Laugharne was a major port in Tudor times and the 7th largest town in Wales, when places like Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli were mere villages.
The reason for this is that Laugharne is one of only a handful of harbours in the Bristol Channel that faces east, so offers protection from the South Westerly gales.
A safe haven back from the times when people started heading out to sea, it quickly grew to be a major port. Walk around St Martin's churchyard and there are many graves for drowned sailors. If you were a young man until around 100 years ago, you either had a trade, or went to sea. In the 16th century, John Callis, a famous pirate from Monmouthshire called John used to sell some of his booty in Laugharne. The pic above predates the castle car park, and gives an indication of what the muddy harbour looked like.
There was never a proper quay at Laugharne. Boats would come in with the tide and either moor a little way out to discharge their cargoes
into smaller boats called 'lighters', which would carry the goods up to St Clears or even Carmarthen, or they would settle onto the mud with their keel-less
bottoms and be unloaded onto wheelbarrows and carts.
That was an arduous task, as one resident explained. His grandfather brought coal over from Kidwelly and it would take 10 hours to unload it into baskets at low tide, then transported through the mud by horse-drawn carts. The hold was lit by one candle which would often go out because the air was so thick with coal dust. Then the boat would go back to Kidwelly on the rising tide.
Until the mid 19th century arrival of the railway in St Clears most goods (and often people, too) came and went by boat. Bristol was a main destination, and that opened trade with the rest of the world. Boats brought grain from Bristol for use in the two mills and granaries, tobacco from Virginia, coal from Kidwelly, and outbound boats carried local linen, produce and limestone from Coygan quarry.
The area from The Barques (opposite the castle at the foot of Sir John's Hill) to Black Scar (opposite the Boathouse) formed Laugharne Bay. A tsunami devastated the Bristol Channel in 1607 (over 2000 people died between Gwent and Somerset) causing substantial silting and by 1880 the sea was noticeably receding.
Local boats like The Lively, The Brothers, The Skidaddle, The Towy, The Sarah Ann, The Lena and The Nautilus traded with channel ports,
and in 1844 passengers could travel to Bristol once a fortnight on The Betsy or the Penelope, and in 1852 on The Lively and Henry.
Laugharne was still a working port as late as 1925 when the road to St. Clears was rebuilt with Porthgain Stone. Coal lorries started rumbling into view, and together with the silting the ancient sea-port was doomed.
By 1925 fishing was still the main employment but it was less lucrative. No longer were trawls hauled ashore with sole and plaice, and catches became too small to sustain a family, and by the 1960s the fishing beds receded.
This was due to Brixham boats trawling on an industrial scale off Tenby which meant Dylan's 'dab-filled bay' no longer offered employment. Older people still remember the grizzled sea dogs on the Grist, staring wistfully out to sea.
The area has changed dramatically; in the 50s the Mackrelle stream which flowed between Island House and the Grist was culverted
and the old bridge demolished to create a car-park.
The small stone footbridge across the Corran today looks ancient, but it was built in the 1970s. Before that there were stepping-stones across the river. However, take care, the area still floods during high tides when Laugharne and the sea reunite.
You can see how the harbour once looked from above in 1930, and, for comparison (below) in 2008.
And another recent view...
The glory days of the regatta were 1872-1915 (see pic above). Richard Hughes of Castle House, a keen sailor, tried to relaunch it in 1935 (Hughes centre in pic below), and attempts to reinstate it in the Laugharne social calendar after the war came to nothing.
The port operated for over 700 years, but only one sea-faring business survives.
Broadsword (at twilight below) skippered by Denzil Brown (See Old Ball Court & Boatshed) can be hired for trips in the summer and carries up to 12 passengers.
To book call 07815-428-907
When you thought you'd got away from Dylan Thomas...
..tho' a real life Dylan Thomas used to live in Laugharne. Chris Moss, the former Literary Editor of Time Out once lived in Laques Cottage. He mentioned that his car wouldn't start one morning but that 'Dylan Thomas brought some jump leads', which is a lovely image.
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