Hook and Cosheston

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

This article, number four, is a contribution written by Society supporter Geoff Hanbury and over the coming weeks there will two more contributions by villagers both of whom recall living in the village in comparatively recent times. Number five will be a recall of several locals who have made their mark in the wider world.

Alongside the Hook-Cosheston tale is an article in the once popular magazine Pembrokeshire Life which it was felt would be of interest to the reader. Download PDF (2.5mb).

Hook and Cosheston – linked by the Cleddau, Trade and History

Cosheston now seems far from away Hook, being almost 10 miles by road and “over the water”. But almost 170 years ago the Cleddau river was a vital artery linking the two villages. Before Covid-19 I had planned a Nordic walk for the Hook group around the lanes and the tree lined shore past Whalecombe near Cosheston.


I have often passed the magnificent three storey warehouse at Whalecombe on the river. Currently named “Shipwrights”, I wondered if I could discover something of its history to entertain the walkers. I row with Llangwm and one of the rowers had hinted that it was once used to store gunpowder due to its remote location! Intrigued I emailed the Pembroke and Monkton local history society for ideas. Waiting for their replies I also thought I would check out the County Archive – The visit organised by Hook History Society had shown me that it is a treasure trove of local history.

Linda Asman at Pembroke History Society had forwarded my email to local historian David James , author of “Down the Slipway – Ships of Pembrokeshire’s Secret Waterway” who replied most helpfully:

“I don't know where you got the name Shipwright from, someone who is not local obviously. The local name is the Chemicals, the story is as follows;-

In about the late 1850's a shipbuilding company called Howells and Morgan began building wooden ships there. Some were ships capable of sailing to Australia and back in the wool trade. See the list below. Walking along the shore below the building one can still see remains of wooden piers that once were used for the building of ships.

As iron and steel began to replace wood for shipbuilding Morgan and Howells could not compete as they did not have the equipment to build steel ships and so the big building was converted to make the explosive naphta for the British War Department. This it did up until the end of WW1 after which it closed in the depression of the1930's.

Morgan, (later Morgan & Howells) Whalecombe, Cosheston
1861 Catherine schooner, Registration no. 29566; 160 tons owned & built by David Morgan, Cosheston
1867 Miller’s Maid schooner built Cosheston. Reg. No. 53155
1867 Forester. Reg. no. 53158 Registered 11 Sept 1867 Smack, 18 tons, MH8
1870 Favourite schooner built Cosheston
1874 Lizzie Mary schooner built Cosheston, later renamed Fair City of Gloucester
          Sylph no details recorded (boats of less than 15 tons did not require registration) Pembrokeshire Lugger?
1879 Florence length 86 ft. x beam 22 ft displacement 130 tons. Registration No. 78474, MH4, registered 12 June 1879, transferred Liverpool 13 June 1879.”

I appreciate David’s taking exception to the name “Shipwrights” but I suspect that modern buyers or holiday home customers might warm more to its current name than Chemicals!

My visit to the County Archive revealed more. I am most grateful to their helpful staff. Their records revealed a well researched article entitled “The Chemicals” from the December 2014 edition of the magazine “Pembrokeshire Life”. The article is attached to this article.

The archivists also introduced me to the National Library of Wales online database of Welsh Newspapers. It is a truly incredible resource enabling you to word search scores of now defunct local newspapers. Titles like the Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser and The Tenby Observer Weekly give up their secrets in seconds – searches that once would have taken months of visits to the archives.

For example there were very regular adverts such as this one from the Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser 12th November 1875 seeking timber to sell to the local collieries.

Adverts from the Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser 12th November 1875

“Debtor commenced business in 1891, at the Chemical Works, Cosheston, with a capital of £70. He carried on a timber merchant's business, and the chemical works as well as farming about 32 acres of land.” .... ”They used to produce charcoal, lime, salt, vegetable naphtha, and vegetable tar. He reckoned that he had about £270 capital then. At the Chemical Works ten or twelve men would be employed, in the winter, and twenty or thirty in the summer. He also carried on business as a timber merchant.”

The article above from the Pembroke County Guardian and Cardigan Reporter on 17th September 1909 headed SAUNDERSFOOT HAULIER'S FAILURE, BECAME SURETY FOR HIS WIFE tells more about the business in its later stages :-

The County Archivists also tracked down two bundles of hand written blue paper invoices from Cosheston Chemical Works to Hook Colliery. Feeling very important in my pair of white gloves I removed the ribbon from the invoices. Sadly, I did not photocopy them, but I recall that they were for quantities of timber, nails, haulage and other stores for the mining operations. These materials would have been ferried by boat up the Cleddau to Hook.

This local trade contributed to a very vibrant local economy with strong links between communities up and down the river. Thus the demand for tar by local ship builders stimulated local production from the Chemical Works. The shipment of coal made work for the local builders of wooden boats at Whalecombe and Jenkins Point. These shipwrights constructed large and small boats – the small boats to take the coal from sites such as Hook Quay and Cresswell Quay to deeper water quays further down river, where larger boats would have taken the coal to customers overseas. 

If you wish to explore the Cosheston area I attach a map of the walk which I strongly recommend for its stunning views of this lovely part of the river. The route goes anti-clockwise from Cosheston and passes “The Chemicals” at Whalecombe Farm and some interesting ruins in the Mill Bay inlet. There is also the well reputed Brewery Inn in the village to sustain you after the walk. Roll on the end of the lockdown!

Map of walk

Geoff Hanbury 16 April 2020