Milford Haven Harbour

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Milford Harbour
Milford Haven in Wales
Milford Haven Harbour Map 1946.jpg
Milford Haven Harbour Map 1946
TypeNaval Base and Naval Dockyard
Site information
OperatorNavy Royal, Royal Navy
Controlled byNavy Board
Site history
In use1171-1814
Installation information
OccupantsIrish Fleet, Irish Squadron

Milford Haven Harbour (Welsh: Dyfrffordd Aberdaugleddau) is a natural harbour in Pembrokeshire, Wales. The Haven is a ria or drowned valley flooded at the end of the last Ice Age The Daugleddau estuary winds west to the sea. As one of the deepest natural harbours in the world, it is a busy shipping channel, trafficked by ferries from Pembroke Dockyard to Ireland, oil tankers and pleasure craft. Admiral Horatio Nelson, visiting the harbour with the Hamiltons, described it as the next best natural harbour to Trincomalee in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and "the finest port in Christendom".[1]


View of Milford Haven Harbour in 1776
1748 British Admiralty survey map of Milford Haven Harbour

From the 790s until the Norman Invasion in 1066, the waterway was used occasionally by Vikings looking for shelter. During one visit in 854, the Viking Chieftain Hubba wintered in the Haven with 23 ships, eventually lending his name to the district of Hubberston Evidence of metal working in the area was recently excavated, suggesting a level of industrialisation in the period 750–1100.[2]

In 1171 Henry II designated the area the rendezvous for his Irish expedition. An army of 400 warships, 500 knights and 4,000 men-at-arms gathered in the haven before sailing to Waterford, and on to Dublin,[3] which marked the first time an English king had stood on Irish soil, and the beginning of Henry's invasion of Ireland. St Thomas a Becket chapel was dedicated in 1180, a structure which looked out over the Haven from the north shore of the town. In later years it was used as a beacon for sailors in foul weather, and ultimately as a pig sty, until it was reconsecrated in the 20th century. Between 1297 and 1401 the harbour was used eighteen times as an assembly point for the Navy Royal's, Irish Fleet

By 1590, two forts had been constructed to defend the entrance to the harbour.[4] George Owen of Henllys, in his Description of Penbrokshire, claimed in 1603 that Milford Haven was the most famous port of Christendom.[5] The area however was a source of anxiety for the Tudor monarchy. Due to its location, it was exposed to attacks from Ireland, a convenient base from which England could be invaded via Wales.[6] In 1405, the French landed in force having left Brest in July with more than twenty-eight hundred knights and men-at-arms led by Jean II de Rieux, the Marshal of France, to support Owain Glyndŵr's rebellion.

In April 1603, Martin Pring used the harbour as his departure point for his exploratory voyage to Virginia.[7] The land comprising the site of Milford, the Manor of Hubberston and Pill, was acquired by the Barlow family following the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid-16th century. It acquired an additional strategic importance in the 17th century as a Royalist military base. Charles I ordered a fort to be built at Pill by Royalist forces and completed in 1643 to prevent Parliamentarian forces from landing at Pembroke Castle and to protect Royalist forces landing from Ireland. On 23 February 1644, a Parliamentarian force led by Rowland Laugharne crossed the Haven and landed at Pill. The fort was gunned from both land and water, and a garrison was placed in Steynton church to prevent a Royalist attack from the garrison at Haverfordwest. The fort was eventually surrendered, and quickly taken,[8] along with St Thomas a Becket chapel. Just five years later in 1649 Milford Haven was again the site of Parliamentarian interest when it was chosen as the disembarkation site for Oliver Cromwell's Invasion of Ireland. Cromwell arrived in the Haven on 4 August, meeting George Monck,[9] before Cromwell and over a hundred crafts left for Dublin on 15 August.[10]

By the late 18th century, the two creeks which would delimit the future town of Milford's boundaries to the east and west, namely Hakin and Castle Pill, were being used as harbours for ships to load and unload coal, corn and limestone.,[11] A ferry service to Ireland operated from Hakin around the start of the 19th century, although this ceased in the early 19th century. Although surrounding settlements at Steynton, Thornton, Priory, Liddeston and Hubberston/Hakin were established, they were little more than hamlets. The only man-made structures on the future site of Milford were the medieval chapel, and Summer Hill Farm, and its accompanying cottages.

In 1794 the Department of Admiralty began construction of Milford Dockyard that was a Naval Dockyard of the Navy Royal then later Royal Navy. It was controlled by the Navy Board represented by a Resident Commissioner of Navy who was responsible for supervising the principal officers of the yard. It opened in 1797 and closed in 1814 when the work and staff of dockyard was transferred to Pembroke Dockyard.


  1. Wing Commander Ken McKay A Vision of Greatness: The History of Milford 1790–1990, Brace Harvatt Associates, 1989. ISBN 978-0-9515212-0-5
  2. Medieval Works Found At LNG Site BBC News Article, 5 April 2005 Retrieved 17 January 2010
  3. Brennan, Joseph J, A Catechism of the History of Ireland: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern (1878), Kessinger Publishing, 2008. ISBN 1-4367-1986-0
  4. Genealogy World – FORT HUBBERSTONE Mason, Graham, Retrieved 20 May 2011
  5. Owen, George. The Description of Pembrokeshire, Gomer Press, 1994. ISBN 978-1-85902-120-0
  6. Jones, J Gwynfor. Wales & The Tudor State, Cardiff University of Wales Press, 1989. ISBN 0-7083-1039-7
  7. Hoyt, Epaphras Antiquarian Researches: Comprising A History Of The Indian Wars In The Country Bordering The Connecticut River, Kessinger Publishing, 2007. ISBN 0-548-25343-9
  8. "1643–4: Civil War in Pembrokeshire". Retrieved 18 January 2010
  9. 4 August 1649 "Timeline: British Civil wars" Retrieved 19 January 2010
  10. "A Short History of Ireland: 'The righteous judgement of God': Cromwell". BBC. Retrieved 19 January 2010
  11. George, Barbara J; Pembrokeshire Sea Trading Before 1900 Field Studies Journal, pp. 5–6; Retrieved 19 January 2010