In the early 1800s there were only a few people living in the hamlet of Paterchurch, and yet within fifty years, the basis of the bustling town now known as Pembroke Dock had been formed around the massive stone walls of the new Admiralty Dockyard.
The Milford Haven waterway had long been recognised as one of the finest harbours in the world and was visited by Nelson in 1802. The Royal Navy failed in their initial negotiations to buy land at Milford and because of that fact, the formation of Pembroke Dock began. 50 acres of land at Paterchurch were purchased from the Meyrick Estate for £8,000 and work began at a frantic pace, with a Frigate, the Lapwing run ashore to act as Offices. By early 1816, the first ships Valorous and the Ariadne were completed. Front Street was the first of many terraced streets which spread out around the Dockyard and extended up the hill to Pennar. The town was well laid out in spacious grid pattern, and prospered with a huge influx of population. Building took place on a great scale with stone docks, slipways, offices and stores being constructed while ships were regularly launched. In the town; housing, churches and schools sprang up. By 1831, the population was around 3000 and still growing and as the town grew, so did the fortifications to defend it.
At that time the fear of invasion was prominent, and the two Gun Towers along with the impressive Defensible Barracks were rapidly built, and the Paterchurch battery was improved. Despite the speed of construction, these were incredibly solid defences, although today some of them are unused, they still retain a certain grandeur.
The growth of the town was also reflected by the construction of numerous fine church and chapel buildings, in a peak period during the 1830s and 1840s. St John’s Parish Church, The Dockyard Chapel, Bethel and Trinity Chapels, Wesley Methodist and St Andrew’s Presbyterian Churches and St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church are some of the town’s fine architecture that came into being during this time.
With the growth of the dockyard and all it’s defences came a succession of regiments to man them. Hutted encampments of soldiers surrounded the town – and the fine red brick offices at Llanion was the nerve centre of it all. The building remains as a reminder of an era of craftsmanship in construction.
The closure of the Dockyard in 1926, and the removal of all the supporting forces was a heavy blow for the town to take, as so many of the population had their livelihoods linked to it. Unemployment remained high in the thirties, till relief came in the shape of the R.A.F. The first squadron of flying boats descended on the town in 1939, and another glorious chapter in the town’s military history would be written over the next 18 years, with more squadrons from around the world serving here.
After suffering great damage during the war, the town set about rebuilding, but economic disaster repeated itself in 1957 when the air base closed. The town’s fortunes have fluctuated since, with the sea once again bringing employment as the Haven’s oil industry boomed for a few decades. The Llanion Offices were symptomatic of the fortunes of these fluctuations. They were the home for the South Pembrokeshire District Council, and later, they were a branch office for the new Pembrokeshire County Council. Another economic blow was felt when the County Council relocated to Haverfordwest, but in yet another turn around, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority moved in from Haverfordwest in the spring of 2004. Refurbishment work was needed to bring the building up to requirements, as an environmentally friendly building, but the workers at the National Park Offices, will surely relish the magnificent view down the Haven, as did thousands of soldiers in years gone by.