950s B.R Lewis (a retired Pharmacist & Optician and native of Fishguard) wrote a series of weekly articles in the County Echo called “Turning Back the Clock” where he described life in Fishguard of the previous one hundred years, or so……..
B.R Lewis left much information about this picturesque old Harbour and the industry which took place in this area of the Slade Beach.
“Pembrokeshire has always been the home of seafaring men. Long before the days of rail and road transport, commodities from the outside world were brought by sea and landed on the beaches of its numerous creeks. At the bottom of the Slade, some of the chief industries of the town were carried on. The remains of the lime kilns can still be seen near the Slade beach and until recently, the Saw Pit was there in good order. The old mill house and the mill is in ruins and decay and there is no trace of the ship building yard where the last vessel to be built in Fishguard “The Gwain Maid” a brig of 250 tons was built and launched from the Slade beach.
It would be unjust not to mention those vessels which belonged to Fishguard and whose owners lived here and carried on, even after the coming of the railway to the county, bringing in what cargoes they could in the face of competition from rail and road transport.
At one time, this area was packed with coasting smacks such as the The Curlew, The Lily, Jane & Margaret, The Lark, The Hope, The Pride of Wales, Pennant, Pamela, Jane William, Maria, Mary Ann, Lord Exmouth, Farmer’s Lass, Mountain Maid, Glyndwr, William & Maria and many others.
The William & Maria was sailed by Capt. William Lamb assisted by his wife!
These little coasters liked to race each other sometimes and one, belonging to a Captain Thomas of Goodwick, left Porthmadog in company with a brig. They soon lost sight of each other but they rallied on and encountered rough weather in the Channel. Eventually, the little coaster belonging to Captain Thomas was running into Dover at the same time as the brig…Captain Thomas was very pleased with his ship on that trip as to catch up and “sail evens” with a brig was no mean feat!
Several smacks used to race for Nolton and Saundersfoot out of Fishguard too! The Farmer’s Lass, Mary Ann and Lord Exmouth once had such a race. The Lord Exmouth drawing less water, used to get away first but the vessel was not so fast, and was soon overhauled by the Mary Ann to the great annoyance of her owner/master Captain David James of the Wallis. He would talk to his old ship the (Lord Exmouth) and give her a dressing down for allowing his relative in the Mary Ann to beat him.
Even on short sea voyages, it was not uncommon to run into rough weather causing much anxiety to relatives of the crew members when the little ships did not arrive back in Fishguard on time. On one occasion, the Lord Exmouth was a month overdue on a voyage from Saundersfoot to Fishguard! The cargoes on these little boats were coal, culm and limestone, but at an earlier period before the days of steam and railways, there were fast smacks running a regular service from Fishguard to Bristol, carrying farm produce, herrings, salmon, skins etc. each ship managing to bring back general merchandise to the shops and merchants of the local area.
In 1826, the smack Phoenix was a constant trader between Bristol and Fishguard unloading and loading her new cargo at Welsh Back, Bristol. Her Captain was John James. In mid May she used to leave Bristol for Fishguard and be back again at Welsh Back in early June for another cargo.
There was much trade going on in Lower Fishguard when the shipping days were at their best. Fishguard was famous for its herrings which were salted down in barrels and exported as far as the Mediterranean. From Cardigan, right along the coast to Solva and beyond, every little beach where a vessel could lie was used to load, coal, grain, cheese, eggs, butter, cloth wool etc. The old limekilns (many of them built right on the edge of the sea as can be seen in the picture of the Slade beach) tell another story of farming before the days of artificial manure. Cargoes of timber were bought and sold on the beach by auction and all commodities which were not made and produced locally came in by sea as roads were little more than rough tracks in those days.
Passengers left Fishguard by sea for the larger towns; in roughly 1840, many emigrated from West Wales to America. Fishguard people would be taken to the emigrating port by horse drawn vehicles from the surrounding countryside or on smaller vessels sailing from Fishguard or other places with passengers for the emigrant ships. One such ship called “The Albion” lay in Pwll Castell on the River Teify near Cardigan. It was usual to hold a religious service on board the ship on the Sunday before sailing! These ships were advertised as being comfortable and fast; the reality being that passengers were herded together in the hold with only a small space allocated to each for sleeping, cooking etc! As the journey took over two months, many died on the way!
When a strange ship entered Fishguard Bay, she was piloted in and the job of pilot was eagerly sought by the older retired mariners. One of these was John Jones who did a good share of this business. There were also periodical sales of ships on Fishguard Beach. They fetched less that a cheap motor car is sold for today (1950s)!
With all the shipping that used the Bay for shelter, there were also many shipwrecks. In 1846, the Great Storm (Storom Fawr) was a terrible storm which brought untold destruction to the large number of ships in the Bay. On 18th November 1893 at Llanpit Mawr, the Norwegian barque Eviva was the largest ship to become a total wreck for many years. She broke up in the night and her cargo of matchboards was strewn all over the old harbour. It was possible to walk on the boards from Llanpit to the Quay with ease. There was no shortage of timber within miles of Fishguard after the ill fated Evviva.”
In 1853, the railway came to Haverfordwest and with it the end of the prosperity that the little ships had enjoyed. Their trade by sea from from Bristol to West Wales gradually came to an end. The coasters struggled on with the sea taking its toll of most of them and by the early years of 1900 few remained.
The following information is provided by Rob Willatts of Dinas who is a researcher of shipping history of the area.
The middle image above shows three topsail schooners in harbour and a cargo smack just outside. The steamer at the quay is “Norseman” (built 1883; 194 gross tons) of the Aberayron Steam Packet Co. She was acquired by the company in 1894 and took over the regular fortnightly sailings from Welsh Back, Bristol calling at Solva and Fishguard, which continued until 1916. Local traders and businesses would place orders for supplies with Bristol merchants and these would be conveyed by “Norseman” and delivered by carriers once unloaded. Two wheeled carts can be seen on the quay. “Norseman” could also carry a few passengers, accommodated in a saloon, aft. She had a 2 cyl compound steam engine driving a single propeller and could make about 8 knots, though full advantage was taken of tidal flows.