THE PEMBREY CANAL
On the 1st May 1824 the Cambrian newspaper on page 3 carried an article about the new Pembrey Canal. This canal was built by Thomas Gaunt’s company on land leased from the Earl of Ashburnham for the purpose of bringing iron ore to his furnaces at Pembrey and anthracite from the Gwendraeth Valley to be shipped from the harbour he built in 1819 at Pembrey.
The newspaper article describes how “a vast concourse people from all parts of the neighbourhood assembled on its banks to view the passage of the first barge through it. The gliding of the barge, decorated with flags and with a band of music playing on board it, together with the display of colours by the shipping in the harbour, the firing of guns ringing of bells, and cheering of the spectators, formed the most interesting and enlivening scene”.
It describes how around 600 people enjoyed a meal in booths erected near the Ashburnham and paid for by the company. The author of the article was full of praise for the “undaunted perseverance of Mr Gaunt” in building a harbour which “will rank among the best in the Bristol Channel” and which is situated near his collieries which produce such excellent quality coal. However, the author does seem to get carried away in suggesting the company should turn their attention to housebuilding to take advantage of the fine beach near the harbour and the fishing grounds of Carmarthen Bay. A fish market at Pembrey harbour “could ensure a regular supply of fish to the greatest part of Carmarthenshire during the whole summer season”. Raymond Bowen suggests caution in overemphasising the potential of what he described as quite a small harbour in which only the very smallest of coastal vessels could load simultaneously. Despite its initial success and the great achievement of Gaunt in developing an integrated industrial system of canal, tramroad, harbour and coal mines the harbour could not cope with the huge growth of coal production in the area.
Begun in 1823, the canal was about 2 miles long and 15 yards wide protected by high banks. It came out from the Kidwelly and Llanelli canal (Gaunt would have paid for this facility) about a hundred yards from Ty Gwyn farm and about 650 yards from its junction with the now disused Earl of Ashburnham’s canal which it cut through before it took a south easterly direction across marshland toward the harbour at Pembrey where it was dug through heavy sand dunes. It had one lock at Cross Lane cottage, Pen-y-Bedd and ended at Glo Caled where the offices were constructed (the Links today). A short tramroad was built to link this to the loading areas of the harbour.
Gaunt was now able to transport cargo by horse drawn barge from the Gwendraeth Valley by the Kidwelly and Llanelli canal, along Kymer’s canal., back on the Kidwelly and Llanelli Canal and on to his new Pembrey canal to the harbour.