Coal Was Sent all Over the World

Article Number One in Hook History Society's Lockdown Series.

At its peak over 40,00 tons of anthracite was mined at Hook colliery each year and employment provided for well over 100. Until the rail link was built in the early 1900’s to link the village with the main line at Johnston the vast majority of coal left by sea from Hook Quay.

Anthracite was transported literally all over the world and rather exotic sounding places like Singapore and St Helena crop up among the destinations. The Colliery Company owned several vessels most of which traded to the French and London markets. The coal was in great demand for smelting and also heating the sophisticated homes of the capital city. It has been recorded that Queen Victoria had a distinct preference for the practically smokeless Hook anthracite and it was used extensively in the Royal palaces.

During this period one of the vessels owned by the Hook Colliery Co Ltd was the CAMBORNE a typical Welsh schooner of 118 gross tonnage. The Camborne was built in Amlwch in 1884 and was a familiar sight in coastal waters before she was brought to Hook to specifically transport anthracite to the French markets.. For use on the Hook to mainland Europe run her rigging was reduced and a diesel engine installed.

Coal Was Sent all Over the World

Above: The Hook owned Camborne was virtually identical to the Charlotte Rhodes the “star” of the popular television programme, The Onedin Line. The Charlotte Rhodes registered name was Kathleen and May and she was built by Ferguson and Baird in Connahs Quay in 1900. She is the only remaining three masted schooner in Britain and the home port is Bideford in Devon. For a while the star of the Onedin Line used Milford Haven as her base port.

Coal Was Sent all Over the World

Above: The artist envisages the vessel encountering stormy seas. Both illustrations are courtesy of the National Museum of Wales.

100 trawlers

For many years the village colliery would send large quantities of coal to Milford Haven and it was in much sought after as fuel for the steam driven trawler fleet, which, of course, played a major role in providing the country with food (fish) during two world wars. When the colliery closed in 1948 and the mining industry had been nationalised trawler owners sought fuel from further afield and it is said that with the preferred Hook anthracite it would allow a trawler to stay at sea an extra two days!! The benefit of this market can be assessed by the fact that at its absolute peak there were an estimated 100 trawlers using Milford Haven as its base and the Great Western Railway produced a very popular poster exclaiming....MILFORD HAVEN.....WHERE THE FISH COMES FROM  (copies of which are still available).

There is an interesting and very sparsely recorded incident that surrounds another ship owned by the Hook Colliery Company.

The vessel was a 116-ton 1896 built steel ketch KINDLY LIGHT which carried a crew of three.  Master, mate and boy.

The vessel was bought by the Hook Company in 1917 and as a west country ketch she remained registered at Gloucester. The vessel was returning having delivered a cargo of coal to Honfleur in France when she was captured by a German U-boat. The crew, it is said, was ordered into the ketch’s boat and the vessel sunk by gunfire from U-boat 101 which was commanded by a Carl Siegfried Ritter von Georg. The three-man crew returned safely to Hook, and a local newspaper of the day told the story in four or five lines!

It is interesting to note that the stonework remains of Hook Quay recently underwent a facelift when members of the Friends of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park put in many hours of voluntary work restoring areas of the once berth for ocean going vessels. The same volunteer work party recently assisted with the restoration of the old lime kiln in Boggy Lane.

Recommended reading: Coal Industry in Pembrokeshire by George Edwards.