Porthgain coastal village in Pembrokeshire, Wales
Porthgain: A shadow of its industrail past and a charming day out
In a country where the unexpected always seems to be just around the corner, Porthgain still comes as a surprise to the visitor.
The attractive road to the coast leads not just to another picturesque cove but to a startlingly impressive relic of an industrial era which blossomed and then died all in the space of less than a century.
Porthgain today is a charming little village in the shadow of its industrial past. Its tiny harbour, once busy with cargo vessels, its giant derelict brickworks and stone-crushing plant are all reminders of an all too brief period of prosperity when up to 300 men earned a living at the tiny port.
Today the harbour, former brickworks and crushing plant plus part of the surrounding area and cliff top are owned by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park following a unique link up with the local community in the last century which allowed the handful of residents to buy their own homes.
It was in the 1930s that the future of Porthgain was uncertain. The Sheffield firm which had taken over the interests of the defunct Porthgain Village Industries Company in the mid-1930s decided to dispose of its Pembrokeshire assets.
The firm was landlord to several residents – living in the tiny row of stone cottages and two semi-detached houses – and owned the harbour and surrounding industrial relics.
With the decision to sell came the fear that this small community would be exploited by a developer and Porthgain would be transformed out of all recognition, although the National Park would have strongly resisted such moves.
Fortunately these fears never materialised. Tenders were invited for the purchase of all the property and land owned by the Sheffield firm.
Twenty-five local residents with support from neighbouring areas clubbed together to buy their homes and the industrial relics bolstered in the knowledge that if successful the National Park authority would buy the harbour, industrial buildings and cliff top area.
After an anxious waiting period came the good news that he residents tender had been successful and there was jubilation in the whole area.
The special charm of Porthgain remains today. There have been some changes, one of the most notable being the restoration of the row of six cottages known as the street. Local residents live in five of these cottages, while one is used by Alun Davies as one of Pembrokeshire’s art galleries. Another lovely cottage is used by the Harbour Lights Gallery which stocks art by Pembrokeshire artists.
One of the former industrial buildings has been converted into a restaurant and cafe known as The Shed Fish and Chip Shop Bistro. On the other side of the port is a small pub called the Sloop Inn which was established in 1743 AD. Here they serve excellent meals, drinks and snacks throughout the day.
The area is still a working harbour and fresh lobster and crab can be bought from local fisherman. Running down one side of the harbour are a number of sheds. Fresh mackerel caught the same morning is often sold for £1. This is excellent on a barbeque on the cliff top overlooking the harbour or to take home and grill later that evening.
Fishing boats still use the harbour at Porthgain and throughout the day several vessels often return with their catch. Lobster pots and nets are stored in barred holes in the former brickworks or they might be scattered around the harbour.
A visit to Porthgain can be turned into a really enjoyable day trip in Pembrokeshire. There are two cliff-top walks that take in the breathtaking Pembrokeshire coast. The jagged cliffs and clear blue sea are magnificent. You could even hire a kayak for the day and take it in the sea.Or why not spend a couple of hours fishing with the kids? There's even a small village green which is excellent for ball games.
After a morning’s hike around the cliff-top visitors can enjoy an afternoon lunch in the Sloop Inn and amble admire some of the art in the neighbouring galleries.
Alun Davies' gallery has some incredible pieces as does the second gallery. Many of them are seascapes from around the Pembrokeshire coast and prices range from £50 for a very small print up to £7,000 by some of the most renowned artists.
Porthgain is highly recommended as a day-out during a holiday in Pembrokeshire. The history of the tiny harbour is fascinating, the scenery along the Pembrokeshire coast is magnificent and there is plenty to keep everybody busy.
History of Porthgain
Porthgain’s golden era of prosperity was sandwiched into the 100 years between 1830 and 1931. In that time the village’s industry expanded, peaked and declined.
Slate is found in abundance in the locality and this – together with fine deposits of granite and brick-making material- was the basis of Porthgain’s early prosperity.
Porthgain slate, granite road stones and bricks marked with the village name were sent to England and Ireland during the period of great expansion in Britain’s industrial centuries.
Competition from North Wales and the Midlands reducer demands for Porthgain slates and bricks but a new invention – the car – spelled the beginnings of the final chapter in Porthgain’s industrial history.
The ever-increasing demand for smooth roads for vehicles to travel on was exploited at Porthgain from the turn of the century. The harbour was completely altered in 1904 and the great brick built hoppers where the granite was crushed and screened rose above it.
Up to the First World War the industry thrived but after the war the decline began accelerated y the fearful Depression of the 1920s and 30s.
Porthgain was exporting at its peak around 40,000 tonnes of stone products a year and the local coastal fleet numbered no less than 52 ketches, 43 steamships (eight of which were owned by the port) as well as smacks and schooners. Sometimes as many as 10 boats would be waiting to take on stone products – truly a golden era.
The end came it was sudden and devastating to the Porthgain workforce. A telegram to the local manager conveyed the grim news to close the village firm immediately. The stunned workmen laid down their tools, the steam engine fires were pout out and an uneasy peace descended upon the port.
The industrial golden ear had ended – but over the years the peace and tranquillity continued through the port .Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Porthgain developed a reputation for being a tru beautiful coastal port and tourists began visiting during the summer months.
That same reputation continues today and Porthgain is one of the most unique parts of the Pembrokeshire coast.
Porthgain is a great day out in Pembrokeshire