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…
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.
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.