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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.

Court and country: Pembrokeshire elites in the Household of Henry VIII


Court and country: Pembrokeshire elites in the

Household of Henry VIII


By Roger Turvey

It is recommended that in each county of the kingdom a certain number of the more sufficient men of good fame should be retained … and that such persons should be paid a reasonable salary, according to their condition in life … charged carefully and diligently to save the estate of the king and his people in their localities.1


Thus, did the Council advise the king, Henry IV, to ensure that he kept the throne he had recently seized from Richard II.  Having usurped his unpopular royal cousin in September 1399, Henry Bolingbroke, duke of Lancaster, was vulnerable and in need of a means to bind the propertied classes of the kingdom in a closer relationship with his newly acquired crown. By appointment, promotion and delegation the king increased the size and scope of his affinity by drawing into the ambit of his authority those men of wealth and power who dominated the localities. Henry IV’s success in extending the Crown’s influence beyond the confines of the Court can be measured by the fact that he not only kept his throne, he passed it on unchallenged to his son and heir, Henry V. It was a lesson not lost on his successors who continued the practice of recruiting local elites to the royal household. Among the most active in this regard was Henry VIII whose liberal patronage of local governors did much to build bridges between his Court and the counties. This was important because, as R.B Smith pointed out, Henry VIII ‘was far from omnipotent, and the real measure of his power was his ability to have his decisions executed at the level of the county and village’.2 The critical importance of the relationship between ‘Court’ and ‘country’ had long been recognised as an essential part of the Crown’s ability to govern the kingdom effectively. By the same token, membership of the royal household bolstered and enhanced the status and influence of these ‘local governors’ for whom it became, in the opinion of John Guy, ‘unthinkable … to distinguish between the Crown’s authority and their own’.3 This article seeks to examine the link between the Court and household of Henry VIII, and the leading gentry of early Tudor Pembrokeshire.

Rhys Robinson was the first to explore ‘the Welsh connection’, that link between Henry VIII’s household and men recruited to it from Wales.4 His pioneering research focused mainly on the 1520s and was based on the evidence culled from ‘a book in the Exchequer archives recording the names of Chamber knights, esquires, carvers, cupbearers, sewers and gentlemen ushers in separate lists for each of the English shires and for South Wales and North Wales’.5 From this ‘book in the Exchequer’, compiled in or around 1522 and comprising ‘seventy-four paper leaves in parchment covers’, Robinson identified thirty-nine Welshmen whom the Crown recruited to the household.6 However, other contemporary records have yielded the names of an additional five Welsh members of Henry VIII’s household, all of whom hailed from Pembrokeshire, which pushes the total number to forty-four.7 Fifteen of the forty-four were recruited from North Wales while the remaining twenty-nine came from South Wales, and of this latter group Pembrokeshire supplied eleven ‘men of good fame’.8 (see Appendix I).

The Court and the royal household were interdependent and thus indistinguishable. The Court was wherever the king could be found, it was where he lived and from where he ruled. As the king moved so did the Court, from palace to palace, mainly, though not exclusively, in and around London. The king’s household existed within the Court, the physical manifestation of which was the palace of choice at any given time. The structure and layout of Henry’s palaces varied but each of them afforded him the right to privacy and enabled him to maintain the divisions within the household. Broadly speaking, the royal household was divided into three departments: the Chamber, Privy Chamber and the household ‘below stairs’. The household below stairs was staffed by non-gentle servants who worked in areas such as the kitchen, laundry and garden. This service side of the royal household was the responsibility of the Lord Steward, whereas the household ‘above stairs’ was headed by the Lord Chamberlain. Needless to say, the Pembrokeshire elites were to be found in the household above stairs.

The Chamber consisted of the Great (or Guard) Chamber, the Presence Chamber and the Privy Chamber. The division between the three sub-Chambers was both real and physical with the king’s bodyguard having their own suite of rooms in one area of the palace but in close proximity to both the Presence and Privy Chambers. The Presence, or outer Chamber, consisted of a number of rooms and a large hall which contained the throne and canopy. It was where the king dined in state, received important visitors, entertained foreign ambassadors and met with his Council.9 This was the most public part of the Court and the one to which the ambitious could reasonably aspire to attend either by invitation or by appointment. Invitations to Court were occasional whereas those offered appointments joined a staff of hundreds in the Chamber. John Guy has estimated that in the period between Henry VIII’s accession in 1509 and 1540 the king recruited 493 chamber officials, of which 120 were knights and esquires.10

The Privy or secret Chamber was where the king spent much of his time in a suite of private apartments including his bedroom, dining room and day rooms. Admittance to this part of the household was strictly controlled and only those most favoured by the king found a place there. The exclusivity of the Privy Chamber can be gauged by the fact that it had a paid staff of some twenty-four servants: eighteen Gentlemen and six Grooms (including two Groom-Barbers).11 The most senior servant was the Groom of the Stool who saw to the king’s most intimate bodily functions. One of the longest serving Grooms of the Stool was Sir William Compton who occupied the post for fifteen years (1509-26) and of whom it is said ‘did enormously well out of the king’s service’.12 Indeed, among the many offices Compton accumulated through his royal service three were based in Pembrokeshire: in March 1514 he, along with another member of the king’s household, Sir Wistan Brown, was granted, in survivorship, the posts of steward, chancellor and surveyor of the lordship of Haverfordwest.13 The men who served in the Privy Chamber were among the most powerful and influential in the Court because they had daily access to the king who treated most of them as his friends. The pursuit of power, be it political, social or economic, or a combination of all three, is what drew men to the Court and household but the politics of access and intimacy had a dark side. Rivalry and jealousy sometimes led to blood-letting, as occurred in 1536 when Compton’s successor as Groom of the Stool, Sir Henry Norris, was executed for treason. Norris, along with his fellow ‘minions’, the group of half a dozen or so courtiers who made up Henry VIII’s immediate circle within the Privy Chamber, William Brereton, Sir Francis Weston, Sir Nicholas Carew and Sir George Boleyn, was the victim of faction fighting at Court in which Cromwell engineered the demise of his rivals by accusing them, among other crimes, of adultery with the queen, Anne Boleyn.14 Henry’s willingness to abandon Norris was especially marked as the two had formed a particularly close relationship over twenty years: in 1530 Norris won a total of sixteen angels (a gold coin worth 10s.) by winning four times against Henry at tennis, and at other times the king also lost to him at dice and bowls.15 Perhaps Henry was a particularly bad loser!

The Pembrokeshire eleven may have aspired to join this elite group but they only made it as far as the outer Chamber. Admittance to the household may have brought these men into contact with the king but this did not necessarily mean they formed a close relationship with him. It is highly unlikely that any of the Pembrokeshire elite were sufficiently well acquainted with the king to be invited to play tennis or bowls with their royal master. The roles assigned the Pembrokeshire eleven reveal much about their status and position within the household: as a yeoman of the guard, Maurice Wogan was based in the Great or Guard Chamber and was charged with ensuring the safety of the king’s person. As sewers, William Adams, John Eliot and John Philipps were responsible for the serving of meals and the seating of guests in the public dining room. As a quarter-waiter, John Wogan attended to the needs of the more important guests at the dining table, a task he discharged alongside his other duty as a gentleman usher, one of a number of men responsible for the doors to and from the Chamber. Wogan worked alongside another Pembrokeshire-based gentleman, Thomas Jones, who was entrusted with the task of controlling admittance to the Chamber. Besides his role as a gentleman usher of the Presence or outer Chamber, Jones was also listed in household records as a Groom of the Chamber, the duties of which varied but the traditional responsibilities associated with the office involved keeping the palace rooms in good order in terms of routine maintenance such as cleaning, lighting fires, the setting of clocks and other such mundane but necessary tasks. Grooms were also occasionally used as royal messengers both at home and abroad for which they could claim riding charges.16

The knights and esquires of the household, namely, Sir John Wogan, Sir James ab Owen, Thomas Philipps (later knighted) and Thomas Perrot, esquires, were altogether of a different class to their county compatriots being men of higher status and importance. The role of the knights and esquires of the household lay mainly in the enactment of the show of ceremonial ‘magnificence’ on state occasions and in ‘court entertainments (the principal shop window of monarchy)’.17 According to the writer of the Liber Niger Domus Regis Angliae these knights and esquires were ‘to be chosen of their possession, worship and wisdom, also to be of sundry shires, by whom it may be known[n] the disposition of the counties’.18 Clearly, men like Wogan, ab Owen, Philipps and Perrot, had another equally significant function to fulfil as conduits through which the Crown could keep abreast of news, events and developments in the localities. Tapping into their local knowledge, influence and connections, the Crown could bolster its authority in localities which were remote and, in some parts of Wales at any rate, lawless. Equally, it enabled the Crown to keep an eye on these men, to influence their behaviour and control their conduct in discharging their administrative, judicial and political duties in the localities in which they lived and claimed to rule.

Thus far, one might be forgiven for thinking that the Pembrokeshire members of Henry VIII’s household were domiciled in and around London and in regular attendance at Court, but this is not the case. These men did not form part of the king’s regular household staff, nearly five hundred strong, who served him on a daily basis; rather they were supernumeraries who attended Court sporadically, either summoned on specific occasions – the visits of foreign dignitaries – or else coming on their own initiative, such as attending Parliament (from 1542) or to present a petition either to a patron or the king. Admittance to the household, and occasional attendance at Court, brought such men into a direct relationship with the king while enabling them to reside mainly in their own localities. It has been estimated that in the decade between 1525 and 1535, the period for which we have extant records, the Crown recruited around 263 supernumeraries to its household, of which 182 were knights and esquires.19 The eleven members from Pembrokeshire were among this group of ‘local men the Crown attempted to make its own at minimum cost’.20 In the opinion of D.A.L. Morgan, ‘Their role as a group was to realize kingly style in its various manifestations, and to embody the king’s sense of his own role in the conduct of affairs’.21

Contemporaries understood that regular and near access to the king outside the public spaces signified political intimacy. The Pembrokeshire elite may have lacked this intimacy with the king but this apparent handicap did not detract from the benefits of household membership, even in a supernumerary capacity. Although the supernumeraries from Pembrokeshire did not enjoy the privilege of ‘bouge of court’, they did constitute, what Geoffrey Elton termed, ‘a reserve fund of servants’.22 Therefore, there was always the hope that a summons to attend Court might provide an opportunity either to meet the king in person or at least to come to his attention by name or deed. For example, in May 1519 John Wogan of ‘Balliston’ (Boulston) was summoned to attend the king at Windsor Castle where it was planned ‘to holde and keepe a solemn feast to the Honnour of God, and Sainte George and of the Noble Order of the Garter’.23 Wogan has left a vivid eye-witness account of the lavish banquet that was attended by the king and ‘fowerscore Bachelour Knights, and also a great number of Esquiers and Gentlemen’, four earls, ten barons and ‘twenty Knights of the Noble Order of the Garter’.24 From his lengthy description of this, and other ‘solemn feasts’, it seems that Wogan was a passive observer, one of Elton’s ‘reserve fund of servants’ perhaps, to the events that evening. The following, brief, description of the serving of the first course of the three-course ‘supper’ may indicate why Wogan, a mere gentleman, did not fully participate in the duties of service on that particular occasion:

Sir David Owen was Carver and carved to the Kinge, Frances Bryan was Cupbearer, and beare the Kinges cupp, Sir Edward Nevill was Sewar, and he sewed to the Kinge, and the Kinge was honorably served for none under the degree of a Knight bare a Dish that night to the Kings Board (table).25

Whatever the truth of his participation, Wogan seems to have made an impression on either the king or, more likely, his head of household, the Lord Chamberlain, Charles Somerset, earl of Worcester, for in March 1520 the Welshman was again summoned to serve in the king’s household when he, along with several hundred other royal servants, travelled with Henry VIII to France to meet with the French king, Francis I.26 Wogan was one of a select band of Welshmen who were present at the great diplomatic summit known as The Field of the Cloth of Gold which ran from 7-24 June 1520. Why Wogan, alone of the Pembrokeshire contingent of royal servants, should be summoned to serve in person on such an important diplomatic mission, is not known but it may have been due, in part, to the influence of the earl of Worcester, the man responsible for running the royal household and, more significantly, for organising the summit in France.

Henry VIII


Henry VIII arriving at The Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. A painting in the Royal Collection by an unknown artist (c.1545) at Hampton Court Palace.


In addition, it is worth noting that although Worcester had ‘no hereditary connections with Wales’, he had, in the opinion of his biographer, Jonathan Hughes, ‘established that country as the principal sphere of his political and economic influence’.27 Wogan’s experience suggests that the Pembrokeshire elite was rarely, if ever, summoned to serve as a group but rather as individuals, and that for supernumeraries the system of royal service was ad hoc.

Ad hoc or not, the advantages of household membership were many and varied. At its most intangible, service in the king’s household may be ‘seen as conferring honour on those who performed it and no doubt added greatly to a gentleman’s prestige and status in his own locality’.28 Given that as late as 1602 the antiquary and writer, George Owen of Henllys, estimated the number of gentry families in Pembrokeshire at forty-seven, the eleven members of Henry VIII’s household did indeed form an exclusive elite.29 At a more tangible level, the benefits of household membership manifested themselves in appointments to royal offices in Pembrokeshire and elsewhere in south-west Wales. It is noteworthy that following his service at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, John Wogan, described as a ‘gentleman usher, quarter wayter of the Chamber’, was appointed to the office of bailiff itinerant of the lordship of Haverfordwest in December 1520.30 Given that Wogan had been a member of the king’s household since at least 1513, he had to bide his time in securing local office though he and his cousin, and fellow member of the king’s household, William Wogan of Milton near Carew, were granted the lease of the islands of Skokholm, Middleholm, and Skomer, and of a watermill at Camrose in July 1512.31 This lease was renewed in May 1522 and extended for 21 years at an annual rent of £4 6s. 8d.32

In August 1524 Wogan, ‘gentleman usher of the Chamber’, joined his household colleague, James Jankyn, ‘yeoman usher’, as ‘ragler’ or constable of Cardiganshire.33 Five months later, in January 1525, Wogan was appointed to the post of bailiff of the lordship of Rhos, Pembrokeshire.34 That this appointment was made ‘in consideration of his services in England and abroad’, suggests that Wogan’s service in the household was not only acknowledged but valued.35 Taken in conjunction with the fact that he was one among a select group of royal servants named in the Eltham Ordinances of January 1526, drawn up by Henry VIII’s chief minister, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, as a blueprint for the reform of the king’s household, suggests that Wogan had firmly established himself at Court.36  It seem that Wogan had sufficiently impressed his royal employer to secure a permanent, salaried position in the household.37 Indeed, it appears that there was a waiting list of potential suitors for posts at Court. For example, in October 1510, Peter de Champaygne, esquire of the body, a supernumerary position, was granted an annuity of £20 from the customs of Southampton, ‘till he be promoted’, and a place of esquire for the body, with its fee of 50 marks a year (£26 13s. 8d.), became vacant.38

Wogan’s good fortune in acquiring these, admittedly modest rewards for his royal service, was matched by Thomas Philipps of Picton. A Carmarthenshire man by birth and upbringing, Philipps of Cilsant married Joan Dwnn, daughter and heiress of Henry Dwnn of Picton and thereafter, his life and career were firmly planted in Pembrokeshire. Philipps royal service began much earlier than his contemporaries, having been appointed an esquire of the body sometime during the reign of Henry VII.39 With the death of Henry VII in April 1509, Philipps transferred, with apparent ease, to the household of his successor. Within weeks of Henry VIII’s succession, Philipps was appointed, in May 1509, one of the stewards and receivers of the lordships of Llanstephan and Ystlwyf. Four months later, in September 1509, he was appointed  coroner and escheator of Pembrokeshire and of the lordship of Haverfordwest.  In the French war of 1513 he was captain of a retinue of a hundred men and, in October of that year, he was knighted.40 In October 1516, Philipps became sheriff of Pembrokeshire, ‘during the king’s pleasure’,which usually meant for life, and bailiff itinerant in the lordship of Haverfordwest.41 Uniquely, Sir Thomas Philipps was joined in the king’s household by his son and heir, John, who succeeded his father in most of his offices. In December 1520 the Patent Roll records the following grant

John Thomas ap Philip, sewer, and John Lloid, page, of the Chamber. To be stewards and receivers of the lordships of Llanstephan and Oisterlowe, S. Wales, during pleasure, with 100s. a year. Sir Th[omas] ap Philip and Maurice Lloyd, their fathers, having held the same offices.42

Thomas Jones was another who benefitted from his household connection.43 Like Philipps, Jones was an outsider who made Pembrokeshire his home, where he acquired land and pursued a lucrative career in the local administration. However, unlike Philipps, Jones came to dominate the administrative and political life of the county. As the nephew of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, arguably the most powerful man in south-west Wales and the possessor of Carew Castle, Jones was certainly well connected. This connection may explain how and why Jones was recruited to the king’s household, either in or a little before 1513, since a recommendation from his uncle, Sir Rhys, would have carried considerable weight. Having secured membership of the household, as a groom of the chamber, Jones was among those who took advantage of the opportunity to seek patronage, cultivate friendships and establish social connections. Royal service and social contacts had borne fruit by the mid-1520s when Jones was appointed to a succession of Crown offices in the principality of south Wales, among them bailiff itinerant of Cardigan in 1525, steward and receiver of the lordship of Llandovery, and constable of its castle in 1527.

Jones’s entrée into Pembrokeshire society came by way of marriage to Mary, the widow of a fellow member of the king’s household, Thomas Perrot of Haroldston.44 It is likely that Jones had first become acquainted with his future wife by virtue of his household membership, which highlights the opportunities available to those with an eye to social and economic advancement. Following his marriage, contracted sometime in late 1531 or early 1532, Jones relocated from Carmarthenshire to Pembrokeshire when he set up home at Haroldston. He soon began to accumulate offices in his adopted county and within a decade he had become, arguably, the most powerful man in Pembrokeshire. For example, in 1532 Jones was appointed steward of the lordships of Haverford and Laugharne, and by 1539, if not earlier, he had joined the town council of Haverfordwest, becoming one of its most prominent members.

Clearly, household membership provided opportunities for ambitious men to further their careers but the target for patronage did not necessarily focus on the king alone. It was as likely to include those around him, his favourites and, more especially, his ministers, men like Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. These were influential men who wielded great power and who had the ear of the king. Jones was certainly one of the Pembrokeshire elite who benefitted enormously from Cromwell’s patronage, enabling him to enrich himself and enhance his social standing and political power in south-west Wales. The disgrace and execution in 1531 of his cousin, Rhys ap Gruffudd, the grandson and heir of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, transformed Jones’s position because he became the main beneficiary of the re-distribution of the confiscated estates. The acquisition of land was followed by the accumulation of further offices: in 1540 Jones was the first to be pricked as sheriff of the newly created shire of Pembroke and was among the first to be nominated to the Commission of the Peace in 1543. Later that same year, Jones was appointed constable of Tenby and Narberth castles together with the offices of surveyor, steward and receiver of the lordships of Narberth and Coedrath. Jones was also the first to be appointed county feodary in early 1546, while his younger brother, Morgan, who had also settled in the county, was pricked as sheriff in 1547.

Following the enfranchisement of Wales in the Acts of Union, Jones became the first member of Parliament for Pembrokeshire in 1542 during which session he was knighted by Henry VIII. In 1543 Jones used his influence in Court circles to sponsor an act of Parliament that not only restored Haverfordwest’s ancient rights and privileges as a county borough independent of the authority of the shire (which had been taken away by the so-called first Act of Union in 1536), but also enfranchised the town with one Member of Parliament. Although the original return has been lost there is every reason to suspect that Jones was returned as Haverfordwest’s first ever representative in Parliament in the election of 1545. This might explain why John Wogan of Wiston was returned as member for the county in 1545, and not Jones, who would represent the county again in 1547.

Jones’s accumulation of offices and property dwarfed that of his household colleagues from Pembrokeshire. Certainly, William Adams, John Eliot and William Wogan do not seem to have benefitted from their household service to the same degree as Jones. As men of modest means and influence, they had to make do with lesser offices. For example, in 1524 Eliot is listed as porter of Tenby castle for which office he received the annual sum of 60s. 8d.45 Although William Adams does not appear on any known list of officeholders in the county, it is possible that his son and heir, John, succeeded him in the posts of bailiff of the castle and lordship of Carew, bailiff of the manor of Angle and bailiff and collector of rents of the manor of Burton.46 These offices were in the king’s gift and it is likely that, as in the case of the Philipps family, Henry VIII was content for the son to succeed the father.

Why these men were never entrusted with more significant authority in Pembrokeshire is not known but it was not due to a dearth of offices. Indeed, Pembrokeshire proved to be a happy hunting ground for those members of the king’s household who were rewarded with both office and land. For example, in August 1509 William Parr was appointed steward, chancellor and receiver of the county and lordship of Pembroke.47 He had served Henry VII as an esquire of the king’s body and was promoted by Henry VIII as knight of the king’s body. By virtue of his offices, for which he received an annual stipend of £26 13s. 4d., Parr, knighted in 1513, was the most powerful man in Pembrokeshire but it is unlikely that he ever set foot in the county.48 From a Court roll of 1526-27, it is clear that Parr had delegated the running of the county to a deputy, Rhys ap Gruffudd of Carew, who, in turn, had invested his authority in two deputies, namely, John Wogan of Wiston and William Owen of Henllys.49 Parr held the chief offices in the Pembrokeshire administration until 1533, serving in absentia for nearly twenty-five years. Other members of the household were similarly rewarded (for a full list see appendix II), men like Robert Acton, a page of the Privy Chamber, who was granted the reversion of the offices of constable and janitor of Haverfordwest castle in February 1526.50 Acton was intended to succeed his household colleague John Stephens, marshal of the King’s Hall.51 What these men, together with at least a half-dozen others, had in common, was that they were outsiders, mainly Englishmen, who had no prior connection with Pembrokeshire and who were unlikely ever to visit the county. The king exploited the county to reward his servants with sinecures, offices for which local deputies were appointed to carry out the duties of the absent post-holders. One can but wonder what the likes of William Adams, John Eliot and William Wogan thought of these outsiders, royal servants like themselves, but being more amply rewarded.

Another member of the king’s household who was generously rewarded with office in Pembrokeshire was Morris ap Harry (or Parry) of Cwrt Henry in Carmarthenshire.52 His membership of the royal household can be traced to as early as June 1509 when he is described as Yeoman of the Bottles.53 By 1514 he had been promoted to Yeoman of the King’s Mouth in the cellar, later becoming gentleman of the cellar in 1527 in which post he effectively ran the king’s wine cellar. Clearly, ap Harry was no supernumerary but an active servant employed on the king’s business within his master’s household. Ap Harry’s household promotions were matched by grants of office, for example, in October 1514 he was appointed constable of Tenby castle and keeper of the forest of Coedrath for life, for which he received an annual fee of £4 11s.54 This was followed in September 1527 by his appointment as constable of Cardigan castle. As a further sign of his standing in the household, in January 1532, ap Harry joined Thomas Jones of Haroldston on a commission to seize the lands, goods and other possessions of Rhys ap Gruffudd of Carew who had been executed for treason the previous month. Besides rewards in cash and office elsewhere in Wales and England, Pembrokeshire again provided him with a lucrative appointment when, in April 1532, he was confirmed as steward and receiver of the castle, lordship and manor of Narberth with an annual fee of £5 6s. 8d.55

Although ap Harry was busily engaged at Court, he did occasionally find time to visit Pembrokeshire to discharge his offices in person. He involved himself in county affairs in other ways, such as in 1529 when he purchased the wardship of a young John Perrot of Scotsborough for £30.56 It is possible that Perrot was brought to ap Harry’s manor at Stepney in Middlesex, where the Welshman could care for his ward whilst seeing to his household duties at the king’s Court. On a less reputable note, in c. 1530 ap Harry was accused by Richard Funche, yeoman, of abducting his wife, Alice, from Carew and taking her to his house at Stepney.57 That Alice, daughter and heir of John Jelyan, gentleman, later appeared alongside her supposed abductor as a defendant in the dock, might suggest that her kidnapping was not altogether unwelcome or unplanned.

Membership of the king’s household was by no means the only form of obligation by which individual Pembrokeshire gentlemen might be bound to the Crown. Other obligations included office-holding by royal appointment, military service, land tenure, grants and honours such as knighthood. For example, although William Perrot of Haroldston was among hundreds of guests invited to the festivities organised to celebrate the wedding of Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon at St. Paul’s Cathedral in November 1501, he was one of only eighty-four men to receive the honour of knighthood. This suggests that Perrot, together with fellow Pembrokeshire gentlemen, John Wogan of Wiston and James ab Owen of Pentre Ifan, was not unknown to Henry VII, but, unlike his two colleagues, he was never appointed to the royal household. Again, in September 1513, Sir William Perrot’s son and heir, Owen, was dubbed a knight by Henry VIII at the church in Tournai, France. This honour was conferred by the king for Perrot’s service in the war against the French but, like his father, he, too, was never admitted to the royal household.58

Power existed on many levels. At a local level the county and borough offered the best prospect of promotion, whilst at regional level, Welsh aspirants sought membership of the Council of Wales and the Marches. The highest level of power, of course, was at the centre, the Court and the royal household, membership of which brought those eager for power and influence into the orbit, though not necessarily the company, of the monarch. According to Rhys Robinson, ‘Membership of the royal household [was] particularly effective in encouraging loyalty to the Crown and support for royal government because it entailed taking a special oath of fidelity to the king’.59 The Pembrokeshire elite were certainly eager to offer their services to the king and to take that oath of fidelity. The benefits of household membership are plain to see, but it is clear that not all of the Pembrokeshire elite benefitted equally. Adams, Eliot and William Wogan did not secure the kind of offices and power that was enjoyed by their county compatriots. That they may have benefitted in other ways is entirely possible but the evidence, such as it is, does not permit an alternative conclusion. Some of the greatest beneficiaries of royal patronage in Pembrokeshire were those household retainers who had no discernible connection with the county. Thus far, thirteen members of Henry VIII’s household have been identified as recipients of offices in Pembrokeshire. Even Anne Boleyn had cause to be grateful for the fact that Pembrokeshire was a crown possession, when she was gifted the earldom and its constituent lordships by her husband, Henry VIII. The link between the household of Henry VIII and Pembrokeshire was a particularly strong one,with the county’s gentry accounting for a quarter of the total number of royal servants recruited from Wales. Given that Pembrokeshire was but one of thirteen counties in post-Union Wales, this is significant and impressive.


Appendix I

List of Pembrokeshire elites in Henry VIII’s household:


Sir John Wogan of Wiston

Sir James ab Owen of Pentre Ifan


Thomas Perrot (Peryet) of Haroldston

Esquire of the body

Sir Thomas Philipps of Picton


William Adams of Paterchurch

John Eliot (Elyott) of Earwere or Amroth

John Philipps of Picton [also served as Steward of the king’s chamber]

(sometimes referred to as John Thomas ap Phillip)

Gentlemen Ushers

William Wogan of Milton

John Wogan of Boulston [also served as quarter-waiter]

Thomas Jones (Johnys) of Haroldston and Abermarlais [also served as Groom of the chamber]

Yeoman of the guard

Maurice Wogan of Boulston and Banbury in Oxfordshire


Appendix II

Household servants rewarded with offices in Pembrokeshire

Robert Acton, esquire, of Elmley Lovett, Worcestershire (d. 1558)

Household Offices: Groom of the chamber, 1518; Page of the Privy Chamber 1526; Gentleman usher, 1528.

Pembrokeshire Offices: Constable and janitor of Haverfordwest Castle, 1526-52.

Sir Wistan Brown of Rookwood, Essex (d. 1535)

Household Offices: Esquire of the King’s Body, 1509

Pembrokeshire Offices: Steward, chancellor and receiver of the lordship of Haverfordwest, 1509-1517.

Sir William Compton of Compton, Warwickshire (d. 1528)

Household Offices: Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, Groom of the Stool, 1510-26.

Pembrokeshire Offices: Steward, chancellor and receiver of the lordship of Haverfordwest, 1514-15 (Jointly with Brown).

Sir Ralph Egerton of Ridley, Cheshire (d. 1528)

Household Offices: Marshal of the Prince’s Hall (Prince Arthur), 1501-2; Gentleman Usher of the Chamber, 1509; Knight of the King’s Body, 1523; Treasurer of the Princess’s Household (Mary), 1525.

Pembrokeshire Offices: Steward, chancellor and receiver of the lordship of Haverfordwest, 1525-28.

Morris ap Harry, esquire, of Cwrt Henry, Carmarthenshire (d. 1540)

Household Offices: Yeoman of the king’s bottles, 1509; Yeoman of the king’s mouth in his cellar, 1514; Gentleman of the cellar, 1527.

Pembrokeshire Offices: Constable of Tenby castle and keeper of the forest of Coedrath, 1514-40; Steward and receiver of the castle, lordship and manor of Narberth, 1532-40.

Robert Moffett

Household Offices: Groom of the chamber, 1541

Pembrokeshire Offices: Clerk of the peace in Pembrokeshire, 1541

David Morgan, esquire, of Loughor, Glamorgan (d. 1543)

Household Offices: Sewer of the chamber; Esquire of the household.

Pembrokeshire Offices: Bailiff of the lordships of Stackpole, April 1528

Peter Mutton, esquire, of Meliden, Flintshire (d. 1551)

Household Offices: Yeoman of the Guard; Yeoman usher of the chamber.

Pembrokeshire Offices: Constable of Pembroke Castle, March 1528

Sir William Parr of Horton, Northamptonshire (d. 1547)

Household Offices: Esquire of the King’s Body (Henry VII, c. 1507); Knight of the King’s Body (Henry VIII, (c. 1512); Chamberlain, household of Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond 1525-36; Chamberlain, household of Queen Catherine Parr 1543-47.

Pembrokeshire Offices: Steward, chancellor and receiver of the lordship and county of Pembroke 1509-33.

Griffith Rede, esquire, of Carmarthen (d. 1509)

Household Offices: Esquire of the King’s Body (Henry VII), 1502

Pembrokeshire Offices: Steward, chancellor, receiver and approver of the lordship and county of Pembroke, the lordship of Haverfordwest and the lordship of Cemais, 1504-9; Coroner and escheator of the lordship and county of Pembroke and the lordship of Haverfordwest, 1504-9.

Griffith Rede, esquire, of Carmarthen (d. 1533)

Household Offices: Yeoman of the Guard, 1517; Gentleman usher of the chamber, 1528; Clerk ‘of the Check’, 1532.

Pembrokeshire Offices: Customer and Butler of  Pembroke, Haverfordwest and Tenby, 1528-33; Bailiff Itinerant of the Lordship of Haverfordwest, customer and Butler of Haverfordwest 1532.

John Stephens

Household Offices: Marshal of the King’s Hall, 1526.

Pembrokeshire Offices: Constable and janitor of Haverfordwest Castle, to 1526.

Sir William Thomas of Aberglasney, Carmarthenshire (d. 1542)

Household Offices: Groom of the chamber (Prince Arthur), 1499-1502; Groom of the chamber (Henry VIII), 1503.

Pembrokeshire Offices: Steward, chancellor and receiver of the lordship of Haverfordwest, 1528-42 (reversion of the office granted in 1521).



  1. Quoted in Parliamentary Papers, Volume 19: Reports from commissioners (16 Vols., vol. 6, London, 1839), 200; For a fuller discussion in context see, D. Biggs, ‘Henry IV and his Justices of the Peace: the Lancastrianization of Justice, 1399-1413’in Biggs, S. Michalove & A.C. Reeves (eds.), Traditions and Transformations in Late Medieval England (Brill, 2002), 59-79.
  2. B. Smith, Land and Politics in the England of Henry VIII: The West Riding of Yorkshire, 1530-46 (Oxford, 1970), 123.
  3. John Guy, Tudor England (Oxford, 1988), 164.
  4. R.B. Robinson, ‘Henry VIII’s Household in the fifteen-twenties: the Welsh Connection’, Historical Research, 68 (1995), 173-90.
  5. Ibid., 173.
  6. Ibid., 174, 190.
  7. The four additional Pembrokeshire men were John Wogan of Boulston, William Wogan of Milton, Sir Thomas Philipps and his son John Philipps, both of Picton.
  8. See note 1.
  9. For a comprehensive discussion of the royal Court and Household, see David Starkey et al., The English Court from the Wars of the Roses to the Civil War (London, 1987); D. Starkey ‘Intimacy and innovation: the rise of the Privy Chamber, 1485-1547’, in ibid., 73-74.
  10. Guy, Tudor England, 167 n. 58. Guy provisionally broke down the 493 officials into the following categories: 50 knights of the body, 70 esquires of the body, 69 gentlemen ushers, 65 yeomen ushers, 82 sewers of the chamber, 39 yeomen of the chamber, 68 grooms of the chamber and 50 pages of the chamber.
  11. Pam Wright, ‘A change in direction: the ramifications of a female household, 1558-1603’, in Starkey, The English Court, 148.
  12. W. Bernard, ‘Sir William Compton (1482-1528)’, O[xford] D[ictionary] of N[ational] B[iography], Online Edition.
  13. Owen (ed.), A C[alendar] of the P[ublic] R[ecords] R[elating] to P[embrokeshire] (3 vols., London, 1911-18), I, 55, 56. Brown, an esquire of the body, had originally been granted the posts of steward, chancellor and receiver of Haverfordwest in August 1509.
  14. W Ives, ‘Faction at the court of Henry VIII’, History, 57 (1972), 169-88; idem., Anne Boleyn (London, 1986). Chapter IV. See also, E.W. Ives, ‘William Brereton (c. 1487-1536)’; J. Hughes, ‘Sir Francis Weston (1511-1536)’, ODNB, Online Edition.
  15. W. Ives, ‘Sir Henry Norris (c. 1500-1536)’, ODNB, Online Edition.
  16. Although the king was most likely to employ Grooms from his Privy Chamber for such tasks as carrying personal messages, given their limited numbers there is no reason to discount the employment of the more numerous Grooms from the outer Chamber. See also, Glenn Richardson, ‘‘Most Highly to be Regarded’: The Privy Chamber of Henry VIII and the Anglo-French Relations, 1515-1520’, The Court Historian, 4 (1999), 119-40.
  17. Starkey, op. cit., 76.
  18. R. Myers, The Household of Edward IV: the Black Book and the Ordinance of 1478 (Manchester, 1959), 111.
  19. Guy, Tudor England, 168.
  20. Ibid., 167.
  21. A.L. Morgan, ‘The house of policy: the political role of the late Plantagenet household, 1422-1485’, in Starkey, The English Court, 34.
  22. R. Elton, The Tudor Revolution in Government (1953), 386, 387. ‘bouge of court’ was the provision of food and drink at the king’s expense.
  23. Anstis, The Register of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (2 vols., London, 1724), Appendix, xi.
  24. Ibid., xi-xii.
  25. Ibid., xv.
  26. J S Brewer (ed.), Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 3, 1519-1523 (London, 1867), 244.
  27. Hughes, ‘Charles Somerset [formerly Beaufort), first earl of Worcester (c. 1460-1526)’, ODNB, Online Edition.
  28. Robinson, cit., 185.
  29. Owen (ed.), The Description of Pembrokeshire by George Owen of Henllys (4 vols., London, 1892-1936), III, 352-59.
  30. Brewer, Letters and Papers, Volume 3, 1519-1523, 414. Wogan was appointed to succeed a recently deceased fellow household servant from Pembrokeshire, Sir Thomas Philipps of Picton.
  31. Owen, CPRRP, I, 32. William Wogan’s membership of the royal household was missed by Robinson.
  32. , 32, 34. In May 1544 the lease was renewed for a further 21 years to William alone. By this time William Wogan had evidently joined the household being referred to, in the Patent Roll, as a gentleman usher in the king’s chamber. It is likely that John Wogan was either seriously ill and/or had died, which strengthens the theory that he may be identified with the John Howgan of Somerset, ‘servant unto the king’s grace’, who made his will on 3 December 1543 and which was proved on 26 June 1545. The National Archives, Prob.11/30/470.
  33. Brewer, Letters and Papers, Volume 4, 1524-1530 (London, 1875), 274. Jankyn had originally been granted the office of rhaglaw or constable in November 1521 following the death of the incumbent, Sir Gruffudd ap Rhys of Dinefwr.
  34. Ibid., 459.
  35. Ibid.
  36. Robinson, cit., 184.
  37. Wogan was in receipt of a wage for his household service by 1521. Robinson, cit., 182.
  38. Brewer, Letters and Papers, Volume 1, 1509-1514, 345, 358.
  39. Dictionary of Welsh Biography, Online Edition, PHILIPPS family, of Picton, Pembrokeshire.
  40. A Shaw, The Knights of England (2 vols., London, 1906), II, 41.
  41. Owen, CPRRP, III, 60.
  42. Brewer, Letters and Papers, Volume 3, 1519-1523, 414. By 1532 John Philipps was acting as king’s attorney in the lordship of Haverford. Owen, CPRRP, I, 124.
  43. For Jones’s career, see R. Turvey, ‘Household, Court and Localities: Sir Thomas Jones and the Rise of ‘That Great Family of Jones of Abermarlais’, Welsh History Review, 22 (2004-5), 29-51; Dictionary of Welsh Biography, Online Edition, Sir Thomas Jones of Abermarlais (Forthcoming).
  44. It is interesting to note that Jones’s wife, Mary, was the daughter and heiress of James Berkeley an esquire of the body to King Henry VII. Her uncle, Maurice, Lord Berkeley, was also a member of the royal household serving both Henry VII and Henry VIII.
  45. Owen, CPRRP, III, 60; Brewer, Letters and Papers, Volume 4, 1524-1530, 428, 2433-34. Eliot had died by April 1529 when his son and heir, also named John, was made a ward of the king.
  46. Owen, CPRRP, III, 178, 182, 183.
  47. T. Bindoff (ed.), The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1509-1558 (3 vols., London, 1982), III, 60-2.
  48. Owen, CPRRP, III, 59-60.
  49. Ibid., 61. John Wogan esquire was the son and heir of Sir John, knight of the household. William Owen, gentleman, was the father of the Pembrokeshire antiquary George Owen.
  50. Owen, CPRRP, I, 32.
  51. Morris ap Harry (also described as ap Henry or Parry) is said by Michael Siddons to be a Pembrokeshire man from Paryston. However, Paryston has defied all attempts to locate and identify it. I am more inclined to accept Professor Ralph Griffiths’s identification of Morris as a Carmarthenshire man, the son of Henry ap Gwilym of Cwrt Henri in the Tywi valley. M.P. Siddons, The Development of Welsh Heraldry (3 vols., Aberystwyth, 1991-93), II, 432. R.A. Griffiths, Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family (Cardiff, 1993), 114.
  52. For details of his career, see R.A. Griffiths, The Principality of Wales in the Later Middle Ages: South Wales 1277-1536 (Cardiff, 1972), 225-26, 357.
  53. Owen, CPRRP, III, 59-61.
  54. Brewer, Letters and Papers, Volume 5, 1531-32, 457.
  55. Ibid., Volume 4, 1524-1530, 2433.
  56. A. Lewis (ed.), An Inventory of The Early Chancery Proceedings Concerning Wales (Cardiff, 1937), 63. The outcome of the case is not known.
  57. For details of the Perrot family, see R. Turvey, ‘The Perrot Family and their Circle in the later middle ages’ (University of Wales [Swansea] Ph.D. thesis, 1988).
  58. Robinson, cit., 188.








by Mary John


Containing Remarks Made During Many Excursions in the Principality of Wales… 2nd edition, London, Longman, Hurst, etc. 1813.

The title page of this book of some 1,500 pages tells us that the guide is ‘augmented by Extracts from the Best Writers’. Among these are gentlemen travellers such as Pennant, Malkin, Skrine, Wyndham and Fenton. Pembrokeshire is recorded in the alphabetical listings under Fishguard, Haverfordwest, Kilgerran, Milford, Narberth, Newport, Pembroke and Tenby and we find the accounts of these places ranging for some distance into surrounding areas. We are also told that the work covers ‘Bordering Districts’. So, unsurprisingly, we find here early 19th century descriptions of communities such as Birmingham, Shrewsbury, Chester and Worcester.

A wealth of detail, history, geography, myths, famous locals, flora and fauna, industry, etc. can be found here, much of which may no doubt be questioned two centuries later and evidently the writers were not constrained to the extent that tourist guides are today.

Upper and Lower Town of Fishguard. Drawn by H. Gastineau, engraved by H.Alard. 1830

Upper and Lower Town of Fishguard. Drawn by H. Gastineau, engraved by H.Alard. 1830

These tend to be ‘warts and all’ descriptions and Fishguard is perhaps the place which comes under the most negative scrutiny.

‘To no spot of equal extent in the whole county has history or tradition annexed fewer memorable events than to this parish, and consequently fewer relics to excite the attention of the traveller or the antiquary scarcely any where occur, presenting nothing to the curious eye above the dignity of a beacon.’

‘Of eminent men few places have been more unproductive than this. One generation of fishermen, mariners, and traders, have succeeded in an uninteresting series.’

‘Till the year 1785 no person lived in this parish of sufficient consequence and property to entitle him to supply the office of magistrate. Nor has there been a house fit for the residence of any man above the degree of yeoman.’

Thankfully all is not bad news about Fishguard. We learn that …

‘The air of this place is so remarkably salubrious that it can scarcely ever have been visited by an epidemical disorder…on this account it is a matter of surprise that during the fashion of sea-bathing, Fishguard has not been selected and preferred…To this advantage might be added the cheapness of its markets, and the variety and pleasantness of the country.’

The account continues with talk of local agriculture and shipping, with an extensive discussion on the prospects of building a pier to develop the port. Having dismissed the church as a ‘mean structure, without tower or spire, containing no dignified memorials of the dead’, the writer allows us some light relief.

A Wedding here exhibits a scene of uncommon gaiety. The vessels in the port display their colours, an old swivel is repeatedly discharged, the happy pair are preceded in their walk to church by a violin or bagpipe, and festivity succeeds.’

Our guide to Fishguard is soon back in critical mode.-, its ‘monotonous and mean buildings’, …‘proverbially bad’ streets,…‘repeated alarms from piratical visitors,…‘no manufactories’, …‘The schools existing are set up by pretenders who themselves need to be taught.’ and… ‘it wants a workhouse.’

Unsurprisingly a description of the landing of the French in1797 plays a big part here. An event in living memory at that time, there is naturally considerable detail which helps to enliven this account.

The interests of local antiquarian, Richard Fenton, would appear to get more than adequate coverage in this guide. However, his own account of Fishguard in his Historical Tour of Pembrokeshire is considerably more benign and one cannot help but suspect some ungentlemanly conduct in the sour details written by others in this Cambrian Traveller’s Guide.



By Mary John
The story of Quakers in Pembrokeshire has been told a number of times. Stephen Griffiths and David Salmon were among those who made us aware that there were in fact two significant phases in which the Religious Society of Friends, as they came formally to be known, featured in the county’s history.i We were reminded both of their exceedingly difficult times here in the seventeenth century and also of their more rewarding and successful settlement later in the town of Milford Haven, as whalers and business folk. Remarkably, what we find is Pembrokeshire Quaker families moving to America in the sixteen hundreds and American Quakers moving into Pembrokeshire a century or so later.
This article will focus on what can be discovered about a small group of Friends living in communities around the town of Narberth some three hundred and fifty years ago. The intention is to consider what drove them to leave Pembrokeshire and to investigate how they prospered in their new home in the New World.
Followers of the itinerant preacher George Fox, under whose influence the religious group known as Quakers came into being, arrived in Pembrokeshire in the 1650s and Fox himself visited Tenby in1657 where he held meetings and was welcomed by the mayor and his wife. Also about that time his friend John ap John, from Wrexham, went to the local ‘steeple house’ and was imprisoned for standing in the church with his hat on. Fox was later to have a rough time in Haverfordwest, ‘a wicked town and false’.ii These are some of the earliest records of the persecution of Quakers in Pembrokeshire for a number of offences, among them absence from church, standing in church, wearing a hat in church, non-payment of tithes, refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance. The Quakers did not meet for set religious services with clergy in consecrated buildings and in 1664 their gatherings came to be considered illegal under the Conventicle Act.
It is important to remember how difficult people’s lives had already been in the early decades of the 17th century. Political and religious conflict, especially among the local gentry, would overwhelm society and the Civil War had considerable impact in and around Narberth and Redstone. In 1645 hundreds of fighting men, mounted and on foot, under Rowland Laugharne, together with a large body of seamen having sailed up the Eastern Cleddau, gathered at Canaston to march through local fields and communities to victory at the Battle of Colby Moor. With some 150 dead and 700 prisoners taken and many men fleeing, most likely in the direction of Narberth, things must have been very frightening. That same year nearby Picton Castle was attacked and renewal of hostilities in the Second Civil War would have seen distress and upheaval with the influx of troops gathering for Cromwell’s siege of Pembroke in 1648. To add to the turmoil in the county within a few years of the end of these hostilities plague broke out, causing deaths and the disruption to trade and the daily lives and movement of people.
It has been argued that the seeds of Quakerism were already planted in Pembrokeshire before the Civil War. A number of people brought before the Great Sessions in 1642 accused of attending an unlawful meeting in Haverfordwest, ‘under pretence of religious worship and evil principles’, would later be recognised as Quakers.iii
It would appear that Oliver Cromwell was generally sympathetic towards Quakers but things would get worse for them with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, with a harsher response from the authorities towards Nonconformity. Fines and imprisonment were handed out to men and women throughout the county but in spite of this by the late 1600s there were at least seven Quaker Meeting Houses in Pembrokeshire, one being at Redstone in the parish of Narberth North, where the first yearly Welsh Meeting was held in February1682. Redstone Meeting was evidently flourishing. Richard Davies when he visited found the meeting held out of doors, ‘…there being no house that I knew of that could contain the multitude of people.iv
The names of certain of its members feature regularly in this account. One of these was Lewis David of Trewern, now a mansion and estate between Llanddewi Velfrey and Whitland. There appears to be little evidence of Lewis David’s roll in 17th century Pembrokeshire society and he has been variously described as a gentleman and a yeoman but what is evident is that he was a man with money and a very committed and influential member of the Redstone group of Friends.

Map showing Redstone Meeting House, south of Redstone Cross on A40. (Pembrokeshire Record Office).

Map showing Redstone Meeting House, south of Redstone Cross on A40. (Pembrokeshire Record Office).

For refusing to keep away from meetings at Redstone in 1661 with his wife Susan, James Lewis, Alice Lewis, Evan John and William Thomas, all from Llanddewi Velfrey, Lewis David was imprisoned in Haverfordwest gaol, (The Cockhouse, a vaulted six roomed stone building, described as dirty and offensive, to the north of St Mary’s church). On release they continued their meetings and were soon re-committed to prison where they were treated very harshly and after enduring eighteen months, sharing cells with thugs and felons and two bitter winters with no heat and little food, they were discharged due to insufficient evidence. v

Friends in the communities around Redstone were to find themselves regularly pursued. In 1678 Lewis David, Henry Lewis of Narberth and others had their goods distrained for refusing to pay towards the County Militia. In subsequent years a number of Friends had corn, hay, cows, oxen, lambs and household goods such as cloth and tankards taken for non-payment of tithes. Lewis David had taken from him ‘by the servants of Evan Harris, Tithe-farmer, and Nicholas Roberts, priest, about a fifth part of all his corn. On another occasion, for not paying a 20/- fine, Lewis David ‘had his corn and hay seized to the value of 25/- and sold for 8/-, being all the effects he had in the county of Pembroke, but he having a house and land in Carmarthenshire, the justices sent a certificate thither, by which his cattle, corn, hay and bedding was seized to the value of 36/- more, which also sold for 8/-’.vi Henry Lewis of Narberth had taken from him ‘a bible and a shovel worth 6/2 for refusing to pay the customary assessments towards repairing the steeple houses.’vii
William Thomas of Llanddewi Velfrey, ‘being fined 5s was met on the Highway by the chief constable, a petty constable and an Informer, who demanded the horse he rode upon, he asking for their warrant was answered with “Sirrah, do you question the king’s power?” and at the same time was struck on the head and shoulders with a great staff and plucked from his horse…’ The horse was taken away for the 5s and later sold for £3:1s:4d.viii Income from goods sold cheaply was sometimes given to the poor. However, Besse tells us ‘they conscious of the Sufferers Innocence from whose charity they had often found Relief, refused to receive any of that Money when tendred (sic) them.’ix In spite of the Toleration Act of 1689 granted to protestant dissenters goods were still being seized from members of the Society of Friends well into the 18th century.x
Thomas Wilson in his journal described his travels in Wales in 1684 and how he received rough treatment from a constable and informer when he attempted to ‘Preach the Word of the Lord to the People’ in Redstone Meeting House.xi By then, however, several of the Friends were no longer in attendance. On the 6th of June 1682 in Pennsylvania, America, the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting was welcoming Lewis David, Henry Lewis and William Howell and accepting their certificate of introduction from the General Meeting at Redstone.

In 1681 the influential Quaker, William Penn, had been granted by his friend, Charles II of England, control of a considerable area of land in North America in which it was understood a colony would be established. That same year a number of Quakers from different parts of Wales travelled to London to meet with Penn who intended to offer them an opportunity to purchase 30,000 acres of this territory, divided into blocks of 5,000 acres. As it happened, seven purchasers came forward and they were granted land under what Penn considered the Dutch ‘patroon’ system, requiring them to look on him as their leader. In time the lack of legal documentation covering this agreement would come to haunt the Welsh purchasers, Lewis David of Llanddewi Velfrey being one, committing himself to 3,000 acres for the sum of £60.
Of the 3,000 acres conveyed to Lewis David by deed dated 2 March, 1682, 500 were taken by William Howell, yeoman, (of Castlebythe), 1,000 acres by Henry Lewis, yeoman, of Narberth, 500 by Rees Rothers, yeoman, (of Llanwenog), 250 by Evan Thomas, yeoman, (of Llanycefn). Lewis David retained 750 acres for himself. This group is described by Browning in his book, Welsh Settlement of Pennsylvania, as Company No. 5.xii One can imagine an air of both excitement and trepidation in the Redstone community when these purchases became known. How many individuals took up the offer to leave Pembrokeshire for Pennsylvania is not clear but eventually the emigration of the Redstone members would be painfully felt. For some years there was movement back and forward between the Old Country and the New World and preachers returned to address the Friends. However, regular meetings at Redstone came to an end in 1766. Records of the Monthly Meeting in the early 1800s reveal that the Meeting House and the stable were ‘in a state of general decay, the roof being partly uncovered…The Meeting House is untenanted; one end of the stable affords shelter to the old woman who quitted the Meeting House when the roof fell in…’xiii Paul Starbuck was to report in 1822 that he had sold Redstone for £45 and Puncheston for £20.xiv By 1867 the Meeting House at Redstone was in ruins.xv
The Trewern home of Lewis David is no longer in evidence. An early 19th century mansion now occupies the land in Llanddewi Velfrey, some 3km north-west of Whitland. Close by on the hill above the A40 is the Quaker burial ground which would appear to have been acquired some time in the later 18th century because records from the early 1700s show Friends were being interred at East Hook, Lambston, west of Haverfordwest.

Map of the Trewern estate, Llanddewi Velfrey, showing the burial ground (top left)

Map of the Trewern estate, Llanddewi Velfrey, showing the burial ground (top left)


Plan of the burial ground (Pembrokeshire Record Office. DFC/F/3/1)

Plan of the burial ground (Pembrokeshire Record Office. DFC/F/3/1)


There are a number of accounts of the early journeys made from Wales to Pennsylvania by Quakers, many of them recorded by descendants of the early settlers. There appear to have been three main streams of emigrants, from the counties of Pembrokeshire, Radnorshire and Merionethshire. Browning tells us that in 1682-83 Welsh settlers crossed the seas to their new home in 23 ships.xvi They were heading across the Atlantic to the mouth of the Delaware River to settle in land north of Philadelphia and west of the Schuylkill River.
One ship, the William Galley, sailed from Carmarthen with Friends from Pembrokeshire and Radnorshire on board. For those over twelve years of age the charge was £5 and for children £2:10. Sucklings and furniture up to 20 tons were transported free. The ship’s surgeon required a payment of 5s from each family and 1s from each unmarried person, except servants. xvii Among the provisions on board ship were beer, water, and barrels of beef, butter cheese and oatmeal.xviii Thomas Glenn reported that in August 1682 the ‘good ship Lyon’ arrived in Delaware with 40 passengers.xix
We understand that the journey by sailing ship took a number of weeks, sometimes as long as four months. Indeed, some journeys gave time enough for Welsh speakers to learn English. The Bible of John George Eaton, a settler’s descendant, records that Friends left Llanddewi Velfrey on 1 August 1683 to go to a port in Milford Haven and they arrived in Philadelphia early in November. It is recorded that some travellers had very uncomfortable times in rough seas and ‘contrary winds’.xx There is also an account of people suffering from hunger due to ship’s damage and torn sales and having to seek shelter in the West Indies. xxi
Glenn records that during the next three decades Quaker Friends went to Pennsylvania from Redstone, Llanddewi Velfrey, Narberth, Haverfordwest, Tenby, Puncheston, Llandisilio, Castlebythe, Little Newcastle and Uzmaston.

The Welsh Tract

The Welsh Tract, by then some 40,000 acres, stretched northward along the south-west bank of the Schuylkill River and westward and south-westward over south-eastern Pennsylvania. In general it would cover within its borders eleven and one-half townships in Delaware, Chester and Montgomerie counties.
‘And the Welsh Friends were hardly forerunners even in the land, for the way had long been made clear for their peaceful entrance into their purchased lands, and many were able to be seated at the very first on old “Indian fields,” and on clearings made by their predecessors, the Swedes, Dutch and early English, who came up here from the old settlements on the lower Delaware.’xxii
Accounts of life for these early Welsh settlers make uncomfortable reading. It is understood that the first winters after their arrival in Pennsylvania were intensely cold. Landing their goods and finding shelter in territory only partly cleared, little in the way of roads, and much of it entire wilderness must have been traumatic. Many initially took cover under trees before building make-shift wooden huts, some moving into caves, dug along the Schuylkill River. Browning gives us a description of these:

‘First, a pit was dug, three feet deep, and twelve by fifteen feet in extent, in the river bank, well up from the water. The side towards the river was levelled and left open. The side walls were carried up from the ground to the height of the tallest man standing erect, with interlaced and thatched saplings, and the roof over all was also made this way.’xxiii

We are told these caves would be rented to generations of new settlers after their occupants had taken timber from the forests to build more substantial homes.

‘The finest log cabins were built of barked and hewn logs of equal thickness, with stairs, or a ladder on the outside to reach the upper chamber, the first floor was pounded earth, as was the floors of all the early meeting houses’ xxiv

Some of the original settlers brought servants with them, many given pieces of land after serving their time. Burial records indicate that it was not uncommon for Quakers to acquire black slaves and this practice went on for decades in Pennsylvania. Although there were fruits and wild creatures in the forests to supply some of their food there was a severe shortage of cows and other domesticated animals. Cows for milking, when they could be obtained, were shared among the settlers. However, by the end of the 17th century there was a much more plentiful supply of foodstuffs which included beef, pork, mutton, cheese and butter. Horses and cows could be readily acquired.

The native Indian people who had received them kindly and assisted them through their hardships on arrival continued to live peaceably alongside them although being generally itinerant hunters they must have been attracted by the new animal life brought in. Within a few years the Welsh settlers were complaining of being frightened by these hunters and “for ye Rapine and Destruction of their Hoggs” xxv

‘These first comers, after their arrival, soon cleared land enough to make way for a crop of Indian corn, in the succeeding spring, and in a year or two, they began upon wheat, and other grain. Thus they went improving until they got into a comfortable way of living.’xxvi

Browning concludes that in the early years settlers farmed for their own needs and not on a commercial scale. There were at that time no country stores and people were having to travel to Philadelphia for some necessities, often exchanging their produce for dry goods and groceries. xxvii They also expected quite naturally, coming from the farming communities of Wales, to set up their own water mills to deal with the harvest. One can imagine their dismay when on arrival they learned that William Penn had the monopoly on all kinds of milling. Private mills, whether for grist or timber, were forbidden. To have their grain ground the Welsh had to transport it many miles to the ‘Proprietors Mill’. Fortunately this problem appears to have been resolved for in 1700 we find Lewis David a part owner of a grist mill in Haverford. In fact grist mills, saw mills and fulling mills were to become plentiful in creeks along the boundaries of Haverford township well into the next century.

Another conflict between Penn and the Welsh Friends arose from their crossings of the River Schuylkill. Their custom was to pay a ferryman with a flat boat to carry them, their goods and their animals to fairs, markets and assemblies in Delaware but it was not long before Penn was demanding revenue from all crossings of the river and arranged a ferry in competition which he leased out. In spite of their difficulties, with the ferryman being imprisoned and the boat seized, the Welsh held out for a number of years and it was not until the early 1720s that Philadelphia recognised the need for a public ferry across the Schuylkill.xxviii

In spite of these difficulties a man called Oldmixon, writing in 1708, said of the Welsh Tract:

‘Tis very populous and the people are very industrious, by which means this country is better cleared than any other part of the country. The inhabitants have many fine plantations; they are looked upon to be as thriving and wealthy as any in the province…’xxix

As more and more settlers arrived communities banded together in townships and it was not many years before the townships of Merion, Haverford and Radnor were established to the west of the Schuylkill River. The Welsh Tract was beginning to take shape and naturally a priority was the building of Meeting Houses. We are told that the first meetings of the Welsh Friends were ‘…beneath the great trees of the primeval trees about them, in pleasant weather and otherwise, at the primitive home of a family, in their settlement, be it then a cave, tent or lean-to shelter…xxx

 (Illustration in Browning)

(Illustration in Browning)

 (Illustration in Browning)

(Illustration in Browning)

There being a number of Quakers in Philadelphia, monthly meetings were soon well established but the Welsh Tract townships were far apart and friends and neighbours from the old country met informally. In 1682 Haverford was made up of only four Pembrokeshire families, those of Lewis David, Henry Lewis, William Howell and George Painter. As more people arrived things got organised locally and by 1684 log houses for public meetings were erected in Merion and Haverford. Friends were required to produce the certificates they had brought from their Meeting Houses in Wales. Among these were Henry Lewis, Lewis David and William Howell from the Redstone Meeting in Pembrokeshire, their certificates dated 6 June, 1682. They became the founders of the Preparative Meeting of Haverford. More records of certificates from Redstone appear over the next few decades. At the Chester Monthly Meeting in Delaware in June 1711 Francis Jones produced a Redstone certificate for himself and his family, having come to Pembrokeshire from Ireland three years before.xxxi

Although the name of Lewis David of Trewern crops up on a number of occasions when religious and civil matters are mentioned in the early records of Quaker settlements in America, we are provided with very little personal information about the man and his family. We learn from the few surviving marriage records of the England and Wales Society of Friends that Susana, wife of Lewis David of Llanddewi Velfry was buried in Pembrokeshire on October 22, 1682. Lewis left some of his children in Wales when he travelled to Pennsylvania and it is later recorded that a Lewis David married Florence Jones at the Haverford Meeting in 1690. One could guess that he was something of a speculator. He appears to have bought and sold various sections of the Tract and as time went by he was to sell off much of the 750 acres he had originally retained for himself. This included 250 acres to Maurice Scourfield of Narberth and 260 acres in Haverford township to Peregrine Musgrove, the Haverfordwest clothier, who in 1674 had married his daughter Alice back in Redstone. Evidently he involved himself rigorously in the fight for the survival of the Welsh Tract. Lewis David died and was buried at the Merion Meeting January 2, 1708.

Henry Lewis, from near Narberth, a carpenter by trade, and his wife Margaret had a plantation of 250 acres in Haverford and he was to name his new home ‘Maencoch’ (Redstone). He was described as a benevolent man who having originally joined the Philadelphia Friends committed himself ‘to visit the poor and sick, and administer what they should judge convenient, at the expense of the Meeting.’ He held the office of ‘peacemaker’, and was foreman of the first Grand Jury for the county of Philadelphia.xxxii A founder member of the community, Henry did not have many years in Pennsylvania. He died in 1705.

The Welsh Tract would eventually cover what would become eleven and a half townships in what are now Delaware, Chester and Montgomery Counties, Merion and Radnor being named after the shires of the old country and Haverford after the town of Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire. William Penn had determined when he sold this land to the Welsh that it would be considered a ‘Barony’ or State in what he retained as his province, “…within which all causes, quarrels, crimes and disputes might be tried and wholly determined by officers, magistrates, and juries of our language”.xxxiii In fact he sold this territory without giving information about locations, conditions or restrictions under which he made the conveyances. Added to this was the problem that the 62½ square miles were not surveyed for a further six years. It appears that this was to cause some confusion for people buying land subsequently, often direct from Penn, who found themselves involved in litigation or resurveys. Amongst these were John Burge, a clothier from Haverfordwest, and William Jenkins, an emasculator from Tenby.

The Welsh understood that their purchases would lie alongside each other in the Tract. They expected to control and govern their lives according to the customs and expectations they had brought with them from their native country. This was soon to be denied them by William Penn. He considered himself, having received his authority from the Crown, to be the sovereign of the state of Pennsylvania, with full power to form a government to suit his own ideas and according to the laws of England. He was to renege on his original verbal agreement, insisting that the first Welsh purchasers were only trustees. Having arranged a final survey of the Welsh Tract he planned to take back for himself what he considered unsettled lands which he then sold off to others, not necessarily Welsh. Then Penn divided the Tract into three parts, the townships of Merion, Radnor and Haverford and started up other towns and he did not allow the inhabitants to choose their own officers. These were appointed by the County Court although these Welsh Quaker townships continued to manage some level of control of their activities at their gatherings at the Meeting Houses. Sadly less than three years after its initial settlement the Welsh Tract began to fall apart. In 1685, without any notice to its inhabitants, it was decided by the Provincial Council that a large slice of the Welsh Tract should be cut off and a new boundary line drawn between the counties of Philadelphia and Chester. Nothing was done about this for three years until, using the questionable evidence of surveyor Thomas Holme’s Map of the Province of Pennsylvania, and after much debate, both legal and regarding the opinions of William Penn, Chester County Court, assumed regulation of both Haverford and Radnor. However, for some time many of the worthies of these townships continued to refuse to serve on Chester public bodies and the Haverford and Radnor Friends continued to attend meetings at Merion. The Welsh would continue to have problems in their Tract, with squatters and with English settlers taking land overlapping from Chester County. Penn was still anxious to profit from sale of their unsettled land and sent out his surveyors, claiming his right to a share in every township. xxxiv
By 1690 the Welsh Tract was seriously under threat from Land Commissioners set up by Penn who wished to sell off Tract land which they considered ‘not laid out, or not seated and Improved’. The Welsh in a desperate attempt to discourage encroachments upon the lines and boundaries of their Tract responded with a paper presented to the Commissioners in which they declared:-

‘…with an open face to God and man, that we Desired to be by ourselves for no other End, or purpose that we might live together as Civill Society, to endeavour to deside (sic) all controversies and debates among ourselves, in a Gospell order, and not to entangle ourselves with Laws in an unknown Tongue, as also to preserve our Language, that we might ever keep Correspondence with friends in the land of our Nativity.xxxv

The Commissioners were evidently on the side of William Penn. Complex legal arguments went on for many months but Penn, now in financial difficulties, was determined to open up parts of the Tract to purchasers of other nationalities and religions and also to some of his pressing creditors. The unoccupied land was put on the market and this signalled the end of the Welsh Tract.
We are used to places in the ‘New World’ being named after the ‘Old Country’. Haverford, Merion and Radnor do not surprise us. But what do we know of Narberth, a thriving town of about 5,000 people in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania? We are told that it is surrounded by the Township of Merion and is mostly residential ‘with leafy, picturesque suburbs with quaint Welsh names’.xxxvi Settled on a parcel of land originally deeded to Edward Rees who arrived in America in 1682 it was a Quaker friendly town originally called Elm, founded in 1881 by Edward Price. Not until 1893 did it change its name to Narberth. So, some two hundred years after the original settlement of the Welsh Tract was Redstone still in the minds of our Pennsylvania Friends?

i David, Salmon, The Quakers of Pembrokeshire, in West Wales Historical Records Vol IX.
Stephen, Griffiths, A History of Quakers in Pembrokeshire. (Gomer, 1995).
ii George Fox, Journal, 1694. ( Eveyrman’s Library Edition, 1924).
iii Francis Jones , Disaffection and Dissent in Pembrokeshire. In The Transactions of the
Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, (Sessions 1946-1947. London: 1948). 208.
iv Davies, Richard (1635-1708) An Account of the convincement, exercises, services and
travels of that ancient servant of the Lord Richard Davies. London: J.Sowle 1705.
v J. Besse, A Collection of the Sufferings of the people called Quakers for the Testimony of
a Good Conscience. (2 vols, London, 1753). 747-752.
vi J. Besse, 756.
vii J. Besse, 756

viii J. Besse, 752.
ix J. Besse, 752
x David, Salmon , Pembrokeshire Quakers Monthly Meeting. Carmarthen: Records of the
History Society of West Wales, (Volume XII (Spurrel, 1927).
xi Thomas ,Wilson, A Brief Journal of the Life, travels and labours of love, in the work of
the Ministry of that Eminent and Faithful Servant of Jesus Christ.( London, 1730).
xii Browning, 195.
xiii David, Salmon , Pembrokeshire Quakers Monthly Meeting. Carmarthen: Records of the
History Society of West Wales, (Volume XII, (Spurrel, 1927).7.
xiv Ibid.
xv T.M. Rees, History of Quakers in Wales. (Carmarthen: Spurrel, 1925). 119.
xvi Browning, 41.
xvii Stephen Griffiths, The History of Quakers in Pembrokeshire. (Milford Haven Preparative
Meeting of The Society of Friends, 1990) 40.
xviii T. A. Glenn, Welsh Founders of Pennsylvania. (Fox Jones and Co, Oxford: 1911).66
xix Ibid.
xx Ibid.
xxi P.W.Streets, Lewis Walker of Chester Valley and his descendents. (Punon Knaccuk, 1896).
xxii Browning, 17.
xxiii Browning, 315.
xxiv Browning, 307.
xxv Browning, 321.
xxvi Browning, 307.
xxvii Browning, 319.
xxviii Browning, 391.
xxix Browning, 318.
xxx Browning, 497.
xxxi Small, Samuel and Ann Cresson. Genealogical Records of George Small. (Andesite
Press, 2015)
xxxii Browning, 197.
xxxiii Browning, 26.
xxxiv Browning, 388.
xxxv Browning, 379. .
*I would like to thank The Lower Merion Historical Society for use of log cabin illustrations. (Celebrating William Penn’s Settlement in Lower Merion and Narberth 1682-2007

The St Davids Cathedral Elijah Painting


By Michael Eastham


Recently, I was asked to talk about the panel with a painting of Elijah and the ravens in the south Transept of St Davids cathedral. [Fig 1].    While standing in front of it in the cathedral waiting for the group who had asked me to talk to turn up I was dismayed to realise that my thoughts about it had undergone a change since I last tried to make sense of the contradictory aspects of its design.1  I had concluded earlier, and I remain convinced, that it is not an icon painted by a Greek Orthodox painter in the 17th century or at any other time, as has been asserted in little notices placed near it in the Cathedral.  For some time I have been constrained, by details of its appearance, to believe that originally it was painted to form the major element in the centre of an assemblage to be placed at the back of a Western European altar, a reredos.  I was also impelled to believe that it was of British late medieval and possibly south Welsh origin.  Talking about the painting while standing in front of the real thing on the wall it was disconcerting to realise that there are more ideas in it that might be derived from Byzantine sources than I had previously allowed and for some reason that is not immediately obvious, someone at some time had decided to convert a Catholic Gothic panel painting into an Orthodox icon of a Greek type.

The survival of such a painting is remarkable and not the least part of its fascination is that it can be shown to have been precious to a succession of owners who were essentially collectors rather than religious people living in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire and Nottinghamshire and then Carmarthenshire, and Pembrokeshire again.  They owned it, for some of the time in secret, and each owner in his or her turn, must have cherished it for more than five hundred years in all. Then, when the last appreciative private owner could see no way to pass it on to another suitable private owner he gave it to the Dean and Chapter of St Davids Cathedral.2  It has ended up firmly fixed to the wall of the south transept, a place where it would never have survived if it had been placed there in the 16th century.

Fig.1. The Elijah panel in St Davids Cathedral

Fig.1. The Elijah panel in St Davids Cathedral

The Iconography

Five separate incidents in Elijah’s life are described on the panel.  The fifth, his reply to ‘the Lord’ after he had found a cave on ‘Horeb the mount of God’ recounted in 1st Kings 19:10 is written out on the scroll draped over him.  The incident of Elijah being fed by two ravens takes up most of the panel area.  The two inset panels represent Elijah parting the waters of Jordan so he could cross with dry feet, and also leaving his mantle to Elias while ascending to heaven drawn by two flying horses.  The restoration to life of the dead son of the widow of Zarapath is described in a small triangular shape half way down the right hand side and is readily missed unless the image is inspected very closely.  The images are all depictions of events described in 1st Kings chapter 17, verses 1 -24 and 2nd Kings chapter 2, 1-14 in the King James translation.  In other versions they are in 3rd and 4th Kings but the chapter and verse numbers are the same.   Calling down fire from heaven on idolatrous religious activity described in 2nd or 4th Kings 1:3-15 is not shown.

Byzantine panel and mural painting was undertaken within a well defined system of rules about the choice of subjects.  Only three out of the total of five subjects depicted on the St Davids Elijah panel are subjects recommended as appropriate to be painted for Orthodox purposes in the manuscripts that set out the canon.3    The image of the parting of the waters in the top left hand corner of the panel and the image of the widow of Zarapath are not listed in the Byzantine canon. They have a place in the typology of parallels between Old and New Testament events explored by western medieval theology after the 12th century but are not significant in any of the variations in Christian belief present in the Eastern Mediterranean.   The positions in which Byzantine saints were to be painted were also stipulated and though the seated Elijah is represented in a position that is almost appropriate his head, for instance,is not set in an approved fashion.4

In the Byzantine and subsequent Greek Orthodox canon Elijah is always shown in positions consistent with received ideas about the way divinity communicates with men.   This means fire descending from God to destroy evil when a seated Elijah requests it and ravens whispering God’s will in the ear of a standing Elijah.  An early 15th century icon in a church near Thessaloniki and some later Serbian copies, now in various collections, in which a seated Elijah is shown turning away from the raven’s blandishments are different both iconologically as well as in design.


The Materials

The Elijah panel is made up of two boards about fifty centimetres wide and a metre long.   It is a pity that when dendochronologists working for the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments Wales were recently dating the oak in the cathedral they were unable to remove the panel from the wall to see the back.  They would have been able to make an incontrovertible identification of the timber.  The species can be identified from the side and end grain of a plank but the identification is not as certain as it is from its width.  Also, apart from being able to give a quite precise date for the felling of the tree from which the boards were cut the pattern of rings in oak can be used to identify the region in which it grew. However, even the observation that the panel is oak provides some information.

Poplar is the wood preferred by Mediterranean painters for panels and pendunculate oak boards are chosen by north Europeans.   Of the fifty nine paintings on boards by Netherlandish painters from the 15th century in the collection of the National Gallery in London all but two are on oak, mostly from the Baltic.  A pair of poplar panels in the collection were both painted about 1475 in Urbino by Justus of Ghent for a commission from the Duke.5  It is therefore very unlikely that the panel for the Elijah painting was initially painted in the Mediterranean area even if a painter sympathetic to Byzantine ideals contributed to it.

Documents listing subjects approved for Byzantine and Orthodox painters to paint were compiled from the 5th century onwards.  The documents were essentially for workshop use and are called ermhneia, which literally translated means ‘expounding’. Consequently they exist in several slightly different versions some of which can be dated back to the 11th century. Besides listing how Christ in various situations, apostles, and innumerable saints should be depicted, the ermhneia contain recipes for the various materials needed when painting on panels and on silk.   Some of the areas of the paint of the Elijah panel follow these instructions and some do not.   As before the early 15th century the accounts of paints and supports to be used in making paintings produced by western Catholic painters are the same as those in ermhneia, produced by eastern Orthodox painters, the materials used provide no basis for distinguishing between them though the intentions determining the way they are used are not the same.6

The paint on the Elijah panel is in three layers.   Against the wood is a layer of white pigment, a calcium carbonate powder, ground into a water soluble adhesive medium. On top of this is a thinner layer of gold leaf and opaque pigments of various hues, also ground into a water soluble adhesive.   Finally, there is an even thinner layer of varnish.  The white priming is of sufficient thickness for outlines to be incised and patterned embossing to be pressed into it. It is therefore not Byzantine or Greek Orthodox work. Orthodox priming is thin. It just fills the wood grain and does not take an inscribed line or embossing.

On much of the panel the pigments used are bound by some form of animal or vegetable glue thinned with water.  It is a medium called tempera by Italian painters and gouache by the French.  To stop it dripping off, dissolved in the damp of wet weather, the tempera is protected by a third layer, a varnish of polymerising resin or oil.  Stand oil, made from linseed or walnut oils partially polymerised by sunlight, was a varnish traditional in Byzantine painting but as it is difficult to remove when it becomes too hard, cracks and yellows,it is more likely that sandarac gum or a similar resins known from antiquity was preferred for the Elijah panel.

Oil bound paints in which the pigments have been ground into a polymerising oil can be identified in the repainting of the widow of Zarapath incident and the large depiction of Elijah in the lower half of the panel.   Oil paints are inevitably thick and sticky when first prepared and require thinning with additions of volatile oils such as turpentine if they are to spread as thinly and evenly as tempera.   Thinners became generally available in the west after the Flemish painters discovered their effect in the early 15th century.  Their use is not described in Byzantine and Orthodox documents, even in the ermhneia, cod. gr 708 in the State Public Library, St Petersburg,  written as late as the end of the 18th or the early 19th century.

While most of the pigments employed on the Elijah panel are substances available to painters who worked around the Mediterranean at any time after the 18th Egyptian Dynasty, there are pigments on the lower part of the panel that are anachronistic.  The blue of the hill behind Zarapath is one such.  It is typical of a ferrous ferricyanide pigment.  It is a different colour from the natural indigo, the only dark blue available before the 19th century.

The small triangular area of the depiction of Zarapath appears to have been painted at two different times and in two different ways. [Fig 2] The two strips down the side, one black and one golden yellow, indicate that the panel was mounted in first one and then another very much deeper and heavier frame than the one that surrounds it at present. The inner yellow strip that matches the yellow of the gold embossing, imperfectly conceals a bright painting of the walls of Zarapath that is a continuation of the sombre depiction currently intended to be visible. The black strip is continuous with the red lead strip elsewhere round the edge of the panel that would have been the adhesive used to fix it in its first frame. When the second inner framing was done is uncertain but it must have been after the widow of Zarapath incident was painted initially and before the glazing was done with a ferrous iron blue pigment. The crimson lake of Elijah’s robe has the colour reflectance of a precipitated aniline dyestuff. Aniline dyes were first made from coal tar in the 1830s and mauve, the first of the dyes reflecting some red, in 1858. The Byzantine or Greek Orthodox element in the panel was added after 1860.

Elijah detail

Fig.2 Elijah Panel, Zarapath with the widow greeting Elijah and Elijah raising her son from the dead

It can be concluded from a study of the materials used that a painter who worked on the lower half of the Elijah panel painted it in the tradition of the Byzantine canon but used materials that were only available towards the end of the 19th century and that there is a large area of paint across the top of the panel that was painted earlier

The Lettering

The lettering on the panel appears to be of Greek origin and is arranged in a layout consistent with a Byzantine icon.   There is lettering on either side of the head of the large depiction of Elijah; there is lettering on the scroll draped over him and there is no other lettering elsewhere on the panel[Fig. 3.]. This distribution of lettering is consistent with other Byzantine and Orthodox panels but there the resemblance stops.The letter order frequently does not refer to Greek, Serbian or Russian words and some of the letter shapes are inconsistent with any letter in Greek or Cyrillic alphabets.

The inscription oЃρoφitϊς  γλγης behind Elijah’s head, for instance, ought to translate something like  ‘The Prophet Elijah’ but does not.  The first letter is a demonstrative pronoun and the remainder of the letter group on the left hand side, with a remarkable number of elisions, manages in the limited space available to read as ‘prophet’ with a Greek ending.  In the second word the penultimate letter, which must be presumed to be an eta, is drawn reversed and two gammas separated by a lambda do not seem to represent any vocalisation that could be represented in English orthography as the initial three sounds of Elijah.



Fig.3 Elijah Panel. Head of large depiction and inscriptions

Fig.3 Elijah Panel. Head of large depiction and inscriptions

The writing on the scroll is equally intractable but with the application of imagination as to the identity of some of the letters it was translated as “I am zealous with zealousness for the Lord God.   For the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down your altars, slain your prophets with the sword, and I alone am left and they seek me to kill me.”7 Both inscriptions indicate that someone who was unfamiliar with Greek inscriptions painted them and as the remainder of the large image of Elijah is clearly the work of a competent craftsman it seems unlikely that he was a Greek but nothing in the script used or the information content presented provides any indication as to when or where the lettering was painted.


The intention of a picture is its structure.  It is created by the tension in its graphic lines, its rhythms and the projection that has been used in drawing or painting it onto a surface.  In a design that involves three dimensions it is the masses, their orientation to each other and their inter-penetration.  It is also the proportions, colour, texture and balance in both two and three dimensional representations.   It is the way marks are organised to represent what the artist believes he has perceived visually.

An arrangement of marks known as an orthogonal projection is used to draw the large depiction of the prophet in the Elijah panel.  It is drawn as though the object has been seen from multiple viewpoints and all the sight lines are therefore assumed to be at right angles to the surface of the support.  Orthogonal projections are a type of projection one form of which is used by architects depicting the facades of buildings since measurements of distances across a proposed facade can be calculated from the drawing.   It is also the projection that is used exclusively in the painting and mosaics of Byzantine and Orthodox masters. The Byzantine master’s usage differs slightly from the projection employed in modern architectural practice, however.  Some relief, some sense of solidity, is created, particularly in depictions of people, by contour shading.  Tonal gradation is not modelled continuously across the form but represents those surfaces, which are round the periphery of the visible part of an object and are turned sharply away from the viewer, They are shown as darker than the surfaces that are plane to the viewer’s line of sight.  There is therefore a tonal gradation round the boundary of each shape that is not present in an elevation from an architect’s office where it is the position of the occluding contour that is important. However, neither architect elevations nor Byzantine icons deploy so much tonal gradation on their drawings as does the draughtsman of the large drawing of Elijah on the St Davids panel.

The proportions of the panels used to support Byzantine and Orthodox paintings and mosaics remain fairly constant throughout the whole period.  For technical reasons due to methods of measurement for laying out buildings and parts of buildings inherited from Roman builders and surveyors and Egyptian builders before them, the proportions of panels and the positioning of the depictions of saints and other people for Orthodox ecclesiastical purposes are determined by one system of proportions.  It depends upon the way right angles were set to make a corner.  A rope with thirteen equidistant knots on it is used to make a 3:4:5 right angled scalene triangle.   The ratio between a side and the hypotenuse of a right angled equilateral triangle, approximately 1: 1.4142, was established from it and used to plan the foundations of a building that was slightly longer than wide and consequently had an internal orientation.  Extending these proportions to objects placed within the building results in the preferred height of Byzantine panel paintings being close to one and a half times the width.  Other measures on the panel are determined by progressions derived by the same means.

The proportions of the depictions of prophets, saints and other holy people appear to be random in the manuals, the ermhneia, but are assessed in relation to a set of proportions that are assumed to be perfect and the proportions of Jesus. The proportions differ from those of Jesus in so far as in life they fell short of his perfection.   The proportions of Jesus, seven head heights between the top of his head and his heels can only be achieved by a construction producing a progression based on the proportions of the sides of the equilateral right angled triangle to the hypotenuse.  This geometrical progression is the only way of dividing a measured length that is not determined by arithmetical division of feet and inches or some other standardised unit into seven more or less equal parts.   It may be that since seven is the third prime number – the first number divisible only by one and the number itself being three – Orthodox Trinitarianism and its study of the number theory of Greek Philosophers also played a part.8

The St Davids Elijah panel is square, an unusual proportion for an Orthodox panel and the painter uses a system of proportions that is difficult to quantify but throughout employs measures that are close to those of Orthodox practice. The intention of his draughtsmanship is comparable to the intention of Orthodox masters but it differs from that of the draughtsman of the two small panels inset at the top of the large one.

The prophets and the background in the ‘Parting of the waters’ image in the upper left hand corner of the St Davids Elijah panel [Fig 4a] and the prophets and the horses in the ‘Fiery chariot ascent’ in the right hand corner are different. [Fig 4b]. They are not projections on multiple parallel orthogonals like the large depiction of Elijah and the images made by Byzantine and Orthodox masters. In addition, the depictions of the prophets that are further from the viewer are drawn smaller and more indistinct than the same prophets in closer positions.  In each of them a separate picture space is created. Each of them is drawn on a single view point rudimentary perspective projection, not a multi view point orthogonal projection.   But it is in the way the solidity of the human forms is realised that the major difference from Byzantine intentions occurs.   The forms are not contour shaded.   They are lit from one side and the lighting is directional from the same single source in both inserts.

Fig.4b. Elijah dropping his mantle to Elias as he ascends in the fiery chariot.

Elijah dropping his mantle to Elias as he ascends in the fiery chariot.

Fig.4a. Elijah Panel, Elijah parting the waters of Jordan.

In 1140, Abbot Suger of St Denis, just to the north of the old city boundary of Paris, completed work that established an ethos and aesthetic in western European Christianity completely different from the eastern ethos, the Gothic. On the bronze doors at the west end of the nave of the Abbey church that he had extensively rebuilt he had a short sentence inscribed in Latin and it is still there. nobile claret opus, sed opus nobile claret clarificet mentes, ut eant per lumina vera ad verum lumen, uni christus  janua vera.  (The bright and noble work should brighten the minds, so they may travel through the true lights to the true light where Christ is the true door.)

The light which shone through the great windows of painted glass that he had installed was real but it was also divine.  By shining through the windows into previously dark and gloomy spaces it illuminated the story of the ministry of Jesus Christ the son of God on earth.  Light for Suger is real perceptible energy. For the Orthodox the divine message is the Gospel chanted by priests and occasionally explained by them in common speech.

It is necessarily inferred, from the use of light to unite the two small images and the other factors that constitute the intention of the whole work, that work on the Elijah painting was begun on the panel somewhere in north western Europe after the beginning of the 12th century.


The catalogue of Christie’s auction on 14th June 1937 listed paintings belonging to the Earl of Lincoln including the Elijah painting that is now at St Davids. The entry gives an accurate description and refers to a possible Byzantine origin. In the auctioneer’s copy is the information in pencil that it was sold to a dealer called Sutch for £11.9 Sutch was acting on behalf of Herbert Lloyd-Johnes of Dolaucothi. In a speech he gave at a meeting of the Carmarthenshire Antiquarians later in 1937 it is made quite clear that he believed the panel he bought was given into the care of the family living at Dolaucothi on the dissolution of nearby TalleyAbbey.10 In the 1960s he gave it back to the Church by donating it to the cathedral.

The family tradition that the Elijah panel was taken for safe keeping to Dolaucothi House in 1535-1537 is not supported by any existing contemporary documentation. All the surviving documents relating to Talley were burnt in a Carmarthen solicitor’s office in a conflagration resulting from an election night riot but the strong family tradition is substantiated by several 1ater written records. They all say that at the dissolution the last Abbot of the Premonstratensian abbey, the only one in Wales, took the panel, together with a silver chalice, to Dolaucothi House before retiring to Norfolk.11 He also took with him the only other important portable abbey possession, its Great Seal.  The seal was found in the latter part of the 20th century in a Norfolk graveyard and is now in Norwich Museum.12

The Premonstratensian abbey churches throughout western Europe were, normally dedicated to the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, presenters of Jesus to the world.  Elijah the Prophet was held to foretell the coming of Jesus and therefore a fit person to put beside them but because his contact with Jesus was less complete he was less sacred and could be represented pictorially in an otherwise austere abbey.

At the ruins of Talley today an unusual addition to the severely regular and austere cruciform plan normal in Premonstratensian abbey churches can be seen: the ruined outline of a large chapel extending eastwards from the north transept.   It was not built in either of the first two phases of building at the abbey in the 12th century.  It must have been inserted some time after the abbey church was completed and it seems likely that this chapel was part of a special gift. Rhys ap Thomas of Dinefwr was an ambitious and slightly unscrupulous magnate of some influence in south-west Wales in the second half of the 16th century. Throughout his career he called on the abbot and canons of Talley for assistance in writing politic letters.

Rhys needed the assistance.  His position in relation to both Richard III and Henry Tudur in the months before Henry landed at Dale was difficult.  A substantial donation to Talley after Henry’s success at Bosworth to repay the abbey for the help it gave him would certainly have been wise.  His will, proved on 5th December 1525, made bequests to practically every religious institution in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire with the exception of Talley so his repayments to them must have been made earlier and a picture with the ravens on his badge would have signalled from whom it came.  It was said by a descendant, probably exaggeratedly, that he lead as many as 8000 men, mounted lancers with esquires, half lancers or pike-men and archers to Henry Tudur’s assistance in the battle against Richard at Bosworth. If he managed anything like that number he must have obtained considerable help from somewhere.13

The choice of the Elijah panel for a reredos at the back of the altar in a chapel at Talley would have conformed to Rhys ap Thomas’s tastes as well as to his obligations. No other paintings are known to have been commissioned or purchased by Rhys ap Thomas. However, the carving on the Derwedd Bed, commissioned after he had given up soldiering on behalf of Henry VII from 1486 to 1497, and in France for Henry VIII in 1512 to 1513, and as a Garter Knight in 1505 had established himself at Carew Castle, is an example of his taste some twenty five years after he must have made a donation to Talley Abbey.

Fig.5. The Derwedd bed, now in the National Museum of Wales.

Fig.5. The Derwedd bed,
now in the
National Museum of Wales.

Carving on the Derwedd bed

Carving on the Derwedd bed

In the centre of the bed end is depicted the famous incident of Earl Stanley using his lance to dismount Richard III from a destrier that had lost a shoe and could not use its hooves as weapons. Behind him on foot is Rhys who is said to have engaged and killed the dismounted Richard. On the sides of the bed the friezes depict later victories of Rhys at the head of English and Welsh soldiers fighting in France.  It must have been made after 1513

The style of the Derwedd bed friezes is not unique to work commissioned by Rhys ap Thomas because it is also visible in occasional pieces of carving on woodwork and painting in 15th and early 16th century gentry houses in Wales and the Marches.14   It is a much less elegant design than for instance the design of most of the relatively few surviving British 15th century religious panel paintings and the illuminations in several English manuscripts of the 15th century including the illuminations of the Book of Hours that was found in the tent of Richard III after Bosworth.  There the people depicted are engaged in less vigorous action than in either the Derwedd bed or the two smaller insets in the Elijah panel and are acting more decoratively and with more refinement.

The comparability between the design of the Derwedd bed and the design of the St Davids Elijah does not of itself confirm any conclusion that Rhys ap Thomas commissioned the St Davids panel but it makes it very likely he purchased one that was available.

The subsequent history of the panel after it left Talley and went to Dolaucothi is better recorded. When Thomas Johnes built Hafod Uchtryd, Cwmystwyth, Ceredigion, in the last years of the 18th century he persuaded the member of his family living at Dolaucothi to let him add the Elijah panel to his collection.15 B. H. Malkin, a visitor to the house in 1803 and subsequently Professor of History at the recently instituted University College, London, described a treasured painting in the library that was dominated by an Elijah and Ravens image and included within the frame of the main image two separate images of Elijah parting the Jordan and Elijah, Elias and the Fiery Chariot.  It was undoubtedly the painting on the panel that is now in St Davids.16 He did not mention the widow of Zarapath but it is not conspicuous and is usually missed by all but the most intensive scrutiny. He was told by Thomas Johnes that the panel came from Talley and had been in the possession of the Johnes family since the dissolution.  Accepting this, he speculated on how an early Italian painting might have come to Wales.

The Hafod Uchtryd library was destroyed by fire in 1807.  The Elijah panel was not only saved, it was almost certainly saved without damage. A painting believed to be by ‘Rembrandt’, that today if verified would be considered of infinitely greater value than the Elijah panel on the art market, was also in the library and was destroyed.17 The Elijah panel cannot even have required restoration. Thomas Johnes of Hafod was a considerable scholar who read both Latin and Greek texts and would not have accepted the letter forms in the areas restored with 19th century paint systems.  Furthermore there is no mention of damage having been done to the Elijah panel in the accounts for repairs to the house.18

Thomas Johnes died in 1816 and his widow Jane lived at Hafod until her own death in 1833. The house and contents were then sold into the estate of the 4th Duke of Newcastle.19 At some time before the duchy resold the Hafod estate the Elijah panel was taken to Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire. When that house caught fire in 1879 it was again saved but this time it must have been scorched sufficiently to require extensive restoration to the lower part of the paint surface.

A painter and manufacturer of stained glass who worked for the 7th Duke of Newcastle at the end of the 19th century is the most likely person to have undertaken the restoration work. C.E.Kempe (1834-1907), was an eclectic painter and incorporated motifs from Renaissance German and Flemish masters in paintings on glass such as the east window of St Mary’s, Pembroke, and the glass for the large gothic revival chapel dedicated to St Mary the Virgin that still stands close to the remains of the house at Clumber.20  He was therefore quite capable of making an accurate copy of a late Palaeologue or Cretan painting of a seated Saint and adapting it so that it represented Elijah looking over his shoulder towards one of the ravens. But in view of his other known work he might have been expected to give it a more gothic look so the Orthodox reference was an intentional choice.

The 7th Duke died unmarried.  The estate passed to the son of a daughter of the 6th Duke – the Earl of Lincoln.   He had the Elijah panel auctioned at Christie’s in 1937 along with other pictures from Clumber when the huge, rebuilt, 19th century house became too much of a burden to maintain and was pulled down.


The oak boards comprising the panel, the materials used on it, the draughtsmanship and its documented and reputed history all contribute to an inference that the St Davids Elijah panel was painted by a medieval British artist, possibly an artist from South Wales.   Modifications in the style of late Palaeologue Byzantine painting were added by a restorer to replace parts of the image in a fire damaged area. Since its known provenance and the wood used indicate that the panel has never been out of Britain or been worked upon by other than a British artist, the introduction of late Byzantine ideas must, therefore, have been for a purpose.

Elijah’s reply to God in 1 Kings 19:10 in the Septuagint version clearly seemed important to the 7th , and last, Duke of Newcastle.   It introduces verses 11 and 12 where it is shown that divine power destroys as well as creates and concludes with an indication that injunctions to man are a ‘still small voice’.   It is a demonstration of the characterization of divinity which the Orthodox Church recognised early and has subsequently sustained but is less compatible with the north-western European medieval militarist ideals that survive to the present day.

Photograph Credits.

The St Davids Elijah Panel, and The Derwedd Bed, in Derwedd House were all photographed by the author. The Elijah panel and details with the permission of the Dean of St Davids.  The Derwedd bed with the permission of Mrs Stepney Gulston.  The detail of the panel at the bottom of the bed is © The National Museum of Wales.


1.Eastham, Michael, 2005 ‘The Elijah Panel in St Davids Cathedral, Pembrokeshire and its Provenance’ Archaeologia Cambrensis, Vol. 151 (2002) 19-40. In it I summarised conclusions that I had arrived at as much as ten years previously.

  1. Evans, Wyn. St Davids Cathedral, (Andover, Pitkin Press. 1991).
  2. Hetherington, Paul, The Painter’s Manual of Dionysius of Fourna,(London, Saggitarius. 1974).
  3. Winfield, June and David, Proportion and Structure of the human figure in Byzantine wall painting and mosaic.( Oxford BAR. 1982).
  4. Campbell, Lorna, The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish School, (London, National Gallery Publications, 1998).
  5. Holt,Elizabeth Gilmore, Literary Sources of Art History, (Princeton NJ., Princeton University Press 1947) and Helen Howard, Pigments of English Medieval Wall Painting, (London, Archetype Publications, 2003).
  6. Naydenov, Evgeniy.1996, I contacted several scholars who specialised in Greek and Cyrillic encoding but they were unable to translate the text. Naydenov was not only able to translate it but he showed me the mistakes in letter forms and identified its origin in distinctive versions of the Septuagint. He suggested that the scripts used on the St Davids panel were copies of texts inscribed on an Orthodox icon.  They were made by someone who was unfamiliar with the letter forms and without understanding of what they meant.   He was probably unable to read them as the Orthodox icon was in poor condition and he made a poor job of copying them in consequence.
  7. Browne, Charles Gordon and James Edward Swallow ed. and trans. ‘Select Orations of St Gregory Nazienzen: sometime Archbishop of Constantinople’, in a Select Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace,(Oxford and London, Parker and Company, 1898). Particularly paragraphs III and IV of ‘The Fifth Theological Oration, On the Holy Spirit’, p.318. See also Gervase Mathews 1963 Byzantine Aesthetics,( London, John Murray). 23-29.
  8. Christie’s Auctioneers, Catalogue of Old Pictures, the property of the Honourable the Earl of Lincoln, (London, Christie Manson and Woods,1937).
  9. Lloyd-Johnes, Herbert, ‘Presidential Address’, Transactions of the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society,1937.
  10. Owen E. ‘A Contribution to the History of the Premonstratensian Abbey of Talley, Archaeologia Cambrensis, 5th Series 10: 29-47,120-128, 226-237 and 309-325.(1898) and Price F.S. A History of Talley and Talley Abbey, ( Swansea.1936).
  11. Robinson, D.M. and C. Platt, The Abbeys of Strata Florida and Talley,(Cardiff, Cadw, 1992)
  12. Griffiths, Ralph A., Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family, (Cardiff, University of Wales Press,1993).
  13. Bebb, Richard, Welsh Furniture,1250-1950, (Kidwelly, Saer Books,2007).

15.Vaughan, H.M. 1925, Some Letters of Thomas Johns of Hafod, (London Cymrodorian Society,1925).

  1. Malkin B.H., The Scenery, Antiquities and Biography of South Wales, (2nd ed., London,1807).
  2. Meyrick, S.R., History and Antiquities of the County of Cardigan, (London,1809-1810) and Rees, T., The Beauties of England and Wales, Vol. 18, (London, 1815).
  3. Johnes, Thomas, A Catalogue of the late Pesaro Library at Venice, (Hafod Uchtryd, Hafod Press,1807) and H.M.Vaughan, Some Letters of Thomas Johnes of Hafod, (London, Cymrodorian Society, 1925).
  4. Moore-Colyer R. ‘The Hafod Estate under Thomas Johnes, and Henry Pelham 4th Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyme’. Welsh History Review 8 (1976-1977), 285-297.
  5. Stamp, G. and A. Symondson, The Chapel of St Mary the Virgin, Clumber, Nottinghamshire, (London, National Trust, 1982).

Picture List.

Fig.1. The Elijah panel St Davids Cathedral.

Fig. 2.Elijah Panel, St Davids Cathedral, Zarapath, Elijah outside the gates greeting the widow and on top of the wall raising her son from the dead.

Fig.3. Elijah panel St Davids, Head of large depiction and inscriptions.

Fig.4a. Elijah panel, St Davids,  Elijah parting the waters of Jordan.

Fig.4b.Elijah panel St Davids, Elijah dropping his mantle to Elias as he ascends in the fiery chariot.

Fig.5.The Derwedd bed.  To the left in a bedroom in Derwedd House.  To the right a detail photographed by the National Museum of Wales prior to exhibition of the bed in St Fagans House.


Elijah Fig 1 (2)

William Paxton and Cold Blow, Pembrokeshire, in the early 19th Century


By Peter Stopp

Whilst researching stories of Sir William Paxton (1743-1824) as background for leading tours of his estate at the National Botanic Garden of Wales I came across a puzzling reference stating that he purchased the Inn at Cold Blow. I knew Cold Blow as a remote cluster of a few houses lying on a hill to the south of Narberth. What could have driven him to purchase its inn? The answer, I eventually found, lay in the fact that it was on a Turnpike Road.


An Act of 7 March 1763 established the Main Trust, the first of the Turnpikes in South Wales, through Carmarthenshire from Trecastle mountain west to Tavernspite on the Pembrokeshire border.[i] Tolls (fig.1) were extracted to repay the upkeep of the road, which simply followed the long-used byways uphill and down dale. Soon many more Turnpikes were to follow, including the Tavernspite Trust in 1771.

The road led from Tavernspite through Princes Gate, Cold Blow and Narberth Bridge through the town to Robeston Wathen and on to Haverfordwest (fig. 2).

Figure 2: The Turnpike route through Cold Blow

Figure 2: The Turnpike route through Cold Blow

By 1772 there were two main routes being used by mail coaches from London through to Carmarthen and on to Haverfordwest. By 1785 the mail coaches ran through to Hubberston via Narberth[i] – with a change of horses at the Noah’s Ark Inn, Blaengwaethno by Princes Gate. Fenton mentions, in 1810, that there had been an inn there.[ii]

By 1793 the town of Milford Haven  had been started and the terminus transferred there, at Hakin Point to meet the packet ships bound for Waterford,  Ireland.[iii]  The mail coach set off from London every evening at 7.15 p.m., at a pace requiring its four horses to be changed every 8 miles along the route, so inns with reliable stabling were needed at those staging posts. From Carmarthen a three-horse ‘unicorn’ team took over to reach the Irish packet at Milford Haven at 5.30 a.m. on the second day, thirty-four and a quarter hours after having left London. This route to Ireland was an important one, and by 1804/5 the mail service had been upgraded to a daily event[iv], passing through Narberth at 2 p.m.[v]

William Paxton

At the start of the nineteenth century travel to the Continent was hindered by Napoleon’s antics. Instead society looked to places in the U.K., especially to sea-bathing and spas then in fashion and William Paxton saw his opportunity to capitalise on that – by developing Tenby, which had by then become very run-down, with many neglected houses.

In 1802 Paxton purchased his first properties in Tenby and wrote to his friend David Williams:

“The Tenby lot pleases me most and if … it answers my expectations I may probably lay out thousands in building lodging houses etc which being much wanted, may be of some benefit to the place.”

 He continued with a few more details, writing…

“One great advantage of No. 2 is that it joins Green Hill, 2/3 of which I purchased at the Coomb Sale, and the remaining 1/3 I shall probably get when Sir Hugh Owen comes of age, about a twelvemonth hence.”[vi]

He built a house on the site of the Globe in Tudor Square, which is now the Tenby House Hotel.[vii] Edward Laws tells us…

‘He purchased two properties: one of which had previously belonged to the White family and another from Sir Roger Lort (and) ..the Stackpole Estate’. [viii]

The ruins of the former property, on the northwest side of Tenby Church were eventually presented in 1808 to the Corporation… ‘that they might be removed and so improve the High Street’.[ix]

In 1805 Paxton even went to Tenby for the summer. There he…

‘informed the Town Council of his plans for building a bath-house and was granted “a lease of two cellars and gardens lying in a street called Laston”[i] for that purpose.’

In the same year he apparently commissioned the Assembly Rooms. Paxton commissioned James Grier and Samuel Pepys Cockerell to design and build a fashionable bathing establishment….(and) work on the building began in the first week of July 1806.[ii]

The many developments in Tenby that Paxton made relied upon a tourist trade, so access to the town was critical to its success. For the very wealthy with their own coach travel that was less of a problem. The upper middle class could travel there individually by horse. But for many travel was by coach, including  the mail coach with its four outside seats. The nearest mail coach route was that which went through Narberth where the Receiving House transferred the packages of mail destined for Tenby residents onto saddle horse for delivery there by the postboy.[iii] If Paxton could connect Tenby by coach to the mail route it would enable passengers to transfer from mail coach to the local taxi route. But that journey from Narberth to Tenby entailed crossing Narberth ‘mountain’, a steep climb for coach-horses.

Mail Staging Posts

An early staging  post on the mail route had been the Noah’s Ark Inn at Blaengwaethno near Princes Gate[iv], nine miles from St Clears, but that had closed by 1810 when Richard Fenton made his travels. Fenton refered to Narberth town as  a ‘market and post-town.’[v] So a staging post was located there, probably in the White Hart Inn, which had existed since at least 1776[vi], but that was twelve miles from St Clears , half as far again as the ideal distance of seven to eight miles. Tavernspite had inns – the Old Tavernspite (later renamed the Coach and Horses) and the Plume of Feathers[vii] and the latter was certainly a Milford mail staging post in 1810, according to Fenton.[viii] That was 7 miles on from St Clears, so the next stage, to Narberth, would have been a short 5 miles.

Paxton would have been able to see  that Cold Blow offered advantages as a transfer point. It lay on the main mail route at a junction which led to Tenby, avoiding Narberth Mountain, and at just over 10 miles from St Clears made a slightly less demanding journey than going on to Narberth.  A staging post there could possibly replace both Tavernspite and Narberth. Did he gamble on that? We may never know. One account states that he built an inn at Cold Blow [ix] and that seems confirmed in the wording – ‘has been built’ – of a later  letter from the District Surveyor in 1814 referring to the inn there (see below).

In June 1812 David Hughes advertised (fig. 3) the inn at Cold Blow as having a Post Chaise and ‘careful drivers’.

Fig 3

Perhaps significantly he also advertised that he was ‘late guard of His Majesty’s Royal Mail’. If he was Paxton’s appointee that might have been a deliberate step on the way to attracting the staging post to Cold Blow. If so, it worked, for on 25 May, 1814, Samuel Woodcock, the District Surveyor of Posts, proposed to the Postmaster General (PMG) the establishment of a Receiving House at Cold Blow to serve Tenby and Pembroke…

‘since Tenby has become a fashionable resort for sea-bathing, and the number of visitors much increased, a very good inn has been built at a place called Cold Blow, which is a more convenient point of communication, both with Tenby and Pembroke as by that means a long steep hill called Narberth Mountain is avoided … I therefore propose that a Receiving House …shall be fixed at the Inn called the Windsor Castle in Cold Blow …(at) a small salary per annum of £4’.

The PMG, Sir Francis Freeling, confirmed the transfer in June, 1814.[i] What the residents of Narberth felt about this switch is not known. Their mail was now carried  on foot.

Hughes was succeeded as licensee  by David Philipps who reopened the inn after its facelift in 1820, and then in 1823 by William Small and his wife, Mary. By this time the inn possessed stabling for fifteen horses and standing for five carriages.[ii] A later recollection paints a picture of life here around this time:

‘Coldblow, at one time, was a post-village of considerable importance, and was well-known to all who frequented the western part of the island. An immense traffic flowed through it. It was on the highway to the south of Ireland, and the last place where relayes were kept. Two mail coaches daily changed horses at the door of the inn, and it was no unusual thing to see half a dozen travelling carriages at a time drawn up in the road’. [iii]

Figure 4: Cover sheet of letter sent from Cold Blow by J. Hensleigh Allen, M.P.

Figure 4: Cover sheet of letter sent from Cold Blow by J. Hensleigh Allen, M.P.

In or around 1824, the year that William Paxton died, the Receiving House gained a circular 254 mileage mark.[iv] The cover sheet (fig. 4) was sent by John Hensleigh Allen, M.P. for Pembroke Borough, via Cold Blow, to his solicitor in Haverfordwest, probably near the peak of its business life.

The Fall of the House of Windsor

In the following year William Small was thrown from his horse and he died, leaving his wife, Mary, to run the business. But the Receiving House was transferred to Narberth in 1827[1] and stayed there until 1836 when it was proposed to return it to Cold Blow.[2] Still in the hands of Mary until March, 1837 she auctioned off the fixtures and fittings, a process lasting two days, and retired to a cottage next to the inn. She sold the inn five years later as well suited ‘ for being converted into an excellent premises for maltsters’. [3] At that time the end was clearly in sight for the inn. A new road was being built by Thomas Telford from Red Roses through to Hobbs Point, Pembroke Dock. That was opened in April, 1839 and became the new mail coach route for Ireland, but for little more than a decade, because then the railway took over.

The inn may have been closed long ago but its name lives on in a small close alongside the site, called ‘Windsor Gardens


Figure 5: The Windsor Castle, after its demise as an inn.



[1]   A.H.T. Lewis,  The Early effects of Carmarthenshire Turnpike Trusts 1760-1800 in The

    Carmarthenshire Historian  IV (1967), 41-54.

[1]   P. Reynolds,  The mail coaches of Wales: 1 in South Wales Welsh Philatelic Society

    newsletter No. 50 (December, 1988),  4-11.

[1]   R. Fenton,  A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire (London , 1811, reprinted 1903),


[1]   The London Gazette 6.4.1793.

[1]   Cambrian 28.1.1804.

[1]    D. Rhys-Phillips,  The Cold Blow Receiving House in The Welsh Philatelic Society

     Newsletter (September 1990),  55, 10-11.

[1]    NLW David Williams collection 1802 Letter from Wm Paxton to David Williams.

[1]    B. Price,  The Fortune of William Paxton in Pembrokeshire Life (November, 2011), 9-11.

[1]    E. Laws  The History of Little England beyond Wales (George Bell, Londodn1888) ,  395

[1]   E. Laws,  ibid.

[1]   W.G.J.Kuiters, William Paxton, 1744-1824: Middleton Hall and the adventures of a

      Scottish “Nabob” in Carmarthenshire (undated), 40. W.G.J.Kuiters MA dissertation for

Leiden University was translated and  published in 1992 in Bengal Past & Present

      (British Library, India Office Collection).

[1]    Kuiters Op cit, 40/41.

[1]    Return relating to Mail Coaches App 45 First Report of the Select Committee on Postage

HC 1837/8 xx (ii)  649. 4 April 1838, in Welsh Philatelic Society Newsletter,  41 (August

1985),  14-16.

[1]    K. Johnson, The pubs of Narberth, Saundersfoot and South East Pembrokeshire. (2004),


[1]    R. Fenton, op cit  (1903), 168.

[1]    K. Johnson, op cit, 115.

[1]    K. Johnson,  Historic Inns of Pembrokeshire: the rise and fall of the house of Windsor in

Pembrokeshire Life. (November 2002), 7.

[1]    R. Fenton, op cit, 261.

[1]    K. Johnson,  op cit , 64.

[1]    D. Rhys-Phillips, and H.B.Lee,  The Postal History of Tenby (1974) 5.

[1]    K. Johnson, op cit.

[1]    Anon, The Charm Doctor  (1857), 222.

[1]    D. Rhys-Phillips, op cit.

[1]    Anon – (?G. Scourfield) mimeo notes ‘Narberth Post Office’ held in Narberth Museum.

[1]    D. Rhys-Phillips & H. B. Lee, op cit.

[1]    K. Johnson, op cit.

























[i]    D. Rhys-Phillips, and H.B.Lee,  The Postal History of Tenby (1974) 5.

[ii]    K. Johnson, op cit.

[iii]    Anon, The Charm Doctor  (1857), 222.

[iv]    D. Rhys-Phillips, op cit.







[i]   W.G.J.Kuiters, William Paxton, 1744-1824: Middleton Hall and the adventures of a

      Scottish “Nabob” in Carmarthenshire (undated), 40. W.G.J.Kuiters MA dissertation for

Leiden University was translated and  published in 1992 in Bengal Past & Present

      (British Library, India Office Collection).

[ii]    Kuiters Op cit, 40/41.

[iii]    Return relating to Mail Coaches App 45 First Report of the Select Committee on Postage

HC 1837/8 xx (ii)  649. 4 April 1838, in Welsh Philatelic Society Newsletter,  41 (August

1985),  14-16.

[iv]    K. Johnson, The pubs of Narberth, Saundersfoot and South East Pembrokeshire. (2004),


[v]    R. Fenton, op cit  (1903), 168.

[vi]    K. Johnson, op cit, 115.

[vii]    K. Johnson,  Historic Inns of Pembrokeshire: the rise and fall of the house of Windsor in

Pembrokeshire Life. (November 2002), 7.

[viii]    R. Fenton, op cit, 261.

[ix]    K. Johnson,  op cit , 64.

[i]   P. Reynolds,  The mail coaches of Wales: 1 in South Wales Welsh Philatelic Society

    newsletter No. 50 (December, 1988),  4-11.

[ii]   R. Fenton,  A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire (London , 1811, reprinted 1903),


[iii]   The London Gazette 6.4.1793.

[iv]   Cambrian 28.1.1804.

[v]    D. Rhys-Phillips,  The Cold Blow Receiving House in The Welsh Philatelic Society

     Newsletter (September 1990),  55, 10-11.

[vi]    NLW David Williams collection 1802 Letter from Wm Paxton to David Williams.

[vii]    B. Price,  The Fortune of William Paxton in Pembrokeshire Life (November, 2011), 9-11.

[viii]    E. Laws  The History of Little England beyond Wales (George Bell, Londodn1888) ,  395

[ix]   E. Laws,  ibid.

[i]   A.H.T. Lewis,  The Early effects of Carmarthenshire Turnpike Trusts 1760-1800 in The

    Carmarthenshire Historian  IV (1967), 41-54.

Discovering the Lost Story of Sion House


By Douglas Fraser


In the 21st issue of this journal (2012) an article edited by Michael Eastham John Nash’s Houses in Pembrokeshire by I Wyn Jones (1928-2004) mentioned Sion House in Tenby.  This was built in 1790 for William Routh, a printer and publisher from Bristol, and Jones made the comment “It is difficult to imagine why Routh should come to such a remote place as Tenby which was then just recovering from an 18th century slump as a port and scarcely yet in the process of development as a holiday resort.”  The question is of more than passing interest since the building of a stylish Nash villa coupled with the promotion of Tenby in Routh’s publication, Sarah Farley’s Bristol Journal, may well have helped to secure Tenby’s development as a fashionable place of relaxation.

In this paper I intend to answer the question of why Routh came to Tenby by drawing upon recent research which suggests that William Routh did not choose Tenby but acquired an attractive plot there almost by accident.  Furthermore, that accident was probably a consequence of a dubious property deal involving one of Pembrokeshire’s oldest families.

A Disputed Sale

The familiar picture of Sion House from an 1840s lithograph probably produced in the mid 1840s to facilitate its sale.

The familiar picture of Sion House from an 1840s lithograph probably produced in the mid 1840s to facilitate its sale.

The person who first identified in modern times that there was something odd about the title of Sion House was Stella Pedersen, a direct descendant of Joseph Routh, a nephew of William.  This came to light as a result of researching the sale of Sion House to Sir Henry Mannix following the death of William Routh’s widow, Catherine.   These events were described in a family history1 and the principal source was The Letter Books of Jacob Richards (1774 – 1834) of Tenby.

William Routh died in 1800 leaving everything, without specifying any detail, to his wife, Catherine who survived him by nine years.  Her executor, the Haverfordwest solicitor, John Willy, put Sion House up for auction (November 1809) and the successful bidder, who offered £1450, was Jacob Richards, recently arrived in Tenby having made a fortune in India.  The sale did not go through (the reason is not clear but may be inferred from what happened subsequently) and Willy put the house up for auction a second time in July 1810, and again Richards was the highest bidder, at £1400.  Willy then wrote to Richards advising him that the title was not safe and he could not advise Richards to proceed until the “heir at law” (Catherine’s next-of-kin), John Davies, a mariner, had been traced.  Richards expressed concern over the deteriorating condition of the house and in correspondence with both Willy and Joseph Routh offered to accept the deficient title in return for a reduction in the price or an indemnity.

According to Richards, when Sion House first came on the market in 1809, Mannix called on him “under an appearance of friendship” and advised him not to bid too high. In the light of subsequent events one can speculate that even then Mannix was setting himself up to obtain the house on advantageous terms and may have known about the “problem” with the title.  On 24th January 1811 Richards wrote to Joseph Routh: “I was not a little surprised by the receipt of a letter from Mr Willy this evening stating that he had let the House to Sir H Mannix for 21 years.  I understand from Sir H precisely that he is to pay £65 and to keep the Premises in repair with an option to purchase at any time previous to the expiration of this period on your producing a title to his satisfaction.”  There followed a great deal of correspondence including threats of legal action and Richards asserting that he had bought the property and intended to have it.During all of this, Mannix put his men to work in the garden of Sion House and Richards brought in three constables to remove them. There were to be other incidents.  On March 10th 1811, Richards described one such in a letter to Joseph Routh:  “After I had been about an hour in the House Sir H Mannix and his people besieged me all round most completely, having got into the lower part of the House into the kitchen thro’ the arched Passage which I forgot to secure……I left my servants in the upper part of the House with a Constable to keep the Peace & went for more assistance.  While I was away one of his Servants got into the upper Storey by a Ladder thro’ the window, unbolted one of the Doors and let him and his people in……Mr Willy has since been here who declares he had authorized Sir Henry to take possession as a Tenant a Month ago.”

Although the blustering continued, Mannix had outwitted Richards and went on to purchase the house.  Subsequent events showed that Richard’s pride was very much hurt.  Indeed, the degree of embitterment was to extend to the next generation: Sir Henry Mannix’s illegitimate son, Henry Mannix and Jacob Richard’s son, William, fought a duel in 1839 over access rights to Sion House, in which William Richards was grievously injured.3

But what was the problem with the title that prevented John Willy selling to Jacob Richards but not to Henry Mannix?

Why Mannix?

The sale had become urgent because by 1810 Sion House was falling down.  On 14th August 1810 in a letter to Joseph Routh, Jacob Richards wrote: “I should not in the least wonder to see the ceiling of the drawing Room tumble in from the lodgement of Water which has insinuated itself thro’ the cracks of the Lead, and as I have no doubt seriously injured the beams.”  In December he wrote: “You no doubt know, it is now too much unroofed and the Rain has soaked into the lower Storey and seriously injured the intermediate woodwork.”  Although Richards was putting pressure on Routh, he could not have done so without cause – urgent maintenance was, undoubtedly, required.  Thus, the approach of granting Mannix a repairing lease and option on the property whilst resolving the issue of the title was an ingenious way of preventing any further deterioration.    But, if the lease were the right route, was it offered to Richards?  Unfortunately we have only Richards’ side of the correspondence but there is no letter referring to or rejecting an offer of a lease and Richard’s expressed surprise at the arrangement with Mannix suggests that he had received no such offer.

To understand why Mannix may have received an offer that Richards did not, it is necessary to look more closely at Sir Henry Mannix himself.  He was born at Richmont, County Cork in 1740.  In 1778, when the United Irishmen started attacking the property of the protestant gentry, Mannix (in common with many of his peers) formed a regiment of militia, the Glanmire Union.  Through this and as a magistrate, he became a scourge of the rebels.  Sir Henry Mannix was one of a number of individuals identified for assassination by the Whiteboys, a particularly militant branch of the United Irishmen.  In 1798 he was shot in the back by his gardener and initial reports suggested that he was dead, but Mannix recovered and retreated to Pembrokeshire, probably as a safe haven from which he could easily visit his properties in Ireland.  Sir Henry had married Elizabeth Parker in Ireland in 1764 but they had no issue.  He took a mistress, Mary Banks, and for the rest of his life ran two establishments.  Whilst Lady Mannix reigned at Sion House, Mary was established at Eastwood, near Narberth, with her three children by Mannix.

In 1807 Henry Mannix was living in Market Street, Tenby (roughly on the present site of the Natwest Bank), next door to a mariner, Thomas Maddox.  Maddox’s property had a rear passageway to Cresswell Street and Mannix decided that he would like to use it (Murray John who owns 2 Olive Buildings in St Mary Street, believes that Olive Buildings were initially built for the use of Mannix’s mistress, in which case Sir Henry may have wanted a more discreet means of visiting than via his front door).  Mannix had his mason break through his garden wall into the passage and, quite reasonably, Maddox tried to stop him.  This resulted in Mannix prosecuting Maddox for assaulting him and his mason and having Maddox imprisoned for two months.  The following year Mannix was waiting with his carriage for the ferry to cross to Pembroke from Neyland when, he asserted, John Griffiths and David Noot pushed ahead of him.  He prosecuted both for assault and had them put away for one month each.

Extract from Couling Map of Tenby (1811) showing the homes of Mannix and Maddock, and the passage broken into by Mannix. Source; Tenby Museum and Art

Extract from Couling Map of Tenby (1811) showing the homes of Mannix and Maddock, and the passage broken into by Mannix.
Source; Tenby Museum and Art

It may be concluded that Mannix’s combination of legal training and forcefulness would make it quite in character for him to have browbeaten Willy into a course of action which resulted in him, Mannix, achieving his objective with respect to the purchase of Sion House.  However, even that is unlikely to have succeeded unless Mannix knew something that could have embarrassed Willy and complicated the sale – did Mannix have prior knowledge of a problem with the title to Sion House that frustrated the sale to Richards?

Catherine Routh’s Trust

Catherine Routh’s will was proved early in 1810 and made no explicit mention of the house.  The estate was valued at less than £300, which is easily accounted for by the personal possessions listed and includes nothing for Sion House.  Joseph and Elizabeth Routh although the residual legatees, probably received little if anything under the will.  Whilst the controversy over the sale was raging, Jacob Richards wrote to Joseph Routh: “I really begin to think with you that this has been a pre-meditated conspiracy to deprive me of the House and you of the Sale.”  But far from a “pre-meditated conspiracy”, did the house even belong to the Rouths?

In 1781, very shortly before William Routh married Catherine Davies in Bristol, all of William Routh’s property was placed into a trust fund of which Catherine was the beneficiary and Michael Hodgson of London was the trustee.    In the deed setting up the trust it was stated that after the death of Catherine the beneficiaries were to be her “heirs and assigns”.  Since the purpose of a trust is to put the property outside the control of the beneficiary, this must mean that the heir-at-law – John Davies and then “Leonard of St Clears” (Mary Davies, Catherine’s aunt, had married Thomas Leonard in St Clears in 1746) – had a greater claim upon the proceeds of the sale of property contained in the trust than did her chosen heirs, Joseph and Elizabeth Routh.  As it happens, William Routh did not purchase the land upon which Sion House was built until 1784 but it would be reasonable to assume that property purchases made after the establishment of Catherine’s trust were added to it.  There is evidence in support of this in the modest value of Catherine’s personal estate.  The existence of a trust does not, however, provide a complete explanation for the problem with the title that prevented the sale to Richards in the first place, since the house could still have been sold by the trustees – even if the heirs-at-law rather than Joseph and Elizabeth received the proceeds.

Catherine Routh’s trust may have been no more than a form of marriage settlement but it seems odd that William put his property out of both his and Catherine’s reach, unless he feared some claim against it.  It is also of interest  that the transfer was in  the form of “lease and release”.  The process of lease and release was devised in the seventeenth century as a means of effecting a sale of property in secret (the vendor gave the purchaser a one year lease for a peppercorn and followed it up with a release of the freehold interest for a consideration – since neither transaction was of itself deemed to constitute a conveyance of the freehold no-one had to be told about the transfer).  However, by the late eighteenth century and until 1845 when property laws were modernised, lease and release was the most common form of conveyance, simply because it was cheap and easy; but it could also be used to hide the ownership of property.

Stella Pedersen also points to the odd fact that as late as 1825 the four cottages in “No Acre” adjoining Sion House were still described as belonging to Catherine Routh’s estate.  (These had been left by Catherine Routh to be sold and the interest on the proceeds given to four boys until the age of 18).  As these cottages, unlike Sion House, were explicitly mentioned in her will they must have belonged to her personally and not to her trust.  There appears to be no obvious reason why her wishes were not promptly executed unless there was a problem with the title other than relating to the trust, possibly a problem that encompassed both Sion House itself and all other property on the same plot.

So what was in this trust at the time of Catherine’s death?  The Rouths appear at certain times to have been considerable landowners* but at the time of Catherine’s death, the controversy over the sale of Sion House reported above, related purely to the house and associated properties.  There is also evidence that Catherine was financially pressed by 1805 – she had taken on the running of Sarah Farley’s Bristol Journal on the death of her husband and by 1805 her representatives were referring to  “a large sum immediately to be made up for Government Duties”; the Journal was sold a year later.  But even if Catherine were not able to utilise the capital tied up in a trust, if it held a lot of property there should have been a substantial income from it.  So what was in this trust and could it merely have been a device for putting property temporarily “out of sight”?

William Oliver – who really owned Sion House?

In April 1784, William Routh, then living in Bristol, obtained from “William Oliver formerly of Wotton Underedge, Co. Gloucester, but now of Bristol, gent.” under lease and release for £320 and an annuity of £100:

– messuages and lands called Grove Demesne, lands called Oxiands, Mileford, Castles and Sentences, messuages and lands called Chappel Hill, Templeton (lands in), cottages and gardens including Old Walls, Cold Blow House, Mountain Side, Petersfinger, Pitch, Roseside, messuages or tenements called Narberth Mountain and Molleston Back, lime kilns and quarries, tenements called Parrotts Walls, Newcastle, Longstone, Pensoed and Spring Garden, all in the parish of Ludchurch, tenements called Dinnaston, Middlehill, Martin Hill, the New Inn, Dinnaston Mountain Cam Mill, Islands, Ducks pool and Loveston, parish of Loveston, the demesne called Merrixon, tenements called Welch Gate, Camomile Back, New House, Stagger’s Hill, Hammonsford Bottom, lands called Row Park, Wells head, the Croft, Kilsaice, Closes and Hill, Hodge Moor, Upper Eighteen Acres, and Little Kiln Park, the tithes of the rectory of Amroth, parish of Amroth, a messuage in Tenby, messuages called Cilvachwennith and Nantagof Issa, parish of Landekeven, messuages and premises called Trenikol, parishes of Landeloy and Lanrythen; a meadow called Pembroke Meadow; lands called Queens Ditch and Doctors Close, a storehouse, etc., parish of St. Mary, Haverfordwest; messuages and lands called Broad Meadow and Jordans Close parish of St. Martin, Haverfordwest; a colliery called Merrixon; messuages called Parke and Talvan, and cottages, parish of Langan, of Carmarthen.4

This appears to be a very substantial part if not the whole of the inheritance of the Poyer family of Grove, near Narberth, including coal mines, and worth a great deal more than the sum  paid.  It also includes the “messuage in Tenby” which was to become the site of Sion House.  Yet in the rates records of Tenby for the last decade of the eighteenth century, Sion House is shown not in the ownership of William Routh but purely in his occupation: the ownership is shown as “late of Mr William Oliver”.  The lease and release mechanism did not require Routh and Oliver to tell anyone about the transfer of title but what did they have to gain by, in effect, hiding the ownership of Sion House?  Furthermore, it is only because we still have the rates records for Tenby in this period that we know that the ownership of Sion House was not declared.  Presumably the ownership of the other property listed was similarly suppressed. 5

In 1799 the transaction was reversed and the property returned to Oliver – all that is but “the premises situated in the parishes of St Mary and St Margaret, Haverfordwest”.  So, Routh retained Sion House (and property in Haverfordwest) and the records for 1800 are the first which show William  Routh as being the owner of Sion House.

The Poyers of Grove and the case in Chancery

The land transferred by William Oliver was that belonging to the Poyers of Grove, in Lampeter Velfrey, one of the old families of Pembrokeshire.  The then head of the family, John Poyer had died in 1737, leaving the administration of his estate to his wife Ann who neglected this charge and herself died intestate in 1781.  The eldest son, Daniel died in 1756 without leaving a wife or legitimate issue and the second son, John, died in 1784, leaving a wife, Margaret neé Lewis but no children.  There had been a total of nine children born to the older John and Ann but only two were alive by the end of 1784, Anne and Louisa.  Anne was married to William Callen and Louisa had married William Oliver in 1779.  By 1784 the affairs of the family were in a state of confusion which went back nearly 50 years.  There were three surviving claimants on the estate of the older John Poyer, Margaret, the widow of his son John,  and his daughters, Louisa Oliver and Anne Callan.


Poyer tree 002

Margaret Poyer remarried in 1786, to Thomas Mansell, a surgeon.  By that time, William Oliver had secretly transferred the estate to William Routh.  Mansell, acting on behalf of his wife challenged Callen and Oliver (acting on behalf of their wives) concerning the distribution of the estate and by the end of 1787 the case had gone to Chancery, the court concerned with wills and similar disputes.  This was often a long drawn out process but this case was devolved to a local court and resolved in principle the following year, although it took over ten years to unscramble everything.  Thomas and Margaret Mansell won the right to the bulk of the property but they were required to assign the leases of the valuable collieries at Coedrath (Stepaside and Saundersfoot), to Callen and Oliver.  However, Louisa Oliver died in 1792 and William Callen in 1793 so the Mansells actually assigned the property to Anne Callen.  It would certainly seem that the lease on this colliery was part of the parcel that Oliver had “sold” to Routh since in 1796 William Routh accepted £597.14.6d from Anne Callen in respect of compensation for investment that he had made in it.

An interesting twist to this tale is that although the court appears to have reversed the questionable land deal (William Routh was brought before it and was party to many of the “unscrambling” transactions) the land upon which Sion House was built remained with Routh.  Was this the intention of the court or did Routh manage to hang on to it unseen?

Thus William and Catherine Routh appear to have been conspiring with Oliver to hide the ownership of a substantial part of the Poyer estate with the intent of ensuring that Louisa Oliver and her sister retained a greater share of the whole than they were strictly entitled to.  Since the site of Sion House was part of this estate, the Mansells or Callans might well consider that they should have owned this land.  Was this the “problem with the title” to which Willy referred in his dealing with Richards?

The threat to John Willy

One of the questions raised above concerning the Sion House sale by John Willy, the Haverfordwest lawyer and executor of Catherine Routh, was why he preferred Sir Henry Mannix as a purchaser to Jacob Richards, although the latter may have been thought to have had a stronger claim.  The Willy family were from Lampeter Velfrey and it is quite likely that they had been aware of the Poyer dispute; indeed, it is quite possible that they had advised one of the parties.  Mannix was a lawyer and moved amongst the Pembrokeshire gentry. It is almost certain that he would have known the story. Did Mannix use his knowledge of the background to the title of Sion House as a means of putting pressure on Willy?  Could he have threatened to disrupt the sale by bringing the Callen and Mansell families into the transaction?  Indeed, if Willy or his family had set up the original deal, that might give Mannix an even more powerful hold over him, the threat of exposure.  As his previous history had demonstrated, we know that Sir Henry Mannix would have taken any steps that he thought might be effective in order to have his way.


Even if the above goes some way to answering some of the outstanding questions surrounding Sion House, it does not answer them all.  Henry Mannix did eventually buy the property but the purchase price does not appear to have gone to Joseph and Elizabeth Routh. Did it go to the “heirs-at-law”, or even to the Callens?  Catherine Routh appears before her marriage to have been a wealthy woman but we know that she was short of cash by the early nineteenth century.  Was her wealth absorbed by the various, possibly over ambitious ventures of her husband or was it hidden in trusts – in which case, what happened to it?

Sion House was probably the first grand house built following the decline of Tenby and thus contributed to the emergence of Tenby

during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as a desirable resort.  Perhaps the most intriguing question of all is, could Tenby’s development as a fair and fashionable resort have been in part the side effect of a dubious series of property deals?

*    Catherine was the grand-daughter of Thomas, one of the Howells of Prinknash Park whose money came from Caribbean sugar, and was an heiress in her own right.  She lived in and met William Routh in Bristol.


  1. Pedersen S, More about Maria’s Family, Cydweli (2008)
  1. The National Library of Wales, Manuscripts 22870D and 22871D.

The whole letter book has since been transcribed by the late Brian Price of Tenby and provides a wealth of material about Jacob Richards, a significant figure in Tenby’s history.  Jacob Richards was a Carmarthenshire man of humble stock who had joined the army of the Honorable East India Company, rising to Sergeant-Major.  Tough and shrewd, he made a fortune in India and retired to Tenby in 1809 where he first became Mayor in 1812 and served as such on four further occasions.

Copies of the transcript are deposited in the Tenby Branch of Pembrokeshire County Library and in the Pembrokeshire County Record Office.


  1. Price, B.D. Two Tenby Duels and their Associations, Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society XIV (2005)


  1. Pembrokeshire County Record Office, The Eaton Evans and Williams Collection contains  much of the evidence drawn upon in this account including:

4502-27 Papers relating to the estate of John Poyer of Grove 1781-1790

3841-2 Lease and Release of properties of William Routh 1781

3902 Release of lands by William Oliver to William Routh 1784

1600-1 Lease and Release 1799

4398-4403 Letters from Routh concerning the settlement of the Grove estate. 1790

  1. Tenby Museum and Art Gallery Rates Records for Tenby 1790 to 1800.