Burton Ferry Depot

Burton Ferry

Burton Ferry Depot

The cottages at Burton Ferry form part of the former Trinity House Depot.  The depot serviced lighthouses and lightvessels in the Bristol Channel and Irish Sea.  It also housed Trinity House staff crewing the lightships. The depot continued to operate until operations transferred to the Swansea and Holyhead depots. It was also often referred to as the Milford or Neyland Depot.

Bristol Channel

The Bristol Channel separates the South Wales and Somerset and North Devon coastline.  It extends from the River Severn estuary out into St George’s Channel and the Celtic Sea. At its widest point, the Bristol Channel is 30 miles.  The Bristol Channel has a range of between 12 and 14 metres, making it the second-highest tidal range in the world. 

Several islands lie in the middle of the channel. Steepholm and Flatholm Islands are located at the turning point into the Severn estuary, and Lundy Island is off the North Devon coast.

Expansion of Bristol Channel Trade

By April 1839, the number of lights and buoyage in the Bristol and St George’s Channel had increased significantly.  It was the age of the industrial revolution, and shipbuilding was on the increase.

Bristol Pilotage Act

In 1807 the Bristol Pilotage Act gave Bristol responsibility for the pilotage of vessels east of Lundy Island and throughout the Bristol Channel.  The Act was further updated in 1840 and 1853.

By 1861, with the increase in trade to Cardiff, Newport and Gloucester, the Bristol Channel Pilotage Act was passed.  This gave more independence to port control and navigation.


Milford Haven

At the western end of the Pembrokeshire coast, Milford Haven lies protected within a massive natural harbour.  Milford Haven in Welsh is Aberdaugleddau, which means the mouth of the Two Rivers Cleddau. 

The River Cleddau consists of two rivers uniting to form the Daugleddau estuary. It is more commonly referred to as the Milford Haven waterway and is one of the deepest natural harbours in the world.

The vast natural harbour made it a safe port, and by the 1800s it had developed as a Royal Navy dockyard. The Dockyard transferred to Pembroke in 1814, and the area developed into a commercial dock.  By the 1960s, an oil refinery for oil and gas had been established, and by 2010 it was the UK’s fourth-largest port.

Further upriver from Milford Haven, Neyland and its Marina is well protected.  Just beyond here, the Cleddau Bridge spans the river, linking to Pembroke Dock.  The bridge was opened in 1975, replacing a ferry that operated across the waters at Burton Ferry.  Before this, workers from Llangwm would row across from Burton Ferry to Pembroke Dock.

Trinity House Depots

Trinity House initially appointed Agents at coastal ports to service lighthouses and lightships. These Agents provided maintenance and a base for the Trinity House fleet of service vessels or tenders.

Milford Depot

A site was acquired at Burton Ferry between 1860-61 and became known as the Neyland or Milford Depot.  The buildings included a buoy store, jetty and berth. The depot was the supply point for lighthouses and lightvessels covering the Bristol Channel to the Irish Sea. 

A wooden pier provided storage space in underslung boarded rooms and was connected to the adjacent Trinity House depot.

Trinity House Pier
Former Trinity House Pier
Photo © welshbabe (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Within the surrounding depot walls were underground fuel tanks, an explosives magazine, stores, a blacksmiths forge, a large freshwater tank and stables.  The main building was the workshop for the maintenance of the navigation buoys.

Navigation buoys would be lifted on and off the lighthouse tenders from the pier, using a large capstan.  At the end of the pier, large doors allowed smaller buoys to be moved in and out.  Also, at the end of the jetty, two large ships’ anchors could secure the tenders to the dock.

A horse-drawn tramway on the pier allowed larger buoys to be transported to and from the workshops.

Pipelines ran to the end of the pier from the fuel and water tanks. These provided water for the lightvessels and oil and paraffin for the lightvessels and buoys.

Depot Personnel

The Superintendent occupied the main house, known as the ‘Captain’s House’. The Superintendent at Milford was in charge of the agencies from the River Usk at Newport to South Stack on Anglesey.  The house next to the entrance gate was the Manager’s house, and a smaller Store Keepers House was also on site.

A row of houses behind the complex was called Trinity Terrace.  Trinity House staff lived in these cottages and also spent time on the lightvessels. When not working on the lightships, staff would be employed at the depot, as was common with other Trinity House depots.

A keeper’s wife recalled that her husband had orders to transfer to Flatholm from South Bishop, where he was stationed.  News of the transfer was brought to her by a keeper from the Neyland Depot.

The site at Burton Ferry continued until 1926 when Trinity House transferred operations to the Swansea Depot in 1926. 

Lighthouse Tenders

Reliefs and maintenance were carried out by boat from the Depot. 

The vessel THV Argus was built at the new depot at Neyland, and her first trials began here.  Argus was launched in December 1856 and covered the area from Milford.

Between 1878 and 1920, THV Siren was moored at Neyland, carrying out reliefs with crew and equipment.

Decommissioning of Neyland Depot

The Neyland Depot was closed in 1929, and operations were transferred to the Swansea Depot.  Reliefs took place from the Holyhead depot.

Holyhead Depot carried out reliefs for  Skerries, Bardsey, St Tudwal’s and Carnarvon Bay LV. Swansea Depot carried out reliefs for East & West Grounds LV, Breaksea LV, Flatholm, Lundy North, Lundy South, Scarweather LV, Helwick LV, St Govan LV, Skokholm, Smalls and South Bishop Lighthouses.

Following decommissioning, the site was purchased by Charles Oram of Cardiff. The area became his holiday home until the War Department requisitioned it during World War 2.

The buoy workshop became the base for storing equipment for RAF Pembroke Dock, a flying boat base.

The Captain’s House provided a garrison for the Royal Artillery, and an anti-aircraft gun was mounted on the pier, though it was never used.

A large pillbox also provided defence from sea attacks.

Following the War, the base returned to Mr Oram’s daughter.  She ran the Captain’s House as a guest house.

From the late 1950s until 1986, the compound became a boatyard supplying pleasure boats.  During this time, the pier underwent renovation.  The railway track was removed and a concrete layer was added as a deck.  Several of the support legs were reinforced in concrete.  The pier was restored in 2008 and is now listed.

Of the four original gate posts within the compound, only two remain.