Nov 10, 2019

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Science & the Farmer: 6th December 2019


Agricultural development  in Pembrokeshire 1900 – 1950. A talk by Dr Julie Coggins.

Steam engine

Papers from the Past: A 16th century Visitor




By Mary John

John Leland, poet and antiquary, noted for his Itinerary, included Wales in his six year tour of Britain and at some time during the years 1536 to 1539 visited Pembrokeshire.

Mary Fig 1

Leland was born around the year1506 and was educated at St Paul’s in London, Christ College, Cambridge and All Souls, Oxford. He took holy orders and later served as tutor to the son of the Duke of Norfolk. Having spent much of his time writing poetry in Latin, often in praise of the monarch and his court, he was appointed Royal Librarian by Henry VIII.

By 1533 he had become the king’s Antiquary. This was at a time when the effects of the break with Rome were beginning to be felt, with the ensuing destruction in cathedrals, churches and monasteries throughout the land. The Valor Ecclesiasticus  was made in 1534-5, followed by the acts for suppression of the monasteries 1536 to1539. In addition to this, under a new Act (27 Hen. VII, cap.26), Wales found itself united to England ‘for lawes and justice to be ministred in Wales in like fourme as it is in this realme’.

Leland may have been in Pembrokeshire when St Dogmaels Abbey and its dependent priory on Caldey Island were dissolved in 1536. Notorious Bishop Barlow abandoned St Davids Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace around this time. He had a hand in the closure of both Haverfordwest Priory and Friary in1538 and Pembroke Priory was dissolved in 1539. Within a few years the bishop’s episcopal residences at Llawhaden and Lamphey and the Hospitaller’s Commandery at Slebech were no longer required by the church.

With the dissolution of the monasteries Leland became most concerned about the removal and dispersal of their precious archives and books. He received authorisation from King Henry to conduct a survey of the libraries of all the religious houses and made extended excursions into Wales, detailing where hr went in a series of notebooks.

These notes contribute considerably to our understanding of Tudor times and as Roger Turvey reminds us, ‘Leland’s legacy was in introducing the notion of the county or shire as an appropriate unit for studying the history of Britain…’

Unfortunately, within less than ten years after his visits to Pembrokeshire we learn from his friend, John Bale, that Leland ‘…fell besides his wits’ and by 1550 he was certified insane. We are told that in April 1552 he was buried in the church of St Michael Querne, Cheapside in London, which was later destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

Leland left a vast quantity of manuscripts which were subsequently used by other antiquarians who were not always prepared to acknowledge him; one being William Camden who was accused of ‘feathering his nest with Leland’s plumes’, when writing Britannia. The manuscripts, including those which would make up The Itinerary, passed through numerous hands until finally arriving in the Bodleian Library.

Historians have been left speculating on Leland’s route into Wales, whether from Gloucester, Shropshire or possibly Chester and North Wales. Because of the scattered nature of his notes one cannot tell how many times he came into west Wales or whether he gleaned information from other people rather than it being from material gained first hand. There are a host of questions one could ask regarding Leland’s tour of Pembrokeshire, not least, how did he travel?  Was he on horseback? Did he go from place to place in a carriage and what were the roads like? Perhaps he travelled round the county by boat. Did he have company? A clerk? A scribe? A man servant?  Where did he stay? Was he welcomed in any of the threatened church properties? Was he entertained in any of the big houses? Did he spend nights in rural hostelries? We will probably never know.

The Itinerary, as it was to become known, was not published in Leland’s lifetime. John Stow was noted for his transcriptions in the 16th century but it was not until 1710 that the first edition, edited by Thomas Hearne, appeared in several volumes in Oxford.

Mary Fig 2

Further editions of this work appeared in the 18th century and in 1906 a new version, the first of five volumes, of The Itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535- 1543, edited by Lucy Toulmin Smith, was published.






It is extracts from her version that are used here to describe Leland’s time in the county of Pembrokeshire which he claims to approach from ‘Wormes Hedde’ in ‘Gower Land’, mentioning Caldey on the way.Mary Fig 3

‘Tinby ys a walled towne hard on the Severn Se yn Penbrookeshire. Ther is a sinus and a peere made for shyppes. The towne is very welthe by marchaundyce…One thinge is to be marveled at. There is no welle yn the towne, as yt is saide, wherby they be forced to fech theyr water at S, Johns withowte the towne.’  

He is next in Mainopir…a towne of howsbondry…The ruines of Pirrhus Castel there, many walles yet standynge hole, do openly appere.’

‘A good deale upward above Milforde Haven lyith Great Scalmey and Lytle Scalmey, one almost joyning to a nother, longing booth to the king, but not inhabited propter pirates et celi inclemantium. Great Scalmey hath no howse in yt, as I remember M Hogan said that therein is a chapel. The fermers bring over thither shepe and coltes of horses the which feede very wildly there, but the coltes taken fro thens be larger and better fed then be harted or apt for war.’

After mentioning  the islands of Schoukhold, Gresse Holme and Ramesey Leland finds himself in Narbarthe, ‘ a little preati pile of old Syr Rheses given onto hym by King Henri the VIII. There is a poore village….’

Dueglevi lordship is conteynid bytwixt the ii river of Glevi. In this lordship or grounde be few or none notable buildinges…Lannhadein lordship is on the est side Gledi wher is a castel buildid on a roke longgng to the Bisshop of S, David…Therby is also a forest of redde deere caullid Lloydarth.’

Leland moves on erratically through the county-

‘Slebyche  comaundry of the Rodes liith apon the Est Glevy even adjoining to the west parte of Narbarth lordship.’

‘Roche Castel longing to the Lorde Ferres an old Langeville knight of Bukinghamshire bytwyxt Harford West and S.Davids.’

‘Haverford West lordship hath the waullid toun of Haverford and castel… thre paroch chirches, one of them withowt the toune in suburbe. Blak-Freres within the toune.Chanons without suppressed.’

‘Gualwin castel and lordship is pertaining to Harford West. It longgid to the lord of Northumbreland, now to Perot.’

‘Rose Market. The market is lost, and is now a poore village.’

‘In the extreme part of Penbrokeshire after the old limite is a pore village caulid Angle touching hard upon Milford Haven.’

Now he is back in the north-

‘There appere in dyvers partes of Pebidiauc hilles and dikes with bulwarkes of yerth as campes of men of warre or closures for catelle. The soil of Pebidiauc is stony, yet there is meatly good corne, there is plenty of fisch bycause of the crekes.’

Finally Leland is in S. Davidislande where, due to his attention to the various crekittes and havens one is left with the feeling he must have spent more time, perhaps in the company of the anxious clerics.


Some Thoughts on the Romanization of Pembrokeshire


Some Thoughts on the Romanization of Pembrokeshire

 By Mark Merrony

In 2003 I surveyed and excavated what I believe to be a Roman villa at Ford near Wolfscastle that was previously identified by the antiquarian Richard Fenton in 1811. The results of the survey were published in the present journal in 2004,[1] and the time is now ripe to present, in brief, the findings of the trial excavation.[2] In light of further discoveries over the past fifteen years, it is also the intention here to integrate these into the emerging picture of Romano-British Pembrokeshire, since it is now becoming increasingly clear that the county – and those that adjoin it – are more Romanized than previously thought.

Classical references

To put the more recent findings into their rightful context, there is some necessary but brief overlap with my publication in 2004.[3] Logically, the most appropriate place to begin our grand tour of ancient Pembrokeshire is in the Roman period itself. The first evidence is referenced by Ptolemy, the Graeco-Roman historian who compiled Geography (II.3.2) in the second century AD,[4] which mentions Octapitarum Promontorium, thought to refer to the Bishops and Clerks islets west of Ramsey Island near Saint Davids Head.[5] The map also mentions Moridunum (Carmarthen), along with the Demetae, the Celtic tribe that inhabited the region in the Iron Age, Moridunum being their political centre in the Roman period.

Moridunum is also mentioned in an itinerary known as The Peutinger Table, thought to be a thirteenth century copy of a Roman original of the third century AD, acquired by the German antiquarian Konrad Peutinger in 1508, and now in the Hofbibliothek, Vienna.[6] Other ancient references to place-names in the county come from a forged work, The Description of Britain, supposedly by Richard of Cirencester. This includes an itinerary of Roman Britain (Iter XI), listing a road known as the Via Julia west of Moridunum to Ad Menapiam (Saint Davids), via Ad Vigesimum (a supposed Roman station located in north Pembrokeshire).[7] The authenticity of this document was widely accepted when it was first published in 1757 by Charles Bertram, but proved a forgery by Bernard Woodward, Librarian in Ordinary to Queen Victoria in 1847. Richard of Cirencester was actually a fourteenth century monk and historian at the Benedictine Abbey of Westminster.

Archaeological findings

After a millennium and a half of silence, something of Roman Pembrokeshire revealed itself to the antiquarian pursuits of Richard Fenton, who was informed of an unusual discovery at Ford near Wolfscastle. After visiting the site, he confirmed that it was a Roman villa, observing a bath with protruding flues, roofing tiles, iron nails, various bricks, some grooved, and others etched with lines.[8] Shortly after this, Fenton visited Castle Flemish, mistaking it for Ad Vigesimum, where he found fragments of Roman brick.[9] The site was later excavated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1921, and sherds of Roman pottery, hexagonal roofing slates, and flue-tile, were among his discoveries.[10] The site is now identified as an enclosed Roman villa.

It seems that Fenton was not an entirely trusted source and the idea of the Romans penetrating as far as Pembrokeshire was put on the backburner after the rather sceptical address of the Bishop of Saint Davids to the British Archaeological Association during the Tenby Congress in 1884.[11] In spite of this, subsequent investigations at Ford continued to recover Roman material through the course of the twentieth century, such as roofing slates,[12] and a Roman oil lamp, which is presently in Carmarthenshire Museum at Abergwili, Carmarthen.

Roman material has been recovered from a number of sites in the county, notably from coastal promontory forts at Brawdy, Buckspool, and elsewhere, furnishing evidence of steady occupation through the Roman period. The same may be said of a series of so-called ringforts near Llawhaden and other areas.[13] There have been numerous Roman coin hoards discovered in the county and the broader region, especially since the successful implementation of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).

After Fenton’s identification of the villa at Ford, the next site of its kind was not discovered until 1950. This occurred at Trelissey near Amroth in the southeast of the county, excavated under the direction of W.G. Thomas and R.S. Walker in 1950 and 1951.[14] They found an enclosed Roman villa with coarse and fine pottery, the head of a javelin, and other finds (now in Tenby Museum).

In 1995, a Roman road was excavated during the construction of the Whitland bypass just over the border in Carmarthenshire, a section of a route first observed by Terry James from aerial photographs, heading west from Carmarthen and into Pembrokeshire by RCAHM traced, in sections, by aerial photography, digital mapping, and fieldwork as far west as Wiston.[15]

The next tangible Roman discovery or – more correctly – rediscovery, occurred on the site of the Ford Roman villa observed by Fenton. In January 2003, guided by an Ordnance Survey map, I visited the site and found several large roofing slates of varying size (some with nail holes; one cut to perhaps fit around a chimney). Subsequently, a geophysical survey was undertaken with Tony Johnson of Oxford Archaeotechnics (based in Noke, Oxfordshire). As expected, the ferrous material in this general location (fences, gates, water trough) significantly impaired the geophysical plot, but it was possible to identify an unenclosed subterranean building under the intersection of three hedges (approximately 18.5m by 7.5m). Rectilinear features to the east of the building were revealed, which may record field boundaries associated with the site, but it is not possible to be certain of this. A trackway appears to lead directly to the building from the east and seems to bisect a similar feature running north-south.

The original excavation at Ford took place with the kind assistance of several local volunteers on the weekend of 29 and 30 March. It was logical to excavate the area that corresponded to the clearer part of the geophysical survey, southeast of the water trough. This entailed the investigation of an area on a north-south alignment, carefully removing the overburden to reveal a number of large stone slabs (Fig. 1).

Merrony Fig 1

These were the foundation stones of the building but there was no trace of the superstructure apart from an area of tumble, which did not appear to correspond with the alignment of the structure. Overall, the site appears to have been heavily robbed of stone, a process that was underway between the rediscovery of the building and Fenton’s visit in the early nineteenth century.


The excavated site at Ford photographed from the south in March 2003 by Martin Cavaney



Disappointingly, there was a lack of pottery, apart from a piece of Roman ceramic that is a tile or brick, so it was not possible to establish any firm dates for the construction or development of the building. A significant find appears to be part of an igneous saddle quern, which consists of a lower stone (saddle) on which corn was placed, and an upper stone (rider), which was pushed to-and-fro on top of this. Normally these were replaced in the Iron Age by rotary querns, but in some areas, saddle querns remained in use into the Roman period (Fig. 2).[16]

Merrony Fig 2


Fig.2. Saddle quern found at Ford in March 2003. Ian R. Cartwright.

Copyright Institute of Archaeology, Oxford University.












Several more roofing slates were discovered (Fig. 3). These are of particular interest since George Boon has established that they are from the same source in the southern Preseli Hills (also spelled ‘Prescelly’) as the slates found in the secondary metalling of the Roman quayside at Caerleon, Carmarthen, Castle Flemish, Cwmbrwyn villa near Llandorow,[17] and Coygan Camp[18] close to Laugharne, a Romano-British defended enclosure (both sites in Carmarthenshire).[19]

Merrony Fig 3

Fig.3. Slate roofing tiles recovered at Ford in March 2003.

(Martin Cavaney)

In light of the fact there are no navigable rivers between the two Pembrokeshire villas and the source of the slates found there, the material must, of course, have been transported by road; but their point of origin and distribution is too far north for the material to have been conveyed along the Carmarthen-Wiston route, a factor that will be revisited below.








Arguably the most important find was a piece of flue-tile, with a distinct combing pattern, reminiscent of Fenton’s description of similar artefacts over two hundred years ago. Other finds included a small voussoir (perhaps part of an arch), and several roofing nails, originally used to affix the slates to the timbers of the roof. The tile is a fragment of a box flue, which functioned as a component of a wall chimney, venting the hot air and smoke from the hypocaust (underfloor heating). The incised lines on the surface enabled the adhesion of plaster in much the same way that modern plasterers scratch render before the coat of skimming is applied (Fig. 4).

Merrony Fig 4


Fig.4. Flue-tile found at Ford in 2003. Ian R. Cartwright 2017.

Copyright Institute of Archaeology, Oxford University.

Fenton also described a bath and its embedded wall flues in considerable detail and the balance of evidence appears to indicate that the building at Ford was probably a villa, perhaps of the corridor type.

The tenant farmer of Bank Farm had kindly agreed to fence the site off to prevent cattle trampling the excavated area, but he was unable to sink any stakes at a sufficient depth to the immediate east of the excavation, due to the presence of substantial buried material – probably stone slabs. Clearly, the base of the building continues on a southeast alignment and extends beyond the present farm track, so there is certainly scope for future excavation in this location.

Recent discoveries

In 2010, the site was surveyed and excavated by Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) with the assistance of local volunteers under the direction of Duncan Schlee (former Project Manager), but their investigation was hampered by the presence of the farm track mentioned above, which now overlies much of the area originally investigated. The geophysics echoed the results of our survey, with the exclusion of the villa building, but the coverage was more comprehensive, and revealed the presence of a prehistoric enclosure as well as a possible Romano-British building to the southeast of the villa.[20] With the kind technical assistance of James Meek, Head of DAT Archaeological Services, a geophysical plot now exists that combines both surveys (Fig. 5).

Merrony Fig 5


Fig.5. Geophysical survey combining the results of the 2003 and 2010 surveys.

Reproduced by courtesy of Dyfed Archaeological Trust and Oxford Archaeotechnics.



Since this survey and excavation were undertaken, further discoveries have been made. One of the most significant of these is a Roman fort at Wiston. This was found in 2012 through geophysical survey, followed by trial excavation (in 2013 and 2014) under the direction of Meek. Part of this has been visible for some years on Ordnance Survey maps, but it had been previously dismissed as a recent feature. Pottery suggests that the fort was occupied in the late first century/early second century AD and that it was reused in the mid-second to the mid-third century AD, perhaps as a civil site. A significant breakthrough was made when the presence of an extensive civilian vicus settlement to the south was identified by geophysics. This was confirmed by excavation in 2014 (Fig. 6).[21]

This extraordinary development is by no means the end of the story. In January 2017, I received correspondence from Luke Hooper, a student at Bournemouth University, who sought my opinion about an interesting discovery after undertaking a geophysical survey in north Pembrokeshire under the auspices of University College London (UCL) the previous summer.[22] My conclusion accorded with his: the plot recorded an enclosed villa of the corridor type with a square Romano-Celtic temple adjacent to it. On my advice, he contacted Revd Professor Marine Henig, who concurred with our interpretation.[23] A small excavation of this site was undertaken in late summer 2017, and this appears to confirm that the site is a Roman villa.

Merrony fig 6










Fig.6. Geophysical interpretation of the Roman fort and vicus at Wiston.

Reproduced courtesy of Dyfed Archaeological Trust.


Martin Davies has provided a major contribution to the study of Roman Pembrokeshire most recently, investigating parts of the elusive Roman road network in the county.[24] Of special interest is an apparent route that appears to head north from near the Roman fort and vicus at Wiston, over the Preselis via Tafarn-y-Bwlch (where there may be a Roman fort), and into Ceredigion.

A section of this appears to run past the Roman villa and temple site mentioned above.

Administration and economy

It is important at this stage to make some general comments about civilian villas and military forts in the county. Evidence elsewhere in Britain indicates that the owners of what we term ‘Roman villas’ were not Roman but indigenous elites who adopted their lifestyle in political territories known as civitates that were adapted to pre-existing Celtic tribal territories. In southern Wales these were implemented by the Roman authorities in the second century AD to frame the polities of the Silures in the east with their civitas caput at Venta Silurum (Caerwent) and the Demetae in the west, their caput at Moridunum (Carmarthen), (as mentioned above), the territory of the Demetae, equating with Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, and southern Ceredigion, comprising a single political unit. In the western Roman empire, civitates were essentially city-states based on the constitution of Rome, with landowning classes (decuriones), defined by a property qualification, controlling power in a senate (ordo), from which the council (curia) were elected, as well as two annually elected magistrates (duoviri), who exercised power within the civitas during their tenure. This political arrangement, notwithstanding some variations, operated on the basis of circumscribed self-government.[25] Tenant farmers (coloni) sold their produce in the urban market-place and paid a proportion of their revenue in tax and rent. Their landowning overlords, who were often pagan, and later, ecclesiastical officials, in turn paid part of their tax to the state and funded public building projects (euergetism).[26]

It is not possible at present to reconstruct the economy of the region with any level of precision until future discoveries are integrated into the broader picture, but it is the case that Moridunum was the urban market of the Demetae, where financial transactions took place, goods were exchanged, and taxes levied.[27] Coins recovered from Carmarthen indicate that they were in circulation from the late first century.[28] In the wider region they were minted in Rome until the second century, and elsewhere in the empire thereafter, at Aquileia, Arles, Lyons, Siscia, and Trier, and in London and Colchester from the late third century AD. In accordance with the general picture in Britain, the bulk of coins are found on military sites and vici close to them, indicating a minimal impact of coinage on the civilian population in the territory of the Demetae.[29] Several hoards discovered in Pembrokeshire have a coastal provenance with coins dating to the first half of the fourth century (Newgale Beach), or predominantly around the middle or the second half of the fourth century (Stackpole Warren, Newgale Beach, Whitesands Beach, Saint Davids and Goodwick Harbour); the later coins are plausibly interpreted by Heather James as having a restricted function as military pay or donativa (bonuses) rather than a broader economic function.[30]

Forts in Britain were garrisoned by Roman legionary troops and auxiliaries from different parts of the Roman empire. The Wiston fort was probably built by soldiers of the Second Augustan Legion (Legio II Augusta), whose fortress was at Caerleon near Newport. Inscriptions from Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall, and their hinterlands, prove that the legion was active in northern England and Scotland until the early third century. It is therefore plausible that Caerleon was the hub for broader activities in Pembrokeshire, and they were present in the fort at Loughour, where a stamp tile of Legio II Augusta has been recovered.[31]

The establishment of the base at Caerleon was necessary to pacify the Silures who, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, were hostile, since he records that: ‘…neither severity nor clemency converted the Silurian tribe, which continued the struggle and had to be repressed by the establishment of a legionary camp’ (XII.32).[32] In contrast, the Demetae are absent from Roman accounts, and it is generally considered that they were subdued with relative ease.[33] Wales was finally brought under Roman sway by AD 77 during the tenure of governor Julius Frontinus.[34]

The search for a lost Roman road

A Roman road of particular general interest, mentioned above, is the route from Carmarthen to Wiston (Fig. 7). Where is it heading from Wiston? An obvious place is the Cleddau, in or near Haverfordwest, but there is no evidence of this as yet. It is often thought that its destination is Saint Davids, and there are some clues, provided by place-names and archaeology, that it may run in that general direction. At Rudbaxton, a possible trace of a Roman road was observed by aerial photography on a west-southwest – east-northeast bearing by Chris Musson of The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) in 2002. The further clue is a long stretch of road known as ‘the Causeway’, north of Camrose which tracks in a northwest direction. This is not marked on the modern 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map of north Pembrokeshire, but it appears on older OS maps, notably the Six Inch (1888-1913) and 1:25,000 (1937-61) versions. Most recently, Martin Davies has identified a possible enclosed Romano-British villa south of its course.[35]

Merrony fig 7


Fig.7. Map of the Carmarthen-Wiston Road and the ‘Via Julia’. Courtesy of Dyfed Archaeological Trust. Published in Pembrokeshire County History, Volume I.

It is probable that this was the route taken by Gerald of Wales in the later twelfth century. He recorded that: ‘From Haverford we proceed on our journey to Menevia [Saint Davids]… and passed through Camros… We then passed over Niwegal sands…’ (I.13).[36] Fenton refers to a possible stretch of Roman road in Newgale that was exposed by a storm around 1780, as described by a Mr Jones of Lether, and in the winter of 1795, where he observed: ‘…two lines of pebbles parallel, and for a mile in length; the pebbles from one inch to a foot [in] diameter…’ He speculated that this was, ‘…by tradition, said to have extended from Old Menapia along the coast to Dale on Milford Haven, and known by the common appellation of the Old Welsh Way’.[37]

He considered that Brawdy, on the hill to the north, could derive from ‘Broadway’, but it may in fact have its root in the Welsh name ‘Breudeth’. In a manuscript of 1293, Breudeth had been shortened to ‘Bre’udy’, according to Bertie Charles.[38] If the paving observed is a Roman road, it may intersect a route from Saint Davids through Brawdy to Carmarthen (see below). Roman roads are marked on the older OS maps between Brawdy and Saint Davids but these appear to be influenced, perhaps in large measure, by the forged map of Bertram. For instance, Menapia Roman Station is marked above Whitesands Bay. It is, however, curious that the latter is also known as ‘Porth Mawr’ (‘Great Port’). This was an important medieval crossing point to and from Ireland, and I am grateful to the Rt Revd (John) Wyn Evans, Bishop of Saint Davids (2008-2016), for clarifying this point.[39]

Pliny the Elder, the admiral and historian, who was killed at Stabiae by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on 25 August AD 79, mentions that: ‘Hibernia lies beyond Britannia, the shortest crossing being from the lands of the Silures, a distance of 30 miles’ (IV.16.103), (28.33 conventional miles or 45.6 kilometres).[40] The distance is in fact about 47 miles (75.6 km). The importance of Whitesands Bay as a point of crossing to Ireland is underscored by the excavation of some 50 skeletons at Saint Patrick’s Chapel, dating to the early medieval period (seventh to eleventh century), in 2015, under the direction of Ken Murphy, Chief Executive Officer, DAT.[41] Interestingly, a large hoard of Roman coins discovered at Whitesands Bay in 2010, recorded by the PAS, comprises 115 coins of several denominations dating from around the mid-second to the mid-fourth centuries. There is no other certain evidence for a Roman presence in the area apart from an unconfirmed fort at Trepewet east of Saint Davids.[42]

The curious irony of the Via Julia

There are reasonable grounds to assume that a road runs from Saint Davids to Carmarthen, roughly parallel to the Carmarthen-Wiston route (Fig. 7). Is this the ‘real Via Julia?’ Place-names, as recorded on the older OS maps, and archaeological evidence play a crucial role here. For the sake of convenience, I reference here the OS Six Inch (1888-1913) map from this point onwards. We pick up the chase again near Brawdy, with reference to the place-name ‘Broadway’ (SM850238) near the southern end of the old runway of the military base. There is possible archaeological evidence for a Roman road a little to the south of Brawdy at Lower Llethr, photographed from the air by Dr Toby Driver, Senior Investigator (Aerial Survey), RCAHMW, in 2003, running west-east (although the possibility that it may be a pipeline should not be discounted).[43] In the same year, a parchmark was photographed by Driver near another ‘Broadway’, located west of Llawhaden, part of the Carmarthen-Wiston Roman road. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the name may also indicate the presence of a Roman road near Brawdy.

Significantly, just a few kilometres to the east of Broadway, is another identical place-name (SM917245) and also Broadway Quarry (922244). This lies not far to the southwest of the Ford villa near Wolfscastle. A large section of hedged trackway runs in a general east-northeast direction for some distance, commencing as South Hill Lane (932250), past a site labelled as ‘Old Camp’, and below the course of the Roman road marked on the old OS maps.

Further east, near the Roman villa at Castle Flemish, the old OS maps bisect the site and this is probably because it was originally thought to be the Roman station Ad Vigesimum. It is plausible to think that a Roman road runs further to the south, since there is a place-name a little to the southwest of a farm called Stradland (994264), which may perhaps be interpreted as ‘Streetland’, referring to the presence of a Roman road, an observation that accords with that of Fenton.[44] The passing of this suggested route south of Ford and Castle Flemish is perhaps not surprising, since, judging from examples elsewhere in Britain (Akeman Street in southern England is typical), Roman villas tend to be located near Roman roads, as in the case of the possible route identified by Martin Davies from Wiston to Ceredigion.

There is reason to suppose from place-names on the old OS maps that the road continues east, crossing this north-south road suggested by Davies  somewhere near LIys-y-Fran. The next relevant place-name, Pen-sarn, is about seven kilometres to the east-southeast, near to the western bank of the Eastern Cleddau (SN111249). It is appropriate at this convenient geographical juncture to consider the slates found at Ford, Castle Flemish, Caerleon, and elsewhere, since this stretch of road is not far south of their probable source. The comments of George Boon on the slates found in the secondary metalling of the quayside at Caerleon are especially relevant: ‘The blue-grey, thinly cleaved, spotted slate was readily recognised as being strikingly similar in external appearance to the Foel Tyrch Beds Arenig Slate. This Ordovician slate is exposed and has been extensively quarried in the southern part of the Prescelly Hills. The specimen was also compared with other slates and slate-like rocks from various southern Dyfed localities; but even on macroscopic examination only, it almost certainly came from Prescelly.’[45] These are dated to the later third-century,[46] when the quay was extended, which obviously indicates that a quarry was operational in this period. It is not clear exactly where the slates were quarried, but I am grateful to Robin Sheldrake, a local historian, for drawing my attention to the slate quarry at Llangolman (128270).[47] It is curious that its location is little more than a kilometre north of Pen-sarn, and there are several other quarries in the area, such as Tyrch, some five kilometres to the northeast (154295).[48] While post medieval activity is attested at both sites, there is scope for further investigation to establish if any Roman slates have been worked or discarded. In any case, the proximity of southern Preseli slate to the suggested line of the Roman road may well account for its distribution at Romano-British sites close to its general latitude.

Approximately three kilometres to the northeast of Pen-sarn, at Glandy Cross, appear the names Parcsarnau and Sarnau, a short way to the northeast (145266). As with ‘the Causeway’ near Camrose, it is often the case that crucial names have been removed from the modern OS maps, such as Parcsarnau in this case.

The next place-name, Pen-sarn, is east of Login (193238). Then east-southeast of Llanboidy there are a cluster of relevant place-names, tracking towards Carmarthen and all labelled to the north of the Via Julia as marked on the old OS map. Approximately 1.5km to the north of the first Sarnau (211253) is an earthwork labelled as ‘Caer’ (‘Y Gaer’ on the modern OS map), where a hoard of Roman silver coins is recorded. Further to the southeast are: Blaen-sarn-goch (238222), Sarn-goch (232218), Sarn-newydd (236219), Caerlleon (256220), Efail-Caerlleon (257219), Penyrheol (308208), Sarnau (313209), and Sarn-y-bwla (318205).

This concentration of place-names did not escape the attention of the late Professor Barri Jones. In the early 1970s he identified a corresponding agger west and east of Meidrim, on a general east-west alignment towards the confluence of the Afon Cywyn and the Nant Cynnen, near Rickett’s Mill in the direction of Saint Davids Hospital.[49] In this context, I am indebted to Martin Davies for his diligent observation in the field during March of this year; augmented by his Lidar analysis in this area, both avenues of inquiry appearing to support the existence of a well-defined route along this course (Fig. 8).

Merrony Fig 8


Fig.8. Lidar survey detailing the Roman road west of Meidrim proposed by the author, based on the observations of Martin Davies


The most extraordinary thing is that the collective evidence, from archaeology and place-names, appears to confirm the existence of a Roman road that roughly follows the spurious Via Julia, although I am not suggesting that Bertram’s Itinerary was genuine, but rather coincidental.

It is perhaps appropriate to conclude by considering the likelihood of future discoveries, and I am convinced, as are others, that a number of villas exist, but with perhaps fewer large forts to be established along the emerging Roman road network. It is not difficult to envisage the presence of a Roman road linking the Cwmbrwyn villa with the Trelissey site at Amroth, especially sin ce there is reason to suspect another site nearby at Eastlake Farm.[50] In the meantime, the forthcoming excavation of the Roman villa discovered by UCL in north Pembrokeshire may even produce the long-awaited discovery of some Roman mosaics. Such is the unpredictability and excitement of archaeology.


1 Merrony, M.W., ‘Richard Fenton’s ‘Roman Villa’ at Ford Revisited’, Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society 13 (2004), 5-22.

[2] A more technical paper on the results of the 2003 excavation is in preparation.

3 The most recent study on Roman Pembrokeshire is presented by James, H., ‘Roman Pembrokeshire AD 75 – 410’. In Pembrokeshire County History, Vol. 1, Prehistoric, Roman and Early Medieval Pembrokeshire, edited by H. James, M. John, K. Murphy, and G. Wainwright (Haverfordwest: Pembrokeshire County History Trust, 2016), 293-339.

4 Ptolemy, Geography of Claudius Ptolemy, translated and edited by E.L. Stevenson (New York, NY: New York Public Library, 1932).

5 Rivet, A.L.F., and Smith, C., The Place-Names of Roman Britain (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), 430.

[6] Rathmann, M., Tabula Peutingeriana. Die einzige Weltkarte aus der Antike (Darmstadt: Philipp von Zabern, 2016).

7 Bertram, C., The Description of Britain: Translated from Richard of Cirencester: with the Original Treatise, De situ Britanniæ; and a Commentary on the Itinerary (London: J. White & Company, 1809), 144.

8 Fenton, R., A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Company, 1811), 182-183.

9 Fenton, 1811, 184.

10 Wheeler, R.E.M., ‘A Roman Site in Pembrokeshire’, Archaeologia Cambrensis 78 (1923), 211-224.

11 Laws, E., The History of Little England Beyond Wales: and the Non-Kymric Colony Settled in Pembrokeshire  (London: George Bell and Sons, 1888), 37.

12 ‘In the course of a further examination if this site [at Ford] on the 14 March, 1924, when the surface of the ground was clear of vegetation and the soil in the adjoining field had been turned over by the plough, several pieces of slate roofing tiles of distinctly Roman appearance were picked up, of which we append an illustration. There can be no doubt that a Roman building of some description has occupied the site’ (No. 305A). Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions in Wales and Monmouthshire, An inventory of the ancient monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire. VII, County of Pembroke (London: HMSO, 1925), 117.

It is probable that a roofing slate donated to the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff by W.J. Hemp (Acc. No. 27.317), is one of these slates. For this information, I am grateful to Dr Richard Brewer, Keeper of Roman Antiquities at the National Museum of Wales.

13 Arnold, C.J., and Davies, J.L., Roman and Early Medieval Wales (Stroud: Sutton, 2000), 74; Crane, P., ‘Iron Age Promontary Fort to Medieval Castle? Excavations at Great Castle Head, Dale, Pembrokeshire’, Archaeologia Cambrensis 148 (1999), 86-145; Williams, G., and Mytum, H., Llawhaden, Dyfed: excavations on a group of small enclosures, 1980-1984, edited by K. Blockley. BAR British Series 275 (Oxford: Archaeopress, 1998); Benson, D.G., Evans, J.G., Williams, G.H., Darvill, T., and David, A., ‘Excavations at Stackpole Warren, Dyfed’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 56 (1990), 179-245; Davies, J.L., Hague, D.B., and Hogg, A.H.A., ‘The Hut-Settlement on Gateholm, Pembrokeshire’, Archaeologia Cambrensis (1971), 102-110; Wainwright, G.J., ‘The Excavation of a fortified Settlement at Walesland Rath, Pembrokeshire’, Britannia 2 (1971), 48-231.

14 Thomas, W.G., and Walker, R.F., ‘Excavations at Trelissey, Pembrokeshire, 1950-1’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 30 (1959), 295-303.

[15] Driver, T., Pembrokeshire:Historic Landscapes from the Air.

(Aberystwyth: CBHC/RCAHMW,      2007),       174-177.

[16] Carroll, M., and Lang, A., ‘The Iron Age’, in R. Adkins, L. Adkins, and V. Leitch, The Handbook of British Archaeology, revised edition (London: Constable, 2008), 104.

[17] Ward, T., ‘Roman remains at Cwmbrwyn, Carmarthenshire’, Archaeologia Cambrensis 24 (1907), 175-212.

[18] Wainwright, G.J., Coygan Camp: a Prehistoric, Romano-British and Dark Age settlement in Carmarthenshire (London: Cambrian Archaeological Association, 1967).

[19] Boon, G.C., Roman Sites (Cardiff: Cambrian Archaeological Association, 1978).

[20] Schlee, D., Archaeological Investigations at Upper Newton ‘Roman Villa’, Wolfscastle, Pembrokeshire 2010 (Llandeilo: Dyfed Archaeological Trust, 2010), 13.

[21] Meek, J., Archaeological Investigations at Wiston Roman Fort and its Environs, Pembrokeshire 2014: Interim Report (Llandeilo: Dyfed Archaeological Trust, 2015).

[22] Luke Hooper, personal communication, 6 January 2017.

[23] Martin Henig, personal communication, 6 January 2017.

[24] Davies, M., Ancient Causeways Uncovered (Cardigan, 2017).

[25] Millett, M., The Romanization of Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 66.

[26] Merrony, M.W., The Plight of Rome in the Fifth Century AD (London: Routledge, 2017), 81.

[27]The most advanced study of Roman Carmarthen is presented by James, H., Roman Carmarthen: Excavations, 1978-1993 (London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 2003).

28 Besly, E., ‘The Coins’, in H. James, Roman Carmarthen: Excavations, 1978-1993 (London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 2003), 283-288.

29 Guest, P., ‘The Early Monetary History of Roman Wales: Identity, Conquest and Acculturation on the Imperial Fringe’, Britannia XXXIX (2008), 33-58.

30  James, 2016, 331.

31 Fulford, M.G., ‘The Second Augustan Legion in the west of Britain’. In Birthday of the Eagle: The Second Augustan Legion and the Roman Military Machine, edited by R.J. Brewer (Cardiff: National Museums & Galleries of Wales, 2002), 83-84.

[32] Tacitus, Annals, Books 4-6, 11-12, translated by J. Jackson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1937).

33 Mattingly, D., An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire, 54 BC – AD 409 (London: Allen Lane, 2006), 144-145.

34 Arnold and Davies, 2000, 15-26.

35 Martin Davies, personal communication, 8 March 2018.

[36] Giraldus Cambrensis, The Journey through Wales and The Description of Wales (London: Penguin, 1978).

37 Fenton, 1811, 80.

[38] Charles, B.G., The Place-Names of Pembrokeshire, 2 vols (Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales, 1992), 198.

[39] Bishop Wyn Evans, personal communication, 3 January 2018.

[40] Pliny, Natural History, Vol. II, Books 3-7, translated by H. Rackham (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1942).

[41] Murphy, K., Shiner, M., and Wilson, H., Excavation at St Patrick’s Chapel 2015 Interim Report (Llandeilo: Dyfed Archaeological Trust, 2015).

[42] This appears on the RCAHMW website Coflein as NPRN 416862 (National Primary Record Number).

[43] NPRN 413847.

44 Fenton, 1811, 184.

[45] Boon, 1978, 11.

[46] Boon, 1978, 2.

[47] Robin Sheldrake, personal communication, 6 February 2018.

[48] Llangolman quarry (412706), Tyrch quarry (401348).

49Jones, B.D.B., ‘Fieldwork and Air Photography in Carmarthenshire’, The Carmarthenshire Antiquary 7, 3-40.

[50] NPRN 410762.

A late-flowering of the Arts & Crafts in Pembrokeshire: the heartfelt hands-on churchmanship of John Coates Carter


 A late-flowering of the Arts & Crafts in Pembrokeshire: the heartfelt hands-on churchmanship of John Coates Carter

 By Alec Hamilton

John Coates Carter (1859-1927) has been called, “the leading Welsh Arts & Crafts architect.”[1] But he wasn’t Welsh. He was born in Norfolk.

He has also been described as “the most distinguished architect working within the Arts & Crafts tradition to base his practice in South Wales.”[2] But he spent almost as much time, and did rather more work as an architect, after moving to Gloucestershire.

He designed a number of idiosyncratic churches in South Wales, and, in Penarth, inventive houses and public buildings. But it was in Pembrokeshire, and late in his life, that his genius shone forth most strongly, in works of intense personal commitment and religious faith. He became not merely an architect, but something more profound: an Arts & Crafts church craftsman.

Coates Carter marched – as did so many in the Arts & Crafts – to his own, different drummer. He is perhaps best known – not only in Wales, but internationally – for the imposing monastery on Caldey Island (1906-13), built for the Anglican Benedictines, and now home to a Cistercian order of Trappists. It is by far his most substantial work. Yet, whilst in the middle of this great task, in 1908, bizarrely and inexplicably, he and his family (including his elderly and sick mother-in-law) moved to Prestbury, a village near Cheltenham, where he remained for the rest of his life. At his most successful, Coates Carter simply walked away.

Caldey ought to have made his name. Even though it is today comparatively hard of access, it is well-known, at least to architectural historians: “the most complete example of Arts and Crafts style in the country” according to the delightfully over-enthusiastic editors of Wikipedia.[3] Yet he never used Caldey as a springboard to other, larger commissions. Perhaps this was the diffidence and self-effacement characteristic of many Arts & Crafts architects – admired in Philip Webb, and church architects like Charles Spooner, F. C. Eden and Walter Tapper, all less well-known than they might be, so little did they care for fame.

Why he left Wales is unexplained. He had set up on his own account in 1904, having run the Welsh office of John Pollard Seddon (1827-1906) since about 1895. Also unexplained is his choice of Prestbury. As far as can be found, he had no Gloucestershire family connections whatever, and no patron in the county until some years later. It was hardly a move to pursue glittering prizes. His first job in Cheltenham (while still working on Caldey), was the re-modelling of a back-street meeting hall into a cinema.

Even why Coates Carter became an architect is unclear. He was from respectable, rather successful Norfolk farming stock. Some time in the 1870s he was articled to John Bond Pearce (1843-1903), a Norwich architect, who designed Great Yarmouth Town Hall (1882) and other unremarkable provincial buildings. In 1880 Coates Carter met a rather more prominent figure, John Pollard Seddon, a nationally known church architect, in Great Yarmouth, supervising the construction of his new church of St James (1878-1880). Seddon went on to be Diocesan architect to Llandaff from 1886: his principal ecclesiastical work was at Llandaff Cathedral and he designed more than 30 new churches in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. Seddon was clubbable, sophisticated and artistic, a friend of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, of which his brother Thomas was a member. He knew William Morris, Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown, John Ruskin and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  He was a member of FABS, the Foreign Architectural Book Society, “a semi-secret coterie… the archaeological elite of the RIBA.”[4] The members included William Burges, architect of Cardiff Castle. These were rather potent and influential connections – whether Coates Carter benefitted is, as so much about him, unknown.

By 1885 Seddon had taken Coates Carter, then just 26, into partnership and he flourished. He was Secretary of the Cardiff, South Wales & Monmouth Architects Society in 1892 and in 1900 its President. The same year he was elected Fellow of the RIBA.

In 1901 he was living in a house he designed for himself, 20 Victoria Road, Penarth. His widowed mother and his sister were living next door, at 22, also designed by him. Meanwhile, he was building a far more adventurous house, the Red House (1901), a few doors away. Its exaggerated mannerisms rival those of C. F. A. Voysey (an earlier pupil of Seddon’s): a barge-boarded awning rather than a dormer, an elongated finial like a flag pole, asymmetrical elevations, and a dazzling variety of eccentric windows. Seddon died in February 1906. The coast was clear for Coates Carter to become Cardiff’s premier architect, certainly its foremost ecclesiastical architect. However, he shied away from the opportunity. By 1908 he was gone. Was he afraid of life in Cardiff without the protection and encouragement of Seddon? Had he attracted the envy, dislike or wrath of other Cardiff architects? Did he expect, after Seddon’s death, to be appointed Diocesan Architect to Llandaff in turn, perhaps? Did he go off in a huff? Had the Caldey Abbey job made him persona non grata among his fellow architects? Was he feeling foreign and exposed now – an interloper?

The mysterious move to Prestbury gives his career all the climax of a damp squib. His Gloucestershire houses are workaday: dull by comparison with anything he did in Wales. Most of the domestic jobs for which we have evidence are deeply mundane – staircases, windows, humble extensions. So, what was it about Prestbury that drew him?

Roger Beacham, founder of Prestbury Local History Society, has looked into Coates Carter’s life and work in the village, and I am grateful to him for allowing me to draw on his considerable work and expertise. Prestbury in 1908 was a thriving centre of Anglo-Catholicism. Both the vicar and the assistant curate had sent donations from their own pockets to the Caldey community – a tenuous connection, but a real one. The available evidence strongly suggests Coates Carter was drawn to Anglo-Catholic worship. But, no matter how sympathetic the churchmanship in Prestbury, it seems a long way to come for that, especially as there was a significant community of Anglo-Catholics in Cardiff. Coates Carter was a sidesman at All Saints, Penarth, and if that was not sufficiently Anglo-Catholic, he could easily have found a church in the city that was. Besides, with the work at Caldey continuing, he was often back in Wales on visits – 170 miles from his new Gloucestershire home.

Another suggestion is that the new monastery at Prinknash, near Painswick, Glos, was the draw. In 1888 the Prinknash estate was bought by Thomas Dyer-Edwardes, a startlingly rich Anglo-Catholic. In September 1910 he invited the Abbot of Caldey, Father Aelred (the man who had asked Coates Carter to take on the building of Caldey Abbey), to visit Prinknash, where he made him an amazing offer. As Dyer-Edwardes had no son, he wished to gift the Prinknash estate to the Benedictines of Caldey. Nothing came of this immediately, as the Benedictines had quite enough on their hands with establishing Caldey. But, in the end, it did come to pass – though not until  1928, by which time the Benedictines had gone over to Rome (1913), as had Dyer-Edwardes (1924), who had also, by then, died (1926).

Coates Carter had by no means abandoned work in Wales. He was absorbed in his new church of SS Julius and Aaron, Newport, Mon. (He produced four separate and different schemes from 1910 to 1923.) He designed St John, Wainfelin, Pontypool, Mon (first design 1908, building begun 1912, and more 1924-6). It was strange, though, that he should be doing so from Prestbury, when working from Cardiff would have been so much more convenient.

Then came the Great War. It turned his mind – how could it not? – from architecture to other matters. He was engaged in noble causes: Hon. Local Secretary of the Central Committee of the National Egg Collection for the Wounded. It sounds bathetic, but it was seen as important – and besides, he kept chickens.

After the war, of course, war memorials – and in profusion. At the Second Cotswold Arts and Crafts exhibition held in Cheltenham Art Gallery:-

“Seventy-four drawings of reredoses, rood screens, altars, war memorial crosses, etc, which have been erected in different parts of the country, attest the architectural skill and taste of Mr J Coates Carter of Prestbury.”[5]

All 74 have by no means been traced. There is an open-air pulpit at SS Paul and Stephen, Gloucester (1919), an imposing memorial cross at All Saints, Cheltenham (1919-20), Prestbury war memorial (1920), and a memorial, not to the war, but to the vicar of Prestbury, Henry Urling Smith (1919), a rood beam in the church. He also submitted designs for a war memorial in the north chapel of St Mary, Cheltenham (which did not happen), and a design for the Cheltenham war memorial. It was one of 19 submitted in competition, and it won. Coates Carter’s design was deemed too expensive, and that of someone else was built.

His main focus was increasingly his local church life. In March 1919 he is described as “Honorary Architect” to Prestbury church; in 1920, a sidesman; in 1923, churchwarden. He did more and more work in the church, almost obsessively: linen-fold panelling round the sedilia (1919), a war memorial tablet (1921), a screen in the south chapel, and an altar (1922), piscina (1922),  pulpit (1923), and an unusual and striking ‘Sacrament house’ (1925) on the sanctuary window sill – perhaps indicating ever-deepening Anglo-Catholic devotion. There is certainly a feeling of intensity – and a tapering off, perhaps, of dedication to architecture.

Still he worked in Wales – most memorably at St Luke, Abercarn, Mon (1923-26), abandoned in 1980, and now an evocative and dangerous ruin, and St Philip, Newport, Mon (1924-5), a mission church for the staff of Lysaghts engineers. Also St Eloi, Llandeloy, Pembs (1924-6), his last church: a romantic reconstruction – more a re-imagining – of a medieval Welsh church which, when he arrived, was little more than a pile of stones in a field.

 Coates Carter’s attention was being increasingly drawn to something more intimate and more immediate than churches – the designing, making and painting of reredoses: the painted or carved panels attached to the east wall of a church, immediately above the altar. These were increasingly in a singular, personal and highly idiosyncratic idiom, primitive in some ways, naïve – even.  All but two are in Wales, and most in Pembrokeshire. Another mystery: why reredoses, and why so many in Pembrokeshire?

The dating is by no means clear. The circumstances of their commission, the timing of their design, the period of their making, and date of installation and unveiling are often unknown, and rarely clear. Few dated drawings survive. Pevsner gives dates for some, but not all.  Those dates differ in several cases from the dates given by the Coates Carter scholar, Phil Thomas (which I have tended to follow). Any chronology must be treated with caution: it could even be argued they all come about in the same short time-scale.

Coates Carter had executed five reredoses while in partnership with Seddon, including a rhapsody of marble doves in flight at St Oudoceus, Llandogo, Monmouthshire (1888-9), and more conventional works at St Clement, Llansawel, Glamorgan (1889), St John, Purbrook, Hampshire (c. 1894); possibly at St Michael, Michaelston-y-Fedw, Mon (1894-7), and at All Saints, Adamstown, Cardiff (1899-1903), now flats. But none of these foreshadow what was to come after Coates Carter started working alone. Some of his first reredoses are themselves fairly conventional – either bas relief naturalistic narrative Biblical scenes, carved in wood, varnished but not painted; or they remind one of (or are derived from) the work of Oberammergau carvers, whose reputation for this kind of work was justifiably high.

The earliest are probably St Andrew (now Dewi Sant), Cardiff (1911), St Gabriel, Cricklewood, London (c.1912-1913) – a memorial to a much-loved priest killed in a railway accident in Sweden, St Mary, Nolton, Bridgend, Glamorgan (1919 or 1921), St John the Divine, Pembroke Dock (1919), St Paul, Stroud Road, Gloucester (1920) (no longer there), and St Thomas à Becket, Haverfordwest (1921), now in St Mary’s, Haverfordwest. However, there is little to excite in any of these. They are respectable, but somewhat mechanical, and correct rather than inspiring. (Another, at St John the Evangelist, Maindee, Newport (1921) was destroyed by fire in 1951.)

One which is indicative of an inventive, new, even experimental direction in Coates Carter’s reredoses is at St Andrew, Narberth (1916). The colourful panelled reredos in tempera was over-painted rather harshly in gloss paint in 1984. But, lurking behind the altar was found an exuberant and even playful surmounting corona (if that is the right word) – perhaps now too Anglo-Catholic even for a High Church. Something was stirring.

St Andrew Narberth

St Andrew, Narberth. Corona intended to surmount reredos

Coates Carter’s reredoses started out somewhat staid and even prim, but they gradually were to become more personal, more felt, more ‘Arts & Crafts’. Coates Carter was not only designing, but increasingly, it seems, painting, possibly applying gesso, and almost certainly making at least parts of the reredoses. The likelihood is that he carved the small figures of Christ that recur in his last reredos projects.

In 1921 Coates Carter drew up a proposal for a reredos – and much else – at St Peter, Johnston, Pembs. Alas, this thrilling ensemble was never executed, and only exists in drawings at the National Library of Wales[6]. Now, for the first time, Christ appears not so much in glory, as a doll-like mannikin – an almost childishly naïve figure of a vulnerable human being. This image – touching and fragile – begins to emerge powerfully at four of his last church schemes.

At St Mary, Carew Cheriton (1923), Christ is not yet a mannikin, but a naturalistic figure. On either side kneels a sub-Burne-Jones angel with a flattened medieval profile, against a backdrop of stylised golden poppies: the rays of Christ’s radiance weave and pierce on either side.


St Mary Carew Cheriton


St Mary, Carew Cheriton.

At St James the Great, Walwyns Castle (1925),[7] Christ is emphatically a doll-like figure, robed in deep red, the rainbow now lined with gold, and the rays of light sharp and penetrating, like gnomons on a sundial. The adoring figures lack the sophisticated panache of Carew Cheriton – instead they are out of proportion, with small heads, thin arms and spindly feet, ill at ease and not a bit serene. Each angel has one wing which does not rest neatly folded, but juts up angularly towards Christ’s outreaching hands. In the top left-hand corner, a strange sun, with a jagged black aura, balanced in the other corner by a spectral moon. The banner carries a text from the Epistle of James 1: 17, in the King James version – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning.”

St James the Great










St James the Great, Walwyns Castle









The third is at St Eloi, Llandeloy (1926), where, “according to Reverend Williams [vicar at the time], the reredos was made in Cheltenham, so it is possible that Coates Carter might have carried out the gesso-work or colouring himself – certainly the style of draughtsmanship is very like his own.”[8] The chancel screen at this church was made by the firm of Pearce, Bunclark & Co – of Prestbury. Whether they did any part of the reredos, or indeed other of Coates Carter’s church work, is unclear – but they were certainly his near neighbours, at 1 Lynworth Terrace, Prestbury. Thus Coates Carter was working in far west Wales, but using Cheltenham craftsmen to do the work. He did not make life easy for himself. Which may, of course, have been the point.

At Llandeloy Christ is simplest of all, and the background, while including rainbow and stylised sun, and, as elsewhere, images of local churches, is also adorned with flowers, half natural and half stylised. The banner reads, from the Te Deum, “O Lord, in thee have I trusted. Let me never be confounded.”

St Eloi

St Eloi, Llandeloy (detail)

















The most extraordinary of all this set of heavenly objects is perhaps the reredos at the passingly out-of-the-way Fisherman’s Chapel at Angle (1925 or 1926), right out on the south-westernmost tip of the county, a rural panorama with cattle, a man with a scythe, a golden ship, a boatman, a milkmaid – all rather badly drawn! Yet the banner proclaims with unabashed confidence: “I can do all things in Christ who strengtheneth me” (Letter to the Phillipians, 4: 13). It is Coates Carter asserting that even imperfect work, if meant and seriously intended, can be an act of worship.

Fishermans chapel


The Fisherman’s Chapel, Angle















Why this intensity? Why this humility? Why this apparent revealing of his own imperfect skills? Like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, was the act of making as much the point as the finished object? Was Coates Carter meeting the Arts & Crafts ideal of artist and designer and maker all combined in one person – hands-on, engaged, intent? These reredoses – colourful, simple, awkward even – seem to mark a dedication to something more than architecture. Perhaps the interpretation is this:  he was showing that, yes, he had found his God, and that, by his own flawed, stumbling, but heartfelt craftsmanship, God was worth finding and worshipping. These works dominate the small spaces they occupy, as a child’s drawing draws the parent’s proud eye to the fridge door. They seem oddly eloquent through their very artlessness.

We end with another Coates Carter puzzle. The very last reredos – (and in this case there is no doubt of date, since dated drawings survive) – is at St Mary, Herbrandston (1927), a doubly thankful village. All its men returned from both World Wars. Coates Carter reverts to the unpainted, conventional reredoses of a decade before – perhaps that is what was expected.








St Mary, Herbrandston


That apart, his 1920s reredoses reveal Coates Carter as one of Wales’s most committed, spiritual and craftsmanly artists. He was not a churner-out of good, solid churches like Seddon, nor a self-consciously contrary and provocative architect like Voysey, nor an extraverted, wilful artist like Eric Gill (who in the 1920s was producing engravings and sculptures in his own direct, stripped-down primitive style, but of a more shocking, worldly kind). No, he was an honest, and seen to be imperfect, maker of simple, frank, direct, even childish, works of devotional art, who, working first with, then perhaps supported and inspired by, the skilled church craftsmen of Cheltenham, made works to transcend the everyday into something sublime. In their often tiny, simple churches, they shine as beacons of faith.










  1. British Listed Buildings, listing for St John the Divine, Wainfelin, Pontypool.
  2. Phil Thomas, ‘John Coates Carter: Building a Sense of Place’, Buildings Conservation Directory, 17th edition, 2010: Special Report on Historic Churches, 34-39.
  3. The Wikipedia citation credits this statement to “Phil Thomas, ‘Building a Sense of Place’, Building Conservation” [sic]. However, the statement is not to be found in that article. Phil Thomas, with whom the author has discussed Coates Carter’s work extensively, is the leading authority on Coates Carter’s architectural career.
  4. Mordaunt Crook, William Burges and the High Victorian Dream (London, 1981), 73.
  5. Gloucestershire Echo, 29 March 1923.
  6. National Library of Wales: Coates Carter 18 143/9/7.
  7. Phil Thomas suggests its date is 1916, but stylistically this seems unlikely. I have preferred the date in Pevsner in this instance.
  8. Phil Thomas, personal communication, February 2017.


Coates Carter’s known extant reredoses (excluding ‘possible attributions’) after 1900

The dating followed in the article is (largely) that of Phil Thomas, The Works of John Coates Carter (1859-1927) – a Chronological List complete to June 2013 (unpublished). Somewhat different dates are given in Thomas Lloyd, Pembrokeshire (Yale: Buildings of Wales, 2004) and the other most recent ‘Pevsner’ Wales volumes.

To aid the enthusiastic reredos-spotter, this Appendix of extant Coates Carter reredoses has been extracted, compiled and adapted from Phil Thomas’s list by Alec Hamilton.

Destroyed reredoses and uncertain attributions are omitted.

Dates in the left-hand column are as in the Thomas list. Dates in the right-hand column are as given in the most recent ‘Pevsner’ county volumes. Where no date is given in ‘Pevsner’ specifically for the reredos, a “-” is inserted in place of a date.


1911                       St Andrew (now Dewi Sant), St Andrew’s Crescent, Cardiff    –

c.1912-1913         St Gabriel, Cricklewood, London                                              c. 1912

1916                       St Andrew, Narberth, Pembrokeshire                                          1927

?1916                     St James the Great, Walwyn’s Castle,                                        1925

1919                       St Mary, Merthyr Mawr Road, Nolton, Bridgend.                      1921

1919                       St John the Divine, Pembroke Dock                                              1919-20

1921                       The Ascension, Portsmouth, Hampshire                                       –

c.1921                    St Thomas, Haverfordwest,  (now in St Mary)                          1920

1922                       St Luke, Newport, Mon (now in St Mary, Chepstow)               1922

1923                       St Mary, Carew Cheriton                                                            1923

1924                       SS Andrew and Teilo, Woodville Road, Cardiff                       1924

1924-6                 St Eloi, Llandeloy                                                                              –

1925                       St Anthony’s chapel (Fishermen’s Chapel), Angle                     1926

1925                       St Katherine, Milford Haven                                                          1925

–                             St Andrew, Robeston West                                                           1925

1927                       St Mary, Herbrandston                                                                     1927

Selective bibliography

P. F. Anson, The Benedictines of Caldey (London, 1940).

P. F. Anson, Building up the Waste Places: The Revival of Monastic Life on Medieval Lines in the Post-Reformation Church of England (London, 1973).


R. Beacham, Prestbury: a Walk through Time (Prestbury Local History Society, 2015).


P. Thomas, ‘Invention, tradition and a sense of place – John Coates Carter and the church of St Eloi, Llandeloy’, Ancient Monuments Society Transactions, Vol XLV (2001), 29-44.


P. Thomas, ‘John Coates Carter: Building a Sense of Place’, Buildings Conservation Directory, (17th ed., London, 2010): Special Report on Historic Churches, 34-39.


P. Thomas, The Works of John Coates Carter (1859-1927) – a Chronological List complete to June 2013 (unpublished).



How did he die?


How Did He Die?

By David Norris

As we commemorate the centenary of the Armistice that effectively brought the First World War to an end and remember the casualties of that conflict, it may be worth reflecting on the experiences of the families of servicemen who lost their lives. This piece looks at just one Pembrokeshire family that lost two brothers. An Australian connection for each of them means that documents preserved in the Australian War Memorial collection give us an insight into the family’s efforts to learn more about their deaths.[1]

They could not be described as typical: the family belonged to the landed gentry; both brothers were, or had been, professional soldiers; both were officers; and both died in the first half of the war. The impact of the war on the wider community changed as the conflict went on. In the first year of the war, the casualties were regular soldiers and the losses were felt in the limited circle formed by service families; in the second year of war, casualties among Territorial Army units widened the impact. The Somme offensive that began on 1 July 1916 saw the first large scale commitment of the volunteers who made up the soldiers of Kitchener’s New Armies. By 1917, the introduction of conscription the previous year had left few parts of society without direct experience of losses in combat. Not withstanding these reservations, many of the features of this family’s case were common to members of the wider community.

John Arthur Higgon was born at Scolton Manor in the parish of Spittal, on 12 November 1873. He was educated at Tenby and Wellington College. In 1891, he went to Sandhurst to begin his training to become an army officer.[2] On 10 October 1894 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He served in Malta, Crete, Hong Kong, Wei-Hai-Wei and Ireland.[3] While serving in the Far East he met his wife, marrying Lurline May Moses, an Australian, in St John’s Cathedral, Hong Kong on 27 June 1900.[4] At the end of 1909, Captain Higgon retired from the army.[5] The following year he joined the Pembroke Yeomanry.[6]


Paintings of Johnny and Lurline Higgon by Beatrice Bright. On display at Scolton Manor. Owned by the Higgon Family

and reproduced with the kind permission of Pembrokeshire Museum Service.


Lirline Higgon






















John’s brother, Archibald Bellairs Higgon, was born on 19 April 1880, also at Scolton. He was educated at Haverfordwest Grammar School and Wellington College.[7] He went to Woolwich to train as an artillery officer, following in the footsteps of his father who served with the Royal Artillery for nearly 20 years. Archibald served with the Royal Field Artillery in India, South Africa and Scotland.[8] He saw action during the Boer War and was awarded the Queen’s Medal with three clasps and the King’s Medal with two clasps (clasps were given for involvement in specific actions).[9] It is likely that while serving as adjutant to the 3rd Highland Howitzer Brigade in Greenock[10] Captain Higgon met his wife, marrying Isobel Jane Denroche-Smith at St Ninian’s Episcopal Church, Balhory, Perthshire in 1913.[11]

Archie Higgon




Pencil drawing of Archie Higgon from a photograph after his death.

Owned by the Marsh family and reproduced with the kind permission of Pembrokeshire Museum Service.






When war broke out in August 1914, Archibald Higgon was serving in Ireland. His unit, 80th Battery Royal Field Artilllery (RFA), was shipped from Dublin and landed in Le Havre on 18 August. Less than two weeks later he was heavily involved in the Battle of Le Cateau when General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien’s I Corps of the British Expeditionary Force fought a desperate action to delay the German advance from Belgium. The battle was fought on 26 August and by teatime Higgon was commanding officer of 15th Brigade RFA as all the senior officers were casualties.[12] He was mentioned in despatches by Field Marshal Sir John French, commander of the BEF, and later awarded the French Legion of Honour.[13] Early 1915 found Archibald, now promoted to major, serving as a gunnery instructor at a training camp in England.[14] In June 1915 he embarked for the Dardanelles as commanding officer of D battery 69 Howitzer Brigade RFA.

On 17 September 1915 The Alyth Guardian reported “On Wednesday evening a telegram conveyed the sad intelligence that Major AB Higgon, …, had been killed in action last Thursday”.[15] Thursday was 9 September.

During the war Mrs Isobel Higgon worked with the British Red Cross Enquiry Bureau which sought to provide families with more information about killed and missing servicemen than was set out in the War Office telegrams, often by collecting eyewitness statements from wounded servicemen convalescing in hospital. As Higgon’s battery had been serving with the Australian forces at Gallipolli, Mrs Higgon contacted the Australian Red Cross to ask for confirmation of and details about her husband’s death. The Australian Red Cross found four wounded artillerymen in hospitals in Cardiff, Malta and London who were able to provide short statements which were passed on to his widow. Three statements came from witnesses of his death and reported that at 6am on 10 September he was shot in the head by a sniper while visiting an observation post in the frontline trenches. The fourth statement comes from a witness to his burial but not his death and gives the date of death as 9 September. The statements record that he was buried near No.2 (or No.3, according to one statement) ANZAC outpost, later on the day that he died. One statement notes that a Church of England chaplain officiated at the burial and that a cross was erected over the grave. The statements were recorded in the October yet three give a different date of death (albeit just by a day). Two statements record that Higgon died at once.

The Allies withdrew from their positions on the Gallipoli peninsular in April 1916. By early 1919, however, they had returned to try to identify graves and establish formal cemeteries. Isobel Higgon contacted the Australian Red Cross once again in March 1919 to seek assistance in locating her husband’s grave. She had sought help from the British equivalent but had not had a response. The initial response was encouraging: although all the crosses marking graves had been removed the cemetery was small, so it was hoped that it would be possible to identify individual graves. Mrs Higgon replied asking that a photograph of her husband’s grave could be sent to her. There is no further correspondence in the Australian War Memorial file. Higgon’s grave was never found and a memorial erected in the cemetery states simply that he is believed to be buried there.


In 1917 moves began that resulted in the founding of the Imperial War Museum. In January 1918 Isobel Higgon responded to a request published in The Scotsman newspaper asking for photographs of officers who received decorations and been killed during the war. The photograph she sent is now held in the IWM archives.[16]

Isobel Higgon

Isobel in mourning

 Owned by the Marsh family and reproduced with the kind permission of Pembrokeshire Museum Service.


The Pembroke Yeomanry were mobilised in August 1914. The same month saw John Higgon promoted to major.[17] As part of the Territorial Force, the Yeomanry were not obliged to serve overseas (although most did volunteer to do so). The Pembroke Yeomanry were sent to Norfolk to form part of the forces mustered to counter a possible German invasion. In March 1916, the Pembroke Yeomanry sailed for Egypt on the transport ship SS Arcadian. By this time, they had given up their horses and become an infantry unit.

On 8 June 1916 Higgon transferred to 32nd Battalion Australian Imperial Force (AIF).[18] He believed it would improve his chances of seeing action. As a former regular officer he would have had the opportunity to transfer earlier to command one of the many new British Army battalions raised by Kitchener. However, it appears that he felt his place was with his fellow Yeomanry. He left Egypt for France the same month on the transport SS Transylvania.[19] Higgon was given command of A Company. He was fortunate to get this transfer as the AIF were not keen on British officers by this stage of the war.[20] His arrival in France brought him close to where his brother Hugh was serving. They appear to have met and spent an afternoon together on 11 July.[21] His unit took part in the Battle of Fromelles, part of the Somme offensive. The battalion war diary records that they went “over the top” at 5.53 pm on 19 July 1916.  The entry for the following day notes that Higgon had been killed in action.[22]

Mrs Isobel Higgon contacted the Australian Red Cross in August 1916 on behalf of her sister-in-law. The family had heard a report that Higgon had been seen writing in his note book after he had been hit and, as his body had not been brought in for burial, this raised the possibility that he had not died. The Red Cross initiated an inquiry to see if he had been taken prisoner by the Germans. Not until October 1919 was information received confirming that he was not a prisoner. By this stage, however, there was no doubt that he was dead.

As with his brother, the Red Cross collected eyewitness accounts from others who fought alongside John Higgon. The Australian War Memorial files include eight statements recorded between 24 August 1916 and 22 March 1917. The first was passed on to Mrs Isobel Higgon on 1 September. Details of further statements were sent to Mrs Lurline May Higgon on 7 and 16 September. The last three statements were collected after this date and do not appear to have been forwarded, presumably as they added nothing to those already sent.

Higgon was shot between the eyes around 6pm on 19 July soon after leading his men out of their trenches to attack the enemy. He was killed instantly. One of the Red Cross statements came from Higgon’s signaller, Private Kelly. He was standing next to him when he was shot. He described Higgon as a fine soldier and a good officer. He expressed a wish to meet with Higgon’s relatives. His widow quickly made arrangements to visit him in Fulham Military Hospital, travelling up from Devizes in Devon where she was living at the time.

On 16 August 1916 the Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph published a piece regarding Higgon’s death. It included some biographical details and also two letters sent to his widow by fellow officers. It is worth quoting both letters verbatim.

The first was probably from his commanding officer:

“I hope it may be of some consolation to you to know that your husband was the life and soul of the attack in which he fell and that all ranks from his Divisional General down to the rank and file speak most enthusiastically of the way in which he led all troops which were near him. He set a most conspicuous example of coolness and gallantry and everybody says that the success of the attack in that part of the field where his battalion was, was entirely due to him. Had he survived he would have been appointed to command a battalion the next day, and although he had been such a short time with us, it was long enough to make us all realise that we have lost in him one of the very best officers that have served with the Anzac Forces and who cannot be replaced. With very deepest sympathy.”

Another fellow officer wrote:

“With sincere regret I must inform you of the death of your husband, Major J A Higgon of this regiment. He was killed in action on the night of 19-20 July while leading his men against the German trenches during the attack. Although he was with us for a comparatively short period he was loved and admired by officers and men alike of this regiment to such a degree that his loss is keenly felt by all. All that are left of our lads wish to express their deepest sympathies for the loss of such a true gentleman and fine soldier. On the night of 19th-20th July our regiment in conjunction with others of this brigade received orders to attack the German defences. To do this an open space of 100 yards of No Man’s Land had to be crossed under a heavy fire from rifles, machine guns and artillery. At 6pm the Major moved out of our trenches with his men in the front line of the attack. This he did in such a gallant manner that it evoked the admiration of all who witnessed the assault. They were only a few yards from the German trenches when he was hit by a machine gun and killed. His company did excellent work but very few lads got back. He asked me to write to you in the event of his not getting through, and as I happened to escape with a whole skin I have done as requested.”[23]

The first letter notes that Higgon would have been promoted to command a battalion had he survived. If this battalion was a part of the AIF this would have been a signal achievement, given the Australian attitude to British officers noted earlier.

The claims for the success of the attack merit closer examination. One of the Red Cross testimonies notes that the Australians took their objectives but were forced to retire after twelve hours as they had run out of ammunition. The Australian War Memorial records that Fromelles was the first major battle fought by Higgon’s battalion. It had entered the trenches only three days beforehand. The battalion suffered 718 casualties, almost 75% of its total strength. For many years, and even today, Australian historians have held up this battle as an example of the sacrifice of Australian soldiers by incompetent British generals. More recent work has painted a more nuanced picture.[24]

Higgon’s body was recovered for burial. His grave is in Ration Farm Military Cemetery, La Chappelle d’Armentieres. The site of his grave suggests that his body was not recovered soon after the battle or that it was re-interred at a later date.

Reflecting on these two cases, examples of all too many, one is struck by the desire or, indeed, the need to know more about the circumstances in which loved ones died. The War Office notifications of death provided little or no detail of the circumstances in which men died. Local newspapers of the time often included appeals by relatives for information on those reported missing or killed in action. The efficiency of the Australian Red Cross in tracking down eyewitnesses and getting their feedback to relatives is noteworthy. Their communications would have relied on the wartime postal services, yet Archibald Higgon’s wife had this information in the month following his death in Turkey.

The publication of letters of condolence, in addition to biographical information, in local newspapers might appear strange to modern sensibilities but this was a very common practice (for example, the issue announcing Higgon’s death also included a similar letter on the death of Corporal Willie Adams). Reading such letters, one notes the writers’ efforts to console by emphasising factors such as the deceased’s qualities as a soldier; his role in making the particular attack in which he fell a success; or that he died instantly without suffering. (In John Higgon’s case his qualities as an officer are also mentioned in the statements collected by the Australian Red Cross which do not come from fellow officers but rather from the rank and file, suggesting that in Higgon’s case it was more than just an attempt to console). Our modern perspective on the First World War might make such statements seem a little shallow but they clearly meant something more to the recipients at the time.

Knowledge of the circumstances of a relative’s death in action seems to have been an important part of the grieving process, as does the location of their grave. Fellow servicemen and the Red Cross were key to providing these much sought after details.


[1] Australian War Memorial,

[2] Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 16 August 1916, National Library of Wales,

[3] Hart’s Army List, National Library of Scotland,

[4] The Sydney Mail, 28 July 1900, National Library of Australia,

[5] The London Gazette, 3 December 1909

[6] The London Gazette, 27 May 1910

[7] Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 21 October 1914, National Library of Wales,

[8] Hart’s Army List, National Library of Scotland,

[9] Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 21 October 1914, National Library of Wales,

[10] Hart’s Army List, National Library of Scotland,

[11] West Wales War Memorial Project, Spittal War Memorial,

[12] Lt Col M Watson, History of 37 Howitzer Battery RFA August 1914, Bristol,

[13] Field Marshal Sir John French’s Despatch of 8 October 1914 published in The London Gazette, 9 December 1914

[14] Supplement to The London Gazette, 24 March 1915


[16] See, for both her letter and his picture

[17] The London Gazette, 25 August 1914

[18] War diary of 32 Battalion AIF, AWM4/23/49/11,

[19] Steven John, Welsh Yeomanry at War,  Barnsley, 2016

[20] Higgon acknowledged this explicitly in a letter written to his mother on 1July 1916. Pembrokeshire     Museum Service

[21] See a note exchanged between the pair on 10 July 1916. Pembrokeshire Museum Service

[22] AWM4/23/49/12,

[23] Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 16 August 1916, National Library of Wales,

[24] See, for example, Robert Stevenson, The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War, Volume 3, Melbourne, 2015, and Roger Lee, British Battle Planning in 1916 and The Battle of Fromelles, Farnham, 2015. Lee argues that poor Australian staff work also contributed to the failure of the attack.