The forgotten black diamond mining village
Pembrokeshire may not be as synonymous with coal mining as the South Wales Valleys, yet in its heyday the harbour in Saundersfoot was shipping out around 30,000 tons of anthracite coal annually from its shores! Having said that, Pembrokeshire was a huge producer of anthracite. From 1830 onwards, with the onset of the industrial revolution, coal was in great demand and due to the large quantities found in this area, over fifteen coal mines came into operation and by 1930, Hook (by the Estuary towards Haverfordwest) had the only mine operating.
Accordingly the area got affected by the industry and if you look at records from that period many households were led by widowed women who had lost their husbands in the pit. The harbour in Saundersfoot is a big landmark that has been heavily influenced from the coal mining industry:
“A harbour of this size was not built for a few fishing boats to land their catch. So what was it built for? The answer is COAL. The coal boats would leave the harbour loaded with coal, returning with a range of materials used as ballast which they dumped on local beaches. You can still find interesting stones from this ballast including Connemara Marble.”
The original well-sheltered harbour in Saundersfoot, was built in 1829, in response to the rapid growth of the thriving coal industry in the area which was developed by the Vickerman family. They lived in Hean Castle and later at St Issells’ house – now the Captain’s Table on the harbour. Before the harbour’s development, coal was loaded into boats at Swallow Tree Bay and Coppet Hall, (thought to derive from ‘coal pit haul’). The Coal Office in Saundersfoot stands proudly by the harbour, however it’s not being used for anything since a couple of years. Together with the harbour, the Coal Office was the operations centre of the coal industry in the area.
“The footpath across the field is known as the Black Walk because the coal carts were pulled down through this walk to the beach by oxen and horses to the waiting boats on the beach. Coppet Hall was by far the busiest area before the harbour was built in Saundersfoot. The coal was mined further up the valley beyond St Issells Church”
Remains of the mine can still be seen and there are beautiful walk/cycling trails around that are well worth exploring! The Saundersfoot Railway and Harbour Company was formed in 1828 to build a harbour at Saundersfoot and a tramway to connect it to the collieries around Begelly and Stepaside. The tramway, which consisted of two main mineral lines and a number of small branches, originally used horses to pull up to three laden wagons along the tracks.
Of the two main lines, the first was built in two stages to connect collieries near Stepaside and the later ironworks (a mile east of Kilgetty railway station) to Saundersfoot, running along the coast through a series of short tunnels and terminating in the centre of the village at the harbour.However, only seven years later, due to financial considerations and the workings becoming exhausted, the railway finally closed on the eve of the Second World War. Nowadays, the only remains of the railway line are the tunnels along the coastline from Saundersfoot to Wisemans Bridge that have carefully been kept in their original state. It is now a 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) section on the Miners Trail, part of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Walkers using the trail pass through three tunnels on the former line.
The Miners’ Walk is one of the shorter walks but is rich in history. Most of the Miners’ Walk follows the old tramways and there are information boards along the route, as well as a leaflet available free from information centres.
Access: There is a free car park with toilets behind the Tourist Information Centre in Kilgetty. This is on the south side of the road through Kilgetty, about 300 metres from the roundabout.