History of the Collection

Allen Collection

Source of the Collection

Ian Brazendale was approached by the curator of the Martello Tower/Museum at Pembroke Dock. Two elderly ladies had been clearing the house of their late brother and wanted to find a good home for his collection of shipping photographs. The museum accepted them out of courtesy but had nowhere to display them; a number of nautical museums had been approached but showed little interest. We were unable to find out more than the sketchiest details of the collectors. We were told that Mr. W Allen was a merchant seaman, and that his son Frank helped his father with the collection but had not been a seaman himself. I looked for information about the Allens when I originally set up the website but didn't get anywhere.

In October 2022, I was contacted by Harry Gilonis who asked whether I had found out any more about the Allens and with news of the museum. This prompted me to renew my investigation of the Allens and what I found out is further down the page.

The Martello Tower Museum

I first came across a Martello Tower at Dymchurch in Kent during a school holiday in the 1950s. I remember that they were constructed during the Napoleonic Wars but had it in my mind that they were named after someone named Martello. In fact, the design was inspired by a Genoese defence system at Mortella Point in Corsica that was completed in 1565.

Between 1848 and 1851, two 'Martello Towers' were built to protect Pembroke Dock. They are different in design from one another and differ a lot more from the earlier versions built in Britain, and a surprisingly large number of locations around the British Empire, during the French Revolutionary Wars. These had squat, round towers with very thick masonry walls capable of withstanding cannon fire, and a platform at the top for an artillery piece. Inside there was accommodation for the garrison and ammunition. The Southwest Tower at Pembroke Dock is more or less square in construction.

Martello Tower
Martello Tower at Dymchurch
Martello Tower
Southwest Tower at Pembroke Dock

The Pembroke Dock tower was acquired by South Pembrokeshire Town Council in 1975 and turned into the Gun Tower Museum which was operated by The Pembrokeshire Dock Museum Trust until 2017. The building sustained water damage and the museum closed. In 2019 it was put up for sale, but the current situation is unknown.

The Allens

More historical records are available online than there were back in 2007 and I found the Allens on the 1939 Register. This Register was taken on 29 September 1939. The information was used to produce identity cards and, once rationing was introduced in January 1940, to issue ration books. Information in the Register was also used to administer conscription and the direction of labour, and to monitor and control the movement of the population caused by military mobilisation and mass evacuation.

Here are the Allens on the 1939 Register section covering Pembroke Dock.

1939 Register
William and Frank Allen entries on the 1939 Register

The Register gives names, dates of birth and occupations. We learn that the Allens lived at 1 Wellington Street, Pembroke Dock - just a few hundred yards from the Martello Tower - though the house is no longer there.

  • William Allen, born 23 November 1878 - a retired Shipwright
  • Frank Allen, born 12 July 1917 - an unemployed General Labourer
Wellington Street
1 Wellington Street and the Southwest tower on Google Earth

Having found the family, I was able to locate further information. On the 1901 census, the family was living at the same address; William's father Mark - also a shipwright - was still alive although retired. Looking back even further, I found that Mark Allen's father, John Allen was born in 1791 and was also a shipwright.

According to the 1911 census, William was working as a shipwright at H.M. Dockyard Pembroke Dock and living with his widowed mother and two sisters at 7 Water Street - also demolished.

The Dockyard was founded as Pater Yard in 1814; the name changed to Pembroke Dock in 1817. During its lifetime, Pembroke Dock shipbuilders constructed 263 vessels for the Royal Navy ranging from gunboats to battleships and Royal Yachts. To the dismay of many of the local inhabitants who worked there, the Admiralty closed the dockyard in 1926 to save money.

The dockyard was used by the Royal Air Force as a base for flying boats from 1930 to 1957. It is claimed that 99 Sunderland Flying Boats were based at Pembroke Dock and deployed for anti-submarine warfare and rescue missions. One or both of the houses the Allens had occupied may have been destroyed by the relentless bombing of the area by the Luftwaffe in WW2 - especially in 1941.

William Allen married Emily Thomas in 1916 and Frank was born the following year. I can find no record of Frank having married.


The collection consisted of several boxes of photographs - mainly British merchant ships - going back over 60 years. They were indexed and listed by company and included ships from both well-known and lesser-known shipping companies. Each photo had hand-written notes on the back giving the ship's name and other information. There was also a boxed collection of Sea Breeze magazines going back 20 years, and an HMSO gazette listing the names of every merchant ship lost in World War 2. On further investigation, more boxes of photographs were discovered at another location taking the total number to over 6,000. This was a lifetime's work of collection and cataloguing by two very dedicated and knowledgeable people.

The Allens system of classification and naming has largely been retained, but it is a bit quirky with most ships being classified by shipping company and pages for specific types of ship like tugs and colliers. Where the Allens did not record the shipping company, the information is recorded on pages for ships with names beginning with specific letters of the alphabet and finally there is a page with completely unclassified photos. Over time it is hoped to classify most of these ships and incorporate them into shipping line pages.

The Allens' approach to numbering photographs of ships was often unhelpful with sometimes different ships with the same name being listed as e.g. Framlington Court 1, and Framlington Court 2. The numbers used referred to the photographs and do not indicate that the first of those in this example is of the first ship named Framlington Court and the second to the second ship named Framlington Court. This will be remedied as the relevant pages are rebuilt.

Website Creation

Preserving these photos and making them available to the general public was very much a collaborative effort by a number of shipping history enthusiasts.

Images were scanned at 600dpi to preserve the quality. Initially I put them online at medium resolution to save space, but I am gradually enhancing them and putting higher definition copies online. The information recorded on the back of the photos by the Allens was transcribed into a spreadsheet and included on the website. Scanning and data compilation took many weeks of effort by the indefatigable Barrie Rees.

We decided to add background information about the shipping companies represented in the collection as, in many cases, this is not readily available. This added many weeks of research effort using extensive Internet searches and visits to the Caird Library at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.

The website was launched in April 2007. Over time I am enhancing the data put together by the Allens using internet resources. This will take many years to complete.


  • Project initiator: Ian Brazendale
  • Photo scans and data transcription: Barrie Rees
  • Original shipping company research: Fred Henderson, Brian Watson, Neville Young
  • Website design and realisation: Brian Watson
  • Additional shipping company information: George Robinson

Website designed and coded by Brian Watson using PHP, HTML & CSS.
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