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Discovering the Lost Story of Sion House

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By Douglas Fraser

 

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

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

A Disputed Sale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Mannix?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine Routh’s Trust

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

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

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

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

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

William Oliver – who really owned Sion House?

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

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

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

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

The Poyers of Grove and the case in Chancery

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

 



Poyer tree 002

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

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

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

The threat to John Willy

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

Questions

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

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

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


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

NOTES

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

3902 Release of lands by William Oliver to William Routh 1784

1600-1 Lease and Release 1799

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

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

 

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May 2018

 

 

The Romans in Pembrokeshire – the text of a talk given by Dr Mark Merrony to the Society on 2 February 2018

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THE ROMANS IN PEMBROKESHIRE

Good evening, I am delighted to have been invited to give this talk by the Pembrokeshire Historical Society. It has been many moons since I last did so: if I recall this was on a winter’s night in Saint David’s some fifteen years ago.

The subject of my talk then was the discovery of what was claimed to be a Roman villa at Ford near Wolfscastle by Richard Fenton in 1811, a site that I subsequently investigated in 2003. I also broadened that presentation to encompass other discoveries in Roman Pembrokeshire up to that time.

Since 2003 I have been a bit distracted by work commitments in London and overseas, but have still retained a keen interest in the Roman history of this region and in light of the fact that discoveries continue to be made, I felt that the time was ripe to revisit to take a look once more at the broader picture as it now stands.

To put these more recent discoveries into their rightful place, I think it is necessary to turn the clock back to the first suggested evidence for the Romans in Pembrokeshire and present something of a chronological overview.

This will encompass the discovery of Roman villas, military and civilian sites, and Roman roads through Pembrokeshire. I should stress at this early stage that the work of Dyfed Archaeological Trust and The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments has been instrumental in our increasing understanding of this situation. Also, the work of Martin Davies in recent years has tackled the investigation of Roman roads in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion head on and I will return to Martin’s work later.

Perhaps the most appropriate place to begin in our grand tour of Roman Pembrokeshire is in the Roman period itself. The first evidence comes from Book Two of Ptolemy’s Geography, produced in the second century AD. This mentions Saint David’s Head by the name Octapitarum Promontorium Slide 1. This is thought perhaps to refer to the Bishops and Clerks islets west of Ramsey Island. The map also mentions Moridunum (Carmarthen), along with the Demetae, the Celtic tribe who inhabited this region in the Iron Age, who evidence suggests were thoroughly Romanised, Moridunum being their political centre before and during the Roman period.

Moridunum is also mentioned in an itinerary known as The Peutinger Table, thought to be a thirteenth century copy of a Roman original of the third century AD. Acquired by the German antiquarian Konrad Peutinger in 1508 and now in the Hofbibliothek in Vienna. Slide 2.

Other ancient references to place-names in the county come from a forged fourteenth century document, History and Itinerary, written by Richard of Cirencester. Slides 3-4. 1809 translation. This includes an itinerary of Roman Britain, listing a road known as the Via Julia west of Moridunum (Carmarthen) to Ad Menapiam (St David’s), via Ad Vigesimum (a supposed Roman station located in north Pembrokeshire. The authenticity of this document was widely accepted when it was first published in 1757 by Charles Bertram, but proved a forgery by Bernard Woodward, Librarian in Ordinary to Queen Victoria in 1847. Richard of Cirencester was actually a fourteenth century monk and historian at Westminster Abbey.

At Castle Flemish, the Antiquarian Richard Fenton found fragments of Roman brick here, as he describes in A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire. Slide 5. It was excavated by Mortimer Wheeler in 1921, he discovered sherds of Roman pottery, hexagonal roofing slates, and flue-tile. The site is now identified as an enclosed Roman villa. Slides 6-9.

Another account of a Roman villa at Ford near Wolfscastle was published by Fenton in the same book. This is an oft-cited quote but the essence of it is the discovery of a bath, roofing tiles with iron nails, various bricks, some grooved, and others etched with lines.

It seems that Fenton was not an entirely trusted source and the idea of the Romans in Pembrokeshire was largely put on the backburner after the address of the Bishop of Saint David’s to the British Archaeological Association during the Tenby Congress in 1884. There he remarked that: ‘I do not know that there is any trustworthy evidence that the Romans ever got into Pembrokeshire at all.’

However, subsequent investigations at the site of Richard Fenton’s Roman villa at Ford continued to recover Roman material through the course of the twentieth century, such as roofing slates and a Roman oil lamp, which is presently in Carmarthenshire Museum.

It should also be stressed that Roman material has been recovered from a range of sites in the north and south of the county, notably from coastal promontory forts at Brawdy, Buckspool, and elsewhere, furnishing evidence of steady occupation through the Roman period. The same may be said of a series of so-called ‘ringforts’ near Llawhaden and elsewhere. Also, there have been numerous Roman coin hoards discovered in the county and the broader region.

After Fenton’s identification of the Ford Roman villa, the next site of its kind was not discovered until 1950. This is at Trelissey near Amroth in the south-east of the county, and it was excavated under the direction of W.G. Thomas and R.S. Walker in 1950 and 1951. Slides. 10-12 They found a formal Roman building with coarse and fine pottery, the head of a javelin, and other finds. It is generally agreed that the site is an enclosed Roman villa.

In 1995, a Roman road was excavated during the construction of the Whitland bypass just over the border in Carmarthenshire. Slides 13-14. This is a section of a road known from aerial photographs heading west from Carmarthen into Pembrokeshire, traced as far west as Wiston.

The next tangible Roman discovery, or should I say rediscovery, occurred on the site of the Ford Roman villa observed by Fenton. In early 2003, guided by an Ordnance Survey map, I visited the site and found several large roofing slates. Subsequently, I undertook a geophysical survey with Tony Johnson of Oxford Archaeotechnics and we found a rectilinear building on a SE-NW alignment under the intersection of three hedges. Slides 15-20.  As expected, the ferrous material in this general location (fences, gates, water trough) had washed the signal out over this area, but it was still possible to identify the general form of a subterranean feature approximately 18.5 by 7.5m. The original excavation at Ford took place with the kind assistance of several local volunteers on the weekend of 29 and 30 March.

It was logical to excavate the area that corresponded to the clearer part of the geophysical plot, south-east of the water trough. This entailed the investigation of an area on a N-S alignment, carefully removing the overburden to reveal a series of large stone slabs. These were essentially the foundation stones of the building and there was no trace of any of the superstructure apart from an area of tumble, which did not appear to correspond with the alignment of the structure. Overall, the site appears to have been heavily robbed of stone, a process that was underway between the building’s discovery and Fenton’s visit.

Disappointingly, there was a distinct lack of pottery apart from a piece of Roman fabric that is a tile or brick. However, a grinding stone or quern was unearthed. This appears to be part of a saddle quern, which consists of a lower stone (saddle stone) on which corn was placed, and an upper stone (rider), which was pushed to-and-fro on top of this. Normally these were replaced in the Iron Age by the beehive rotary quern but in some areas, saddle querns remained in use into the Roman period.

Several more roofing slates were discovered. Without question, the most diagnostic find was a piece of flue tile, with a distinct combing pattern, reminiscent of Fenton’s description of similar material over two hundred years ago.

Roman Flue tile from Ford near Wolfcastle

Roman Flue tile from Ford near Wolfcastle

The tenant farmer of Bank Farm had kindly agreed to fence this area off to prevent cattle straying on to the excavated area, but he was unable to sink any stakes at a sufficient depth due to the presence of subterranean stones. Without doubt the base of the building continues on a south-east alignment and extends beyond the present farm track, so there is certainly scope for future excavation in this location.

In 2010, the site was surveyed and excavated by Dyfed Archaeological Trust with the assistance of local volunteers under the direction of Duncan Schlee but investigation was hampered by the presence of a farm track which now overlies much of the area originally investigated. Slide. 21. The geophysics echoed the results of our survey but with the exclusion of the villa building, but the coverage was more comprehensive, and revealed the presence of a previously unknown prehistoric enclosure as well as a possible Romano-British building to the north-east of this site.

Since this survey and excavation were undertaken, further Roman discoveries have been made. One of the most significant of these is a Roman fort at Wiston. This was found in 2012 through geophysical survey, followed by trial excavation (in 2013 and 2014) by James Meek of Dyfed Archaeological Trust. Slides 22-24.

Part of this has been visible for some years on Ordnance Survey maps but it had been previously dismissed as recent. Examination of the pottery suggests that the fort was occupied in the late first century/early second century AD and that it was reused in the mid-second to the mid-third century AD, perhaps as a civil site.

A significant breakthrough was made when geophysical surveys revealed the presence of an extensive civilian vicus settlement to the south. This was confirmed by excavation in 2014.

It is important to say a little about the identity of the people who would have inhabited civilian villas on the one hand; and military forts, on the other. Evidence elsewhere in Britain indicates that the owners of what we term Roman villas were not in fact Roman but were essentially elites who were local to individual regions and bought into the Roman brand. Forts on the other hand were garrisoned by Roman legionary troops and auxiliaries from across the Roman empire. The Wiston fort was probably built by legionariess and auxiliaries of the Second Augustan Legion whose headquarters were at Caerleon near Newport. Slides 25-26. It is known that units from the legion were involved in the construction of Hadrian’s Wall in the second quarter of the second century.

This extraordinary development is by no means the end of the story of new Roman discoveries in Pembrokeshire. In February 2017, I received an email out of the blue from a student named Luke Hooper at Bournemouth University. He asked my opinion of a geophysical plot of a survey that he had undertaken in the summer of 2016 in north Pembrokeshire, under the auspices of University College London. Conclusion: an enclosed villa with a square Romano-Celtic temple adjacent to it. Slides 27-28. A small excavation of this site was undertaken last summer and this confirmed that the site is a Roman villa.

One of the major contributions to the study of Roman Pembrokeshire in the county most recently has been presented by the work of Martin Davies. Martin has been investigating the elusive Roman road network in the county and also in Ceredigion as published in his new book, Ancient Causeways Uncovered. Slides 29-34. Of special interest is a route that appears to run north from near the Roman fort and vicus at Wiston, over the Preselis via Tafarn-y-Bwlch and into Ceredigion. Slides X-X. Llandewi Aberath. Road heading north. Part of his suggested route runs straight past the Roman villa and temple site just mentioned.

A Roman road that is of particular interest to Martin, myself, and others, is the route mentioned earlier, that runs from Carmarthen to Wiston. The intriguing question is: where is it heading? An obvious place is to the Cleddau here in Haverfordwest, however, to the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence of this as yet.

It is often thought that the road is heading to Saint David’s, and there are some clues given by particular place-names, but there is also some possible archaeological evidence. At Rudbaxton, a possible trace of a Roman road was observed by aerial photography on WSW-ENE bearing by Chris Musson of The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, in 2002. The next clue is a long stretch of road known as The Causeway which lies to the north of Camrose and tracks in a general north-westerly direction. Slides 35-37. This is not marked on the modern 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map of north Pembrokeshire, but it appears on older OS Maps, as in the case of this map, published in 1951.

It is highly probable that this was the route taken by Gerald of Wales in the later twelfth century. Slide 38. In The Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin Through Wales: ‘From Haverford we proceed on our journey to Menevia [Saint David’s]… and passed through Camros… We then passed over Niwegal sands…’ (Gerald of Wales, Book I, Chapter 13).

In A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire, Richard Fenton refers to a stretch of Roman road in Newgale itself that was exposed by a storm around 1780, as described by a Mr Jones of Lether, and in the winter of 1795. He described this as: ‘…two lines of pebbles parallel, and for a mile in length; the pebbles from one inch to a foot [in] diameter…’ He speculated that this was, ‘…by tradition, said to have extended from Old Menapia along the coast to Dale on Milford Haven, and known by the common appellation of the Old Welsh Way (1811, p. 80).’

Fenton considered that Brawdy, on the hill to the north, could derive from Broadway, but this idea is perhaps not plausible in light of the fact that it may in fact derive from the Welsh name Breudeth. In a manuscript of 1293, Breudeth had been shortened to Bre’udy according to Bertie George Charles (The Place Names of Pembrokeshire, 1992).

There is possible archaeological evidence for a Roman road a little to the south of Brawdy at Llethr, which was photographed by Toby Driver in 2003, and this may be a northern extension of the road described by Fenton.

Roman roads are marked on the older Ordnance Survey maps between Brawdy and Saint David’s but these appear to be influenced, perhaps in large measure, by the forged map of Charles Bertram. For instance, Menapia Roman Station is marked above Whitesands Bay. Slide 39. It is curious that this is also known as Porth Mawr – Great Port. Also, this was an important medieval crossing point to and from Ireland. I am grateful to Bishop Wyn Evans for clarifying this point.

Crucially, Pliny the Elder, Natural History, writing in the first century AD, mentions that: ‘Hibernia lies beyond Britannia, the shortest crossing being from the lands of the Silures, a distance of 30 miles’ (Book IV.16.103). (45.6 kilometres or 28.33 miles). The distance in fact is about 47 miles.

The importance of Whitesands Bay as a point of crossing to Ireland is underscored by the excavation in 2016 by Dyfed Archaeological Trust of around 50 skeletons at Saint Patrick’s Chapel, dating to the early medieval period (seventh to eleventh century). Slide 40.

There is no certain archaeological evidence for a Roman presence apart from an unconfirmed fort at Trepewet east of Saint David’s. However, I think there are reasonable grounds to assume that a road runs from Saint David’s east to Carmarthen.

Place-names and archaeological evidence play a role here. We pick up the chase again near Brawdy, with reference to ‘Broadway’. Slide 41. This photograph of a parchmark was taken by Toby Driver near another Broadway, located to the west of Llawhaden in 2003. This is the Carmarthen to Wiston Roman road mentioned before.

I think that it is significant that just a few kilometres to the east of Broadway, near Brawdy, is another Broadway, taken by Toby Driver in 2006. Slide 42. This lies not far to the southwest of the Ford villa near Wolfscastle. A large section of hedge/trackway runs in a general ENE direction for some distance. Slides 43-44. This takes a line to the south of the modern road alignment that is marked on the older Ordnance Survey maps as Roman.

The same may be true further to the east near the Roman villa site at Castle Flemish. On the OS map the road bisects the site and this is probably because it was thought of originally as a Roman station. Slides 45-47. It is in fact plausible to think that a Roman road runs further to the south, since there is a place-name a little to the southwest of the site called Stradland, which may be interpreted as ‘Streetland’, referring to the presence of a Roman road.

Generally speaking, from my experience in other parts of Britain, Roman villas tend to logically correspond to Roman roads. You don’t get one without another. Akeman Street. Slides 48-51.

There is every reason to suppose from place-names that the road continues east, crossing Martin’s north-south road through the county somewhere near LIys-Y-Fran bisecting it near Springhill House.

The next relevant place-name, Pensarn, is about seven kilometres to the ESE, on the western bank of the Eastern Cleddau River. Approximately three kilometres to the north-east appear the names Parcsarnau and Sarnau. It is often the case that some crucial names have been removed from the modern Ordnance Survey maps, such as Parcsarnau in this case. Slide 52.

The next place-name, Pen-sarn, comes east of Login. Slide 53. Then ESE of Llanboidy there is a veritable cluster of relevant place-names: Blaen-sarn-goch, Sarn-goch, Sarn-newydd, Caerlleon, Efail-Caerlleon, Penyrheol, Sarnau, Sarn-y-bwla. Slides 54-56. The route comes to an end west of Carmarthen where it may intersect the Roman road to Whitland and beyond.

I am not the first person to note this concentration of place-names. In fact Professor Barri Jones did so in 1971 and also identified an agger running on a general east-west alignment towards the confluence of the Afon Cywyn and the Nant Cynnen near Rickett’s Mill in the direction of St David’s Hospital. Slide 57. The most extraordinary thing is that the collective evidence, from archaeology and place-names, appears to confirm the existence of a roman road that more or less follows the fictitious Via Julia. Slide 58.

I should conclude by reflecting on future discoveries, and I am convinced that there are many more villas that await investigation, with perhaps fewer forts to be established along the emerging Roman road network. It is not difficult to envisage the presence of a Roman road linking the Cwmbrwyn villa near Llandorow, discovered in the early twentieth century, with the Trelissey site at Amroth. Slides 59-60. especially since there is every reason to suspect another site nearby at Eastlake Farm. In the meantime, the forthcoming excavation of the Roman villa discovered by University College London in north Pembrokeshire may even produce the long-awaited discovery of some Roman mosaics. Such is the unpredictability and excitement of archaeology.

On-line database maps 4,147 sites in the British Isles

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A team of researches has spent five years sifting information on all the hill forts across the UK, Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man. An atlas showing the location of these sites has now been launched on-line as is freely available to researchers on https://hillforts.arch.ox.ac.uk/

Newport’s Medieval Pottery Kiln

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Newport’s recently discovered medieval pottery kiln is a rare survival. Although its ware chamber is no longer there, the base reveals that it had a sophisticated vent technology which increased the capacity of the kiln and facilitated heat distribution and the even firing of the pots. Over 10,000 potsherds have been recovered which are currently being washed, sorted and analysed.

It is thought that the local potters made a limited range of pots and jugs in varying sizes, not just for local use but also for exporting further afield. The completeness of the kiln and the pottery recovered will give a wider insight into the early development of industrial pottery production and technology. When the excavations are finished the site, the public will have free access to the site.

For further information: dawnmarshall13@gmail.com