Gun Tower Pembroke Dock
A rather unusual museum, approached by way of a footbridge across the intervening water, lies 50 yards offshore near the former Royal Dockyard at Pembroke Dock. Although not strictly a castle, it resembles the type of fortified tower one might expect to see in a castle grounds.
This is the Gun Tower Museum, set up a few years ago by an enterprising group of local historians and enthusiasts, who formed a charitable organisation called The Pembroke Dock Museums Trust, which manages the Museum with a loyal band of volunteers.
Known as a Cambridge Gun Tower, and for years misnamed The Martello Tower, this stout oval fortification was built in 1851 to protect the Royal Dockyard. It is one of a chain of forts known as ‘Palmerston’s Follies’ built to encircle Milford Haven Waterway at a time when Louis Napoleon’s acquisitive ambitions were seen as a real threat to the country’s security.
The town of Pembroke Dock did not exist before 1814 when the Royal Dockyard was built to replace the one at Milford Haven, and houses began to spring up to house the hundreds of skilled workers. The Gun Tower Museum reflects not only this important period in the new town’s maritime history but also its strong associations with the Army and the RAF. Like the other ‘new town’ of Milford Haven, built just over a decade before, Pembroke Dock was built on the American grid-iron pattern, with parallel streets and back lane service access.
Before the Dockyard came it was a little waterside hamlet called Paterchurch, surrounded by farmland, the residents mainly engaged in fishing and ferrying folk across the Haven. The first historical mention of Paterchurch was made in 1289 when a tower was built there as a lookout, and the ruins are still visible within the walls of the Dockyard. The Dockyard provided highly skilled jobs for thousands of local men during its century of operation. Some of the Navy’s finest battleships and a few Royal Yachts were built there, until the slump of the 1920s saw its rapid decline and closure, many of its workers ‘migrating’ to other dockyards and ship-buiding centres throughout the country. The Museum reflects not only this important period in the town’s history, but also the Army’s long-standing presence in Defensible Barracks and Llanion Barracks, and the RAF’s tenure of the Dockyard as an importat flying-boat base. It was a vital Coastal Command station during the Battle of the Atlantic, when Sunderlands patrolled the Western Approaches, attacking the German U-boats which were decimating the merchant convoys bringing vital supplies to this country. The Sunderland Trust, founded and run by the same group of enthusiasts, has its own Museum in the Dockyard nearby, with a growing display of fascinating exhibits. Pembroke Dock became a target for enemy bombers during the war and suffered more casualties per head of population than any other town in the UK, including Coventry and Swansea. Thirty-two people were killed in the worst blitz in 1941 and in 1940, five Cardiff firemen had died fighting a disastrous oil tank blaze at Llanreath.