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Pembroke Dockyard

Pembroke Dock (Welsh: Doc Penfro) is a town in Pembrokeshire, South West Wales, lying north of Pembroke on the River Cleddau. Originally a small fishing village known as Paterchurch, the town was greatly expanded from 1814 onwards following the construction of a Royal Naval Dockyard. It is the third largest town in Pembrokeshire after Haverfordwest and Milford Haven. The natural harbour offering shelter from the prevailing south westerly winds has probably been used for many thousands of years, but the first evidence of settlement from maps is the name of the Carr Rocks at the entrance, derived from the Norse-language Skare for rock.

The origins of naval shipbuilding on Milford Haven were in the private shipyard of Jacobs on the north side of the Haven at Milford. In November 1757, the Admiralty sent a surveying delegation to the haven, which prepared a report for Parliament recommending the construction of a "Milford" dock yard. It should be noted that no such place as Milford existed at this time, just the village of Hubberston. Secondly, the report showed early signs of lobbying existing, with the scale of the local infrastructure and ship building activity exaggerated.

On 11 October 1809, a naval commission recommended purchase of the Milford Haven facility and formal established of a Royal Navy dockyard. This was, according to the report, due to the fact that Millford built-ships had proved to be cheaper due to the cheap cost of supplies and abundant labour supply. It proposed purchase of the yard at £4,455. However, as this was after the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805), when the need for naval ships was decreasing in the Napoleonic Wars, and in such a remote location, the proposal seemed perplexing. However, in light of the end of the Franco-Spanish naval engagement, and the merging of the two sides of the Royal Navy under the Admiralty Board, the fact that Frenchman Barallier would remain in charge strongly suggests to historians that the Royal Navy accepted that its ships manoeuvrability was inferior to those of the Franco-Spanish alliance. In an effort to rectify this state of affairs the Royal Navy's first School of Naval Architecture was opened in Portsmouth in 1810. Effectively then, Millford was to be set up as a model dockyard under French management, from which lessons could be learnt for implementation in other dockyards.

After failing to agree a purchase price for the existing Millford shipyard with Fulke Greville, Charles Greville's heir, the Admiralty agreed purchase of land 5 miles (8.0 km) across the haven from Milford, near the town of Pembroke in a district called Pater (village) or Paterchurch. This was one of the few sites in the haven suitable for building a dock for constructing decent sized ships, as its shoreline was flat but led quickly into deep harbour. Secondly, the Board of Ordnance had purchased 50 acres (20 ha) in preparation from the 1758 report to strengthen the haven's defences, which was added to by the purchase of an adjoining 20 acres for £5,500 from the Meyrick family.

Plan of Pembroke Dockyard in 1909
Plan of Pembroke Dockyard in 1909

The town of Pembroke Dock was founded in 1814 when the Royal Navy Dockyard was established, initially called Pater Dockyard. Construction started immediately, with the former frigate HMS Lapwing driven ashore as a temporary accommodation hulk. Orders were placed for the construction of 74 gun battleship, and four frigates. However, after the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815, although the scheme still seemed ill placed in what would be a smaller Royal Navy, the final plans were given the go ahead on 31 October 1815.

Work began in 1844 to build defensible barracks. In 1845 the first occupiers were the Royal Marines of the Portsmouth Division followed though the years by many famous regiments. Between 1849 and 1857, two Martello towers of dressed Portland stone were constructed at the south-western and north-western corner of the dockyard. Both were garrisoned by sergeants of artillery and their families.

In 1925, it was announced that the Royal Dockyards at Pembroke Dock and Rosyth were redundant and would be closed. A petition was sent to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, stressing the lack of alternative employment and the economic consequences of closure, but the decision was not overturned. First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty, said, "Whether these Yards are necessary for naval purposes, the Admiralty is the only competent judge. As to whether they are necessary for political or social reasons is for the Government to decide. The fact is, that so far as the upkeep of the Fleet is concerned, they are entirely redundant."

The last Pembroke-built ship afloat was the hulk of the iron screw frigate HMS Inconstant, which was broken up in Belgium in 1956. In June of the same year, Admiral Leonard Andrew Boyd Donaldson, the last Captain-Superintendent of Pembroke Dockyard, died aged 81.

Although active warships were not based in Pembroke Dock after the 1940s, and formal dockyard work ceased in 1926, the base remained an official Naval Dockyard, and retained a Queen's Harbour Master, until 2008 (one of the last 5 QHMs in the UK, together with those at the currently (2010) extant bases at Devonport, Portsmouth, Rosyth and Clyde). The Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service (RMAS) was based in Pembroke Dock until disestablishment in 2008, and the Ministry of Defence sold the freehold of the site to the Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA) in 2007. For most of the last 20 years of MOD usage, the principal RMAS assets seen in the base were the MOD Salvage & Marine Team (formerly CSALMO) vessels located there, the majority of which were relocated to the Serco base in Burntisland on the River Forth upon the activation of the £1bn Future Provision of Marine Services (FPMS) contract in May 2008.



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