When the Great Western Railway eventually reached Pembrokeshire, Brunel decided on Neyland as the terminus and the link to the United States. The Great Western Railway, under the direction of Isambard Brunel, reached Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, West Wales on 28th December 1853. From there the decision was to take the line south to Neyland. Although only a few miles distant, the intervening high ground meant that a circuitous route had to be taken. Neyland at the time was little more than a small village with
a shipbuilding yard, two chapels, couple of public houses, a few dozen houses and less than 200 inhabitants. What it did boast however was very deep water offshore, making it, in Brunel’s eyes, the ideal location for a railway terminus and steam packet port to Ireland. So the birth of the modern town of Neyland can be dated to precisely Tuesday, 15th April 1856, when the South Wales Railway, officially arrived.
A huge pontoon, designed by Brunel, was constructed to allow passengers and livestock to land at Neyland from the Irish steam packets at any state of the tide. The structure was 154 feet in length and used 300 tons of iron and 600 tons of timber in its construction.
The arrival of the railway led inevitably to a period of rapid expansion and for a short time was known as “the Swindon of West Wales.” Confusingly the South Wales Railway decided to name the station, not Neyland, but Milford Haven, perhaps because it sounded more important. In January 1859 however the secretary of the railway, no doubt because of complaints, decided that the timetables should read ‘Neyland (Milford Haven) for Pembroke, Pembroke Dock and Ireland.’ But that wasn’t to last and in December of the same year the station was renamed ‘New Milford’ to distinguish it from ‘Old Milford’ – present day Milford Haven!
But, whatever its name, Neyland prospered as the West Wales terminus for 50 years becoming a major trading route with Ireland, Portugal and Brazil. Brunel’s massive final endeavour, the SS Great Eastern, paid several visits and as a passenger liner she made her first appearance off Newland on 26th August 1860, remaining there through the winter for essential painting and repair work.
But in August 1906 Irish trading with Neyland came to a halt as it transferred to Fishguard.
And finally, in 1964, Neyland became one of the 'Beeching Cuts' which stopped the 108 year old railway service in its tracks. Traces of the old railway line can still be seen today in the form of the picturesque and peaceful Brunel Cycle Route which winds snake-like from Neyland's Brunel Quay towards Rosemarket. Many associations with Brunel are still evident in Neyland today, in street names and other ways. There is a fine statue of Brunel and railway tracks can still be seen buried in modern tarmac.
Part of the barrier facing the sea is well worth taking a close look at because it is actually made from sections of Brunel’s famous, yet ill-fated, broad gauge track.
Neyland features in the children's novel 'Is'. To read an extract click here.
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