Monday, 23 August 2010

The Canal, The Dock and the Embankment

As Douglas Adams once wrote, although I can't find the exact quote, we accept everything that is already in the world at the time of our birth as part of the natural order of things, to be accepted unconditionally and not questioned in any way. Certainly, as children growing up in the village of Pembrey, in west Wales, we took our surroundings for granted including "the embankment" - to us a playground, an access route to the beach or, later, a short cut to the bus stop if we happened to catch a "top road" bus rather than one on the "bottom road" that ran nearer to our part of the village.
"The Embankment", course of a former tramroad leading to Pembrey Old Harbour
To local children the embankment was an entirely natural feature that had always been in existence and we never questioned why it was there or how it had come into being. It was only when I began to take an interest in the transport and industrial history of my home village that I realised just what it had been. "The embankment" was actually the course of a 3ft 6in gauge tramroad, built to carry the products of small coal mines at Gwscwm, in the hills above Pembrey, to the harbour for export. The building of the tramroad upon an embankment allowed a constant gradient throughout the line thus facilitating its operation. When the Pembrey Canal opened in 1824 it stopped short of the harbour at "Glo Caled" and a short branch tramroad connected the terminal basin to the main tramway and thus to the docks. The coal that came down the Pembrey Canal therefore had to be unloaded from canal boats to trams and then tipped into ships, being handled twice in the space of about 800 metres, but labour was cheap in those days and the costs of this double-handling were presumably considered insignificant.
Pembrey Old Harbour was a victim of its own success and swiftly became too small to handle all the traffic it was offered. It was was also caught up in the industrial politics of the district and  feuding between local industrialists which is far too complicated to go into here.Suffice to say that it was replaced by a much larger and more modern facility at nearby Burry Port and when it died, its transport links died with it.
Pembrey Old Harbour with the Gower Peninsula behind.
Despite having been out of use for over 150 years the Old Harbour is still recognisable as such, whilst the New Harbour at Burry Port is now a flourishing marina for inshore pleasure craft. On my rare visits nowadays I see it all with different eyes and each time I try and seek out further evidence of the old canals and tramroads that once criss-crossed the district.

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