By Simon Hancock

‘This is the place where sugars from Ireland are discharged, and pay the English duty at Pembroke; and here woolen yarn from Ireland is imported; Milford Haven being one of the open ports allowed by Act of Parliament. At this place there is also a salt refinery, which supplies the whole country.’ 1

Such was the description of Neyland by Lewis Morris (1701-65) in the narrative accompanying his Harbours, Bays and Roads in St George’s Channel (1748) which also suggested improvements and development possibilities for Milford Haven. At Neyland, he ventured, a dock might be constructed where vessels might lie at the dock head in four, six or eight fathoms. Some 60 years later Richard Fenton (1811) repeated Morris’s description almost verbatim except for an important change of tense when referring to the salt refinery. 2 Clearly by the first decade of the nineteenth century the refinery had closed.

Information on this facility is conspicuous by its paucity although the salt refinery must have gone far in meeting the domestic and commercial needs of Pembrokeshire inhabitants and provides an interesting example of an early eighteenth-century industrial enterprise. Salt is absolutely essential for human existence and from time immemorial has been used in the preservation and preparation of food and with numerous applications in agriculture, fishing and industrial processes. In 1785 it was estimated how every person in Britain consumed around 25 lb. of salt each year. 3

Although there had been continental imports of salt into Pembrokeshire those obtained from Cheshire soon dominated local supplies. In the seventeenth century the main salt-producing areas were the baronial borough of Nantwich, the manorial borough of Northwich and the royal borough of Middlewich. 4  Salt could also be obtained from sea water around the coast and from brine springs. The salt industry was scattered throughout the British Isles although the location of salt refineries depended upon cheap water transport.5  The industry was transformed when in 1670 rock salt was found at Marbury near Great Budworth. Unrefined rock salt could easily be transported for refinement at Bristol and other locations (including Neyland) and the discovery led to the establishment of salt refineries in the North West like those at Frodsham (1694) and Dungeon on the Mersey.

The river Weaver was seen as the cheapest and most effective means of transporting rock salt from the salt field to the Mersey for export. Making the river navigable as far as Winsford was a measure which received the support of the City Corporation of Liverpool and an Act was secured in 1721. This eventually opened to traffic in 1732. 6  The legislation was also supported by the common council of Haverfordwest. On 27 February 1719 a petition signed by the mayor, justices of the peace, aldermen, common councilmen and tradesmen of the town and county was presented to the House of Commons. Their petition described how there was a salt refinery near the town (Neyland was around eight miles distant) which supplied salt for curing fish, making butter, cheese and other uses. The salt came from rock salt sourced from the county of Cheshire which was carried by land from the rock pits to Frodsham Bridge before being exported to Milford Haven. The petitioners pointed out how making the river Weaver navigable would reduce the price of carriage of rock salt and give greater dispatch in shipping. Ultimately it would reduce the price to consumers. The petition was ordered to lie on the table until the House proceeded to further consider the Bill.7  The petition is the first oblique reference to the Neyland salt refinery and it was probably established during the early years of the eighteenth century.

The importation of salt to Milford Haven was clearly demonstrated by one local entrepreneur, Abel Hicks who managed the Industrious Bee and also the Priscilla. One entry which he recorded in his log read:

‘Oct. ye 22, 1761. Liverpool. Loaded 49 tone of salt for Milford.’ 8

Barbara George has demonstrated the long history of salt importation to Pembrokeshire with various references in 1387, 1478, 1479, and 1480 and between four to fourteen shipments annually (1500-64) in Spanish, Portuguese and French ships. Much salt came coastwise perhaps having originated from the continent before being re-shipped. Six cargoes of rock salt came from Liverpool in 1713. 9 This must have come from Cheshire and destined for the Neyland refinery. Considerable amounts of continental salt were landed at Neyland quay, the location often rendered as ‘Nayland.’ On 17 December 1753 the Fox brought 2,000 bushels of French salt for the important herring industry.10  The latter was perhaps established on account of the salt refinery. On 25 February 1755 the Friendly Thomas landed 2,055 bushels of Spanish salt from Cadiz. This attracted a duty of £13 3s. 9d.  Neyland possessed an important herring industry as Matheson describes in his analysis of Welsh fisheries. In 1751 some 13,950 red herrings and 32 barrels and 16 gallons of white herrings were landed.  The peak was reached in 1766 when 185,074 of the former were landed at Neyland. Each ‘one’ of the thousands in fact equated to 1,320 individual fish while there were 32 gallons to the barrel. 13

Considerable investment was devoted to fishing enterprises during mid-century. It was announced how twelve ‘busses’ were being built locally by the Society of the Free British Fishery requiring 200 men and costing £12,000.  Around this time a merchant named William Whittaker of Gloucester erected at Barn Lake, opposite Neyland, and at vast expense, a very commodious quay. There were also large warehouses where sugar, rice and other American goods could be imported and then re-shipped.  The middle years of the eighteenth century witnessed considerable activity due to the presence of quays at Neyland and Barn Lake, the salt refinery and a private dockyard at the former location from which was launched a 28-gun frigate HMS Milford in 1759. A 74-gun Ship of the Line HMS Prince of Wales was launched from the same yard on 4 June 1765. The location of the warehouses and granaries in far-flung west Wales made them a convenient port of call to trans-Atlantic shipping of which there was a great deal. The facilities included the services of a crane for loading and unloading.  While Cheshire and Continental salt supplied the Neyland refinery a vast array of other goods from across the Atlantic were landed at the local quay. These included barrels of fish oil from Rhode Island, soap and staves from Dublin, brown sugar from the Caribbean, whale fins and blubber from the Greenland seas, pine boards and other items from Boston and Newfoundland.
The perils of such commerce should never be underestimated. Alan Crosby reminds us of the losses suffered by the Mersey salt vessels during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. He notes the cases of 21 vessels carrying salt which were either victim to the perils of the weather or from piracy (1695-1708) beginning with the ship Supply laden with salt which was captured by a French privateer in 1695.  We can only speculate how much of this salt was destined for Neyland. The late Dr B.G. Charles noted highly revealing place names in this eastern part of the parish of Llanstadwell. He lists ‘The Officer’s Close’ and ‘Salt House’ on the Lucas map c.1745, a survey of the lands of Little Honeyborough which belonged to William Scourfield, James Child, Mr. Cornock and Mr. Tasker.  The detailed map of eastern Llanstadwell parish drawn by Henry John, surveying the property of John Lort and others (1759), shows a cluster of buildings at Neyland point, lying at the entrance to Westfield Pill. One of the longer buildings must be the construction shed for the building of ships.  The salt house may well be one of the larger buildings fronting the Haven. Alternatively it might be one of the buildings facing the Pill facing Barn Lake. Despite the little we know about the Neyland salt refinery we can be reasonably certain it was in operation for around a century. Taxation on salt was an important element of Government excise income and is the most productive source of the information we have on the refinery. The Nine Years War (1688-97) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14) witnessed the introduction of greatly expanded customs and excise duties placed upon salt, glass, paper, tobacco, pipes, malt, stone bottles, hackney carriages and windows. This brought excise officers into contact with all sections of the manufacturing community.

Aeriel view of Neyland showing possible position of salt house. (Courtesy of RCAHMW.)

Aeriel view of Neyland showing possible position of salt house. (Courtesy of RCAHMW.)

The political narrative concerning the salt tax was a highly charged one which Lord Carteret derided as most wretched which disproportionately taxed the poor.  Effective taxation on salt began with the introduction of excise in 1643 although the specific tax was introduced in 1694 and a Salt Office was created in 1702.  This was absorbed back into the excise at the end of the eighteenth century. Presumably the industrial processes at Neyland involved the usual technique of dissolving rock salt in cisterns of water, pumping into a boiling cistern where the water was evaporated. The salt was left as a residue. The owner of the salt works had to specify the number of baskets, barrows or troughs of salt taken out of each pan or boiler. Duty was paid by the producer. Stiff fines were levied if salt was removed before it had been accounted for by the Government excise officers.  The Government needed to maximize national income from the yield of land tax, customs and excise duties. The country was at war for 89 of the 150 years between 1700-1850.  The financial bureaucracy of the Salt Office employed some 298 staff in 1708, rising to a peak of 484 officials in 1748 before declining to 364 in 1783 when there was a period of financial retrenchment.

An analysis of early eighteenth-century customs records fails to make specific reference to Neyland. Those officers stationed at Milford Haven were at various locations including Dale, Hubberston, Angle, Pembroke Ferry, Pembroke town and Tenby.  Thanks to the salt refinery excise officers were in evidence locally, their presence sometimes reflected in the Llanstadwell parish registers. They record the baptism of William, son of John James, ‘officer’, on 20 October 1726 and Benjamin, son of John Davies, ‘salt officer’, on 23 January 1743.  Richard Edwards, excise officer, married Margaret Lewis of Jeffreyston, widow, on 21 March 1738.  A number of salt officers died whilst on service in the parish. Patrick Goolde, salt officer, was buried on 28 January 1724, Thomas Barzey on 18 May 1744 and John Phillips on 29 June 1748.  One of the national Salt Commissioners, a Mr. Talbot, undertook a survey of the coast of Wales in 1740. At Neyland he encountered local officer Thomas “Burzey’, aged 70,  ‘a widower but bin employ’d here about 8 years. He complains of the smallness of his salary having but 10£ a year, every thing here being very Dear, being obliged to go 7 miles for all manner of necessarys.’

This is a clear reference to Haverfordwest. Barzey (or Burzey) was described as ‘a carefull old man’ and his Collector gave him a good character.  Perhaps his circumstances were not as bad as some of his colleagues. One boatman, aged 45 from Cardigan with a wife and six children to support received a mere £7 10s. per annum and ‘a very deformed weak man not at all able to manage a boat in so open a bay.’

The comparative meagreness of salt officer salaries was demonstrated by the Ninth Report from the Select Committee on Finance when they examined the salt officer salaries. There were sixteen salt officers based in Wales while the national establishment cost a total of £26, 942 12s. 11 ½ d.  The gross amount of duty collected was considerable, some £2, 262, 795 8s. 10½ d. (1795-96).  The Neyland Collection in 1797 consisted of a principal collector, Thomas Tucker, who earned £100 a year, plus a number of officers on annual salaries ranging from £10-£30. One official report noted the increase of three officers at Neyland between 1782-97 with increased expenditure on salaries between £5-£10.  It is small wonder that given their modest remuneration the officers in 40 of the 54 excise collections into which England and Wales were divided presented ‘monster’ petitions to the Treasury pleading for salary increases. They were signed by around 2,000 officers. By their minimum calculations they needed £86 3s. 6d. in order to meet basic household outgoings.  The tax yield from the land tax, window tax (1696-1798), plus other assessed impositions on carriages, stagecoaches, carts, servants, shops, inhabited houses and communications were not sufficient to meet unprecedented national expenditure on the Napoleonic Wars. Consequently the first national income tax was introduced in 1799.

It is not known when the salt refinery at Neyland closed, probably the opening years of the nineteenth century. The importance of Neyland and Barn Lake by virtue of the salt refinery, naval dockyard, quays, warehouses and stores during the 1750s was short lived. Soon they became a faint memory. In 1852 an Act of Parliament authorizing the extension of the South Wales Railway to the shores of Milford Haven at Neyland, the personal location selected by I.K. Brunel, was passed. The physical destruction of the original village of old Neyland including the former salt house, the shipyard run by the Scurlock family, humble dwellings, a lime kiln and public houses meant fundamental local change. As a reminder of lost glory the walls of the warehouses at Barn Lake remarkably survived into the twentieth century.


NLW Morgan Richardson 1 139/7/4. The ‘townred’ of Honeyborough also showing Neyland point in 1759 as drawn by Henry John. The cluster of buildings at the point with the quay might help to locate the salt refinery which was dependent on imports of rock salt from Cheshire.


  1. Lewis Morris was a noted Welsh hydrographer, antiquarian, poet and lexicographer.
  2. Richard Fenton, A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire (London, 1811).
  3. Joyce Ellis, ‘The Decline and Fall of the Tyneside Salt Industry, 1660-1790: A Re-examination,’ Economic History Review, 33:1 (1980), 45.
  4. William Henry Chaloner, ‘Salt in Cheshire 1600-1870,’ Transactions of the Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society, 71 (1963), 61.
  5. Joan Beck, ‘Salt in Cheshire,’ Cheshire Historian, 8 (1958), 3.
  6. K.L. Wallwork, ‘The Mid-Cheshire Salt Industry,’ Geography, 44:205 (1959), 172.
  7. House of Commons Parliamentary Papers. Fifth Parliament of Great Britain; fourth session (11 November 1718-18 April 1719), 27 February 1719.
  8. Francis Green, ‘Dewisland Coasters in 1751,’ West Wales Historical Records, VIII (1919-20), 170.
  9. Barbara George, Pembrokeshire Sea Trading Before 1900 (Field Studies, 2:1 (1964), 25.
  10. The National Archives (Henceforth TNA) T/1365/7. Treasury Board papers and In-Letters. Papers relating to the harbour of Milford Haven, Co. Pembroke. Account of foreign goods landed at Barn Lake and Neyland quays, 1753-55.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Colin Matheson, Wales and the Sea Fisheries (Cardiff, 1929), 100.
  13. Ibid.
  14. The Old England’s Journal, 7 April 1753.
  15. Public Advertiser, 29 December 1753.
  16. Ibid., 21 January 1757.
  17. TNA T/1365/7 Treasury Board Papers and In-Letters, Milford Haven, 1753-55.
  18. Alan G. Crosby, ‘By Tempest and Piracy: The Loss of Mersey Salt vessels off Pembrokeshire, 1695-1715,’ Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society, 12 (2003), 59-66.
  19. B. G. Charles, The Place Names of Pembrokeshire, II (Aberystwyth, 1992), 610.
  20. National Library of Wales. Morgan Richardson 1 139/7/4  Henry John, ‘An exact map of the townred of Honeyboro in the parish of Llanstadwell, in the county of Pembroke.’
  21. William J. Ashworth, Trade, Production and Consumption in England, 1640-1845 (Oxford, 2003), 40.
  22. Ibid., 65.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid., 237.
  25. Robert M. Kozub, ‘Evolution of Taxation in England, 1700-1850: A Period of War and Industrialisation,’ Journal of European Economic History 32:3 (2003), 363.
  26. Ibid., 366.
  27. TNA CUST/18/51; CUST/18/55; CUST/18/59; CUST/18/62; CUST/18/66; CUST/18/69; CUST/18/73; CUST/18/77 Board of Customs Establishments.
  28. Pembrokeshire Archives (Hereafter PA) HPR/13/97.  Llanstadwell Parish Registers, Baptisms 1714-1812.
  29. Ibid., Marriages 1714-93.
  30. Ibid., Burials, 1714-1812.
  31. ‘Extracts from a Report of a Survey on the Coast of Wales by a member of the Salt Board. Mr. Talbot’s Survey in the Year 1740,’ Choice Chips of revenue Lore being Papers relating to the Establishment of the Excise, Excise Duties, Salaries, Superannuation & c. also cuttings from Excise general Letters of the Last Century and from other documents relating principally to the Excise Revenue in England from 1660 to 1876 (1877), 128.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ninth Report from the Select Committee on Finance. Collection of the Public Revenue. Salt Office (1797), 242.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Ibid., 256.
  36. Edward Hughes, ‘The Salaries of the Excise officers and a Cost of Living Index (1795-1800),’ Economic History, 3:11 (1936), 263.