J D Davies

A Breath of Fresh Sea Air

I thought I’d take a break this week from the ongoing issues with Carmarthenshire archives, and even from the range of issues that I normally blog about, to have a look at a refreshing little story which does much to restore one’s faith in humanity after too many dealings with local authority apparatchiks and the like. When I was down in west Wales a couple of weeks ago, I visited the small heritage centre established by the West Wales Maritime Heritage Society in part of the former Hancocks shipbuilding yard in Pembroke Dock. Although the centre has existed for a while, restoring various local heritage craft, it’s only opened to the public for the first time this summer. It has pretty well no security of tenure – the area is likely to be part of a new marina development – and has received relatively little publicity, but even so, the band of volunteers who run it are truly impressive in their enthusiasm, knowledge, and friendliness towards visitors. All over the world, unsung heroes like these are the real beating heart of maritime heritage, preserving craft, skills and memories in ways that few more commercial and large-scale enterprises can match.

The centre has some real treasures on display, ranging from the small craft themselves to some excellent photo display boards. Inevitably, I was particularly interested in those relating to warship building at Pembroke’s royal dockyard: the centre has some very rare photos that I’d never seen before, including one of the keel laying of the cruiser HMS Amphion, the first British warship to be lost during World War I, on 15 March 1911. This little centre really deserves to succeed, so if you’re in the area, it’s well worth dropping in (especially as a visit could be combined with one to the new and much larger heritage centre in the former dockyard chapel, which has much more about the dockyard and the huge flying boat base that was subsequently established on the site). It’s open for four days a week until 27 September.

The heritage centre’s workshop

Display about the time that HMS Warrior (1860), the world’s first ironclad battleship, spent as an oil fuel jetty at Pembroke Dock

The centre’s example of the coracle, the ancient Welsh vernacular craft