New Hook Road

Article Number Eleven in Hook History Society’s Lockdown Series.

Locals Fought for a Road to Hook and Finally Won!

There was no direct access to Freystrop Cross and so to Haverfordwest which meant villagers from Hook were compelled to travel, if they wished to stay on a road, to Llangwm to Freystrop Cross via Troopers Inn and then to the county town. A new road from Hook to the Cross would more than halve this distance.

Many villagers would attempt the journey to Haverfordwest by following the river to Little Milford and join the main road there but that route, albeit shorter, was often covered by an incoming tide and ankle deep in mud.

The struggle to persuade an intransigent local authority to link Hook with the main road fell on deaf ears for 30 years or more but came to a head around 1914.

It must be remembered that Hook was an industrial centre at that time with well over 100 men working in the local colliery. Coal was of major and strategic importance in the steam driven period around the First World War.

Refusal by the District Council to even consider the question of a road led to a major public meeting being held in the village school. In the chair was Mr Harcourt Roberts of Little Milford and speaker after speaker attacked the powers that be for their total lack of support.

A major conclusion was “if some aristocrat lived here rather than humble working men, we would have a road.”

Repeatedly the councillors on the Rural Council turned their backs on the people of Hook despite a growing groundswell of support from several businessmen of Haverfordwest and even the Chief Constable who was dismayed to see women from the area arriving in the county town having had to wade through six inches of mud.

Both Llangwm and Freystrop Community Councils were determined in their support. Things began to change when Mr Harcourt Roberts at 27 years of age won the area seat on the County Council and support for the cause was logged by such notable figures as Col Frederick Lort Phillips; Sir Charles Philipps of Picton Castle and Major W.G.Eaton Evans of Haverfordwest.

The womenfolk of Hook regularly volunteered to improve the ankle deep mud track
Above: The womenfolk of Hook regularly volunteered to improve the ankle deep mud track.

Councillors heard of doctors who refused to visit Hook after dark because of the dangerous road; tradesmen charging extra because of the additional travelling via Llangwm to the village and youngsters attending town school had a particularly tough time.

Eventually the Rural council caved into pressure and sent a small committee to inspect the proposed new road and report back............there was huge disappointment when, as the well informed half expected, the committee members announced that they saw no substance in the request for a road and could not recommend spending money thereon. Further correspondence simple lay on the table.

Another public meeting and it was decided to keep the pressure on the authorities and raise funds so that a financial contribution could be made towards the cost of a new road. A major raffle was arranged with prizes ranging from a bicycle to a suckling pig; a pair of rabbits and two sacks of potatoes!

The bike was won by a man from Swansea and the raffle made £100 after expenses.

Add to this the promise that the land for the road would be given free of charge; no royalty on the stone from a local quarry and some heavy equipment could be borrowed from the colliery free of charge.

Eventually the authorities managed to raise the estimated cost of road construction from various sources including a Ministry of Labour grant of £400 to enable 20 out of work men to be employed on the road. At this time (1921) there were 173 skilled men out of work in the vicinity and 177 unskilled workers.

Finally, in May 1921 the tender was awarded to Messrs Fothergill of Exeter for the princely sum of £4004..................and six shillngs! This was said to be considerably lower than two local contractors. Workmen would be paid one shilling and three pence per hour and construction commenced on 19th of May 1921. The hourly wage at today’s value would about 6pence per hour.

Who would maintain the road? The county council and its district counterpart fired letter after letter at one another but the Rural Council, undoubtedly not best pleased that they had been taken on by a group of angry villagers and humiliated, refused to accept any obligation in the matter.

While the route from Hook to the Cross was merely an earth track women from the village often got together and armed with spades etc did their best to make the track as passible as possible. Great play was made of this in an effort to highlight the shocking conditions that had to be endured.

Once the Exeter company started work all went well and on Thursday 9th of February 1922 the road from Freystrop to Hook was formerly opened the struggle between the population and an unsympathetic authority was finally is believed that over the years the Road Campaign Committee met at least 200 times.

After decades of relentless determination and agitation the road was a reality.

A huge crowd gathered at the Cross while a band of white, red and blue ribbons had been stretched across the entrance of the road. With a pair of ceremonial scissors provided by the contractor Mrs Roberts, the mother of the colliery manager, Mr Harcourt Roberts, performed the opening ceremony.

A huge procession; lorries; bicycles and on foot cheering flag waving crowds followed the Pembroke Dock Temperance Band to Mount Zion Chapel where the inevitable congratulatory speeches were made. Hook school children had been given the day off to take part in the celebrations and reports say, “they enjoyed a special tea and sang various and patriotic songs in celebration.”

During the celebrations Mrs Thomas, The Poplars, wife of one of the Joint Secretaries of the Road Committee presented Councillor Harcourt Roberts with a gold watch which bore the inscription “Presented to T.W.Roberts Esq. C.C. in appreciation of services rendered towards the Hook to Freystrop road ....10th March 1922.”

Here it was announced that the community had raised £1200 as their contribution to the scheme. Captain Harcourt Powell had donated £200; Colonel Lort Phillips £100 and the Hook Colliery Company £100.  £1200 in 1921/22 would be worth a little over £40,000 at today’s value.

February 9th 1922 and the village children get ready to march along the new road and celebrate a hard fought victory
Above: February 9th 1922 and the village children get ready to march along the new road and celebrate a hard fought victory.

The issue of a road into the village of Hook was first raised with the Haverfordwest Rural Council in 1897. Within a very short space of time of the road opening a charabanc service was running and by 1925 a daily transport service was started by a Mr Tom Davies of Llangwm and within 12 months the business was taken over by Greens Motors of Haverfordwest. No sooner had the road been opened that Hook Colliery was advertising buy your coal at Hook and “see our New Road”!

Obviously hugely impressed by the occasion a local reporter’s headline in the weekly paper was HOOK OUT OF THE WILDERNESS AND INTO THE PROMISED LAND.

Additional reading Hook History Society’s Where the River Bends and Some Remarkable People of Hook and Llangwm by W.G.Thomas.

(Richard Howells 2020)