Content can be downloaded for non-commercial purposes, such as for personal use or in educational resources.
For commercial purposes please contact the copyright holder directly.
Read more about the The Creative Archive Licence.


From 1909 until the First World War Fishguard competed with Liverpool as the first call of liners crossing the Atlantic from New York.

In August 1909 the liner the Mauretania called for the first time at Fishguard, having established a new record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic from New York. A public holiday was proclaimed, and trains of day trippers from Swansea, Llanelli and other parts of South Wales arrived, gathering on Strumble Head and in the town to mark the occasion. With express trains standing by to convey both mails and passengers to London and thence to Dover and Paris, the hope was that Fishguard would quickly rival Liverpool as a port of choice for Transatlantic travellers. Construction of Fishguard Harbour had begun in 1893, initially under the direction of the Fishguard Railways and Harbours Company, which aimed to compete with the ferry terminus at Neyland owned by the Great Western Railway.

The GWR took over the project in 1898 with the hope not only of improving its traffic with Ireland, but also of challenging Liverpool's control of the Atlantic passenger market. The arrival of the Mauretania, at the time the world's largest ship, was heralded as a red-letter day for both Fishguard and the GWR, as it shaved about six hours off the total journey time from London to New York, which normally proceeded via Liverpool. By the time the Mauretania's sister ship, the ill-fated Lusitania arrived in Fishguard a fortnight later, an express train which stopped just once (at Cardiff) could transfer passengers from port to London in less than five hours.

The Mauretania herself was greeted by a varied crowd featuring the Pembroke Dock Temperance Band, detachments of Territorial Army soldiers, and many women dressed in traditional Welsh costume. According to the Western Mail newspaper, 'seldom can such a large number of genuinely old Welsh costumes and beaver hats be seen together as was witnessed in this procession. It is quite probable that some of these red wintles and beaver hats were actually worn in 1797 by the gallant Welsh women who that year frightened the French invaders'. Perhaps fittingly, the first passenger to disembark the liner was a Welsh-American. Described by the newspaper as 'an old homely-looking gentleman', he wore 'a suit of grey Welsh homespun', which rendered his identity 'immediately evident to many'. 'West Wales', the report went on, 'can produce hundreds of rural residents as like him as two peas in appearance and demeanour.'

Originally from Lampeter, Jenkin Evans had lived in America for over forty years, having settled in Kansas City, and was delighted to give interviews to the press in both Welsh and English. The 'Western Mail's cartoonist J. M. Staniforth marked the enhancement of Fishguard's status in three cartoons, one of which appeared in the British Sunday newspaper the 'News of the World'. Two of these were subsequently republished in his deluxe volume of cartoons published in 1910. In one cartoon Staniforth represented the GWR as a 'modern Hercules' who had effectively closed the distance between London and New York, and in another his stereotypical character 'Dame Wales' expressed great satisfaction over Fishguard's prospects for attracting further custom from passenger liners.

According to an editorial in the Western Mail, 'Liverpudlians are not taking kindly to the diversion of Atlantic trade'! However, hopes that Fishguard would prove a serious long-term rival to Liverpool proved illusory. Ideally landing piers were needed to facilitate rapid transit from large liners to shore, but the cost of building these was considered prohibitive given the sporadic nature of the traffic. And the outbreak of the First World War some five years after the arrival of the Mauretania put an end to further aspirations.

- According to the Western Mail, many Fishguard women turning out to see the Mauretania arrive sported 'red wintles and beaver hats' that had been worn when their ancestors repelled the French invasion of 1797, articles which are 'now carefully preserved as heirlooms'.

Do you have information to add to this item? Please leave a comment

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to leave a comment