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The Census in Wales and the Language Question


By David Norris
The census of England and Wales for 1891 introduced a question on language spoken for inhabitants of Wales and Monmouthshire. This followed the successful use of such a question in the Scottish census to assess the use of the native language. Perhaps surprisingly for modern observers, the inclusion of the language question was subject to debate in the House of Commons. The question used was as follows:

Language spoken

  • If able to speak English only write “English”.
  • If able to speak Welsh only write “Welsh”.
  • If able to speak both English and Welsh write “Both”.

It appears a straightforward question, however, as soon as the census was completed questions began to be asked about the reliability of the responses recorded. The question was asked in much the same format in 1901 and 1911, and the concerns continued. This article uses some very local evidence to illuminate some of the issues.

At the time of the 1901 census the land I now farm was split between two tenants. Interestingly, the land was not divided into two self-contained parcels. Instead, the fields were divided into four blocks so that each tenant had some of the better draining land and some of the wetter land.1 The first tenant was Hannah Howells, a widow, living at Tŷ Canol. The house is long gone, the only evidence left is the remains of an orchard and fruit bushes which formed part of the kitchen garden. Her answer to the language spoken question was “Welsh”. However, the Pembrokeshire Archives contain papers lodged by the solicitors of the owner’s guardian, Mrs Annie Richards.2 On 15 January 1914, Hannah Howells wrote to Mrs Richards regarding a land dispute with a neighbour. The letter is in impeccable English!

The second tenant was William Davies who lived at Bryn with his wife and his mother. Bryn was also known as Blaentail in this period, reflecting an interesting sense of humour. For all three residents of Bryn the language question was answered “Welsh”. Once again things are not straightforward. In October 1906 William Davies wrote to Mrs Richards as he was giving up the tenancy of Bryn. The two letters in the archives deal mainly with his claim for compensation for improvements made to the land and farm buildings. For the purposes of this article two matters of interest arise. Firstly, the letters show that a very friendly relationship seemed to exist between landlord and tenant. In particular, the letters refer to a social visit by Mrs Richards’ daughter. Secondly, the letter is written in excellent English. While the census returns show that Mrs Richards was bilingual, her daughter spoke English only.

These two local examples both appear to fit with concerns raised at the time regarding the reliability of Welsh only responses to the language question. The Registrar General reported on the 1891 census that “abundant evidence was received by us that it was either misunderstood or set at naught by a large number of those Welshmen who could speak both languages, and that the word “Welsh” was returned when the proper entry would have been “Both”; on the ground, it may be presumed that Welsh was the language spoken habitually or preferentially.”3 The same report also stated that “so desirous do many householders appear to have been to add to the number of monoglot Welshmen, that they returned themselves as speaking Welsh, that is Welsh only, but made similar returns as to infants who were only a few months or even a few days old.” The latter comment drew complaints from Welsh MPs and the Registrar General apologised saying he had not intended to accuse the Welsh people of untruthfulness or of a deliberate intention to make fraudulent returns. There were also suggestions that the census enumerators were too keen on the use of “ditto” when transcribing household returns into their books (which were the basis of the published census statistics in 1891 and 1901) and too often ascribed the response of the head of household to all other occupants. When in 1911 the returns completed by the head of household were used directly to compile census statistics, there was a very significant increase in the number of non-responses to the language question (from 2,757 in 1901 to 58,517 in 1911).4

The availability to researchers of head of household returns for the 1911 census allows some further light to be shed on my two local cases. Although Hannah Howells is shown as the head of household, the return was completed by her son. While she was returned as monoglot Welsh, her son was bilingual. A simple explanation for the apparent discrepancy between the census returns and the letter in the archives may be that her son wrote the letter on his mother’s behalf. The case of William Davies is more interesting. As we have seen, he had left Bryn by 1911 but he continued to farm in the parish. He completed the 1911 census return as head of household. The response to the language question remained “Welsh”. Why? His relationship with his landlord’s non-Welsh speaking daughter suggests strongly that he spoke English (even if his letters were written on his behalf which their very personal nature leads one to doubt). Furthermore, a number of years ago I was fortunate enough to meet his granddaughter who seemed sure that he could both speak and write English. Perhaps his 1911 census return provides a clue. The return also asked about the nationality of every person born in a foreign country. The enumerator put a line through William Davies’s response to this question – “Welsh”! Perhaps he was not the only Welshman to use the census return to make a wider statement.


1.    See the maps drawn up for the Duties on Land Values, Part 1 Finance (1909/10) Act 1910
2.    Pembrokeshire Archives, D/LI/159 and D/EE/R/1/6
3.    Census of England and Wales 1891 General Report, vol. iv, p.81
4.    Pryce, W.T.R. The British Census and the Welsh Language, Cambria, vol. 13, 1979



Thomas Watts was born in 1805 in Colchester, Essex, the son of John and Ann Watts. John Watts served in the Royal Pembroke Militia. 1  Following their return to Haverfordwest a second son, Frederick, was born.  2  Sgt Major John Watts, a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo, 3  retired from the Militia at the age of 60. He died aged 62 at his home on Tower Hill in 1830 and his funeral service took place on 4 June in St Mary’s church. His widow Ann continued to live in the town until her death in 1864.


Thomas Watts received a classical education at Haverfordwest Grammar School where the headmaster was Revd James Thomas, Vicar of St Mary’s. He was ordained by the Bishop of London in 1828, without a divinity degree, and given ten years to obtain the qualification at Cambridge.  As a “ten year man” he graduated MA at Trinity College, Cambridge, on 8 March 1835. 4

In January 1829 Thomas Watts was married to Mary Lewis by licence at St Thomas Church, Haverfordwest, by Revd James Thomas, his former headmaster. Within months the couple sailed to Barbados where he was employed by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. From 1832 to 1843 he was schoolmaster at the Codrington Foundation School and chaplain to that Estate. He was also Vicar of Holy Cross Church from 1831 to 1843. Codrington College was founded in 1831 to train young men of African descent for the ordained ministry of the Church of England in the Caribbean and West Africa.

The annual reports to the SPG reveal his success in educating children and adults; “the interest evidently taken in the work by Mr Watts, and the exertions he is making, are fully felt and responded to, both by his own people and those around him.”  5   In May 1839 Watts wrote,

I witnessed on Sunday last a circumstance that struck me most forcibly. On looking round the Sunday school, which contained on that day 119 adults, all except two from neighbouring estates, I counted nine teachers with large classes who were young people belonging to Codrington. They were born, bred and schooled on the property, and now came forward willingly and cheerfully to assist their minister in the great work of religious instruction. Indeed, without their assistance, and that of four young men, students from the College, it would be impossible for me to give due attention to so large a school as we now have, the numbers on the list being about 200. 6

In 1838 his manager wrote,

The unwearied zeal of our Chaplain (Revd Mr Watts), not only in his Sunday lectures, but during the week, in discoursing with individuals and families, has also in no small degree contributed to tranquilize the minds of the people, and ensure order and understanding among them. 7

In 1843 Thomas Watts resigned from Codrington School after fourteen years on the island. Before leaving, in his position as senior chaplain he accompanied Bishop Coleridge 8 on his visit to various islands of the diocese, Tobago, Trinidad, Grenada, St Vincent and St Lucia. 9

Thomas and his wife had three children while in Barbados, Charlotte, John and Thomas Martin. Their youngest daughter was born in Haverfordwest. On their return to Wales the children were educated at the Hill Street school of Miss Mary Davies, a close family friend with strong family links in the West Indies.

Since 1587 Haverfordwest Corporation had been the patron of the living of St Mary’s Church. Following the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act in 1835 all corporations had to sell their church patronage under the direction of the Ecclesiastical Duties and Revenues Commission and apply the proceeds for the common use of the town. In 1836 the advowson of the rectory was ordered to be sold by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and a sale notice was published. 10   Tenders were invited to be submitted by 1 October of that year and a letter dated 2 December from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners accepted a tender of £800 made by Revd Watts. 11 He returned to Haverfordwest on a visit during 1836, 12   taking part in a public debate on the Irish Municipal Amendment Act 13  and officiating at the marriage of a friend at St Thomas Church.  14  The sale of the church was eventually signed and sealed in December 1837. The sum of £800 was later described as a liberal sum and larger than expected. 15

He returned to Barbados, being content to allow James Thomas to remain in position as vicar of the church until his death at the age of 81 in 1843. At this point Thomas Watts and his family travelled back to Haverfordwest and he was instituted as vicar on 7 October 1843, reading himself in with a public reading of the thirty nine articles. 16

Like most parish churches at the start of the nineteenth century St Mary’s contained large box pews,17  private seats used by the middle and upper classes. The poor of the parish were left with little or no space. In 1843 St Mary’s church provided seats for 522 of which only 36 were free and unappropriated, inadequate for a parish population of 1,565. Revd Watts therefore appealed to the Church Building Society for a grant towards his planned restoration of the church.  The main thrust of his application, in accordance with the aim of the Society to increase accommodation, was that he wished to provide 214 extra seats which were to be free. He qualified the interpretation of free, stating that he was anxious to attract the families of male tradesmen and artisans who dominated the parish by appropriating some 50 to 60 seats to them, free of charge. As vicar, he wished to decide to whom they should be allotted. He described the parish as “abounding in dissent” and overrun with dissenters, and referred to the “disturbed state of the surrounding districts.” 18   This was the year in which two alleged Rebecca Rioters were tried at the Shire Hall. A grant of £100 was received.

The vicar launched a public appeal for funds to restore the church which was described as much dilapidated, mainly due to its being used as a prison for the French soldiers who landed near Fishguard in February 1797. Accommodation was to be increased by the installation of new pews, with new flooring and a new east window in the chancel. 19   After four months work the church was reopened on 26 August with a service at which two sermons were preached, one by the Bishop of the Diocese and the other by Rt. Revd Bishop Coleridge, Revd Watts’ bishop in Barbados.

Revd Thomas Watts soon became involved in the life of the community. He chaired a public meeting in January 1844 to consider the best method of relieving the wants of the labouring poor. It was agreed that a labour fund would be set up with the clergymen of each parish collecting subscriptions. 20

Having been so heavily involved in education in Barbados, it is not surprising that he continued this interest in Haverfordwest.  In April 1844 he preached a sermon at a service to raise funds for the National Society, provider of church schools, stressing the importance of schools and education; “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” 21    He was instrumental in the formation of the new National School, designed to educate 537 children, in Barn Street in 1850. 22 He was appointed by the Common Council as a trustee of Haverfordwest Grammar School.  He claimed his right as Vicar of St Mary’s to be a trustee of the Tasker’s Charity School 23  and at the 1844 annual meeting applied for Common Prayer books to be obtained for the use of the boys at church. Despite strong opposition to this by some of the trustees, it was agreed that twenty copies should be ordered and that the children of Tasker’s School be ordered to attend the church every Sunday morning. 24

Revd Watts was a magistrate for the town, Chairman of the Quarter Sessions and Vice Chairman of the Board of Guardians. 25  In 1845 he was appointed secretary to the newly formed local branch of the SPG which determined that sermons in aid of the society should be preached each January in the parish churches of the town. 26

He has been described as a “cautious conservative”  27  in his churchmanship.  In restoring the church he did not take the opportunity to reorder the church as a clergyman sympathetic to Tractarianism might have done. 28  However, a letter in the Pembrokeshire Herald strongly criticised the new stained glass window for “throwing a dim religious light through the interior of the church”. 29    In 1850 his decision to ban the church bell ringers from ringing a peal to celebrate the arrival in town of Dr Bunting, a prominent Wesleyan, was criticised in the press.  30  A few months later, at a public meeting, Revd Watts strongly opposed the interference of the Pope whose Papal Bull had restored the Roman Catholic diocesan hierarchy in Britain. 31

The 1851 Religious Census provides a record of attendance at St Mary’s on 30 March. In completing the return Revd Watts stressed that he had not given notice of the count in advance. He recorded that 333 attended morning service plus 81 Sunday school scholars, with 495 present at the evening service. 32

In 1858 he applied to the bishop for permission to hold two benefices, Vicar of St Mary’s and Perpetual Curate of Haroldston St Issells. At the same time he was coming to an arrangement to sell his interest in St Mary’s to the new owner of the Picton Castle estate, Revd JHA Philipps (Gwyther), who became Vicar in 1859. On leaving St Mary’s Revd Watts was presented by the Lord Chancellor as Rector of Herbrandston but he retained a strong interest in St Mary’s. He died at his son’s home, Dairy Park, age 59, in July 1864. His funeral service was held at St Mary’s and he was buried in the parish cemetery at Portfield. 33  His will, dated 22 June 1864, reveals that he was still owed £500 by Revd JHA Philipps to whom he had sold his interest in St Mary’s, and that he still had a mortgage on the plantation of Stewards Hill, Barbados. 34


  1. The Pembroke Militia had reassembled in March 1803 and marched to Essex from Haverfordwest, establishing HQ at Colchester in July. Their base remained there until 1807. Presumably the Watts’ home was where the Regiment was based, hence the birth of Thomas in Essex.
  2. St Mary’s Church. Baptism Register, 3 April 1814. The family’s address was Back Lane, in the parish, one of the small streets which at that time ran behind the north side of upper High Street.
  3. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 30 June 1915.
  4. www.ancestry.co.uk/db.aspx?dbid=3997 (Cambridge University Alumni database)
  5. Archives of the SPG. C/WIN/BAR/1-12 file 74. The 1833  report,  p 61, states;  It appeared from the returns forwarded by the Chaplain, the Rev Mr Watts, that the daily schools on the estate contained 67 children of whom more than 50 were able to read; that the Sunday School contained 50 [additional to the daily schools] all of whom were able to read well; that a Sunday School was kept in the Chapel for adults, both belonging and not belonging to the estate, which was attended by 24 of the former and 70 of the latter; and that another Sunday School had been opened recently for children not belonging to the estate, of whom the number already under instruction was 30. Over 600 people attended Sunday services.  The text continues to report on the good conduct of the slaves.
  6. Ibid. The 1840 report, 56.
  7. Ibid. The 1838 report, 108.
  8. William Hart Coleridge was the first Bishop of Barbados and the Leeward Islands, holding the office from 1825 to 1842.
  9. Frederick Watts, brother of Thomas Watts, remained in Barbados.  He was the Police Magistrate of St Philip. His descendants still live on the island.
  10. Pembrokeshire Record office D/RTP/PIC/11.
  11. PRO D/RTP/PIC/13.
  12. www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/a-bainbridge-and-co/…/pdfexport A William IV silver ink stand, complete with silver-mounted glass wells, flat candlestick and chained extinguisher, with a presentation inscription to the Revd. Thomas Watts from the Congregation of the Society’s Chapel in the Island of
    Barbados on his re-visiting England Feby 20th 1836
  13. Cambrian, 25 June 1836.
  14. Cambrian, 7 January 1837. Revd Thomas Watts officiated at the marriage of Revd Thomas Davies and Hannah Turner at St Thomas Church.
  15. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 6 June 1860.
  16. Carmarthen Journal, 13 October 1843.
  17. Richard Fenton, Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire. London. 1811. 213.
  18. Lambeth Palace Library, ICBS 3322.
  19. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 19 January 1844.
  20. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 26 January 1844
  21. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 5 April 1844.
  22. The Welshman, 12 April 1850.
  23. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 6 December 1844.
  24. Carmarthen Journal, 22 December 1843.
  25. The Welshman, 29 July 1864.
  26. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 3 January 1845.
  27. John Morgan-Guy. ‘Sermons in Wales in the Established Church.’ in Keith A Francis and William Gibson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon 1689-1901, Oxford University Press, 2012. 192
  28. Tenby Parish Magazine 1872 .53. It was reported that high pews in the chancel faced west meaning the congregation’s backs were to the altar, pews in the nave faced east and those in the north aisle, south, while the choir sang in the organ gallery at the west end of the church.
  29. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 15 November 1844.  The cost of this window was raised by public subscription in memory of Revd James Thomas
  30. The Welshman, 25 October 1850. In February 1851 the Town Council investigated the ownership of the bells; this was part of a series of problems caused by the wording of the contract of purchase of the advowson.
  31. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 6 December 1850.
  32. I. Gwynedd Jones & D Williams. The Religious Census of 1851: A Calendar of the Returns Relating to Wales: Vol 1 South Wales. Cardiff UWP 1976. 422
  33. His wife died in November 1863, aged 58. His mother died soon after his death, her entry being immediately after his in the burial register.
  34. Pembrokeshire Record Office. Francis Green Papers Vol. XVIII. 431.

A Family of Pembrokeshire Churchmen


By Pat Swales Barker

Reverend James Thomas, Vicar of St Mary’s Church, Haverfordwest, for thirty eight years, was the head of a distinguished family which, during the nineteenth century, played a significant part in the Anglican Church in Pembrokeshire. His marriage to the daughter of a rich St Kitts businessman established a colourful and fascinating family.


An entry in the register of St Mary’s Church, records the baptism on 28 May 1761 of James Thomas, son of John and Sarah Thomas.1 He was educated at Haverfordwest Grammar School 2 where he would have been prepared as a Literate for a career in the church.3 In the second half of the eighteenth century in the St Davids Diocese, many more Literates were ordained than graduates.4  They were educated at one of nine licensed grammar schools where they had to study divinity and other subjects for a minimum of seven years.

Ordained deacon on 24 August 1783 and priest on 19 September 1784 by Edward Smallwell, Bishop of St Davids, James Thomas’ first appointment, from September 1784, was as Curate of St Mary’s Church, Haverfordwest where the vicar was Revd Charles Ayleway.  Between 1790 and 1804 he was Perpetual Curate of Clarbeston, and from 1795 until 1805 also Curate of Walton East.

It is probable that he combined these curacies with some teaching because in October 1800, at the age of 39, he was appointed by the Haverfordwest Corporation to succeed Revd Thomas Phillips MA as Master of the Free Grammar School, and “receive and take all the rents, profits and advantages belonging thereto in a full and ample manner as any of his predecessor masters.” 5 The Grammar School had been established in the town since at least 1488. The Bishop of the Diocese retained responsibility for the appointment of the Headmaster until the seventeenth century when it was entrusted to the Mayor and Common Council of the borough, though Diocesan records reveal that the bishop licensed Head Masters, all ordained clergymen, until 1825. The appointment also had to be approved by two Justices of the Great Sessions.

In the early nineteenth century the Grammar School was located in Church Lane, adjacent to St Thomas Churchyard.  When James Thomas became Headmaster there were no boarders and only eight day boys, despite the schoolroom having being built in 1761 to accommodate fifty pupils.6 His appointment had an immediate effect as within two years there were forty four pupils, including four boarders.7

John Brown, writing in 1882, recalled:
“As the old gentleman bore in sight, with his brown wig and stout walking-stick, and a keen black eye that used to look through one, a stranger did not need to be told who he was. He was master of the Free School, where he ruled strictly yet lovingly….the Parson was an active magistrate as well, and an accomplished chemist. He performed daily and seventh-day duty in church.” 8
The biography of Admiral Sir William Robert Mends, written by his son, paints a less than attractive picture of the school in about 1820. Mends attended the school between the ages of seven and eight, but his experiences caused him to move on to a school in Plymouth. In spite of the assistant masters he acquired a little knowledge of the three r’s and a smattering of Latin grammar. “The school was of the roughest, plenty of flogging taking the place of legitimate instruction.” 9   He described the large churchyard [St Thomas] in the vicinity where the school fights took place. The “brutality and ignorance of his masters inspired him with a horror and disgust of it”.

James Thomas resigned as Headmaster in 1825 and was succeeded by his son, Revd James Thomas, MA. Following his death in 1843 the Pembrokeshire Herald reported that a committee had been formed to make a public mark of respect to his memory and “the reverence and affection in which his character was universally held,” by erecting a suitable memorial in the church. This was to be a stained glass window, “to be erected immediately behind the free school seat,” with the cost to be met entirely by his old pupils.10 The result of the appeal was a window of highly coloured, early gothic revival glass on the south side of the chancel, now the oldest surviving window in the church. The inscription reads

This window sacred to the memory of the Revd James Thomas many years Headmaster of the Grammar School of this town and vicar of this church who died anno 1831 11 and was given by friends and former pupils. Ano 1843.

When James Thomas became Headmaster in 1800 he was also admitted as a Burgess, or Freeman, of the town and so was eligible to be elected as a member of the town’s Corporation. In October 1803 the Corporation unanimously agreed that James Thomas, Clerk, and Charles Allen Philips, Esq., should replace Joseph Fortune and Richard Foley who had died.12 So he joined what was described by the Royal Commission in 1835 as “a self-elected irresponsible body”. 13 Members of the Corporation had to be Freemen and only members of the Corporation could appoint Freemen. There were twenty four members who annually elected the mayor and sheriff from among their number. The town returned its own MP to Westminster, although from 1741 to 1812 no election was required as William Edwardes (from 1776 he was Lord Kensington) of Johnston Hall was returned unopposed until 1801, and was followed by his son William, 2nd Baron Kensington.  All members of the Corporation were of the same political party.

The Corporation administered a large number of local charities and owned many properties in the town. In addition the members were responsible for appointing and paying the stipend of the Vicar of St Mary’s Church as well as meeting expenses incurred by the church. When Revd Charles Ayleway, also a Common Councilman, died in 1805 after over thirty years as Vicar of St Mary’s, the Corporation appointed Revd James Thomas to replace him as Vicar of the civic church. The council and church had long been closely linked, not least as the council chamber was a room above the north porch of the church.


During his 38 years as the Vicar of St Mary’s, the church continued to be at the centre of town life. The size of the parish is only thirty acres (High Street, Dew Street, Market Street, Quay Street, Mariners Square and part of Goat Street), but it included most of the town’s public buildings; both the old Guildhall and the new Shire Hall in High Street, the old market in and around the church yard, the new market opened in1826 in Market Street, the corn and fish markets, the Assembly Rooms and the Grammar School. Revd Thomas presided over many significant events such as the large and impressive funeral service for Lord Milford in 1823. There were regular assize, civic and military services. In 1815 he was appointed Chaplain to Pembrokeshire County Gaol and House of Correction.

“The Rev. James Thomas, vicar of St Mary’s, was a staunch Protestant, and so were the younger ministers who used to officiate for him, some of whom had been of his training in the Grammar School. I remember that he sometimes spoke strongly against Popery, and once called it ‘the masterpiece of the devil’.” 14

In 1839, at the age of 78, he arranged the appointment of his son Francis Thomas as curate to assist him.

From his election in 1803 James Thomas was an active member of the Haverfordwest Corporation, attending most meetings until its demise in 1835 when he was the second longest serving member. In 1811 he was elected Mayor, the first clergyman to hold the office. He was also a magistrate. His fellow members included Lord Milford, Lord Cawdor, Nathaniel Phillips, Sir Henry Mathias and Lord Kensington. His time as Vicar and Common Councillor saw a reconstruction of parts of his parish and a transformation of its governance. The demolition of much of the area between the river and Hill Lane for the construction of the Shire Hall, Victoria Place and Castle Square, the early steps in the purchase of residential properties for conversion to commercial use in the High Street, along with the provision of street lighting and paving, significantly moved the town forward. This was greatly enhanced and driven by the greater democracy resulting from the creation of the new Borough Council which comprised four Aldermen and twelve Councillors. The power and privileges of the Freemen, the roll of which included Revd James Thomas, were substantially reduced.

James Thomas married Frances Beach at St Martin’s Church on 21 June 1798. His wife died in 1815 at the age of 41. In June 1823, at St Thomas Church, he married Miss Maria Gillam of Prendergast Parish, daughter of a Bristol banker, Benjamin Gillam. James Thomas died in February 1843 at his home in Goat Street and was buried in St Thomas churchyard .
Four of his sons, two grandsons and a great grandson followed James Thomas as Anglican clergymen. Three sons studied at Pembroke College, Oxford. All four sons and a grandson returned to minister in Pembrokeshire parishes.

The eldest son William Beach Thomas, was born in 1800, educated at Haverfordwest Grammar school and graduated at Pembroke College, Oxford in1823. He was ordained Deacon at Christchurch Cathedral, Oxford in 1822, and Priest in May 1823. Initially he pursued an academic career at Oxford University as Tutor and Fellow, then Dean & Public Examiner and in 1830 was licensed as Stipendiary Curate at Longford. He married Mary Pitman; their daughter was Mary Elizabeth Thomas. He returned to Pembrokeshire in 1841 as Vicar of Carew. In 1845 he was appointed vicar of Johnston with Steynton, remaining there until his death in 1876. In 1859 he was collated as Canon & Prebendary of St Davids Cathedral.

Like his older brother, James Thomas was educated at the Grammar School and Oxford. Following graduation he returned to Haverfordwest where in 1825, at the age of just 24, he succeeded his father as Headmaster of the Grammar School, a position he retained until 1864.


His clerical career saw his appointment as Rector of Llysyfran in 1835 and as Perpetual Curate of Walton East in 1840. In 1865 he became Vicar of Herbrandston. He was Prebendary of St Davids Cathedral. He died in 1888. James Thomas married Ann Carver of Wenallt, Carmarthen in 1826. Their eldest son, James Henry Thomas matriculated at Oxford but cut short his academic career to emigrate to Australia.15 Their second son, William Smith Thomas, qualified as a doctor and also emigrated to Australia.16 Their youngest son, Daniel George Thomas, Rector of Hammerton, Huntingdonshire, was the father of the renowned First World War journalist Sir William Beach Thomas.

The third son of James and Frances Thomas, Francis Thomas, graduated at Pembroke College and was ordained at Oxford in 1834. Following a period as Curate at St Mary’s, Haverfordwest, he was Vicar of Haroldston West from 1842 until 1880. In 1843 he was involved in a notorious court case at the town’s Shire Hall when Caroline Jane Williams sued him for a breach of promise of marriage.17 He went on to marry Susan Dobbin of Milford at Steynton in December 1845.
Their fourth son George Thomas was a farmer at Milbrook, Wiston. His son William Beach Thomas was educated at Haverfordwest Grammar School and following ordination in 1861 he became Vicar of Harrington before returning to Pembrokeshire as Vicar of the parishes of Walton East and Llysyfran in 1865, and of Uzmaston and Boulston in 1871. He married Elizabeth Starbuck in May 1866 at Steynton. Their daughter Flora wrote the book The Builders of Milford; significantly her mother was one of the Quaker whaling family from Nantucket who settled in Milford.

The fifth son was Hugh Percy Thomas who studied at Lampeter College in its early days. His first appointment was as a curate in Lancashire. In 1853 he returned to Pembrokeshire as the Rector of Nash, Pembroke.

In the chancel of St Mary’s Church, Haverfordwest, is a memorial to the wife of Revd James Thomas:

Of FRANCES wife of Revd James Thomas, vicar of the parish and daughter of the late WILLIAM BEACH of the Island of St Kitts, Esq., Obit 8 September 1815 age 41

Give joy or sorrow, ease or pain, Take friends and life away,
But let me find them all again In that eternal day

Also of HENRY STEPHEN son of the above James & Frances Thomas who departed this life 16 July 1818, age 7.

William Beach was a rich English merchant living in College Street, Basseterre, St Kitts. The island was at the centre of the British sugar trade in the West Indies and by the later eighteenth century was the richest British colony in the Caribbean. It suffered many attacks by the French throughout the eighteenth century, including the battle of St Kitts in 1782. British ownership was recognized finally under the Treaty of Versailles in 1783.

The will 18 of William Beach, dated 1787, lists his children as William, John, Hugh, Mary, Ann, Martha, Frances, Margery, Charlotte and, Sophia. On his death in 1788 he left about £12,500. His will instructed that all his money in the West Indies should be remitted to England and the family settled in Haverfordwest.19 William’s son John Beach was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy. He lived in St Thomas parish and ran a school in Prendergast.

“Lieut. Beach kept an excellent school here. He was one of that class of residents, half-pay officers…[who added] greatly to the charm of good society in the place”.

Two of the Lieutenant’s sisters, Martha and Margery, lived for many years at Grove Place, St Thomas Green.20 The youngest daughter, Anne Beach, gained some notoriety through her connection with a French prisoner of war, captured after the failed invasion at Fishguard in 1797. The prisoners were incarcerated in the prison at Haverfordwest Castle and the town’s three parish churches. St Mary’s was said to have sustained considerable damage by the 700 prisoners incarcerated there. Elaborate and incorrect accounts have been written about her, making much of the fact that Anne was the sister-in-law of the Vicar of St Mary’s, but James Thomas was not appointed to that position until 1805. The earliest surviving account of the events involving Anne Beach was given by the Duke of Rutland who witnessed the embarkation of the French prisoners from Pembroke Ferry in August 1797.

“Amongst them were two or three officers of low degree, one of them a Monsieur St. Amand, who during his short stay at Haverford West, had so captivated a young lady of some fortune (by name Miss Beach), that she had consented to correspond with him by letter in his prison, and intends as we afterwards heard to marry him. He was the son of the Marquis de Saint-Amans and married Anne Beach, sister-in-law of Rev. James Thomas, Vicar of St Mary’s, Haverfordwest, and Head Master of Haverfordwest Grammar School.” 21

The marriage between Anne and Pierre Honore Boudon de St Amans 22 eventually took place at Blandford St Mary, Dorset, on 4 February 1802 with her sister Martha as a witness. Her husband went on to develop a very successful career in the field of ceramics, producing paperweights, medallions and cameos. He perfected the technique of making a sulphide plaque, receiving a patent for his “cristalo ceramie” in Paris in 1818. He worked closely with the English maker Apsley Pellatt who took out a patent for an identical technique in London in 1819. Was it a coincidence that Pellat’s daughter Sarah married John Phillips, chemist and druggist of Haverfordwest in 1830, or was there a Haverfordwest connection between the families? 23 Pierre St Amans predeceased his wife by six months in 1858.24

Reverend James Thomas was the first of five vicars appointed to St Mary’s Church during the nineteenth century. The Municipal Reform Act of 1835 led to the enforced sale of the Advowson of the church by the Corporation. It was purchased by Revd Thomas Watts, Chaplain at Codrington College, Barbados. Following the death of James Thomas in 1843, Thomas Watts became Vicar. His is another fascinating story.


  1. Baptism Register St Mary Haverfordwest. The baptisms of his siblings John (1758) Anne (1763) and William (1766) are also recorded.
    2 Potters Electric News, April 26, 1865. Upon the occasion of a dinner to mark his own retirement at Headmaster of the school, his son said, “I think it considerably more than eighty years since my father was a boy at the school”
    3  G. Douglas James, The History of Haverfordwest Grammar School (Haverfordwest, 1961), 14, credits him as Master of Arts but there is no record of him receiving a university education
    4 As a result Bishop Thomas Burgess identified the need for a college in Wales in which ordinands could receive a higher education. Lampeter College was opened in 1827.
    5 Pembrokeshire Record Office  HAM/SE/1/2
    6 Dillwyn Miles, A Short History of Haverfordwest (Llandybie, 2007), 94.
    7 G. Douglas James, The History of Haverfordwest Grammar School (Haverfordwest, 1961), 14.
    8 John Brown, Haverfordwest and its Story (Haverfordwest, 1882) 80.
    9 Bowen Stilon Mends, Life of Admiral Sir William Robert Mends, GCB (London, 1899).
    10. Pembrokeshire Herald, March 29, 1844.
    11 There is an error in the inscription as he died 1843
    12 Pembrokeshire Record Office HAM/SE/1/2
    13 First Report of the Commissioners on the Municipal Corporation of England and Wales. (London,1835) 237
    14 John Bulmer, Popery in Haverfordwest in The Christian Witness and Church Members’ Magazine, (London, 1855).
    15 James Henry Thomas, born in 1829, matriculated at Braesnose College, Oxford, but never graduated. He emigrated to Penrith, Australia where he was a farmer.  His son, Major James Francis Thomas, was the attorney for Breaker Morant in a famous Boer War court martial documented in a 1980 film which dealt with the barbarities of war.
    16 William Smith Thomas, born in 1836 was educated at Haverfordwest Grammar School, qualified as a Doctor at Guy’s Hospital and emigrated to Australia where he practised at Wollongong from 1874 until his death in 1880. His son, James Mann Thomas, became a Vicar in Australia.
    17 Cambrian, August 5, 1843.
    18 Public Records Office. National Archives Ref 11/1163. The will reveals that his wife was Mary Hanna Beach (nee Ashington) but that the mother of his ten children was his mulatto Frances Johnson to whom he left his house and land in Basseterre, together with servants, carriage and horses, wine and an annuity. He left his wife one shilling. Other relatives named were his sisters Mary and Martha, niece Lydia and nephew John, (children of his brother John Beach)
    19 In wondering why they should settle in the town it might be significant that there had been trade between Haverfordwest and St Kitts.On April 18th 1755 the sailing ship MOLLY was stranded near Haverfordwest. It was sailing from St. Kitts to Haverfordwest laden with 320 hogsheads of sugar.
    20 John Brown, Haverfordwest and its Story (Haverfordwest, 1882) 128.
    21 EH Stuart Jones, The Last Invasion of Britain (Cardiff 1950), 127, quotes the Journal of the Duke of Rutland dated 20 August 1797
    22. Pierre Honore Boudon Saint Amans (1774-1858) was the son of John Florimond de Saint Amans, a naturalist and archaeologist.
    23 Sarah Phillips (nee Pellatt) was buried at St Thomas Church in June 1840.
    24 The will of Anne Beach otherwise de Saint Amans, late of Lamarque Commune of Castelculier Canton in Puymiriol in the Arondissement of Agen Lot et Garonne in France, widow, who died 17 August 1858 at Lamarque aforesaid, was proved at the principal registry by the oath of Margaret Jane Dupouy [nee Beach] (wife of Jean Baptiste Alendre Dupouy MD, of Agen aforesaid), the niece of the universal heiress or executrix. Dated 28 March 1866.    The London Gazette 9 June 1863 lists a Chancery Court case concerning part of a marriage settlement made between Anne Beach and her husband.

The Society’s Summer Outings. September 2015 – September 2016. The Secretary’s Report.


Whilst the Society has a carefully prepared schedule of lectures for the winter seasons, our summer outings are more topical as we try to target destinations where new work is giving rise to new discoveries.

Bluestone Country

2015 was the year of the great bluestone controversy. The mysterious and improbable link between Pembrokeshire and Ston ehenge, which has given rise to so many hotly contested theories over the last 90 years, became even more active when Professor Mike Parker Pearson of the Archaeological Institute, UCL and his team identified two new Pembrokeshire sources for the Stonehenge bluestones. Naturally, we were delighted when he agreed to escort us to Carn Goedog high in the Preselis and to Craig Rhos-y-Felin near Felindre Farchog last September where he pointed out the various features which formed the basis of his theory. Both sites were impressive, with colossal stones rearing from the ground seemingly already shaped, and in the case of Craig Rhos y Felin, one that had shattered as it was being levered and abandoned.
As an added bonus Mike also guided us around a newly discovered circular enclosure by the river at Felindre Farchog which had been spotted by Toby Driver of the Royal Commission in a flyover just after a light sprinkling of snow. The excavation in progress appeared to be uncovering a prehistoric site overlaid by an early Christian cemetery with cist graves. We look forward to the publication of the archaeological report.

St Patrick’s Chapel, Whitesands Bay
In May this year the Society visited Whitesands Bay where the Dyfed Archaeological Trust was extending its 2015 dig at St Patrick’s Chapel. This site is right on the beach and is being excavated because it is endangered by coastal erosion.  We arrived in time to watch a cranium being carefully exhumed from a sector of the early medieval cemetery which appeared to be reserved for the burial of children. The skeletal remains exhumed so far date from the 6th – 12th centuries and their east-west orientation, together with the discovery of a cross-shaped grave marker, indicates that this was a Christian cemetery. St Patrick’s Chapel is later, as some of the burials lie beneath it, but it is described in the records as ruinous in 1600. The excavations also revealed evidence that Whitesands was once an important maritime trading post with links to Ireland, the Continent and other parts of Britain.


After a pleasant break for lunch, a member of the DAT team took us on a tour of the prehistoric remains of megalithic structures, fortifications and field systems on St David’s head. An inspiring tour made special by the carpet of pink orchids at our feet.


The Society’s next outing in June was to Manorbier where we were in the knowledgeable hands of Gerald Codd, author of ‘Manorbier Parish: a history.’ It was a very full day starting at Manorbier Church where we all puzzled over the architectural clues to its former form and its possible Celtic antecedents. This task was aided by an image in one of the stained glass windows showing the interior of the church before the Victorians got to work on it.

The stained glass window in Manorbier Church which shows the interior before Victorian restoration.

Passing the Castle gate, we took some time to inspect the fine Arts and Crafts Village Hall which was designed in 1908 by Benson, a protégé of William Morris who owned a house in Manorbier. The building has recently been renovated by its current owner, the Picton Estate.

After refreshments in the excellent Beach Break Café (which is not near the beach) our party set off to explore the network of green lanes which lace this landscape linking Manorbier to its satellite villages of Jameston and Manorbier Newtown. In the course of the afternoon the group examined the remains of the ancient fishponds referred to by Giraldus Cambrensis in his fond description of his birthplace, the newly restored medieval dovecote and the remains of the mill. Regrettably, we didn’t have the time (or the energy) to examine the extraordinary axial field systems surrounding Manorbier which are a rare survival from the Bronze age. Perhaps next year …..

Members on their way to inspect Manorbier’s superb dovecot which would have played an important role in the economy of the manorial household. It held about 250 birds.



The green lane linking Manorbier to Jameston, called Coffin Lane  as bodies had to be carried along it to be buried in Manorbier churchyard.

The Regency Restoration Project at Middleton Hall, National Botanic Garden of Wales

Finally, just before this publication was going to press, members of the Society had an exciting day at the National Bontanic Garden of Wales which is the scene of a multi-million pound project to restore the Regency water gardens, lakes and landscaped parkland of Middleton Hall. Professor Emeritus David Austin, who is in charge of the archaeology of the project, started the day with a brief illustrated lecture tracing the history of the site from the 16th century, when it was the seat of the Middleton family, to the development of the park under its 18th century owner, the East India Company nabob, Sir William Paxton. David explained that the Middletons also had a connection with the East India company, being founder members, and that, like Paxton, they too used the springs on the site to create elaborate water gardens that have only recently been discovered by geophysics and LIDAR.

Professor Emeritus David Austin who is directing the archaeological work.

The walk which followed revealed the enormous scale of the 500 acre 18th century park with its lakes, dams, waterfalls and cascades together with the engineering that their construction entailed, and we marvelled at the fabulous wealth that must have been at the disposal of its creator. Unfortunately, Paxton’s mansion has mostly disappeared – only the outline of its footprint is preserved, delineated in stone ……. at half scale.

Towards the end of the tour, we visited the site of the earlier Renaissance hall of the Middleton family which lies on the opposite side of the water to Paxton’s mansion. There, we were able to appreciate the complexity and scale of the 16th – 17th century water features described in the lecture. Curious passers-by wondered what we were finding so interesting about the lumps and bumps under our feet but, thanks to David’s interpretation, we were envisaging a magnificent Tudor mansion surrounded by formal gardens of great beauty where fountains played and cascades tumbled down to the nearby river.

This visit was topped off by a humid stroll through the Botanic Gardens’ tropical house amidst clouds of exotic, brilliantly-hued butterflies.

Ann Sayer



Nooks and Corners of Pembrokeshire. Drawn and Described by Henry Thornhill Timmins.
London: Elliot Stock, 1895. (Reprinted by Lapridge Publications 1997)

Timmins toured Pembrokeshire in 1894, travelling by train, coach and horses and on foot. A Birmingham man, trained as an architect, he was an accomplished artist who clearly delighted in describing in his notebook and making sketches of the churches, great houses, landmark features and wildlife he encountered on his summer visit here. There is evidence of considerable research used in writing this account of his journey starting in Tenby, circumnavigating the coast, and ending up in the Narberth area. He refers to Fenton, Jones and Freeman and liberally quotes from, Leland, George Owen and Giraldus Cambrensis.  He is genned up on much of our history and scatters local myths and tales through his meanderings.

Clearly with an eye to advance subscriptions not only from local worthies but also from many of his acquaintances in the midlands, who might be prompted to visit this somewhat remote area, he is at pains to paint the ‘picturesque’ in Pembrokeshire. For those of us long settled in the county phrases such as the ‘fern-clad shoulders of Precelly’ the ‘wild and iron-bound headlands’, ‘venerable Dewisland’ and the ‘grass-grown quays of Pembroke’ are somewhat florid. He also favours phrases such as ‘coup d’oeil’ and ‘ultima thule’.


However, with much of this interspersed with vivid trails along waysides thronging with birds, butterflies and flowers it is not difficult to be seized by nostalgia and the bitter-sweet of what we have lost. Timmins talks of ‘the spacious demesne of Stackpole Court’, the ‘mighty elm’ midway down Pembroke High Street, alighting at Crymych Arms railway station, the hollyhocks and nasturtiums in the garden of the Haverfordwest Bristol Trader. In the upland pastures ‘a farm lad is ‘tickling’ the ruddy soil with a primitive kind of harrow, composed of a bundle of brushwood drawn behind a horse.’

Timmins sees our white washed cottages everywhere … ‘very clean no doubt but the reverse of picturesque in appearance’. While the gentry homes, castles, the cathedral and town churches of Tenby and Haverfordwest give him considerable pleasure, he is at pains to note the rugged simplicity of most of our rural parish churches, many described as ‘ivy-mantled’,  a number of them sketched.


All is not embedded in the rustic past. There is a description of a visit to Pembroke Dockyard which was then alive with engines and workshops and ‘the rudimentary ribs of a huge iron-clad…’.  At Eastington the traveler is kept awake by heavy guns and electric search lights.
One must admit there are occasionally places about which he has little good to say. Maenclochog is a ‘bleak-looking place enough’. Little Newcastle is a ‘mean unkempt village’. The simple-minded people of Marloes are ‘notorious wreckers’ and he finds himself obliged to travel to St Davids in a ‘battered, old ramshackle coach.’
Timmins has an unnamed companion with him for much of his trip. Among the places where he nightly beds-down are Manorbier Castle, Eastington Farmhouse and the Mariners in the county town. He appears to have the freedom to roam fields and byways without restraint. He refers to his ‘trusty’ Ordnance Survey map.

120 years have gone by since Timmins visited the ‘Nooks and Corners ’of our county. What a different trip it would be today…

M. Wight
Gloucester: The British Publishing Company, 1947.
‘Pembrokeshire offers a particular welcome to lovers of unspoiled Nature, and to seekers after relics of ancient days.’

We do not know whether it is a man or lady taking us round Pembrokeshire not long after the end of World War Two. However, we are left with the impression that M.Wight may not be a local but he ( for this is my guess) is very attached to the county and well versed in its history, geography and customs. Interestingly he tells us that rainfall is very low and sunshine is abundant!
This is a very plain paperback clearly intended to travel in the pocket, sometimes in towns, other times among the hills, on the islands or on paths close to the sea. Wight begins with talk of Saundersfoot and ends in the Preseli Hills. Towns, villages and castles are enthusiastically discussed and on the journey we are reminded here and there of the impact of the recent war, things about the county that are now long gone and the changes that were coming.

pftp4 pftp5

There is ample opportunity here to be encompassed by nostalgia. There is talk of the corn mills, the woollen mills still making Welsh flannel out of fleece from the mountain sheep. We are reminded of a host of small farms, ‘…fenced in by stone walls or thick sod banks topped with gorse to make a golden road of a country lane.’ And you may still find a few thatched cottages with chimneys of wattle and daub. It is understood that in north Pembrokeshire there are still people with no English.

We are told that ‘…the ten mile fiord of Milford Haven almost cuts the Englishery into two, making communication difficult even in these days, unless the ferries can be used.’ There are still a number of ferries across the rivers but only Neyland offers a steamer service.
‘…a cross country journey is best not attempted by car, for it will cross the most surprisingly steep valleys with probably a water splash of unknown depth at the bottom.’
‘Even some of the old towns like Narberth which grew up around a Norman castle, have now dwindled to the status of a village.’

At Freshwater West there was then a ‘colony of low driftwood huts thatched with rushes…they belong to the laver gatherers…. .’ ‘Within recent years there has been a great development of market gardening round Dale…and already great quantities of early tomatoes, potatoes etc., are produced.’

We are reminded that the deep sea fishing port of Milford is the third largest in Britain with trawlers sailing as far as Iceland, Portugal and north Africa.
Wight explains the role of the Haven in the recent war:
‘three main operational tasks being carried out from its safe anchorage-convoy control and escort, mine sweeping and mine laying…upwards of seventeen thousand ships sailed from the port of Milford, with a tonnage totalling over sixty-three million…’

He talks of ‘… the courage of the mine-sweeper crews and merchant seamen. Naturally, the local people hope that they will not be forgotten in peace time.’ He recalls that: ‘In proportion to its size Pembroke Dock was the most bombed place in Britain.’ At the same time he finds it necessary to remind us of our own efforts at destruction and describes how the military used for target practice Grassholm, inhabited by numerous ‘lovely white gannets’.

There is talk of a Landscape Survey of the county by the Ministry of Planning which is expected to lead to a National Park but in the 1940s  ‘…only the strongest walkers should attempt to follow the cliffs westward from Manorbier to St Govan’s Head…there is not always a path and a good many rough scrambles down to the shore and up again are necessary-even in peace time.’ It is here that our guide is taken up by the prospect of the Castlemartin area continuing as a permanent tank range. ‘This is tragic.’

‘Now, after the end of the war, the majestic peace of Preselly is threatened by the demands of the military, who would take some sixteen thousand acres of sheep farming land…’
Thankfully there was sufficient protest to prevent this.

Unlike Timmins, Wight does not offer himself as a travelling companion with the essentially personal experience of journeying around the county. The drawings made by of Timmins intimately reflect his response to what he encounters while photographs taken by Wight are largely lacking in character and atmosphere. We find ourselves allowing a certain amount of licence to this author who is clearly keen to sell the county.

‘We are not all historians and archaeologists, nor even poets and artists, and it is they who will love Pembrokeshire most.’


Pembrokeshire by M.Wight was reprinted by Goodale Press in 2011.
Mary John





On 23 August 1793 Maria Child married John Grant at St Mary’s Church, Haverfordwest.  Maria was the daughter of James Mark Child of Begelly House and his wife Maria Philippa Artemesia Philipps, and granddaughter of Sir John Philipps of Picton Castle, 4th baronet. 1

Her first son, born in 1801, was Richard Bulkeley Philipps Grant who, on the death of his cousin Lord Milford in 1823, succeeded to the Picton estate. Sir RBP Philipps represented the borough of Haverfordwest as Member of Parliament from 1826 to1834 and 1837 to 1847 when he became Baron Milford of Picton Castle. He was elected Mayor of Haverfordwest in 1830.

John Grant died in 1811. The following year, at Pembroke, his forty year old widow rather intriguingly married Henry Gwyther, an 18 year old student, described as a “Probationer of the Wesleyan Persuasion”. 2

Henry was the son of Henry Gwyther,  3 a Pembroke born businessman in Bristol, and his wife Mary. He was baptised at the Castle Green Meeting (Independent) in the city in May 1794. Educated at Winkfield School, he matriculated at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, in March 1814. 4  The couple’s first child, James Henry Alexander Gwyther, was born in 1815. Henry then matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1817 and graduated BA there in 1818. 5 He was ordained deacon in 1817 and priest at Salisbury Cathedral in October 1819.  After two brief curacies in Westbury, Wiltshire, and St Mary’s Chapel, Birmingham, he was appointed in 1821 as vicar in the parish of Yardley, the Patron of which was Lord Milford.  He continued there as vicar for over fifty years until his death in 1872.  As an evangelical his ministry was fervent and intense. Described as “originally a Wesleyan Methodist, and is still in creed, conviction, sentiment and spirit”, 6   it was recorded that soon after his arrival at Yardley he ordered the church pew-opener to burn three barrow-loads of parchments he found in the church. 7   With his brother John,  8  vicar of Fewston, Gloucestershire, he compiled The Psalmist; A Selection of Psalms and Hymns, published in 1830. He published many sermons . As President of the Birmingham Temperance Society, he was an “indefatigable friend of temperance.” 9  Gregory described him as “cordial, communicative and spiritual to a delightful decree” while his wife Maria was as “a most comely, kindly matron of great wealth and even greater expectations.” 10   She died at Yardley in 1851 at the age of 79.  Following her death Henry married a governess, Frances Fewtrell, who survived him together with their three daughters.

James Henry Alexander Gwyther was born at Winkfield, Wiltshire, where his father was curate, and baptised on 19 May 1815. 11 In 1833 he was admitted and matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA (MA 1841). 12 He was ordained deacon at Worcester Cathedral 1838 and priest in the following year. In 1841 he was appointed Vicar of Madeley, a thriving parish close to the industrial area of Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale.

The parish of Madeley in Shropshire was very closely linked with the Wesleyan cause. Revd John Fletcher, a close associate of John Wesley, was vicar there from 1760-1785. His widow, who remained in the parish after his death, organised services in the vicarage barn, being joined in 1799 by Mary Tooth who worked there for over forty years as a preacher.  She corresponded with Revd Henry Gwyther  13 and it can be no coincidence that his son was appointed vicar of Madeley two years before Mary Tooth’s death. Sir Richard Philipps was the Patron of the parish. In 1847 Gwyther purchased the advowson of the parish.

In 1844 James Gwyther married Mary Catherine Lea, daughter of William Woolrych Lea of  Ludstone Claverly, near Madeley. The couple had seven children. In April 1856 five of them died at Madeley within nine days as a result of a cholera epidemic. 14  Two daughters survived.

In 1848 Gwyther’s first formal link with Pembrokeshire was his appointment by his half- brother, Lord Milford, as Domestic Chaplain at Picton Castle.15  In 1854 unsuccessful efforts were made to effect his appointment as Rector of St Mary’s Church, Tenby. 16

In January 1857, on the death of Lord Milford, 17 Revd JHA Gwyther inherited Picton Castle and its extensive estate and changed his name to Philipps. 18 He visited Haverfordwest in June of that year when he preached sermons for the Church Missionary Society in St Mary’s, St Martin’s and Prendergast churches. At a public meeting of the Society he was warmly welcomed to the town. He informed his listeners that this was his first visit to the town since he was a boy, some thirty years before. The newspaper account mentions that the text of his sermon was the same as that chosen by his father when he preached at St Mary’s at that time. 19 In May 1857 he agreed to replace Lord Milford as Patron of the Haverfordwest Literary and Scientific Institution. 20

Revd James Philipps remained at his parish in Madeley until 1859 by which time he had purchased the advowson of St Mary’s Church, from its owner and vicar, Revd Thomas Watts. He was instituted as vicar on 29 January 1859.  Within a short time he became involved in his new parish, appearing in a list of subscribers to the planned Haverfordwest Infirmary and proposing its establishment at a public meeting. 21  He gave a lecture, “Twilight of Christianity in Britain”, at the Shire Hall to a numerous and respectable audience. 22  The chairman of the meeting was W. Owen, Esq., High Sheriff of the county, and on the platform were Sir Thomas Philipps, Revd James Thomas and George Phillips, important members of local society. Whereas Lord Milford had represented the town in Parliament and was Lord Lieutenant of Haverfordwest, Revd Philipps’ incumbency at St Mary’s was to provide the Picton Castle family with an alternative platform in the town and county. Frequent references to the vicar appeared in the local press. He was appointed Rural Dean of Daugleddy by the bishop who hoped that as he was to be instituted to the principal church in Haverfordwest it might increase his opportunity for usefulness. 23

As the parish had no house for its incumbent the vicar was given a licence by the bishop allowing him to live outside his parish. His application stated that his residence, Picton Castle, was four miles from the parish but his intention was to perform his duty in person and live in a hired house within the parish at least two nights each week. 24   He had appointed Revd H Christian Chandler as his assistant curate at £100 per year and that he lived in the parish.

During the earlier years of his incumbency Revd Philipps was very involved in the parish and town. The register shows services were held on Sunday mornings and evenings and Thursday evenings. 25  Visiting preachers included JH Morgan, Chaplain to Seamen of Milford Haven, Revd SO Meares, Vicar of St Martin’s, and Revd J Erasmus Philipps, vicar of Warminster, Salisbury.  A printed programme of services for Passion Week and Easter Day, 1862, shows that Morning Prayer was said each day during the week at 11am and on each evening a lecture was given by the vicar or curate. The evening service began and 7pm and would close by 8.30pm. The vicar aimed to attract his working class parishioners as the programme exhorted; “WORKING PEOPLE COME IN YOUR ORDINARY CLOTHES”. 26   He formed a Sunday school, accommodation for which he provided, and where,

…sound religious instruction is there imparted by various gentlemen, highly esteemed and holding responsible positions in the town, and their exertions, continually supervised and aided by so strenuous a supporter as the vicar, cannot fail to produce a lasting and most beneficial influence. 27

Annual summer outings to Picton Castle were arranged for the large Sunday school. 28 The vicar also provided lectures on religious subjects for the working classes.

Revd Philipps launched a major fundraising campaign for improvement projects at St Mary’s. In April 1859, no doubt mindful of the strength of nonconformity in the area, he and his church wardens declined to set a church rate for the impending restoration. A small notebook lists over a hundred subscriptions made towards the cost of roof repairs. 29 A request for a contribution from the Town Council was refused, so he devised an alternative scheme to raise funds, announcing a three day Grand Bazaar to be held in the grounds of Picton Castle with the aim of raising £1600.  A list of many prominent ladies of the county who had agreed to be patronesses was published and reads like the Who’s Who of the county! 30  The event took place in June 1860 and combined a rural fete, bazaar and horticultural show, “surpassing in extent and magnificence anything of a kindred description that has ever been attempted in this county.” 31  Shops and banks in Haverfordwest closed at noon to allow workers to attend the fete. Vehicles of all descriptions made their way to the castle, but the majority of people would have walked, a distance of about five miles.

The improvements carried out during his incumbency included the removal of the Town Council Chamber over the north porch. This two storey building, with a steep flight of steps at the side, was “a double chamber, musty and worm-eaten, where everything was redolent of past ages”. 32  The demolition marked a significant physical break between the church and town corporation, so inextricably linked for many centuries. The east churchyard wall was created and topped with iron rails, a new decorative iron gate was installed at the entrance from High Street, and the organ, already over 120 years old, was subject to major repair.  33 There was also a plan by WL Lindsey, architect, never fulfilled, to raise the tower by fourteen feet and to place on it a spire twenty feet high. Copies of a lithograph showing the proposed design were printed and sold at the bazaar.

Revd Philipps’s family links with nonconformity encouraged him to work together with various denominations in the community. In January 1860 he invited town clergy and dissenting ministers to breakfast at the Mariners Hotel to discuss “the best means of still more closely uniting the different religious bodies in the town, and promoting a revival of true godliness among the inhabitants generally”. 34   Following this united prayer meetings were held at the Shire Hall. At one meeting Revd Thomas Davies, Baptist Minister, presided and prayers were said by Revd Philipps. 35    The next meeting, when Revd Philipps presided, was attended by an “immense audience” with prayers being offered by clergy and laymen. 36  His enthusiasm, however, was not appreciated by a correspondent of the Churchman who criticised the participation in these prayer meetings by dissenting ministers who apparently talked “so lovingly of the beauty of Christian union”, yet at the same time contributing to the Anti State Church Society. 37 In April it was announced that the united prayer services would cease for the time being, but that Revd Philipps would hold prayer meetings monthly in the schoolroom. 38  More evidence of his sympathy for the nonconformist cause can be seen in his gift of land on which to build Millin Cross Chapel in 1866.

Numerous examples of his philanthropy were recorded in the local press. Each Christmas he provided beef for distribution among the poor of the town and half crowns for poor women.  39 At Christmas 1872 he replaced the beef with cash, with amounts varying between 2s 6d and 10 shillings.  It was reported that 205 Haverfordwest families benefitted, a seventh of the town’s population. 40

In January 1863 he attended a public meeting convened to discuss great distress in the town caused by unemployment. A memorial to the Mayor had been signed by a very large number of labourers who, after several weeks unemployed, were literally destitute. Revd Philipps proposed that immediate steps should be taken to alleviate the distress and put this into action by immediately employing ten or twelve workmen. 41   In 1864 he gave 50 square feet of land on Castle Hill, Tenby, upon which the Welsh national  memorial  to the Prince Consort was  erected. In 1869, as a member of the Cambrian Lodge at Haverfordwest, he gave a piece of land in Picton Place for a new Masonic Hall to be built.

The vicar appears to have been well respected and popular in the town. He took part in several secular activities, acting as chairman of Haverfordwest winter evenings entertainment  42 and giving lectures in the town hall. He preached sermons on many occasions throughout the county and supported appeals for many churches and schools. 43

St Mary’s retained its Low Church status while Revd Philipps was vicar. He preached in a black gown from the three decker pulpit. 44 He was an energetic pastor and an assiduous preacher, preaching from a written text, often for half an hour or more. 45  Holy Eucharist was celebrated in the evening service. 46

It was reported that in 1857 Revd Philipps had declared himself a political Liberal but an ecclesiastical Conservative. 47  Although, unlike his predecessors at Picton, he did not personally stand for election to any public body, his name and position as head of the Picton estate was linked with political elections. In 1863 he was accused of instructing his tenants not to vote for a certain candidate. 48

By 1867 the Picton estate seems to have experienced financial problems. In 1862 the Sun Office had agreed a loan of £50,000 to Revd Philipps for ten years, on security of his life interest in the estate. 49   In 1867 a letter from J. Langbourne of Grays Inn expressed concern at the precarious financial position as expenditure had greatly increased. He recommended that the vicar’s agents, Messrs Goode and Owen, must control their desire to carry out repairs and improvements. These problems could have contributed to the vicar’s deteriorating health and he took little further part in the activities of his church and parish. From around 1871 he and his wife lived permanently at their London home, 60 Princes Gate, where his wife died in March 1875. Soon afterwards he resigned as vicar and, as patron of the living, appointed Revd Joshua Wrenford as vicar.

JHA Philipps died at Picton on 3 December 1875 at the age of 61. An obituary said that “he won for himself the esteem and regard of all classes of the community”, was “an able and eloquent minister” and “a tolerant and large hearted Churchman.” 50    He was buried in the family grave at Madeley.  His estate 51  was inherited by his son-in-law Charles Edward Gregg Fisher who had married Mary Philippa Philipps and changed his name to Philipps in compliance with his father-in-law’s will. CEG Philipps was created a baronet in 1887 and played a major role in local affairs. He was Mayor of Haverfordwest on three occasions, Lord Lieutenant of the town, High Sheriff of the county, magistrate and  Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council,

Several stained glass windows were given to the church by the Philipps family. The large Kempe east window was erected in memory of JHA Philipps and his wife who are memorialised by references in two small upper lights to St James and Catharina, martyr.
Following the death of Revd JHA Philipps, Picton castle was closed for a few years pending a court decision as to its lawful heir. Revd Sir Erasmus Philipps of Warminster, the 12th Baronet, challenged the legality of Lord Milford’s legacy to JHA Gwyther. The court decided in favour of the CEG Fisher Philipps family.


  1. Maria’s father was Bulkeley Philipps of Abercover, Carmarthenshire, third son of Sir John Philipps (d.1737).
  2. Carmarthen Journal and South Wales Weekly Advertiser, 23 May 1812. “Married: Lately at Pembroke, Mr Gwether (sic), Probationer of the Wesleyan Persuasion, to Mrs Grant, relict of the late John Grant, Esq., of Pembroke”.
  3. IGI Henry Gwyther baptised 19 February 1771 at St Michael’s, Pembroke, son of Henry and Esther Gwyther.
  4. www.ancestry.co.uk/db.aspx?dbid=8942 (Oxford University Alumni database)
  5. www.ancestry.co.uk/db.aspx?dbid=3997 (Cambridge University Alumni database)
  6. Benjamin Gregory, DD. Autobiographical Recollection linked with memorials of his later life by his eldest son. London,1903. Hodder and Stoughton. 348.
  7. www.ancestry.co.uk/db.aspx?dbid=3997 (Cambridge University Alumni database)
  8. As curate of Chilvers Coton from 1831, John Gwyther is said to have been the inspiration for George Eliot’s character Revd Amos Barton (Scenes of Clerical Life).
  9. Hereford Times, 23 September 1846.
  10. Gregory op.cit. 348
  11. IGI Batch 5019939/ sheet 49.
  12. www.ancestry.co.uk/db.aspx?dbid=3997 (Cambridge University Alumni database)
  13. http://rylibweb.man.ac.uk/data1/   Methodist Archives Biographical Index.
  14. His friends and neighbours subscribed to the memorial in Madeley Church which names Hephzibah Mary age 10, Emily Maria 8, Phoebe Catharine 7, James Bulkeley Philipps 5, Clara Artemisia 3.
  15. National Library of Wales. Picton Castle Schedule 1576. Appointment by Baron Milford of Rev James Henry Alexander Gwyther, vicar of Madeley, co. Salop, to be one of his domestic chaplains in Picton Castle; “to serve me in the performance of divine offices within my house or chapel, and to have and enjoy and singular the privileges, benefits, liberties and immunities whatsoever given and granted to the chaplains of the Barons and Peers of this realm”
  16. NLW Picton Castle Schedule 4294. A letter from the Mayor of Tenby and some 200 parishioners was sent to Lord John Russell, MP, requesting consideration to be given to the appointment of Rev JH Gwyther, a man of piety, activity and experience as Rector of Tenby.
  17. His interment in the family vault in the chancel was the last burial within the church.
  18. The Times, 21 February 1857.  “The Queen has been pleased to grant unto James Henry Alexander Gwyther…..Her Royal Licence and authority that he and his issue may, in compliance with a proviso contained in the last will and testament of Richard, Baron Milford….henceforth take, assume, and use the surname of Philipps instead of that of Gwyther” .
  19. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 26 June 1857.
  20. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 8 May 1857.
  21. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, February 2 1859.  He subscribed £100, as did the Lord Bishop of St David’s. Both became trustees of the Infirmary.
  22. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, March 2 1859.
  23. NLW Picton Castle Schedule 3825.
  24. NLW SD/NR/306P.
  25. Pembrokeshire County Record Office. HPR/2/23.
  26. NLW Picton Castle Schedule 14810.
  27. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 22 June 1860.
  28. Welshman, 27 June 1862.
  29. NLW Picton Castle Schedule 1493.
  30. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, December 28, 1859. Rt. Hon.Countess of Cawdor; Lady Emlyn; Lady Griffes Williams, St Davids; Mrs Adams, Holyland, Pembroke; Mrs Barham, Trecwn; Mrs Tucker Edwardes, Sealyham; Mrs Harries, Priskilly Forest; Mrs Higgon, Scolton House; Mrs Massey, Cottesmore; Mrs JH Phillips, Williamston; Mrs JHA Philipps, Picton Castle; Mrs Lloyd Philipps, Dale Castle; Mrs Lloyd Philipps, Penty Park; Mrs GL Phillips, Lawrenny; Mrs TL Phillips, Broad Haven. The Town Ladies were Mrs Crymes, High Street; Mrs HP Goode, High Street; Mrs J Harvey, Picton Place; Mrs Mathias, Grove Place; Mrs W Owen, Hermons Hill; Mrs Phillips, Cleddau Lodge; Mrs Phillips, Victoria Place; Mrs Rees, Market Street; Mrs Rowlands, Glenover; Miss Stokes, Market Street; Mrs A Stokes, Court House; Mrs Williams, Spring Gardens; Mrs Woodham, Bridge Street.
  31. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 22 June 1860.
  32. Brown, Phillips, Warren. The History of Haverfordwest with that of some Pembrokeshire Parishes, Haverfordwest.1914.62
  33. Welshman, 27 June 1862.  “The organ ….was a fine and noble instrument, equal, if not surpassing, in power and finish, any church organ in Wales. …through the liberality of Mr Philipps…Mr Banfield [organ builder] has just added a trumpet stop to the instrument so that it is now, without exception, the finest and best organ in the principality. It contains about 1500 pipes.”
  34. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 6 January 1860.
  35. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 15 February, 1860.
  36. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 14 March 1860.
  37. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 14 March 1860.
  38. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 18 April 1860.
  39. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 30 December 1864.
  40. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 27 December 1872.
  41. Welshman, 23 January 1863.
  42. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 7 February 1868.
  43. Prendergast Church Restoration Fund £100;St Martin’s Church £100; Jeffreyston Church restoration Fund £5; St David’s Cathedral Restoration Fund £100; Uzmaston Church Restoration £500; gave land for Freystrop schoolroom and National School, Narberth; St Katharine, Milford Haven restoration £10.
  44. Fred. J Warren. The History and Antiquities of St Mary’s Haverfordwest, Letchworth, Arden Press, 1914, 72.
  45. John Morgan-Guy. ‘Sermons in Wales in the Established Church.’ in Keith A Francis and William Gibson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon 1689-1901, Oxford University Press, 2012. 193
  46. Nigel Yates. ‘The Parochial Impact of the Oxford Movement in South-West Wales’ in Tudor Barnes and Nigel Yates, (eds). Carmarthenshire Studies, Carmarthen, Carmarthenshire County Council, 1974. 239
  47. South Wales Daily News, 22 November 1873.
  48. Potters Electric News, 28 October 1863.
  49. NLW Picton Castle Schedule 4425.
  50. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 10 December 1875.
  51. Ancestry.com Probate record. His effects were under £40,000.

‘…famous for the Cure of all Diseases…’ : St Govan’s Well over 350 years


By Janet Bord

Although there are around 700 holy wells in Wales, the majority of them are poorly documented.  Most had only local fame, with very few being known outside their parish, and usually no one thought to record them while still in use.  Consequently many were eventually forgotten and lost, sometimes only surviving in an old field name.  I am currently researching all the saints’ wells in Wales:  saints’ wells rather than all the named wells, of which there must be several thousand.  Not all named wells or spas are holy wells, which need to be named for a saint or have some specific religious connection;  many wells were purely local water supplies, perhaps with a personal name (usually that of the owner or user) but often with no traditions.  Very few holy wells were on the 18th and 19th century tourist trail, except for those that had become famous for some significant reason, such as Wales’s best-known and most impressive well, St Winefride’s at Holywell in Flintshire, still visited today by the sick seeking cures, as well as by many devout Catholic pilgrims and non-religious tourists.

In South Wales one small and visually insignificant saint’s well did find its way on to tourist itineraries, largely because of its dramatic location, and as a result, the descriptions of what travellers found there have provided us with an insight into how a holy well’s history can develop and change over the years.   I discovered this when I set out chronologically all the descriptions I could find relating to what is now known as St Govan’s Well, in Bosherston parish not far from Tenby in south Pembrokeshire.

Who was St Govan?
The first mystery, as is so often the case with saints’ wells, is the identity of St Govan. ‘Govan’ is the spelling most often seen today, but alternative spellings of his name include, as the earliest form I have found, ‘Sct. Gouen’ on Saxton’s 1578 map of Pembrokeshire;  also Gowan (as for example on the 1868 Ordnance Survey map),

Gowen, Goven, Gofan and Gobin.  He may have been born around 500 and was possibly a disciple of Eilfyw, the Pembrokeshire saint who baptised St David, and who is usually, but incorrectly, said to have been Irish, and the same person as St Ailbe of Emly, a famous Irish bishop.  Govan may also have been St David’s nephew, since one source identifies his mother as St David’s sister.   He has also been confused with Gobhan, an Irish saint known from the life of St Ailbe, because of the similarity of names and also because of the confusion between Ailbe and Eilfyw.  This confusion dates back as far as the late 11th century, in Rhigyfarch’s Life of St David.  A 17th-century spelling of the Pembrokeshire saint’s name as Gobin in an account by John Ray might suggest that he was a native Pembrokeshire saint who had become confused with St Ailbe’s disciple because of their very similar names.  The Irish Gobhan is stated in a life of Ailbe to have been St Ailbe’s cook and to have travelled with two of his disciples to Rome to get a copy of the correct way to say Mass.  Gobhan was sick on the boat, dying and then coming back to life, an event that appears to have been depicted on one of the misericords inside St David’s Cathedral.  However, the balance of probability suggests that Govan/Gobin and Gobhan were two entirely separate people who were later assumed to be one person because of name similarities and a conflation of the sources. 1

To complicate matters further, it has also been suggested that Govan was in fact Gawain, famous in Arthurian legend as one of the knights of the Round Table.   This connection has been centuries in the making, if a 19th-century summary by Cosmo Innes is accurate.  But his account of the legend only deals with the burial of Gawain once dead, and does not allow for him to have been a saint living in an isolated cell on the Pembrokeshire coast.

Sir Gawain, the renowned knight of the Round Table, was slain by Sir Launcelot, and many places claimed the honour of preserving his remains:  Langtoft says that he was buried at Wybre in Wales;  Caxton and Leland place his interment at Dover;  whilst, according to the Brut, he was conveyed to his country of Scotland.  The occurrence of a name so similar as
that of Govan, associated with a remarkable site, was sufficient, it would appear, to justify a claim on behalf of Pembrokeshire.  The assertion, singular as it may be, is not modern, since William of Malmesbury relates the discovery on the coast of the province of Ross in Wales, in the times of the Conqueror, of the tomb of Gawain, 14 feet in length;  and also that the wounded knight was wrecked on the coast, and slain by the natives.  Leland rejects the tale, but records the existence of a ruined castle near the shore, called by the name of Gawain;  and Sir F. Madden [an antiquary, 1801-73] observes that the tradition of the locality assigns St. Govan’s Head as the burial-place of King Arthur’s nephew. 2

Gawain has also been claimed to be Gwalchmai, a legendary figure from Welsh tradition, whose name appears in Pembrokeshire.  Castell Gwalchmai (Walwyn’s Castle) is about 16 miles to the north-west of St Govan’s Head, and there are other local links:   the 18th-century antiquary Lewis Morris said that Gwalchmai’s grave was between the islands of Skomer and Skokholm, not far away off the coast to the north-west.   It seems feasible that since the Gwalchmai/Gawain and Govan locations are only a few miles apart, the similarity of the names caused the tradition of Sir Gawain to drift south to St Govan’s territory, as shown by Sir Frederic Madden’s comment noted above.  He appears to be the first person to mislocate Gawain’s tomb from Walwyn’s Castle to St Govan’s Head, and so the identification of Govan as Gawain dates from no earlier than the first half of the 19th century. 3

It seems that everyone has had a stab at identifying ‘St Govan’, and also criticising other people’s identifications, as typified in the following footnote from a late 19th-century book about Tenby and its environs:

“The valiant knight – the Sir Gawain, of good King Arthur’s round table – has been transformed, by popular error, into a saint.  The superstitious stories to which this singular position of a consecrated building has given rise are without end.” – Malkin. [Benjamin Heath Malkin (1769-1843) in his own writings always refers to ‘Sir Gawaine’s Chapel’ rather tha St Govan’s Chapel.]   Malkin here, as well as in many other of his assumptions, is not to be relied on;  the name, no doubt, is a corruption of St.Giovanni, to whom the chapel was dedicated.” 4

There is no chance whatsoever that St Govan was the same as an Italian St Giovanni, who is probably St John the Evangelist or St John the Baptist, not a separate Italian St John.  An equally unlikely identification makes Govan a woman, St Cofen, the wife of a 6th-century Welsh king:  ‘St Cofen, Govein, or Goven, was an early Welsh saint, wife of Tewdrig and mother of Mewrig, kings of South Wales.’  5  Malkin also refers to a British St Goven, and goes on to say, ‘Both St. Goven, and St. Golwen are sometimes mistaken for Godwin’ and then he mentions ‘a saint Golwin’ 6:  it seems that every permutation of spelling has cropped up somewhere to try and explain the identity of this mysterious saint.  Today the consensus seems to be that Govan was the Irish St Gobhan – but as noted above, this is probably incorrect and he was most likely a native Pembrokeshire saint of whom nothing is known.

There is some little-known evidence that St Govan was not associated solely with the well-known cliff chapel that now bears his name:  it is possible that he was also active at Narberth around 12 miles to the north-east of St Govan’s Chapel, an area in the same rural deanery as Bosherston.   The Narberth Tithe Apportionment includes the historic field names Upper Saint Gowens and Lower Saint Gowens, Gowen being one of the alternative name-forms for Govan.  Three-quarters of a mile to the north-north-west of these two fields is St Owen’s Well in Stoneditch Lane opposite the house now named The Valley.

‘Owen’ is unlikely to be the obscure St Owen who appears in the life of St Milburga (he has a well at Much Wenlock in Shropshire) or St Ouen, bishop of Rouen, who had a substantial cult in northern France or the Jesuit martyr St Nicholas Owen;  instead the name would seem to be a version of ‘Gowen’ probably derived from the Welsh system of mutation where some names following ffynnon or llan lose their initial letter, so that St Gowen’s Well would in Welsh be Ffynnon Owen – just as St Gallgo had his church at Llanallgo on Anglesey, his well being Ffynnon Allgo.

The Valley was formerly the old Rectory and is named as such on the 1888 OS map.   A former rector of Narberth was told by ‘a very old parishioner’ around 1884 that his parents had told him that there was an ancient building where weddings took place in the field adjoining the house.  Parts of this ruined building were included in the Rectory which was built in 1827.  The rector also stated that close to the ruins ‘is now a bee-hive-shaped well of splendid water’:  this would be St Owen’s Well, a name recorded around 1700 by Edward Lhwyd.  The name ‘Henllan’ (old church) was recorded at Stoneditch in 1688;  and a 6th-century inscribed gravestone was also found here.  These are all suggestive of there having been a church dedicated to St Govan at Narberth, all memory of which has now been lost except for these few clues. 7

The location of St Govan’s Well
St Govan’s Well is to be found close to St Govan’s Chapel, a mile south of Bosherston in Pembrokeshire (Grid Reference SR96709295).   There is open access to chapel and well; however, the road from Bosherston is sometimes closed because of the adjacent army firing range.  It is necessary to follow the road towards the       coast until the parking area is reached, then walk towards the cliffs and down the long flight of rough stone steps (said to be uncountable) to the chapel and well.

The chapel fills the space between the cliffs, and it is necessary to go through it to reach the well.  Nothing appears to be known about the history of the chapel, though it is believed to be of 13th-14th century date, and its origins probably older.  It was restored in the 1980s.  It is a small stone building, comprising a single chamber 18 feet by 12 feet, with three doorways.  One, in the north-east wall, leads into a natural chamber in the rock adjoining the chapel, the so-called saint’s cell which is mentioned again later.


Inside the chapel can be seen a stone altar, a piscina, stone benches and a well.  There are in fact two wells at this location, though only one is named for the saint; the other appears to have no name, and is inside the chapel, at floor level to the left of the doorway in the north wall.  The saint’s well can be found by leaving the chapel on the southern side and going down rough steps towards the shore;  the entrance to the well faces the chapel.  It is covered by a stone well house with a corbelled roof and a stone lintel. 8

stgovans3 stgovans5 stgovans4

Earliest recorded visits
The chapel and wells have been famed for centuries, and have long been on the tourist itinerary, especially in the 19th century, so that we now have numerous descriptions of them over the last 350 years.  The earliest I have found in print so far is the account by John Ray, following his visit in 1662:

Thence the same Day to St. Gobin’s Well, by the Sea Side, where, under the Cliff, stands a little Chapel, sacred to that Saint, and a little below it a Well, famous for the Cure of all Diseases.  There is, from the Top of the Cliff to the Chapel, a Descent of 52 Steps. 9

Ray does not mention the well inside the chapel, but both are included in the entry for ‘Bosherstone’ in Edward Lhwyd’s Parochialia, dating from around 1700.

An ancient Chappell called St Goveans near the sea side between 2 great rocks.  Within the Chappell ther’s a spring & another below the Chappell toward the sea.  The watter of these springs is found to be good for many distempers. 10

Sir Thomas Gery Cullum’s diary for 1775 included a description of his visit on 27 July to St Gobin’s well, which is especially interesting as he was able to see sick people using the well water.  He also refers to ‘the Priestess of the Chapel’, who actively collected donations from visitors, a practice to be found at some other especially popular holy wells where visitors might be pressured into offering money to a female guardian, although in this instance it is not stated whether she actually provided any services to the sick who came seeking cures.  She may have been the owner or tenant of the land, or may simply have been someone living close by who found that if she was on hand at the well to guide pilgrims through the rituals, she could earn a little money from them.

[The well] is very near the sea, covered over with some rough stone work.  The water is temperate with no particular taste.  It still maintains some credit.  A poor woman was at it with her husband from Caermarthen, near 40 miles;  he had a Pain in his Hip;  he bathed the Part and drank the Water.  You descend to this [well] through a little Chapel of no great antiquity, 18 by 12.  At one end is something like an Altar Mon.[ument?], perhaps the old Altar.  On this Altar is laid the money of Visitants, if the Priestess of the Chapel happens to be absent.  This was the case when I was there, and the Information I had was from the poor Woman and her Husband;  upon my return [i.e. on his way out] I saw her, and she asked me how much I had left for her in the Chapel.  The building has a stone seat all round it.  In it is a little Puddle which they call a spring, good for the Eyes.  The water is taken out with the shell of a Limpet….  The number of the steps to the Chapel is about 70, from thence to the Well, 30….

There is a little Cavity in the rocks close to the Chapel, in which you are told Our Saviour took refuge for fear of the Jews;  you may still see the impression of his Person.
By the bye, it may not be very difficult for this Well to support its Reputation, if visited by People who can walk near 40 miles and back again! 11

The saint’s cell, the bell stone, and other traditions
Sir Thomas’s reference  to ‘a little Cavity’ refers to the rock chamber mentioned above – a tiny ‘cell’ which can be squeezed into, and which may in fact be the forgotten focal point of the whole chapel and well complex.  It is probable that this was the saint’s cave, cell, or penitential bed, and that the chapel may have been built as an adjunct to it.  It is telling that the chapel altar is beside the entrance to the cell.   A number of traditions have grown up, for example that St Govan, or Jesus, hid there from pirates;  and the cavity is so tight that the impression of the saint’s ribs are still visible on the rock.  It was believed that a person squeezing into the cavity and making a wish, will have that wish granted if he or she can turn around while making it.  There are numerous variations on this theme;  clearly the cell was very popular with visitors as it is described, often at length, in most of the accounts.

Another popular feature of the site’s folklore is the so-called bell stone, although as with the cell, the story has many variations.  The most familiar version is that pirates came ashore and stole the chapel bell.  As they returned to their boat, they rested the bell on certain stones, and ever afterwards those stones would make a bell-like sound when struck.  Alternatively, the bell was miraculously returned and became encased inside a rock, which rings like a bell when struck.  Like the tradition of the saint’s cell inside the chapel, the bell legend has appeared in various forms over the years.

Some other traditions which may have been active at the chapel and well, though rarely mentioned in the literature, include the so-called ‘sprinkling earth’ referred to in her 1909 book by Marie Trevelyan, obtained from fissures close to the chapel. 12   Presumably the earth was believed to carry the saint’s blessing and was used to sprinkle sick pilgrims hoping for a cure;  it may have been the same earth that was mixed with water and applied to the bodies of the sick.  A century earlier, B.H. Malkin mentioned in passing that sometimes couples would get married at the chapel. 13   One wonders who would have been marrying them:  is it possible that this refers to the clandestine use of the chapel by recusants?   In the 1830s Sir Roderick Murchison referred to ‘the rude steps chiselled by the holy man’, but if this was a firm part of the tradition, it is strange that no one else mentions it. 14  Most commentators concentrated on recounting the traditions relating to the saint’s cell and the bell stone, with other snippets tossed in if recalled – there may have been more that were current but never written down.

Two early 19th-century visits by Richard Fenton
Richard Fenton (1746-1821), Welsh historian, topographer and genealogist, wrote two accounts of the chapel and well, both published in 1811 although one of his visits is datable to 1807 and, judging from a remark in the other account, the 1807 visit was his first.  On this occasion he came ashore from a boat and so saw the saint’s well before coming to the chapel.  He wrote first of the bell stones and the pirate legend, and then about the well:

…in the cavity of a stone skirting the ascent about midway, [is] a little water, believed by the superstitious to be unfailing, but shrewdly suspected, by such as judge of things through an unprejudiced medium, to be adventitious.  Many cures are supposed to be performed, by bathing the limbs here;  and the place is frequented much in summer by the poorer sort of people from the interior, who leaving their votive crutches behind, to line the walls of the chapel, return restored to their limbs, which perhaps may be ascribed, with more justice, to change of air and the sea-breeze, than to any virtues inherent in this equivocal moisture, found in the stone basin and in the floor of the chapel:  and I am of opinion that this may hold good with respect to all watering-places, as I firmly believe that half the cures attributed to them may be oftener placed to the account of a difference in air, diet, exercise, vacancy of mind, and regulations productive of greater temperance, than to any salutary properties in the waters themselves.  [In other words, people who believe in the efficacy of holy wells are ill-fed, lazy, ignorant and drunk!  Fenton clearly believed that any cures were not the result of the intervention of the saint;  but the fact that crutches were left in the chapel does indicate that cures were claimed, however caused.  Also, genuine cripples would have found it very difficult to negotiate the steps up to the cliff-top without the aid of their crutches.]

The sailors told me, that, a few years back, such was the veneration the St. Govan’s fluid was held in, it was a common thing for people of the better sort, inhabiting the English parts of this county, to bring their infants there to undergo unction (for bathing it cannot be called), on a supposition, to use their own phrase, that the water made them more cute, and subtle;  but if they at all partook of the appearance of the fluid, I am sure it must make them muddy and dull. 15

This description tells us that in 1807 the well had not yet been covered by the stone arched well-house now to be seen:  the water is ‘in the cavity of a stone’.   It is difficult to determine exactly when the present well-house was erected, but there was probably an antiquarian tidying up of the site during the later 19th century, similar to what had happened at St Non’s Well outside St Davids not too far away, which is also covered by a rounded arched structure.   However, there was apparently some kind of cover in the late 18th century, judging by Sir Thomas Gery Cullum’s account quoted earlier, since he said that the well was ‘covered over with some rough stone work’.  This had presumably disappeared by the time of Fenton’s 1807 visit.   Fenton’s account also suggests that there wasn’t much water in the uncovered well:  he talks of  ‘a little water’ and how it would make anyone partaking of it ‘muddy and dull’, suggesting more like a muddy puddle than a flowing spring.  Another report from later in the 19th century refers to ‘the not very clear stream’. 16   However, in the mid-19th century Thomas Roscoe said that the well was ‘a spring of clear bubbling water, encircled with brick-work’ which disagrees with the other reports of muddy water – and it is not clear what Roscoe meant by ‘encircled with brick-work’. 17   It does not sound as though the well was covered over.  Maybe the amount of water was dependent on the weather, how much rain there had been, whether the spring was running fast and clear.

Fenton ended his 1807 account with a description of the cell in the chapel, mentioning only the custom of making wishes while squeezed into it.  In his next account, written very soon afterwards, he clearly approached the chapel from the landward side, since this time he began with a long description of the ‘miraculous cell’ which was able to hide ‘a saint closely pursued by his pagan persecutors’ before moving to the well within the chapel, and then to St Govan’s Well itself.
At the north side of the chapel on the floor there is a little cavity, shewing some appearance of moisture as of an oozing from some spring at the top of the cliff, and filtering through there forms a muddy deposit, used and held to be of sovereign efficacy in complaints of the eyes, though it is shrewdly suspected that the venerable Sibyl [i.e. his humorous way of referring to the well ‘guardian’ whom he suspects may be overdoing her claims for the well] who superintends the supposed miraculous waters, by an alchymy peculiarly her own, has the merit of contributing the principal part of their virtues.  Leaving the chapel, I continue to descend several stone steps till I arrive at the sainted well, where crippled       patients bathe their limbs, many of whom come from the remotest inland parts of the principality to seek relief here, and leave their crutches behind a votive offering on the altar, such as I perceived placed there when I last paid a visit to this hermitage. 18


Colt Hoare’s illustration
in Fenton’s
A Historical Tour
of Pembrokeshire.

Sick pilgrims hope to be cured
Two men (Richard Ayton and William Daniell) on a voyage round Great Britain in 1813 paid a visit to the chapel, describing the building, the cell and the well in great detail.   Their guide took them inside the chapel to show them the display of crutches:

Our guide, anxious to witness the full confirmation of our faith, accompanied us into the interior, where we beheld, suspended from the walls, several crutches, which had supported the crippled and credulous to the well, and which were hung up here in testimony of their cure, and as offerings of gratitude to their gracious deliverer.

They then continued through the chapel and met two children who had come to the well in search of cures.  Ayton’s account is worth quoting in full since it portrays with sincerity the desperate straits in which the sick found themselves 200 years ago when there was no reliable medical care.

A few more steps lead from the chapel down to the well, and as we were descending, we met a miserable, emaciated girl, who was toiling up with the utmost difficulty and pain, and bending under the load of a large pitcher of water, which she told us she was going to drink.  She had been in ill health for many years, and had formerly drunk the water with strict regularity during twelve months, but growing worse, had applied to the doctor, who declared, after a long trial, that he could give her no relief, and she had now returned again, as her last refuge, to Saint Gowan.  The failure of the doctor had awakened all her confidence in the saint, and she was only fearful that he might be offended at her former impatience.  As we were ascending from the well, we perceived another votary who had hitherto escaped our observation, a poor lad   perched upon a rock, with paper and pencil in his hands, and his eyes devoutly fixed upon the chapel.  He too was suffering from disease, and had been long drinking the charmed water with no benefit to  his health, and with no injury to his faith:  he was too feeble to work, and spent much of his time among these solitary rocks, amusing himself with his pencil, which he had never been instructed to use, but which he hoped would one day enable him to take a faithful likeness of the steps, the chapel, and the well.  These poor people seemed to be utterly ignorant of all particulars relating to the birth and history of Saint Gowan, and delivered themselves up to his keeping without troubling themselves about his credentials.  My own enquiries on this subject (and my wishes in the wall [he refers to making a wish while squeezed into the rock fissure] may be supposed to have made me enquire with some earnestness,) have not led to any satisfactory conclusions.  There seems to be a doubt whether he was a thorough-bred saint imported from Ireland in the early ages of christianity, or Sir Gawaine, the nephew of king Arthur, and a model of valour and courtesy, canonized after his death by an error of the vulgar.  In either case nothing is known of his adventures in connexion with this rude spot, and whether he lived or died here it may never be permitted us to know. 19

Ayton’s observations show that a personal cult of the saint was still flourishing even as late as the early 19th century.  The sick girl and boy did not know who the saint was, but still had total faith in his power to cure them.

All the early 19th-century reports demonstrate the popularity of the well with people seeking cures;  a Tenby guidebook of 1818 tells us that ‘near twenty patients may be seen at once bathing their limbs and applying to their swollen and crippled joints plaisters of the red clay saturated with the water of the well.’ 20   (I will refer again later to the importance of the red clay.)  From the early 19th century onwards, many accounts of the well were published, often taking their information from earlier sources.  For example, C. F. Cliffe’s Book of South Wales repeats Fenton’s account almost verbatim, although whereas Fenton uses ‘Govan’, Cliffe prefers ‘Gowan’. 21   Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary, however, settles for ‘Gawen’.  It is clear there was no consensus as to the spelling of the saint’s name at that time, but that there does appear to be some change of emphasis developing towards a name similar to Gawain.

Tradition of Christ visiting St Govan’s
An account dating from around 1830 shows how much revered a place St Govan’s Chapel was in the local religious psyche at that time.  The vicar of St Florence outside Tenby some 10 miles away asked his Sunday School pupils where the Saviour was first seen after His resurrection from the dead, and they told him ‘At St Govan’s.’

Inquiring from others what gave rise to this strange reply, he was informed:  “Once a husbandman was sowing barley on the down-land above St. Govan’s, when his attention was attracted by the dignified and striking appearance of a man who was watching the operation.  On seeing that he was observed the stranger beckoned to the husbandman, who approaching him, and in reply to his question of ‘what are you doing?’ answered, ‘sowing barley.’  ‘But,’ said the stranger, ‘this seed you are burying in the ground will decay.’  ‘Yes,’ said the farmer, ‘it will rot, but it will spring again, and at harvest-time I shall come and gather it into my bosom.’  ‘Do you believe that which is dead can come to life?’  ‘I do,’ said the husbandman.  ‘Then,’ answered the stranger with an air of majesty, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life;  go home, fetch thy sickle and cut thy corn.’  The good man did as he was bidden, and on his return the stranger had disappeared, but the barley was ripe for harvest on the same day it had been sown.” 22

This tale is not unique to St Govan’s but appears elsewhere in Britain, for example at St Milburga’s Well at Stoke St Milborough in Shropshire.  When the saint was being chased by her enemies, she fell off her horse and some workmen rushed to help her.  She commanded their barley to grow quickly, and told the men that if anyone came asking for her, they were to say that she had passed by when they were sowing their barley.  That evening the barley, planted the same morning, was ready to harvest, and St Milburga was thus able to outwit her pursuers. 23   The theme is also found in other countries, and is a localised commentary on the biblical Flight into Egypt when the Holy Family were escaping King Herod who was planning to kill children.  The Pembrokeshire version of the tale has been adapted as a preaching tool, and lacks the pursuit and avoidance themes.

At St Govan’s Chapel, Jesus was sometimes substituted for St Govan as the person who hid in the rock cell to avoid his pursuers.  The mechanism of the concealment was that Jesus (or Govan) was escaping his enemies and the rocks opened up;  he squeezed into the cleft which then closed around him, hiding him until the danger had passed, whereupon they opened again – and thereafter remained open, leaving the aperture we see today, complete with the saint’s rib marks to prove he was there.  Most visitors did seem to know the story that the cell was used as a refuge against pursuers, but an unnamed tourist in 1836 apparently had little knowledge of the tradition, since he identified the rock ‘cell’ as a fireplace:  ‘the fire-place seems to have been in one corner, as there is a recess in the rock with an aperture through it, probably to allow the escape of the smoke’.  This visitor also noted that ‘there is also a tablet of stone fixed against the wall, which may be the remains of an altar, and on the opposite wall is a slab bearing date 1176’ – a detail which I have seen nowhere else.  He also described the well, although he wasn’t convinced by the claims made for its water:

Passing through the chapel, the wonderful well is gained by a descent of sixteen steps to the water, which is said to be a cure for all complaints and hurts!  It is of an oily nature, but not of inviting appearance;  the faith reposed in its efficacy is, however, truly astonish[ing];  and doubtless, if cures are effected, such proceed as much from the operation of that particular feeling, as from any healing property of the fluid:  all the peasantry of the neighbourhood are firmly rooted in the belief of its efficacy. 24

Later in the 19th century, a Tenby tourist was told in 1863 that Jesus actually visited the well:  ‘Some of the old inhabitants told my landlady that our Saviour came there to the well.’  He also recounted a brief and garbled version of the rapid harvest tale, showing that these traditions were being handed down through the generations.25

Still popular in Victorian times
Moving into the second half of the 19th century, an account from 1859 tells us that the well water was at that time still in demand for its healing properties.

Here is the hermitage (or chapel) of St Gawen, or Goven, in which there is a well, the water of which, and the clay near, is used for sore eyes.  Besides this, a little below the chapel, is another well, with steps leading down to it, which is visited by persons from distant parts of the principality, for the cure of scrofula, paralysis, dropsy, and other complaints.  Nor is it the poor alone who make this pilgrimage:  a case came more immediately under my notice, where a lady, a person of some fortune, having been for some time a sufferer from a severe attack of paralysis, which prevented her putting her hand in her pocket [meaning that her arm was paralysed, not the current meaning of the phrase!], took up her quarters at a farm-house near the well, and after visiting it for some weeks daily, returned home perfectly cured. 26

It was also the custom at other wells for the sick pilgrims to stay locally and pay many visits to the well;  there is even a cottage adjoining Ffynnon Gybi at Llangybi (Caernarfonshire).

This account continues with a description of the legend of the stolen bell, and a long description of the ‘Wishing Corner’, the rock fissure in the chapel where Jesus hid from the Jews who were persecuting him, or St Gawen daily squeezed himself ‘as a penance for his transgressions, until at length the print of the ribs became impressed on the rock’.  Pilgrims would turn round nine times and make a wish, which would be fulfilled if the saint approved.  This is a form of circumambulation, the ritual circling of a sacred site, usually nine times.  Often recorded in Ireland, it also occurs elsewhere in Wales:  Edward Lhwyd described in 1693 how he had seen a man ‘march nine times about Gorphwysfa Peris [the resting place of St Peris at Llanberis]… repeating ye Lords Prayer, and casting in a stone at every turn’. 27

It is interesting how the later accounts tend to place more emphasis on the ‘corner’, ‘bed’ or ‘coffin’ than on the wells, as, for example, in an account from the late 1850s by a Scottish visitor, Cosmo Innes.  He describes the well:  ‘A few yards farther down the ravine, [from the chapel] is a well still covered with a roof of rude architecture, and which the natives still hold in great respect, and visit for the cure of various diseases.’  He then goes on to describe St Govan’s ‘bed’ which was clearly pointed out to him by someone else present:  ‘The rock is polished by the number of visitors fitting themselves into the Saint’s bed of penance, and the natives make you feel in the inner surface the indentures caused by the ribs of the Saint!’ 28   Imprints of parts of saints’ bodies are found in many other locations,  but they are usually footprints or knee-prints:  many more examples can be found in my book Footprints in Stone. 29

Innes writes that people are still visiting the well seeking cures;  but there is some uncertainty as to how popular the well was in the mid-19th century, since in her book of 1843 Mary Anne Bourne stated that ‘the holy well is regarded with less veneration than of yore’, 30 but it may have been her personal attitude that caused her to say this, rather than being the reality.   It is probable that increasing numbers of tourists would have deterred sick people from exposing their ailments to sight-seers.   By the end of the century other writers were reporting that the healing tradition appeared to have died out.  In his book published in 1895, H. Thornhill Timmins wrote:

From the chapel we next scramble down to the ‘holy well,’ a neglected spot of no interest save such as tradition can lend.  Yet in olden times folk were wont to gather here from far and wide, in anticipation of an instant cure… 31


A sketch by Timmins

However, a report in the Welshman in 1905 would appear to contradict Timmins’ claim that the well was no longer visited for cures, although it does suggest that the well’s reputation was indeed dying.

Tenby ‘County News’ says…  ‘…At St. Govan’s was a holy well to which the diseased and infirm were brought to be cured within the last forty years.’…At St. Govan’s – not was, but is a holy well at which several natives of Pembrokeshire have sought cures, to our own certain knowledge less than ten years ago.  We doubt very much if some people do not at this day use the water or apply the ‘clay’ near the well to their eyes.32

By 1922 the well was dry, as it is today, and was clearly no longer in use, as reported in the Royal Commission Inventory.

The Well, which lies between the chapel and the sea, is protected by a plain hood of masonry;  the entrance is to the north.  The spring has been dry for some years past…  Visited, 14th June, 1922. 33

It is possible that the act of covering the well with a stone structure at some unknown date in the 19th century (although it was clearly covered to some degree before 1860, as shown by Cosmo Innes’ account) interfered with the water supply.  There appears never to have been an abundant supply, judging by a comment in Fenton’s 1807 account, to the effect that the ‘little water’ was believed ‘by the superstitious’ to be unfailing, but ‘shrewdly suspected… [by someone unprejudiced] to be adventitious’, and it is possible that a natural spring was augmented by rainwater, which would not have been the case once the well was covered.   However the 1818 account has ‘near twenty patients…seen at once bathing their limbs’, which suggests a copious supply of water.   However, by 1870 the well was ‘now almost dry’, and since this was written soon after the well was covered, it may confirm that that act did play some part in reducing the water supply.  It also seems likely that the increasing volume of visitors may have had a deleterious effect.  C.F. Cliffe, in his Book of South Wales written in the first half of the 19th century, states cryptically: ‘The well has been injured by a class of visitors who everywhere disgrace the British name.’ 34   Unfortunately he does not elaborate, but it sounds as though even then, tourists were thoughtlessly damaging the places they had taken the trouble to visit.

Increasing references to healing clay
These accounts trace the history of the well(s) over 350 years, over much of which period cures have been sought for a wide variety of   ailments.  The chapel well seems always to have been used only to cure eye problems, but the saint’s well water was used for ‘all diseases’, ‘many distempers’,  ‘crippled patients bathe their limbs’,   and ‘scrofula, paralysis, dropsy, and other complaints’.  Few of the earlier accounts include any reference to the healing clay to be found by the well.  Fenton refers to a ‘muddy deposit’ but this was found in the chapel well.  The 1859 account also has the healing ‘clay’ associated with the chapel well. 35  In the 1905 report reference is made to ‘clay’ from near the well being used to treat the eyes but not the whole body. 36
Geologist Sir Roderick Impey Murchison referred to the healing clay of St Govan in a footnote in his book on the geology of Wales dating from 1839.

Saint Goven (or St. Gawin) inhabited a cell cut in the face of this steep and picturesque cliff.  Among his good deeds there is one which seems to connect his name with the geologist.  His blessing conferred a healing virtue on the red clay or shale, derived from the decomposition of the limestone, which forms a talus in a retiring angle of the cliff.  The lame and blind pilgrims are still conveyed by their friends down the rude steps chiselled by the holy man, and after being anointed with a poultice, formed of the moist clay, are left there for several hours to bask under the summer’s sun.  The method of cure is similar to that effected by the mud baths of Acqui and Abano in the north of Italy.
The sanctum of St. Goven, a cleft in the rock just large enough to contain one person, is also much frequented as a “wishing place.”  The wisher is certain, before the end of a year, of obtaining his request, if he repeats it thrice, each time turning himself round in the narrow nook;  but these and other miraculous stories, connected with this wild spot, do not come within my province. 37

Being a geologist, Murchison was clearly interested in the source and composition of the clay and therefore his description of it can be assumed to be the most accurate.  One assumes he visited the site to see the source for himself, and at that time picked up a few snippets of tradition, but it is not clear whether he actually saw the clay being used by sick pilgrims.

Since there are varying descriptions of mud or clay being used from two sources, the well in the chapel and the red clay from the cliff, it may be that confusion has arisen over the years.   The earliest account I have found that refers to the use of red clay dates from 1818:  ‘applying to their swollen and crippled joints plaisters of the red clay saturated with the water of the well’. 38  But it does not say where the red clay came from, only that it was mixed with water from the well, a detail not mentioned by Murchison in his account of the custom 20 years later.   Perhaps, as the well began to dry up, more emphasis was placed on the use of clay for healing, but people forgot that the healing mud or clay was supposed to come from the chapel well and began to use any clay they could find.   It is also not clear from the Murchison quotation exactly which parts of the body the clay poultice was being applied to, although he does refer to ‘blind pilgrims’.  Fenton’s early 19th century account has the mud from the chapel well being used around the eyes 39 and a hundred years later the 1905 account also has clay being applied only to the eyes.40   However, it is also likely that people desperately seeking cures would have applied it to other parts of the body.
Modern elaborations

St Govan’s Chapel has long been a popular tourist destination, understandably in view of its dramatic location, and over the years the details of the tales and legends have changed and become more elaborate.  This is particularly noticeable when comparing the early brief accounts with the extended versions published today.  Before the 18th century there was no mention of the saint’s grave, the saint’s cell, the bell stone, etc., all of which are now firmly established components of the legend of St Govan.   It is difficult to know when these traditions first came into existence.  The saint’s grave being located beneath the altar inside the chapel is an interesting example.  This belief is now widely stated in descriptions of the chapel, but strangely does not feature in many accounts before the present century.  The earliest reference I have found dates from 1811 when Fenton commented in passing that the altar was ‘where some will have it the hermit Saint is buried.’ 41  The only other 19th century reference to it I have found so far dates from 1852 when Ernest Silvanus Appleyard stated that the chapel ‘contains a raised altar, under which the body of the saint is believed to repose’. 42    20th-century references are also rare;  however, in the 21st century the majority of descriptions of the chapel do include the information that the saint is buried beneath the altar.  The legend of the bell stolen by pirates has always been widely reported, though an element of  tweeness has recently been added:  it is now said to have been ‘rescued by sea nymphs who placed it inside a rock near the chapel’  or ‘It was stolen by the pirates but it was reclaimed by angels who encased it in a rock at the sea’s edge.’  Another recent addition is that ‘the saint’s hand prints were imprinted upon the chapel floor.’   One source refers to ‘marks in the boulder that were made by the saint’s fingers when he hid here’ – but the tradition has always been that the marks are of the saint’s ribs not his fingers, so maybe this is another change in the making, or maybe it is a confusion with the other new tradition, that of the saint’s hand-prints on the floor. 43    A modern tendency is to see holy wells as ‘wishing wells’, and a recent description of St Govan’s Well says that it is both ‘a wishing well and a healing well’ – though it would be difficult to use it for either purpose now, since it is dry. 44   In the present century there is also a tendency developing to ‘welshify’ the English names of certain holy wells in Wales.  Some wells, mainly those in the more English parts of Wales, have always been named in English and never in Welsh, and St Govan’s is one of these.


Courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments Wales.

On the basis that it is always preferable to retain the traditional usage, this well should be called St Govan’s Well and never Ffynnon Govan.   That version is anyway incorrect:  because of the rule of mutation in Welsh, the saint’s name would be Covan if his well was Ffynnon Govan.  If his name was Govan, the well name would be Ffynnon Ovan.

A decaying medieval tradition
The story of St Govan, his possible identity, his chapel and well, have changed in accordance with the preoccupations and fashions of the day, and this study of 350 years’ worth of accounts, amply laced with antiquarian speculation, shows how narratives slowly change and     develop over time.  In this instance, it is probable that we are in fact witnessing the decay of a medieval tradition.   The cult landscape of the saint still survives but the majority of visitors do not see it for what it once was.  The focal point of the site is the saint’s ‘cell’ which was probably used by the saint as his penitential bed.  Later a chapel, focusing on the cell, was erected where pilgrims could honour the saint;  and the water sources (the springs or wells inside and below the chapel) were taken into the saint’s legend as places where pilgrims could partake of the saint’s healing powers.  There is also a long flight of stone steps down to the chapel which act as a place of transition between our 21st-century world and that of St Govan.  The
supposed impossibility of counting the steps adds an aura of uncertainty to the journey from the everyday world into the sacred space, which is entered through a doorway into the chapel.  It is also necessary to go through the chapel to get to the saint’s well, another symbol of passing through a doorway from one state of being to the next.

The earliest accounts of 1662 and c. 1700 are brief, mentioning only the saint’s chapel and healing well.  But doubtless some of the other traditions were already very much alive, and the pilgrims would have been aware of the rituals that should be performed in order to gain spiritually from entering into the sacred landscape.  Over time the traditions were being enhanced, specifically by the tales relating to St Govan’s cell and the benefit that could be gained from squeezing into the place where the saint himself was said to have hidden, and thus making personal contact with the saint.  Other traditions grew up, such as the stolen bell and the ringing bell stone, the visitation by Jesus, the burial of the saint inside the chapel, the marks of his ribs inside the cell, his hand-prints on the chapel floor…  But as we enter the 20th century, the emphasis has changed.  The sea-shore well has already been preserved and enhanced by the addition of a stone cover in the 19th century;  but by the 20th century it has become simply a redundant memorial to past beliefs, its water supply dried up and its healing function ceased.  Indeed, it may be the lack of water which led to an increased emphasis on the use of clay as a healing medium, at first from the well inside the chapel, but later from anywhere around.

As travel became easier, and more people were able to visit more remote places, the little stone chapel reached by steep steps in a dramatic cliff location became the main draw, with many visitors knowing nothing of the saint or his wells.  Slowly, down the centuries, devout pilgrims have turned into secular tourists but their continuing enthusiasm for visiting St Govan’s Chapel, together with the vibrancy of the traditions, shows that the place still captures people’s imaginations, even if they do not realise that they have entered a 1,500-year-old sacred landscape.


  1. Discussion  of St Govan’s identity can be found in S. Baring-Gould and John Fisher, The Lives of the British Saints (London, 1907, 1908, 1911, 1913), III, 143-5;  Elissa R. Henken, Traditions of the Welsh Saints (Cambridge, 1987), 258-9;  Pádraig Ó Riain, A Dictionary of Irish Saints (Dublin, 2011), 58-60, 367
  2. Cosmo Innes, quoted in The Cambrian Journal (Tenby, 1860), 76;  William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum: General Introduction and Commentary (Oxford, 1999), II, 26
  3. Peter C. Bartrum, A Welsh Classical Dictionary: People in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000 (Aberystwyth, 1993), 303-5
  4. Mr and Mrs S.C. Hall, Tenby: Its History, Antiquities, Scenery, Traditions, and Customs (Tenby, 2nd ed., 1873), 45
  5. Rev. James B. Johnston, The Place-Names of England and Wales (London, 1915), 428
  6. Benjamin Heath Malkin, The Scenery, Antiquities, and Biography, of South Wales (London, 2nd ed., 1807), II, 381
  7. Dyfed Archaeological Trust records of St Owen’s Well:  PRN 3756 & PRN 3622.  See also The 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, 1925), 249-50
  8. Further descriptions of the wells can be found in Francis Jones, The Holy Wells of Wales (Cardiff, 1954), 208;  Baring-Gould and Fisher, op.cit., III, 144-5;  National Monuments Record of Wales online database Coflein – chapel NPRN 95059, well NPRN 32502;  Dyfed Archaeological Trust – chapel PRN 630, chapel well PRN 102724, St Govan’s Well PRN 1268
  9. William Derham, D.D., Select Remains of the Learned John Ray, M.A. and F.R.S. with his Life (London, 1760), 242
  10. Edward Lhwyd, Parochialia – Being a Summary of Answers to “Parochial Queries in Order to a Geographical Dictionary, etc., of Wales”, Part III – North Wales and South Wales (continued) (London, 1911), 74
  11. Herbert M. Vaughan, ‘A Synopsis of Two Tours made in Wales in 1775 and in 1811’, in Y Cymmrodor, XXXVIII (1927), 46-7
  12. Marie Trevelyan, Folk-Lore and Folk-Stories of Wales (London, 1909; Wakefield, 1973), 45
  13. Benjamin Heath Malkin, The Scenery, Antiquities, and Biography, of South Wales (London, 1804), 529
  14. Roderick Impey Murchison, The Silurian System (London, 1839), 382-3 footnote
  15. A Barrister: Richard Fenton, Eq., A Tour in Quest of Genealogy, Through Several Parts of Wales, Somersetshire, and Wiltshire (London, 1811), 88-90
  16. No author named, A Handbook for Travellers in South Wales and its Borders, including the River Wye (London, new ed., 1870), 161
  17. Thomas Roscoe, Wanderings and Excursions in South Wales (London, 1854), 185
  18. Richard Fenton, A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire (London, 1811), 414-16
  19. Richard Ayton, A Voyage Round Great Britain (London, 1814), 91-2
  20. No author named, An Account of Tenby (Pembroke and Tenby, 1818), 138-9
  21. Charles Frederick Cliffe, The Book of South Wales, the Bristol Channel, Monmouthshire and the Wye (London, 2nd ed., 1848), 296-8
  22. Edward Laws, The History of Little England Beyond Wales (1888;  Haverfordwest, 1995), 411
  23. Janet Bord, Holy Wells in Britain: A Guide (Wymeswold, 2008), 109
  24. ‘Extract from the Notes of a Tourist – Coast of Pembrokeshire, 1836’, in The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle, for 1837 (London, 1837), 613-15
  25. No Author Named, My Summer Holiday; being a Tourist’s Jottings about Tenby (London, 1863), 81-2
  26. Robert J. Allen in ‘Choice Notes from Notes and Queries’, in Folklore (1859), 204
  27. Baring-Gould and Fisher, op.cit., IV, 93
  28. Cosmo Innes, ‘Notice of St Govane’s Hermitage, near Pembroke, South Wales’, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1862) III, 184-5;  accounts of his visit were also published in The Cambrian Journal (Tenby, 1860), 76-7, and in The Archaeological Journal (London, 1859), 198-9, 361
  29. Janet Bord, Footprints in Stone (Wymeswold, 2004)
  30. Mary Anne Bourne, A Guide to Tenby and its Neighbourhood (Carmarthen, 1843), 54
  31. H. Thornhill Timmins, Nooks and Corners of Pembrokeshire (London, 1895), 69-70
  32. ‘Holy Wells in Wales’, in Welshman, 7 April 1905
  33. Royal Commission Inventory: Pembroke, op.cit., no.50 p.22
  34. Cliffe, op.cit., 298
  35. Allen, op.cit., 204
  36. ‘Holy Wells in Wales’, op.cit.
  37. Murchison, op.cit., 382-3 footnote
  38. An Account of Tenby, op.cit., 139
  39. Fenton, A Historical Tour…, op.cit., 415
  40. ‘Holy Wells in Wales’, op.cit.
  41. Fenton, A Historical Tour…, op.cit., 414
  42. ‘By the author of “Proposals for Christian Union” [later given as E.S.A., i.e. Ernest Silvanus Appleyard], Welsh Sketches, Chiefly Ecclesiastical, to the Close of the Twelfth Century (London, 2nd ed., 1852), 129
  43. Examples of modern folklore can be found in:  ‘St Govan’s Chapel, Bosherston, Pembrokeshire, Wales’, The Journal of Antiquities, 18 August 2013 – this has references to the grave, the bell, the saint’s finger-marks, and Ffynnon Govan (http://thejournalofantiquities.com/category/st-govans-holy-well-at-st-govans-head-in-pembrokeshire/);  Pixyledpublications, ‘St Govan’s Well and Chapel’, has references to the bell and the hand-prints (https://insearchofholywells andhealingsprings.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/st-govans-well-and-chapel
  44. Monkton Rectorial Benefice has a detailed description of the well and its folklore, and includes mention of the well as a wishing well (http://www.revjones.fsnet.co.uk/govan/govan.html)



Eagerly awaited this year is Pembrokeshire County History.
Volume I


Covering the period from the beginning of occupation in prehistoric times up to early medieval Pembrokeshire, this book is essentially the work of archaeologists, based largely on documentary research and their reports from excavations at numerous local sites.

More than forty years ago the Pembrokeshire Local History Society decided to publish a four volume work on the history of the county. A trust was set up under the chairmanship of Dr. Elwyn Davies and funding made available from the Welsh Church Fund.

Volume III, (Early Modern Pembrokeshire 1536-1815, edited by Brian Howells) was the first to appear, in 1987. Subsequent volumes were also edited by eminent historians: Volume IV, (Modern Pembrokeshire 1815-1974, edited by David Howell, 1993) and Volume II, (Medieval Pembrokeshire, edited by R. F.Walker, 2002).

country-history-11 country-history-111country-history-1V

Early chapters of Volume I take us through the nature of life and the evidence of hunter-gatherers in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic, Pembrokeshire. The Neolithic and Bronze Age past is discussed at some length.  Later prehistoric settlement and what we know of the Iron Age in the county is considered in detail. Evidence of Roman Pembrokeshire, which up to recently has been considered relatively sparse, begins to come to life now, especially with the reports of the Wiston excavations. The final chapter details the character of early medieval Pembrokeshire, its culture, trade and society, the influence of the Irish together with the impact of the Christian church on the Celtic community.

We may have waited a while for this volume but it is worth considering how the contributors have benefited from major scientific advances over recent years. No doubt Fenton, Laws, Grimes, Owen  etc. would have much appreciated the assistance of radiocarbon dating, isotopic analysis, even aerial photography, as they tramped with their hammers around the fields and hills of Pembrokeshire.

Mary John.

An Eighteenth-Century Salt Refinery at Neyland


By Simon Hancock

‘This is the place where sugars from Ireland are discharged, and pay the English duty at Pembroke; and here woolen yarn from Ireland is imported; Milford Haven being one of the open ports allowed by Act of Parliament. At this place there is also a salt refinery, which supplies the whole country.’ 1

Such was the description of Neyland by Lewis Morris (1701-65) in the narrative accompanying his Harbours, Bays and Roads in St George’s Channel (1748) which also suggested improvements and development possibilities for Milford Haven. At Neyland, he ventured, a dock might be constructed where vessels might lie at the dock head in four, six or eight fathoms. Some 60 years later Richard Fenton (1811) repeated Morris’s description almost verbatim except for an important change of tense when referring to the salt refinery. 2 Clearly by the first decade of the nineteenth century the refinery had closed.

Information on this facility is conspicuous by its paucity although the salt refinery must have gone far in meeting the domestic and commercial needs of Pembrokeshire inhabitants and provides an interesting example of an early eighteenth-century industrial enterprise. Salt is absolutely essential for human existence and from time immemorial has been used in the preservation and preparation of food and with numerous applications in agriculture, fishing and industrial processes. In 1785 it was estimated how every person in Britain consumed around 25 lb. of salt each year. 3

Although there had been continental imports of salt into Pembrokeshire those obtained from Cheshire soon dominated local supplies. In the seventeenth century the main salt-producing areas were the baronial borough of Nantwich, the manorial borough of Northwich and the royal borough of Middlewich. 4  Salt could also be obtained from sea water around the coast and from brine springs. The salt industry was scattered throughout the British Isles although the location of salt refineries depended upon cheap water transport.5  The industry was transformed when in 1670 rock salt was found at Marbury near Great Budworth. Unrefined rock salt could easily be transported for refinement at Bristol and other locations (including Neyland) and the discovery led to the establishment of salt refineries in the North West like those at Frodsham (1694) and Dungeon on the Mersey.

The river Weaver was seen as the cheapest and most effective means of transporting rock salt from the salt field to the Mersey for export. Making the river navigable as far as Winsford was a measure which received the support of the City Corporation of Liverpool and an Act was secured in 1721. This eventually opened to traffic in 1732. 6  The legislation was also supported by the common council of Haverfordwest. On 27 February 1719 a petition signed by the mayor, justices of the peace, aldermen, common councilmen and tradesmen of the town and county was presented to the House of Commons. Their petition described how there was a salt refinery near the town (Neyland was around eight miles distant) which supplied salt for curing fish, making butter, cheese and other uses. The salt came from rock salt sourced from the county of Cheshire which was carried by land from the rock pits to Frodsham Bridge before being exported to Milford Haven. The petitioners pointed out how making the river Weaver navigable would reduce the price of carriage of rock salt and give greater dispatch in shipping. Ultimately it would reduce the price to consumers. The petition was ordered to lie on the table until the House proceeded to further consider the Bill.7  The petition is the first oblique reference to the Neyland salt refinery and it was probably established during the early years of the eighteenth century.

The importation of salt to Milford Haven was clearly demonstrated by one local entrepreneur, Abel Hicks who managed the Industrious Bee and also the Priscilla. One entry which he recorded in his log read:

‘Oct. ye 22, 1761. Liverpool. Loaded 49 tone of salt for Milford.’ 8

Barbara George has demonstrated the long history of salt importation to Pembrokeshire with various references in 1387, 1478, 1479, and 1480 and between four to fourteen shipments annually (1500-64) in Spanish, Portuguese and French ships. Much salt came coastwise perhaps having originated from the continent before being re-shipped. Six cargoes of rock salt came from Liverpool in 1713. 9 This must have come from Cheshire and destined for the Neyland refinery. Considerable amounts of continental salt were landed at Neyland quay, the location often rendered as ‘Nayland.’ On 17 December 1753 the Fox brought 2,000 bushels of French salt for the important herring industry.10  The latter was perhaps established on account of the salt refinery. On 25 February 1755 the Friendly Thomas landed 2,055 bushels of Spanish salt from Cadiz. This attracted a duty of £13 3s. 9d.  Neyland possessed an important herring industry as Matheson describes in his analysis of Welsh fisheries. In 1751 some 13,950 red herrings and 32 barrels and 16 gallons of white herrings were landed.  The peak was reached in 1766 when 185,074 of the former were landed at Neyland. Each ‘one’ of the thousands in fact equated to 1,320 individual fish while there were 32 gallons to the barrel. 13

Considerable investment was devoted to fishing enterprises during mid-century. It was announced how twelve ‘busses’ were being built locally by the Society of the Free British Fishery requiring 200 men and costing £12,000.  Around this time a merchant named William Whittaker of Gloucester erected at Barn Lake, opposite Neyland, and at vast expense, a very commodious quay. There were also large warehouses where sugar, rice and other American goods could be imported and then re-shipped.  The middle years of the eighteenth century witnessed considerable activity due to the presence of quays at Neyland and Barn Lake, the salt refinery and a private dockyard at the former location from which was launched a 28-gun frigate HMS Milford in 1759. A 74-gun Ship of the Line HMS Prince of Wales was launched from the same yard on 4 June 1765. The location of the warehouses and granaries in far-flung west Wales made them a convenient port of call to trans-Atlantic shipping of which there was a great deal. The facilities included the services of a crane for loading and unloading.  While Cheshire and Continental salt supplied the Neyland refinery a vast array of other goods from across the Atlantic were landed at the local quay. These included barrels of fish oil from Rhode Island, soap and staves from Dublin, brown sugar from the Caribbean, whale fins and blubber from the Greenland seas, pine boards and other items from Boston and Newfoundland.
The perils of such commerce should never be underestimated. Alan Crosby reminds us of the losses suffered by the Mersey salt vessels during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. He notes the cases of 21 vessels carrying salt which were either victim to the perils of the weather or from piracy (1695-1708) beginning with the ship Supply laden with salt which was captured by a French privateer in 1695.  We can only speculate how much of this salt was destined for Neyland. The late Dr B.G. Charles noted highly revealing place names in this eastern part of the parish of Llanstadwell. He lists ‘The Officer’s Close’ and ‘Salt House’ on the Lucas map c.1745, a survey of the lands of Little Honeyborough which belonged to William Scourfield, James Child, Mr. Cornock and Mr. Tasker.  The detailed map of eastern Llanstadwell parish drawn by Henry John, surveying the property of John Lort and others (1759), shows a cluster of buildings at Neyland point, lying at the entrance to Westfield Pill. One of the longer buildings must be the construction shed for the building of ships.  The salt house may well be one of the larger buildings fronting the Haven. Alternatively it might be one of the buildings facing the Pill facing Barn Lake. Despite the little we know about the Neyland salt refinery we can be reasonably certain it was in operation for around a century. Taxation on salt was an important element of Government excise income and is the most productive source of the information we have on the refinery. The Nine Years War (1688-97) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14) witnessed the introduction of greatly expanded customs and excise duties placed upon salt, glass, paper, tobacco, pipes, malt, stone bottles, hackney carriages and windows. This brought excise officers into contact with all sections of the manufacturing community.

Aeriel view of Neyland showing possible position of salt house. (Courtesy of RCAHMW.)

Aeriel view of Neyland showing possible position of salt house. (Courtesy of RCAHMW.)

The political narrative concerning the salt tax was a highly charged one which Lord Carteret derided as most wretched which disproportionately taxed the poor.  Effective taxation on salt began with the introduction of excise in 1643 although the specific tax was introduced in 1694 and a Salt Office was created in 1702.  This was absorbed back into the excise at the end of the eighteenth century. Presumably the industrial processes at Neyland involved the usual technique of dissolving rock salt in cisterns of water, pumping into a boiling cistern where the water was evaporated. The salt was left as a residue. The owner of the salt works had to specify the number of baskets, barrows or troughs of salt taken out of each pan or boiler. Duty was paid by the producer. Stiff fines were levied if salt was removed before it had been accounted for by the Government excise officers.  The Government needed to maximize national income from the yield of land tax, customs and excise duties. The country was at war for 89 of the 150 years between 1700-1850.  The financial bureaucracy of the Salt Office employed some 298 staff in 1708, rising to a peak of 484 officials in 1748 before declining to 364 in 1783 when there was a period of financial retrenchment.

An analysis of early eighteenth-century customs records fails to make specific reference to Neyland. Those officers stationed at Milford Haven were at various locations including Dale, Hubberston, Angle, Pembroke Ferry, Pembroke town and Tenby.  Thanks to the salt refinery excise officers were in evidence locally, their presence sometimes reflected in the Llanstadwell parish registers. They record the baptism of William, son of John James, ‘officer’, on 20 October 1726 and Benjamin, son of John Davies, ‘salt officer’, on 23 January 1743.  Richard Edwards, excise officer, married Margaret Lewis of Jeffreyston, widow, on 21 March 1738.  A number of salt officers died whilst on service in the parish. Patrick Goolde, salt officer, was buried on 28 January 1724, Thomas Barzey on 18 May 1744 and John Phillips on 29 June 1748.  One of the national Salt Commissioners, a Mr. Talbot, undertook a survey of the coast of Wales in 1740. At Neyland he encountered local officer Thomas “Burzey’, aged 70,  ‘a widower but bin employ’d here about 8 years. He complains of the smallness of his salary having but 10£ a year, every thing here being very Dear, being obliged to go 7 miles for all manner of necessarys.’

This is a clear reference to Haverfordwest. Barzey (or Burzey) was described as ‘a carefull old man’ and his Collector gave him a good character.  Perhaps his circumstances were not as bad as some of his colleagues. One boatman, aged 45 from Cardigan with a wife and six children to support received a mere £7 10s. per annum and ‘a very deformed weak man not at all able to manage a boat in so open a bay.’

The comparative meagreness of salt officer salaries was demonstrated by the Ninth Report from the Select Committee on Finance when they examined the salt officer salaries. There were sixteen salt officers based in Wales while the national establishment cost a total of £26, 942 12s. 11 ½ d.  The gross amount of duty collected was considerable, some £2, 262, 795 8s. 10½ d. (1795-96).  The Neyland Collection in 1797 consisted of a principal collector, Thomas Tucker, who earned £100 a year, plus a number of officers on annual salaries ranging from £10-£30. One official report noted the increase of three officers at Neyland between 1782-97 with increased expenditure on salaries between £5-£10.  It is small wonder that given their modest remuneration the officers in 40 of the 54 excise collections into which England and Wales were divided presented ‘monster’ petitions to the Treasury pleading for salary increases. They were signed by around 2,000 officers. By their minimum calculations they needed £86 3s. 6d. in order to meet basic household outgoings.  The tax yield from the land tax, window tax (1696-1798), plus other assessed impositions on carriages, stagecoaches, carts, servants, shops, inhabited houses and communications were not sufficient to meet unprecedented national expenditure on the Napoleonic Wars. Consequently the first national income tax was introduced in 1799.

It is not known when the salt refinery at Neyland closed, probably the opening years of the nineteenth century. The importance of Neyland and Barn Lake by virtue of the salt refinery, naval dockyard, quays, warehouses and stores during the 1750s was short lived. Soon they became a faint memory. In 1852 an Act of Parliament authorizing the extension of the South Wales Railway to the shores of Milford Haven at Neyland, the personal location selected by I.K. Brunel, was passed. The physical destruction of the original village of old Neyland including the former salt house, the shipyard run by the Scurlock family, humble dwellings, a lime kiln and public houses meant fundamental local change. As a reminder of lost glory the walls of the warehouses at Barn Lake remarkably survived into the twentieth century.


NLW Morgan Richardson 1 139/7/4. The ‘townred’ of Honeyborough also showing Neyland point in 1759 as drawn by Henry John. The cluster of buildings at the point with the quay might help to locate the salt refinery which was dependent on imports of rock salt from Cheshire.


  1. Lewis Morris was a noted Welsh hydrographer, antiquarian, poet and lexicographer.
  2. Richard Fenton, A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire (London, 1811).
  3. Joyce Ellis, ‘The Decline and Fall of the Tyneside Salt Industry, 1660-1790: A Re-examination,’ Economic History Review, 33:1 (1980), 45.
  4. William Henry Chaloner, ‘Salt in Cheshire 1600-1870,’ Transactions of the Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society, 71 (1963), 61.
  5. Joan Beck, ‘Salt in Cheshire,’ Cheshire Historian, 8 (1958), 3.
  6. K.L. Wallwork, ‘The Mid-Cheshire Salt Industry,’ Geography, 44:205 (1959), 172.
  7. House of Commons Parliamentary Papers. Fifth Parliament of Great Britain; fourth session (11 November 1718-18 April 1719), 27 February 1719.
  8. Francis Green, ‘Dewisland Coasters in 1751,’ West Wales Historical Records, VIII (1919-20), 170.
  9. Barbara George, Pembrokeshire Sea Trading Before 1900 (Field Studies, 2:1 (1964), 25.
  10. The National Archives (Henceforth TNA) T/1365/7. Treasury Board papers and In-Letters. Papers relating to the harbour of Milford Haven, Co. Pembroke. Account of foreign goods landed at Barn Lake and Neyland quays, 1753-55.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Colin Matheson, Wales and the Sea Fisheries (Cardiff, 1929), 100.
  13. Ibid.
  14. The Old England’s Journal, 7 April 1753.
  15. Public Advertiser, 29 December 1753.
  16. Ibid., 21 January 1757.
  17. TNA T/1365/7 Treasury Board Papers and In-Letters, Milford Haven, 1753-55.
  18. Alan G. Crosby, ‘By Tempest and Piracy: The Loss of Mersey Salt vessels off Pembrokeshire, 1695-1715,’ Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society, 12 (2003), 59-66.
  19. B. G. Charles, The Place Names of Pembrokeshire, II (Aberystwyth, 1992), 610.
  20. National Library of Wales. Morgan Richardson 1 139/7/4  Henry John, ‘An exact map of the townred of Honeyboro in the parish of Llanstadwell, in the county of Pembroke.’
  21. William J. Ashworth, Trade, Production and Consumption in England, 1640-1845 (Oxford, 2003), 40.
  22. Ibid., 65.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid., 237.
  25. Robert M. Kozub, ‘Evolution of Taxation in England, 1700-1850: A Period of War and Industrialisation,’ Journal of European Economic History 32:3 (2003), 363.
  26. Ibid., 366.
  27. TNA CUST/18/51; CUST/18/55; CUST/18/59; CUST/18/62; CUST/18/66; CUST/18/69; CUST/18/73; CUST/18/77 Board of Customs Establishments.
  28. Pembrokeshire Archives (Hereafter PA) HPR/13/97.  Llanstadwell Parish Registers, Baptisms 1714-1812.
  29. Ibid., Marriages 1714-93.
  30. Ibid., Burials, 1714-1812.
  31. ‘Extracts from a Report of a Survey on the Coast of Wales by a member of the Salt Board. Mr. Talbot’s Survey in the Year 1740,’ Choice Chips of revenue Lore being Papers relating to the Establishment of the Excise, Excise Duties, Salaries, Superannuation & c. also cuttings from Excise general Letters of the Last Century and from other documents relating principally to the Excise Revenue in England from 1660 to 1876 (1877), 128.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ninth Report from the Select Committee on Finance. Collection of the Public Revenue. Salt Office (1797), 242.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Ibid., 256.
  36. Edward Hughes, ‘The Salaries of the Excise officers and a Cost of Living Index (1795-1800),’ Economic History, 3:11 (1936), 263.