History of Pembrokeshire

There follows a synopsis of the history of Pembrokeshire. We gratefully acknowledge the help of Dillwyn Miles in compiling this section. If you would like to know more about the history of Pembrokeshire then a number of books by Dillwyn Miles are available.

The first people came to Pembrokeshire during the Old Stone Age. At that time the landscape was very different from the present day. There was no St Bride's Bay, and the offshore islands of Ramsey and Skomer were protruding headlands guarding a coastal plain. The people came in pursuit of their prey as it followed the retreating ice, and sought shelter in caves such as Hoyle's Mouth, near Tenby, and Priory Farm Cave at Monkton. They kindled fires in the cave entrance as a protection against the weather and wild beasts and left animal bones and flint tools as evidence of their presence.
When the weather grew less severe, some ten thousand years ago, there came a people that had developed a new technique in making small flint implements that could be used, for example, as arrowheads or harpoon-barbs. They belonged to the Middle Stone Age and while some of them continued to live in caves, like Nanna's Cave on Caldey, others settled on coastal sites, within reach of the sea for fishing and for raw material in the shape of flint pebbles. Among the discarded tools and debris of a community living on Nab Head there was a new implement in the form of an elongated pebble that was used for knocking limpets off the rocks.
The sea continued to rise, as the ice melted, to give shape to the present coastline. Somewhere around 3000 BC Neolithic, or New Stone Age farmers arrived. They came by sea, hugging the coasts in their frail curragh-type craft. Only one of their settlements has been found in Pembrokeshire, with traces of a small round structure and a rectangular building beneath the fortifications of a later hill-fort at Clegyr Boia, west of St. David's. These people are remembered, however, by the most remarkable great stone, or megalithic, monuments in the form of communal tombs or burial chambers. The chamber, or cromlech, was constructed by placing a massive capstone on upright stone pillars and covering the whole with stones or earth in the shape of a round, or long mound. In most cases the mound has been removed leaving the stones. Many tales exist about these stones, for example, Carreg Samson, near Trefin, is supposed to have been erected by Samson with his little finger. Pentre Ifan, near Newport, is one of the most spectacular chamber tombs in the country, with its curved facade and portal reminiscent of the portal dolmens of Ireland. Forests had to be cleared to make cultivation possible and tree felling was effectively carried out with sharpedged, polished stone axes, some of them made of spotted dolerite from outcrops at the eastern end of the Presely Hills, where there appears to have been an axe-factory producing axes of such quality that they were in demand as far afield as Antrim and Salisbury Plain.
The same spotted dolerite was used to make battle axes by men of the early Bronze Age who came bearing metal that was yet too scarce or precious to use in making heavy implements. These were the Beaker Folk, so called from the shapely drinking vessels which they buried as grave goods with their dead under puddingshaped mounds, or barrows. The preponderance of barrows along the upland route on the Presely Hills, and the Ridgeway in the south, indicates that not all those who travelled these routes from Wessex to Ireland to bring back gold from Wicklow Hills were able to complete the journey. Gors Fawr the only stone circle in Pembrokeshire, its sixteen boulders forming an egg-shaped ring, standing on a purple moor within sight of the source of the famous bluestones. It is these Presely bluestones that are to be found at Stonehenge. Most common of the megalithic monuments in Pembrokeshire are the standing stones. They appear to have formed part of complex Bronze Age ritual practices that are not yet understood. They are sometimes to be seen in pairs, as at Cerrig Meibion Arthur, and at Parc-y-meirw there is a rare alignment of eight stones, now mostly concealed in hedgebanks.
Bronze gave way to iron with the arrival of groups of warlike Celts in about 500 BC. Their fortified settlements are scattered all over Pembrokeshire. Tall promontories that thrust out into the sea have defensive banks built across the neck to protect them from landward. The promontory fort on St. David's Head has the formidable Warriors' Dyke for its defence. The Deer Park is the largest promontory fort in Wales. Inland there are many hill-top settlements enclosed by ramparts and among them three great hill-forts: Moel Drygarn, Carn Ingli and Garn Fawr, each with the visible remains of hut platforms and enclosures that provided refuge for women, children and stock in the event of enemy attack. Traces of Iron Age fields are to be seen on the slopes above Porth Melgan and on Skomer Island, which has one of the best preserved ancient field systems in Wales. The Celts brought with them a new culture and a language that survives, in one of its derivative forms, as the Welsh language. The Roman legions kept clear of Pembrokeshire. They came as far as Carmarthen, which became a defended Roman settlement.
Late in the fourth century an Irish tribe, the Deisi, from Co. Meath in Ireland, migrated to Pembrokeshire under their leader, Eochaid Allmuir, and established a royal dynasty that was to rule in south-west Wales for some five centuries. They provided the first written records in the form of inscribed stones bearing the names of those who were considered worthy of commemoration. The writing was in Latin or in ogham, an Irish alphabet designed for ease of cutting on the edge of a stone pillar. Many of these stones have been rescued and placed in churches or churchyards for safe keeping, as at Brawdy, Mathry, Maenclochog and Cilgerran. A stone in St Dogmael's church, used in decoding the ogham alphabet, has in Latin Sagarani fili Cunotami with the ogham Sagrani maqi Cunatami, commemorating one Sagranus son of Cunotamus. The Goidelic maqi, from which `mac' derives, would have been map or ap if Sagranus had been a Welshman.
The inscriptions date from fifth century onward, by which time Christianity had been long established here. Pembrokeshire lay on the route of the Celtic saints, as the early missionaries were known, who travelled between Ireland and Rome or Jerusalem. It also had its own saint, David, born at St. David's to St Non, who is remembered by a chapel and a well above St Non's Bay. David was so revered that his shrine became a place of pilgrimage to the extent that two visits to St. David's cathedral equalled one to Rome.

St David'd Cathedral

Newport Castle

The ruined Bishop's Palace at St David's

Bands of Norsemen marauded the Pembrokeshire coasts from the middle of the ninth century onward and plundered the cathedral at St David's on eight or more occasions. They left only their names on the offshore islands and on a few coastal settlements, like Angle and Goultrop and Dale in the south, and Fishguard in the north. The Normans lost no time in invading south Wales once its powerful prince, Rhys ap Tewdwr, was killed in 1093. Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, and his son, Arnulf, swept across Wales to Pembroke. Arnulf later joined his brother, Robert, in revolt against the king, Henry I, and was banished, and Pembroke became a royal lordship with Gerald de Windsor as its custodian.
In north Pembrokeshire Robert FitzMartin occupied the Welsh stronghold at Nevern and established a Norman lordship in the hundred of Cemais. The hundred of Pebidiog, in which St. David's lay, remained in the hands of the bishop, but the Welsh bishop was replaced by a Norman.

Nowhere in Wales was the Anglo-Norman grip stronger than in south Pembrokeshire. A line of powerful castles reaching from Roch to Tenby was Supported by a string of lesser fortresses along the foothills of the Presely Hills. In addition, there were the great castles of Carew, Manorbier and Pembroke. The Normans did not come alone; they brought large numbers of English followers whose anglicising influence was such that the southern part of Pembrokeshire became known a `Little England beyond Wales'. There was also an infusion of Flemings, sent hy Henry I.
The Welsh harassed the Anglo-Normans from the outset, and regained their territories except for Pembroke Castle. In 1096 they laid siege to the castle but they were hoodwinked by Gerald de Windsor who, although he had hardly any provisions left, threw his last few flitches of bacon over the palisade at the besiegers to make them believe that he was well supplied. The Welsh withdrew but only to fight and fight again, against overwhelming odds. Rhys ap Gruffydd recovered south Pembrokeshire in 1189, and Llywelyn the Great came in 1215, and Llywelyn the Last in 1277 overran the Norman lordships, but Pembroke was never taken. A contingent of French mercenaries landed in Milford Haven in August 1405 to assist Owain Glyndwr in his rising. They marched on Haverfordwest, which they occupied apart from its castle, before proceeding to take Carmarthen. On 28 January 1457, at Pembroke Castle, the thirteen year old Margaret Beaufort, Lancastrian heiress to the throne, gave birth to a son, Henry Tudor. In 1471, young Henry had to flee from the Yorkists with his uncle Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke: they sailed from Tenby and landed in Brittany and another fourteen years were to pass before he returned. On Sunday evening, 7 August 1485, just before sundown Henry landed at Mill Bay on the Dale peninsula, and, early next morning, marched through Haverfordwest and set off on the long journey to Bosworth Field where he defeated Richard III and became King Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty.
Henry VIII abolished the county palatine that had existed since Gilbert de Clare had been created the first Earl of Pembroke in 1138, and united it with the several other lordships to form the county of Pembroke as one of the thirteen counties of Wales. He appointed Anne Boleyn Marchioness of Pembroke, and through her influence William Barlow was made Prior of the Augustinian Priory at Haverfordwest and, soon after, Bishop of St. David's. Barlow became the king's chief instrument in carrying through the religious changes following the Reformation, and the diocese of St. David's led the way in promoting Protestantism, at the same time acting as a buffer against the invasion of Popish influences from Ireland.Barlow set out to suppress pilgrimages to the shrine of the patron saint and endeavoured to remove the see from such `a barbarous and desolate corner', but succeeded only in dismantling the Bishop's Palace and establishing the episcopal residence at Abergwili near Carmarthen.

The most powerful man in Pembrokeshire in the sixteenth century was Sir John Perrot son of Mary Berkeley, a royal ladyin-waiting and wife of Sir Thomas Perrot of Haroldston. He was three times mayor of Haverfordwest and was the town's greatest benefactor. He was appointed President of Munster and Lord Deputy of Ireland. He enlarged Carew Castle, which he had been granted but was unable to complete the work. He was charged with treason for having uttered disrespectful references to the Queen and sentenced to death, but died a natural death while confined to the Tower of London before the sentence could be carried out. In north Pembrokeshire, George Owen of Henllys, lord of Cemais, is commemorated in Nevern church as the `Patriarch of English Geologists', but he is better remembered as the author of The Description of Pembrokeshire (1603) which provides an unrivalled contemporary account of life in his native county. Among other prominent Pembrokeshire Elizahethans were Thomas Phaer, who translated Virgil's Aeneid and made medical science intelligible in English, and Rohert Recorde of Tenby, who is claimed to have introduced the equal sign in mathematics.

George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, came to Pembroke and Haverfordwest in 1657 and, before long. there were Quaker meetings held at Redstone, near Narberth, Puncheston, St, David's, Newport, Jameston and Haverfordwest. By 1661 Lewis David of Llanddewi Velfrey and others were imprisoned for their beliefs and their persecution continued until they emigrated to Pennsylvania where David had purchased 3,000 acres of land from William Penn. There they settled in townships which they named Haverford and Narberth.
The Methodist Revival made an early impact on the county, partly due to the influence of Griffith Jones, rector of Llanddowror, who introduced his `Circulating Schools' to provide education for young and old, and partly through the diligence of his curate, Howel Davies, `the Apostle of Pembrokeshire'. John Wesley visited Haverfordwest no less than fourteen times hetween 1763 and 1790, by when the landscape was dappled with chapels of various denominations.
North Pembrokeshire was for the king when the Civil War broke out in 1642, whereas the south supported Parliament. The royalist commander, the Earl of Carbery, advanced into the county in the summer of the following year and prepared to attack Pembroke, but found Major General Rowland Laugharne, the Parliamentary leader, and his troops, assisted hy a Parliamentary fleet in Milford Haven, more than a match, and he had to retreat. Carbery was replaced by Sir Charles Gerard, a professional soldier, who quickly re-established royalist control, but on 1 August 1644 Laugharne routed the royalists at the battle of Colby Moor, between Wiston and Llawhaden. The royalists lost 150 men killed and 700 taken prisoner, as against the Parliament losses of two dead and sixty wounded. The Second Civil War was precipitated in 1648 by the volte-face of the Parliamentary leaders. John Poyer, mayor, refused to surrender Pembroke to Colonel Fleming, who had been appointed governor, and injudiciously fired on Fleming's troops. Poyer and Laugharne held out at Pembroke, and Colonel Rice Powell, one of Laugharne's lieutenants, at Tenby. Cromwell decided on a show of strength and arrived to suppress `the Welsh insolence', but Pembroke withstood a siege that lasted forty-eight days. Laugharne, Poyer and Powell were sentenced to death but it was decreed that only one should die. They refused to draw lots, and a small child handed them each a slip of paper, two of which bore the words `Life given by God': the other was blank. Poyer had the blank one and was shot by a firing squad at Covent Garden on 25 April 1649. The Pembrokeshire gentry remained loyal Jacobites and many of them were prominent members of the Society of Sea Serjeants that met at Tenby and other seaside towns in south-west Wales. They wore as a badge a silver dolphin within a roundel set on an eight-pointed silver star, which also decorated their glasses as they drank a toast to `the little gentleman in black velvet', a reference to the mole that raised a molehill against which William IV's horse stumbled and fatally unseated its rider. On the evening of 22 February 1797, a French force landed at Carreg Wastad Point on Strumble Head. It comprised 1,400 men, more than a half of whom were `abandoned rogues' released from goals of France. Their commander was an elderly Irish American, Colonel William Tate, who established his headquarters at Trehowel Farm. His hungry troops fell to ransacking the well-stocked larders of the surrounding farmhouses, supplemented by a supply of wine obtained from the recent wreckage of a smuggler. The Pembroke Yeomanry and other available soldiery, totalling 750 men were assembled and marched from Haverfordwest under the command of Lord Cawdor, while the local peasantry stood by with their billhooks and scythes.

Solva

The 'Last Invasion' and its Surrender

Their women, who had gathered on the facing slopes at Fishguard in their red shawls, were taken by the French for troops. Tate surrendered and signed articles of capitulation at the farmhouse before being taken along byways to Haverfordwest, as he feared the fury of the people of Fishguard. His men piled their arms on Goodwick beach. The last invasion of Britain was over having lasted less than forty-eight hours.

The French wars were followed by a period of poverty and rural discontent, and there was considerable agitation for parliamentary reform. The discontent reached a climax on the night of 13 May 1839 when a group of countrymen, dressed in women's clothing, tore down a toll gate that had been erected on the Cardigan to Narberth road at Efailwen. This was the first of many incidents that were known as the Rebecca Riots. The perpetrators were local farmers and smallholders who had to pay ever-heavier tolls to take their carts along the turnpike roads.
Agriculture has always been the main industry in Pembrokeshire. In addition to the traditional mixed farming, it has specialised, in the last half century, in early potatoes turkey breeding and vegetables, notably cauliflower and broccoli, have been grown on a limited scale. There have been several attempts at growing flowers, particularly daffodils, and one grower, at least, is exporting bulbs to Holland. The fishing industry brought prosperity to the town of Milford in the early part of this century, and made it one of the leading fishing ports in the kingdom. Founded in 1790 by Sir William Hamilton, and pronounced by Lord Nelson, along with Trincomalee, the finest harbour he had ever seen, Milford became, in turn, a station for Quaker whalers from Nantucket, a naval dockyard and an Irish steam packet terminal, but the demand for whale oil ceased, the Admiralty moved the dockyard to Pembroke Dock and the Irish boats went to Fishguard. As the fishing industry declined, Milford began to develop as an oil port.
By the end of the eighteenth century, Pembrokeshire had been discovered as a place of resort for holidays. Travellers to the continent were prevented from doing so by the French wars, and there were those who wished to benefit from the newly-found healing properties of sea water. At Tenby, the old fishermen's chapel on the pier was converted by Dr John Jones, 'apothecary of Haverfordwest', into a bathing-house other facilities followed so that, as a resort, it was `unrivalled in the Principality'. In February 1972, that coastline was designated the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, which included also the upper reaches of the Daugleddau and the Presely Hills.

If you would like to be part of Pembrokeshire Online or if you have any comments about this site please contact us