A garden in a coalfield

A mine wheel at Colby Woodland Garden

Colby wasn’t always a haven of tranquility; the site actually played an active part in Pembrokeshire’s coal industry during the late 1700s.

The planting of the garden followed nearly a century later, but there are still reminders of Colby's industrial past dotted around the eight-acre grounds and wider estate today.

Industrial roots

While records show that coal has been mined in the area for 700 years, Colby’s story really began in the 1790s when landowner John Colby came to Pembrokeshire for industry.

The land itself sits at the end of Pembrokeshire’s coal seam and has very narrow seams. As such, children were used to haul the coal wagons out of the pits.

Coal that was mined at Colby was taken to the coast and then by rail along to Saundersfoot.

Early maps of the estate indicate the location of many of the mines, but there are no accurate records to determine the exact number. If you do come across anything that looks like a mine entrance, please do not enter.

The house and garden

Colby Lodge was built between 1802 and 1805 – the house itself is not open to the public.

The garden only really came into its own in the 1870s when a pharmacist named Samuel Kay bought the land and house.

He began the planting and his descendants continued the legacy in the 1920s by incorporating ponds and additional horticultural features like the summer house in the west wood.

There have been a number of key figures at the Colby estate since including Elidyr Mason, Pamela and Peter Chance, and Tony and Cynthia Scourfield-Lewis.

Notable changes to the landscape during their ownership include the transformation of the walled garden from a vegetable plot in the 1960s to an ornamental setting in the 1980s, along with memorial features, sculptures and the mass planting of rhododendrons.

Ownership of the Colby estate was transferred to the National Trust in 1979.

Must-sees for heritage hunters

  1. Bedlam Pit - The entrance to the mine is out there somewhere... see if you can find it during your visit.
  2. The walled garden - From a vegetable plot to a formal garden, it’s now a treasure trove for herbaceous plants.
  3. Mine wheel - Driven by donkey power, it’s another reminder of Colby’s industrial roots and coal mining past.
  4. The old tramway - Follow the route, coal that was mined at Colby was taken by tramway to the coast.
  5. Pamela Chance’s memorial - You’ll find the circle of metal pillars in Long Lane on the opposite side of the valley.
  6. Trompe l'oeil artwork - The unique optical illusion takes pride of place within the walled garden’s gazebo.