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Pembroke - The Town
The town’s centre piece is its magnificent Norman castle, standing proudly at the head of a rocky ridge and surrounded on three sides by water. It is one of the finest and best preserved strongholds in the country.
From the top of the castle’s mighty round keep there is a splendid view of the town itself, surrounded by its ancient Town Wall – much of which is still standing. It is easy to see why Pembroke was declared a conservation area in 1977. click here to visit the Pembroke Castle web site.
The Main Street, which runs the length of the old town, is ideal for strolling and browsing. There are several interesting Tudor and Georgian houses, two historic churches, and a pleasant mixture of shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants.
There are gentle walks along the Mill Pond (look out for kingfishers and otters) and to the remains of Monkton’s Benedictine Priory.
Pembroke is at the very centre of a wide circle of things to do and places to see, many of which come under the care of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
Within easy reach of Pembroke are the resorts of Tenby and Saundersfoot; the historic and revitalised dockyard towns of Pembroke Dock and Milford Haven; the castles of Manorbier and Carew; the magnificent beaches of the South Pembrokeshire Coastline; the popular market town of Narberth; the picturesque 24 mile Haven Waterway, and, of course, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. All this, plus many man-made attractions and activities to be found in the area.
Pembroke and Monkton Local History Society website and contains lots of information about Pembroke.
Photographs are now available to download as well as pdfs of the Monkton and the new Pembroke Heritage leaflets which will be of great benefit to visitors to our historic town.
Pembroke - A Short History
John Speed Map of 1611 illustrates Pembroke's medieval layout
Pembroke is one of the oldest towns in Wales, dating back to the Norman conquest of 1093 when Arnulf de Montgomery overcame local resistance to build a wooden fortification where Pembroke Castle now stands. Five years later, in 1098, Monkton Priory was founded.
Under the command of Gerald de Windsor, who married the legendary Welsh Princess Nest, Pembroke became the powerbase from which the Norman invaders conquered South Pembrokeshire and planted their own colony of English and Flemish settlers; it was ever afterwards known as ‘Little England Beyond Wales’. These were dangerous times but the castle stood firm and in its shadow grew the town of Pembroke, ruled over by the mighty Earls of Pembroke, the greatest of whom was William Marshal, of Magna Carta fame, who rose to become Regent of England in 1216.
Pembroke 1747 by the Bucks Brothers
During Marshal’s tenure Pembroke Castle took on its present structure built in stone, with its Norman Hall and distinctive, cylindrical Great Keep or Donjon. The historic core of the town was established then, of a long main street flanked by shops, businesses and houses constructed in burgage plots and surrounded by walls. Charters granted by Henry I and Henry II bestowed privileges upon the town, awarding it the monopoly of sea trade in Milford Haven which brought great prosperity.
Our own Royal Celebrity - Henry VII
Pembroke is famous as the birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty. In 1447 Jasper Tudor (half brother to Henry IV) was appointed Earl of Pembroke and into his care was sent his 13 year old sister-in-law Margaret Beaufort who gave birth to a son in Pembroke Castle, a son destined to become King Henry VII. Henry spent the first few years of his life here, baptised in St Mary’s Church and, tradition has it, educated by the Benedictine monks of Monkton Priory. His son Henry VIII later succeeded Jasper as Earl of Pembroke and bestowed the title of Lady Marquess of Pembroke on his wife Anne Boleyn in 1532.
Old South Quay and Mill
During the Tudor period much of the prosperity and prestige of Pembroke faded away. King Henry VIII’s religious and political changes brought about the ruination of the Priory and saw Haverfordwest replace Pembroke as county town following the Act of Union of England and Wales 1543. Pembroke was reduced to the status of a market town.
However, Pembroke was to rise once again to national importance in the Civil Wars of the mid 17th century supporting first Parliament, then King under the leadership of its Mayor John Poyer. In 1648 Cromwell himself laid siege to the town for 6 weeks before it ultimately capitulated: he was reputed to have stayed at the York Tavern in Main Street to personally oversee the destruction of the Castle. John Poyer was executed.
Pembroke around 1900
These were bad times indeed, but Pembroke saw a revival of its fortunes in the 18th Century when Daniel Defoe described it as ‘the richest and most flourishing town in South Wales’. Pembroke benefitted from the influence of the great country estates like the Cawdors of Stackpole and the Owens of Orielton and was once again the major port on Milford Haven. Trade was booming and many of the fine houses in the Main Street date from this time, built in the 18th and early 19th centuries in the Georgian style.
Pembroke’s fortunes as port took a down turn in the 19th Century, but the building of the Royal Dockyard n 1814 gave Pembroke a boost. Many found employment in the new shipbuilding industry and Pembroke itself grew alongside the building of the new town of Pembroke Dock with suburbs at Orange Gardens and Monkton. Although its sea trade had greatly declined, Pembroke was important as an agricultural market town, serving the wider hinterland of the Castlemartin peninsular.
Unlike Pembroke Dock, Pembroke was left unscathed by the blitz of WWII. But It was after the Second World War that Pembroke was to change most dramatically with a huge expansion of housing on the Green and Monkton, much of which was destroyed to make way for new development. Pembroke continues to expand in all directions…
In 1972 Pembroke was designated a Conservation Area in recognition of its national historic importance and architectural merit. Now Pembroke relies largely on tourism, and its Castle still plays its part in the 21st Century: as a major visitor attraction and venue for events, it is vital to the town’s economy and wellbeing.
Want to know more? Visit Pembroke & Monkton Local History Society’s website: pembrokeandmonktonhistory.org.uk