Human settlement in the Pembroke vicinity began long before the Normans. There are natural caves in the limestone formation which were the home of early man. Later settlers, no doubt, appreciated the good soils, equable climate and opportunities for travel and trade offered by the Pembroke River and Milford Haven Waterway.
In 1093, after the Norman conquest of Dyfed, Arnulph de Montgomery was granted land around Pembroke. He made his headquarters at the western edge of a ridge of Carboniferous limestone. The Earldom of Pembroke of 1109 was translated into a County Palatine in 1138, and the present stone castle, with its famous massive cylindrical keep, was begun by William Marshal, probably shortly after 1189. (The earlier fortress was built of stakes and turves). Stone walls, augmented at intervals by towers and strongly defended gates, were built around the town which grew up each side of the principle or Main Street. It was only comparatively recently (1864) that the railway embankment was built across the Mill Pond to the north-east and that land to the south was drained and the Commons created; the natural ridge had previously been surrounded by the water on three sides. Incidentally, from the higher parts of the castle, it is possible to see the peninsula form of the town and appreciate its gently curving street with variations of width and vertical alignment.
Pembroke is an example of a fortified, artificial borough, created by the Normans for new settlers who were then encouraged to live near the castle, so as to provide a ready supply of men capable of defending the lord’s territory. In return, charters were bestowed which gave the burgesses rights to hold fairs and markets. These, and other privileges allowed the settlers, were unavailable to the Welsh living outside the walls. Thick walls with internal staircases, narrow vertical windows and a limited number of defended entrances, are the hallmarks of a settlement on the “military frontier.”
Apart from the castle, there are visible remains of medieval Pembroke in the town walls and towers, in the Church of St. Mary and in part of Westgate Terrace. The ravages of time and, no doubt, the common practice of robbing old stone structures to make new, has resulted in the older parts of Pembroke being gradually lost. When Poyer, Mayor of Pembroke, opted for the King in the last stages of the Civil War (1648), the Parliamentarians, with Cromwell in charge, slighted the castle and walls.. Pembroke capitulated but only after a long siege. Cromwell’s Headquarters were established on Grove Hill, probably at Underdown House, now a country hotel. Poyer was shot in 1649.
Most of the houses in the Main Street are substantial. They date mainly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, reflecting the Georgian style, although many were rebuilt on medieval sites and still incorporate the earlier fabric — for example a number have vaulted undercrofts. The form of the medieval town remains intact; many of the long gardens are identical with the previous burgage plots (of which there were 227).
Outside the walled town there are a group of medieval buildings at Monkton (see points 4 to 7 on map).
In 1977 the medieval town was declared an Outstanding Conservation Area and in 1981 about 90 of the properties were designated Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest – including the town walls.
This guide has tried to include a variety of interest and may, in so doing, underestimate the details of individual buildings. However, more detailed reference to the many properties of merit can be found in the schedule of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest compiled by the Welsh Office and published in July 1981. A copy is held by Pembroke Town Council at Castle Terrace. A number of properties described in this trail are in private ownership and this should be respected.
The Trail begins and ends at the Town Quay: please refer to the map across the centre pages which also shows the suggested route: variations, of course, may be made. The total route takes approximately 1½ to 2 hours.
1. The proximity of the sheltered harbour lo the naturally defensive site encouraged the Normans to use Pembroke as their base for the conquest of West Wales. Their eyes were also on Ireland and Pembroke was an ideal site for embarking on that venture.
The decaying buildings along the quaysides were once warehouses and serve as reminders of the once busy port, particularly in the wine trade with France. In the 16th century the customs house, which controlled the coast from Gower to Aberaeron, stood by the quay and on its walls were pictures of three Tudor monarchs, doubtless including Henry VII who was born in the castle in 1457. (Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, was created Marchioness of Pembroke in 1532).
During the summer, water is retained in the Mill Pond around the castle through operation of a sluice gate. In the winter, at times of heavy rain, high tides are stopped from entering the basin and the Commons area is now rarely flooded.
With the poor state of the roads and long distances to Bristol or London, it is easy to imagine bulky goods, e.g. agricultural produce, lime, coal and culm (which is a mixture of coal and mud) being transhipped at the busy quays. The last trading vessel to use the quay was the “Kathleen May” in 1961; she is now at St. Catherine’s Dock in London.
2. Wogan Cave. On the left is the castle with its fine rounded Norman towers; beneath the castle is the Wogan Cave. The entrance to this natural limestone cavern was partially walled in by the Normans. It was probably used as a storehouse and boathouse, and before the path was built, a ditch used to run down from the entrance to the Pembroke River. The name “Wogan” is thought to derive from the Welsh “ogof” meaning “cave.” To the north west through the trees is Bush House, the former home of the locally important Meyrick family,on whose land much of the town of Pembroke Dock was built.
3. By Monkton Bridge was a smaller quay; the bridge is the site of a medieval mill. There is a second example at Slothy Mill (east of point 16 and a third at point 27).
The limestone areas of south-west Pembroke were noted, particularly in medieval times, for their production of grains and hence water-powered mills (rivers and tidal rivers) would have been needed to grind for local and regional consumption. Beyond Monkton Bridge the trail turns up Church Terrace, locally and aptly named Awkward Hill and past –
4. Monkton Old Hall which is basically of 14th to 15th century construction, although the crypt is still earlier, with many later and complex additions and modifications. The property has been restored by the Landmark Trust. It was probably associated with the Monastic life outside the fortified town and may have been a guest house for the nearby priory. Note the prominent round chimney which was characteristic of the Norman influence in South Pembrokeshire. In many instances such chimneys have outlived the original house of which they formed part.
5. The Priory Church of St. Nicholas and St. John was part of a Benedictine Priory granted to the Abbey of St. Martin’s at Seez in Normandy in 1098. Founded on the site of an early Celtic Christian community, Monkton Priory enjoyed a thriving if turbulent existence until the Dissolution of the Monastries. For the next 350 years the Priory buildings fell into disrepair, a process helped by Cromwell, who set up his cannons in the churchyard during the siege of Pembroke Castle. The Church was restored in the 1880’s and is mainly notable for its heavily buttressed north wall, its fine seventeenth and eighteenth century monuments relating to locally important families, and a chained Prayer Book. A hagioscope or “squint” is let high into the north wall, through which the sick could view the altar. Local legend states that a shrub in the Vicarage garden conceals the entrance to a secret passage that leads to Pembroke Castle.
6. Remains of the medieval Priory buildings are now limited to freestanding arches and gable wall.
7. Priory Farmhouse (thought also to be the former Prior’s Mansion), was a fortified manor or tower house dating from the fourteenth or fifteenth century with subsequent additions. Towerhouses were built with the main rooms above each other at first and second floor levels for defensive purposes: there would have been no internal access between the vaulted undercroft (or cellar) and the first floor. Access would have been by ladder drawn up at night, replaced, perhaps as times grew more stable, by a flight of steps. A medieval dovecote lies to the west; doves were bred for the Prior’s table.
8. Return to Westgate Hill. To the right are medieval cottages; the western wall shows springing for the earlier gate. One cottage still retains a segmentally arched undercroft, at one time perhaps used as a Lock Up. Rings to which prisoners may have been chained are still in the wall. It has a medieval feature of a Corbel Table (a row of stone brackets protecting the wall against dripping damp). Under the lee of the castle to the north was a terrace of small cottages now demolished. They were named ‘Pinfold,” defined as a “pound for stray cattle, etc.”
9. Cottages, lived in during the 1930’s, were demolished along both sides of the Long Entry (now a car park) in 1950’s – one of the two Market Crosses used to stand at this point. These “artisan” dwellings at 8 and 9 must have contrasted with the larger properties generally fronting Main Street. It should not be forgotten, however, that many people would have been “in service” and therefore lived in the basement or attic of the larger properties.
10. The Parish Church of St. Mary is late 12th century or early 13th in origin. Two 13th century windows still remain in the south wall visible from behind Brick House. The massive North-East tower contains a ring of eight bells, the
earliest dating from 1763. Adjacent to St. Mary’s is the Clock House which was formerly the town’s fish market. The present clock dates from 1850 and has cherubic figurines on its roof. In circa 1880 there were further properties to the west of the church and fronting Dark Lane – an appropriate name – now called Northgate Street.
A number of properties along Main Street had archways for coach and horses to gain access to the rear store houses and stables. Unfortunately many of these ground floor breaks in the frontages have been lost, including that of the King’s Arms and finely sited Lion Hotel, the latter was probably a starting point for the Royal Mail Coach. Note the golden lion above the porch. Some archways are retained and to this can be added public walkways through which views of the surrounding hills can be seen.
Opposite Clock House and slightly set back, is the Town Hall (11) with its enclosed archways and coat of arms stating, in Norman French “We serve as one.” At the rear stood the market hall; Pembroke was an important centre for the surrounding countryside. On the north side was Haggars Cinema, (now a shop and snooker room, but formerly a Victorian Assembly Hall and social centre for the local gentry. The family were famed showmen in West Wales and they turned to writing, producing and appearing in their own early silent movies as well as establishing picture houses.
At street level, the frontages have been subject to many changes in the interests of trade, while above the shopfront level many of the Georgian facades have often remained untouched. Several of these larger properties were used as town houses by occupiers of country estates. In 1857, over 100 properties in Pembroke, which were owned by Orielton Estate, were sold by auction. Note “Orielton Terrace” known locally as “Chain Back.”
To the west of New Way is the York Tavern, one of the oldest pubs in the town, with some lovely old beams and a bowed window. At the rear of the York is a medieval structure with vaulted basement (12) used by John Wesley as a preaching centre. Due south, on the skyline, is the 12th century church of St. Daniel (Deiniol) which marks the site where the hermit lived in the 6th century. John Wesley was the incumbent in 1772.
To the south and west of New Way lies the late 19th century area of “Orange Town,” a neatly “planned” estate lying without the walls. To the east, the sweeping area of pleasant grassland is an exhausted limestone quarry, since filled in and the land restored.
The map of circa 1880 shows that many of the less attractive trades of the town were found along the “commons.” These included tanneries, a slaughterhouse, a gasworks and the local iron foundry. The slaughterhouse is now being used as a store, and the one surviving tannery as a youth club.
To the east at the foot of New Way and forming part of the Town Wall is a lime kiln (13) frequently found by navigable waters in Pembrokeshire as burnt lime was much in demand as a fertilizer.
14. A defending Tower with vaulted roof overlooks the previously flooded area of the Common. (The highest point to which the ordinary spring tides flowed circa 1880 was the bridge by New Way: in earlier centuries it was presumably further east). A second medieval tower (15) is topped by 19th century summerhouse or gazebo, both recently renovated. To the left of Gooses Lane (16) is the site of a further medieval tower. At the junction of East End Square is the site of the town’s former East Gate which was the most formidable of all the town gates, comparable to the Five Arched Gate at Tenby. It is thought to have crossed from just west of the Royal Oak and was destroyed on the orders of Oliver Cromwell in 1648.
(17). Three public houses face the square, The Hope laying claim to being the oldest hostelry in town, The Royal Oak retaining the old arch that led to cottages and extensive stables at the rear, and, of course, The Eastgate.
The majority of properties in the Main Street are “Georgian” in design. The essence of their appearance is in their simplicity and fine sense of proportion, matched by tall sash windows and pedimented doorways. Numbers 111 and 113 are particularly fine examples (18). In the wall of 111 is an old penny stamp machine, recently restored and in perfect working order.
The map of 1880 indicates a large number of very ornately designed gardens associated with the properties in Main Street, gardens which are less practical in 1985 when fresh or frozen food can be easily bought and there are few people “in service” The proportion of larger properties probably reflects the profits of the agricultural estate system and the corresponding construction of a house in the town. The presence of certain of the larger properties in the eastern portion of the town can be explained by the suggestion that the development of Medieval Pembroke was in two stages. The first involved the part of the Main Street from the Castle to the top of the New Way, where the dip in the road level may correspond to an early defensive ditch, at point 20. The second stage, from the New Way to the East Gate, came later, and is marked by a much greater width in garden and frontage. This greater plot area was of great advantage to householders when they came to refurbish their properties in the Georgian style.
Outside the Old Cross Saws is thought to be the site of a medieval market and the second of the town’s preaching crosses, the other was outside the Lion Hotel (between points 10 and 11). The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, with its dominating semi-classic facade (19) is an important landmark closing the western vista from the eastern section of the town. The west end of Hamilton Terrace is terminated by Hamilton House on the south and by Melbourne House on the north; their garden elevations forming a single composition. The open area where the trail returns via East Back, was formerly an important part of the town; the gallows and stocks stood here (20). The walk around the post medieval “island” also includes two other nineteenth century chapels, and passes some superb cast-iron scroll work on the gates of a former garage on East Back. (21).
22. St. Michael’s Church. The boundary between the two stages of Pembroke’s medieval development is also the parish boundary, and the town’s second church is dedicated to St. Michael. Originally a plain Norman church with a “stunted tower,” it was nearly all rebuilt in 1835 and again in 1887. Of the medieval building, part of the north wall, vestry and base of the tower remains. There are some interesting seventeenth century monuments in the vestry and a piscina. This is a perforated stone basin for carrying away water used in rinsing the chalice and other items. (Piscina is Latin, meaning a fishpond or cistern). Beyond the Coach House Hotel the trail leads to the Mill Pond along Blackhorse Walk. Barnard’s Tower (23) is a very fine medieval structure, connected to, but advanced from the town wall; a considerable stretch of the wall lies to the south east to connect with the East Gate. A smaller and recently renovated defence work is sited to the west of Blackhorse Walk.
Formerly a tidal inlet, the Mill Pond was dammed to harness power for the corn mill at Pembroke Quay. In 1864 the Pembroke and Tenby Railway Company (which was absorbed by the GWR in 1897) extended operations across the recently constructed embankment. The Mill Pond attracts a variety of wild fowl including swans, moorhen, coots, duck and cormorants. (24). The trail concludes by following the fairly continuous line of the Town Walls back to Pembroke Quay. Across the pond can be seen Golden Farm (25) which served as a prison for the French forces captured near Fishguard after the last invasion of mainland Britain in 1797.
The old Union Workhouse has been expanded and modified to form the Riverside Old People’s Home. (26).
Near the junction of the Mill Pond Walk and the Mill Bridge was the site of the Old North Gate, which was destroyed in 1820. The prominent Royal George Hotel is noteworthy for its “Chinese Chippendale’ interior stairway. On the west of the bridge are foundations of the ancient Corn Mill granted to Knight’s Templar in 1199, which was operated by tidal flow. In 1956 the five-storey mill was burnt down (27) and the base now provides a viewpoint for the castle and surrounding waters.
It is hoped that you have enjoyed the town trail and have found the way made more interesting by this guide. As you will have appreciated, property owners, the local authorities, the Welsh Office and the Civic Trust are concerned with the conservation of historic Pembroke.
More obvious examples of their interest can be seen in the continuous renovation of properties, finished perhaps by sensitive colour washing, which have concentrated on retaining the original facades and fenestration (window design), including the details of cornices and pediments. The interiors have also been retained where practical or where they are of particular importance. New uses have been accommodated in old buildings, parts of the castle, town wall and towers restored, heavy vehicles prohibited from the Main Street (unless for access only) and some tree planting undertaken on the Commons.
The civic Trust would wish to thank in particular Cedric Mitchell, Gerry Brawn, Keith Allen and Arthur Lewis for their illustrations, Canon Hill, Keith Johnson, Martin Bell and members of staff of the South Pembrokeshire District Council Planning Department for their contributions.
George Palmer – Chairman
February 1985 Pembroke Civic Trust Society.