With its golden sands, wooded ciffs and large hotels and guest houses, Saundersfoot would be the last place to imagine could have been an industrial town.
Yet this attractive and popular seaside resort in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park had its origins in some pretty grimy industries.
Coal, iron and fire clay together with fishing and brick-making were the original economic providers of the town which the locals pronounce as Sandersfoot. There were coal mines all round the inland area, clay and iron ore deposits on the shore and under the cliffs and fish of all sorts offshore in Carmarthen Bay.
Its transformation from industrial area to popular summer playground over less than 100 yrs has been remarkable.
Coal was evidently mined well back in time. The travelling chronicler John Leland commented in 1536 on his first sight of “the coal pittes” near Saundersfoot and nearby “a wood, not veri greate, but yet the fairest that I remember that I saw in Pembrokeshire.” This was obviously Coedrath wood, still enhancing the scenery and once a great forest.
There are various theories about the derivation of the name Saundersfoot but the preferred one among scholars is that it emanated from a shortened form of the name Alexander, since there was a local man called Walter Elisaunder who paid rent for a watercourse there in 1332, and Elisaunder’s Ford probably crossed it.
Several small collieries were built in the 18th century, Moreton being one of them, with 30 men and eight women working there. One of the biggest was Bonville’s Court, opened in 1842 and which had 234 men working underground by 1917 and another 84 working above ground. In 1899 the Hean Castle estate was bought by Sir William Thomas Lewis, who had acquired the famous Lewis-Merthyr collieries in the Rhondda Valley four years earlier. Later becoming Baron Merthyr, his family still live in the castle.
A railway to serve the collieries was built in 1829 and the harbour quays were developed to handle the large tonnages of coal being shipped out. Now the harbour is a sheltered tidal marina, the number of boats bobbing at their moorings demonstrating the resort’s popularity as a yachting centre.
The coal industry, the ironworks at nearby Pleasant Valley, the brickworks and the oron ore excavations are now lost in the mists of time, only archaeological remains revealing where they were. Saundersfoot is now totally devoted to tourism, even fishing is a diminished activity, although in recent years there were regular trips from the harbour to fish for tope and blue shark in Carmarthen Bay. Local businessman George Torkington used to take shark-fishing parties out in his converted RAF launch Eldora years ago, often in the company of local trans-Atlantic yachtsman Val Howells.