Saturday, 21 August 2010

Is this the most obscure canal terminus ever?

Terminal Basin of the Pembrey Canal 1824 - 1845
The Gwendraeth Valley in eastern Carmarthenshire was a hive of industry in the early nineteenth century, due largely to its plentiful deposits of coal and iron ore. A network of early canals and tramways grew up to link the mines and furnaces with small ports that were developing along the Burry Estuary. The Pembrey Canal was one such waterway running from a junction with the slightly less obscure Llanelly & Kidwelly Canal (which I wrote about in an earlier post "Obscure Canals") to a terminus at Pembrey. At this time Pembrey Harbour, opened in 1819 was described as having the potential to become "one of the most considerable shipping ports in Wales" but, curiously, the Pembrey Canal stopped short, 400 metres from the harbour, to which it was linked by a tramway. Two miles long and with only one lock, the Pembrey Canal had a short life. Pembrey Harbour was soon overshadowed by the creation of "Pembrey New Harbour" (later, and nowadays, known as Burry Port and the focus of the district's canals and tramways changed to feed the new dock. The Pembrey Canal had clsoed by 1845; part of the line was used ten years later to build the South Wales Railway.
But why my interest? I was born and brought up in Pembrey, my first home being a bungalow just to the right of the white house shown on the edge of the photo. The canal had been well and truly forgotten by then and it was only about 25 years ago that I first investigated its remains. At that time some of the basin could be discerned amid the trees, but when I revisited last week I couldn't find them. Some of the canal offices and associated buildings are, however, still in situ and now, much altered, are someone's home.
Terminal Buildings at "Glo Caled"
At first I wasn't sure that the much-extended house in the photograph was anything to do with the canal, but Hadfield, in his "Canals of South Wales and the Borders" describes the Pembrey Canal as terminating at "Glo Caled" ("Stone Coal" in Welsh) and the current inhabitants are obviously aware of their home's past as shown by the nameplate at the front door. Curiously though, they have chosen to illustrate it by reference to the tramway, rather than the canal.
"Glo Caled
There was more to see of the tramway and the harbour, which I'll tell you about soon.

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