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MILFORD

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From Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1833)

MILFORD, a newly created borough, sea-port, and market town, in the parish of STEYNTON, hundred of RHÔS, county of PEMBROKE, SOUTH WALES, 6 miles (N.W.) from Pembroke, 8 (S.S.W.) from Haverfordwest, and 256 (W.) from London: the population is returned with the parish. This town, which is celebrated for the spacious and commodious haven to which it gives name, is said to have derived its appellation from a stream which turned a mill anciently belonging to a priory, about a mile from the present town, and over which there was a ford, prior to the erection of a bridge at this place. It was in the famous haven of Milford that Henry II. embarked with the troops which he had assembled for the conquest of Ireland; and here also he landed, on his return from that expedition. In the reign of Henry IV., an army of twelve thousand men, which had been sent from France to the assistance of Owain Glyndwr, in his insurrection against the authority of that monarch, landed at this place, from which they marched to the siege of Haverfordwest, and afterwards to that of Carmarthen. The Earl of Richmond, afterwards Henry VII., attended by a small body of French retainers, ill disciplined and scantily provided for the great design he had undertaken, also landed in this haven, where he was received by Rhys ab Thomas, with a numerous train of his dependents and followers, whose warlike appearance encouraged him at once to proceed on his arduous enterprise. On this occasion it is said that Rhys, who had previously, in his assurances of loyalty to Richard, declared that any person ill affected to the state, daring to land in those parts of Wales where he had any employment under the king, "must resolve to make his entrance and irruption over his belly," laid himself on his back on the ground, that the earl, on landing, might pass over him: a tradition still popular in the neighbourhood states that Rhys, in the evasive redemption of his pledge, remained under a small bridge, while the earl passed over it. Immediately after his landing, Richmond, having despatched orders to his partisans in other parts of the country, to join him with their forces at Shrewsbury, set forward upon his march, forming his small army into two divisions, one of which he commanded himself, taking his route through Cardiganshire, and the other he placed under the conduct of Rhys, who, passing through Carmarthenshire, was to collect his followers on his march, and to rejoin the earl at Shrewsbury. In the reign of Henry VIll., although the present town of Milford was not then in existence, the port of Llanelly, in Carmarthenshire, was esteemed a creek to the harbour; and in the reign of Elizabeth, when the country was threatened with the Spanish invasion, an engineer named Ivy was sent hither, to survey the haven, and to report on the means necessary to be adopted for its defence against the enemy; but his conduct gave so much dissatisfaction to the inhabitants of this part of the coast, that a spirited memorial was drawn up, signed by the Bishop of St. David's and the principal gentlemen and magistrates of the county, and presented to the leading members of the Privy Council. In this memorial they set forth the great importance to "her Majesty and the realm" of properly and effectually fortifying the haven of Milford, and entreat that some engineer of experience should be sent down for that purpose. In consequence either of this remonstrance, or of Mr. Ivy's report of the means necessary for the defence of the place, orders were issued for the construction of two forts near the entrance of the haven, which were begun in situations very ill chosen for the purpose, but were never finished; and their remains, called respectively the Dale and Nangle blockhouses, are still visible. About the commencement of the American war, it was resolved by government to form a dock-yard at Nayland, on the northern shore of the haven, and a little to the east of the present town; and some land in the vicinity was purchased for the erection of forts and batteries for its defence; but, after two ships had been built there by contract, viz., the Milford frigate, and the Prince of Wales of seventy four guns, and when one of the fortifications had been constructed to a considerable extent, the design was abandoned, after nearly £20,000 had been expended. The late Admiral Lord Nelson, who, after the battle of the Nile, visited this place in company with the late Sir William Hamilton, then proprietor of it, regarded Milford Haven as the finest and most extensive harbour in the known world, capable of floating more than the whole navy of England within its limits in perfect safety. George IV., on his return from Dublin in 1821, encountering a gale of wind near the Land's End, the royal squadron twice entered this haven; and his Majesty, having landed at Milford, ultimately proceeded by land to London. In commemoration of this event a tablet, about six feet in height, ornamented in the centre with a large shell, and with wreaths of flowers down the sides, was placed at the end of a public building near Milford Quay, by the Hon. Robert Fulke Greville, on which is engraved a long inscription detailing the circumstances of that occurrence.

The present town is of very recent origin, and owes its rise and importance to the Hon. Mr. Greville, nephew of the late Sir William Hamilton, and subsequently, after the death of his uncle, proprietor of the estate. This gentleman, during the lifetime of Sir William, perceiving the advantages which might be derived from the situation of the property, procured an act of parliament in 1790, enabling Sir William Hamilton, his heirs and assigns, to make docks, construct quays, establish markets, with roads and avenues to the port, to regulate the police, and to make this place a station for conveying the mails to Waterford, which previously had been compelled to stop at Haverfordwest, eight miles distant from the place of shipping. To this arrangement may be attributed the origin of the town, which it was resolved to build opposite to the finest anchorage in that part of the haven called the Man of War Roads. The first building erected on this site was a large and commodious inn, for the accommodation of the passengers by the mail coaches and packets; and the ground plan having been regularly laid out, the allotments were eagerly taken and built upon, and a flourishing town soon arose. The earliest settlers in the new town were some families from the island of Nantucket, on the coast of North America, of whom the Starbucks first, and afterwards the family of Rotch, came by invitation of government to establish the South Sea Whale fishery at this port, which trade was carried on successfully for some years, but was afterwards entirely discontinued. The increasing population soon caused the establishment of a market, for which a good market-house has been built, and which is well and cheaply supplied for the inhabitants and the shipping, this having been formerly a station for men of war; and the accession to the trade of the place procured, in a short time, the erection of a custom-house, in 1823, to which that of Pembroke became subordinate. A very great addition to the prosperity and importance of the town was made by carrying into effect Lord Spencer's plan for establishing a royal dock-yard at this port, which took place about the commencement of the present century, when a frigate of forty guns, and a sloop of thirty, were built here, and proved to be the best ships of their respective classes in the service. In 1809, the Milford of seventy-four guns was launched here; and in consequence of the design of government to fix the new dock-yard and naval arsenal at this place, a petition was presented to the House of Commons, in 1813, for leave to bring in a bill for the improvement of the town, by building a bridge across one of the inlets from the haven to the village of Haking, to be constructed in such a manner as to convert the inlet into a floating dock of sixty acres. Under these favourable circumstances the town, which had already become considerable in its extent and population, promised greatly to increase in importance; but its further progress was arrested by the removal of the royal dockyard and arsenal to Paterchurch, or Pembroke Dock, which took place in 1814. It has still, however, retained its distinction as the station for the post-office packets to Waterford, from which it has derived a considerable degree of prosperity; but it is at present in contemplation to remove this establishment also to a place called Hobbs Point, near Pembroke Dock, where a handsome pier is now being built with that view.

The town of Milford is beautifully situated, five or six miles from the mouth of the haven, on a point of land sloping down to the water, by which it is almost surrounded, being bounded on the east by Prix Pill, on the west by Priory Pill, and on the south by the main haven, which here expands into a spacious reach, having the appearance of a large inland lake, enclosed by rocky shores presenting rich and highly varied scenery. The present town, elevated upwards of sixty feet above the level of the sea, consists of three parallel streets, intersected at right angles by others leading down to the haven: the lower street contains only one row of houses, overlooking the water, and having in front a fine terrace, at one extremity of which stands the principal hotel, a spacious and handsome pile of building, affording every accommodation for passengers to and from Waterford. The houses, which are for the most part built of stone procured on the spot, are regularly disposed, and many of them are of very handsome design. The approach to the town from the sea is defended by two batteries, mounting each -seven guns, and erected on the opposite shores of the haven; and between the adjacent villages of Haking and Hubberstone there is an observatory, which, however, having never been finished, is now going to decay. The air is remarkably salubrious, and the surrounding scenery abounds with variety and beauty, and in some places is highly picturesque. Milford Haven is one of the most extensive and secure harbours in the kingdom, or perhaps in the world: it is formed by the junction of the rivers called the Eastern and Western Cleddy, from the mouths of which it extends nearly ten miles in length, being from one to two miles in breadth, and has five bays, ten creeks, and thirteen roadsteads; the whole affording good anchorage and safe shelter for ships of the greatest burden, which, from the strength and depth of the tides, can put to sea in any winds with more expedition than from any large harbour on the coast of Britain: its total navigable length, from its mouth up the main haven and the Western Cleddy to Haverfordwest, is twenty-one miles; from its mouth, ascending the haven and the Eastern Cleddy, to Canaston bridge, about twenty miles. It has been stated by a naval officer once resident at this place to be capable of receiving, at the same time, one thousand ships of the line, one thousand fifty gun ships, one thousand frigates, one thousand sloops of war, and one thousand transports, without the least danger of their being in each other's way; and that one hundred sail of the line might be brought to act simultaneously against any number of ships that might attempt to enter the harbour.

The trade and present importance of the town arise from its being a great resort of shipping, not only on account of the custom-house, but also of the packet and quarantine establishments, and the convenience of its situation as a port for vessels in distress and under circumstances of peculiar destination. The principal business is that of ship-building, which, since the removal of the royal dock-yard, is still carried on upon a less extensive scale: there are several yards for the repairing of vessels, in which also vessels of upwards of one hundred tons' burden are built. Coal for the supply of the post-office steam-packets is brought from Scotland; American timber is imported for ship-building and domestic uses, and also various articles of Baltic produce, but upon a small scale. The principal exports are, stone coal, for drying malt, of which great quantities are shipped for London and different ports on the Bristol and English channels, and limestone and culm, which are sent coastwise. A large oyster fishery is carried on for the supply of distant markets, the oysters of this coast being esteemed unrivalled in quality. The number of vessels belonging to the port, according to the official returns of 1831, is one hundred and sixteen, of the aggregate burden of eight thousand one hundred and four tons. The post-office steam-packets sail daily to Waterford, and daily return, conveying the Irish mail: they are commodiously fitted up for the reception of passengers. The jurisdiction of the port extends over the whole haven, and along the entire coast from near Laugharne, in Carmarthenshire, to St. David's Head: it is under the control of a Lord High Admiral and a Vice Admiral of the port, a harbour-master, a superintendent of quarantine, and a collector of the customs: an agent for the post-office packets, and an agent for Lloyd's, who is likewise a consul for foreign nations, are also resident in the town. Some good quays have been constructed, and there are extensive warehouses for bonding stores, and two bonding yards for timber. The custom-house is a neat and substantial building, commodiously situated, and well adapted to its purpose. A public brewery is conducted upon an extensive scale; and a considerable trade is carried on in ship-chandlery and other articles necessary for the supply of the shipping. The market days are Tuesday and Saturday, and the markets, which are abundantly supplied and numerously attended, are held in a convenient and sheltered area for the purpose. The lord of the manor holds courts leet, at which constables and other officers are appointed. By the recent act of parliament for amending the representation, Milford has been made a contributory borough to Pembroke in returning one member to parliament: the constituency of course consists entirely of the ten pound householders, duly qualified and registered: the number of houses of sufficient value to qualify their tenants is one hundred and five, the limits marked out for the franchise not only including the whole area between Prix Pill and Priory Pill, chiefly occupied by the town, but also the old village of Haking, on the opposite side of the latter inlet, and are more minutely detailed in the Appendix. A chapel of ease to the mother church, dedicated to St. Catherine, is situated at the eastern extremity of the street fronting the haven: it was erected chiefly at the expense of the Hon. Charles Francis Greville, lord of the manor, and was consecrated for divine service in the year 1808. It is an elegant structure in the later style of English architecture, with a lofty embattled tower, and consists of a nave, chancel, and north and south aisles: the roof is richly groined, and the windows are embellished with stained glass: the font, which is of very elegant design, is of Derbyshire marble, and opposite to it is a vase of red porphyry, which was brought from Egypt, and intended to be placed here, also the top-gallant mast of the French ship L'Orient, which was blown up in the battle of Aboukir. A little to the east of the present edifice are the remains of an ancient chapel, which was also dedicated to St. Catherine, and, after having been desecrated for many years, was converted into a powder magazine: it consisted of a nave and chancel, with a finely vaulted roof, which is still entire: the western end has fallen down, but the boundaries of the ancient cemetery may be distinctly traced. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists. Milford gave the title of baron, in the peerage of Ireland, to the late Sir Richard Philipps, Bart., of Picton Castle, who dying without issue, in 1823, that dignity expired.

Gareth Hicks, 19 Dec 1999

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