The Life and Reminiscences of Warren Carter of Haverfordwest (1826-1919)

By Simon Hancock

One of the utilities of history is how it provides communities with a sense of identity and, as Black and Macraild put it, provides societies and individuals with a dimension of longitudinal meaning over time which far outlives the human life span. This helps to explain why memory has become such an important feature of historical study and a distinct form at that, despite the limitations of objectivity and factual certainty.[1] Some studies have suggested how reminiscing, most notably the concept of life reviewing, appear adapted features of the ageing process.[2]

The Haverfordwest of the nineteenth century witnessed some dramatic changes, although by comparison with those of the past 50 years they were in retrospect fairly modest. Nevertheless, after the bloodletting and uncertainty of the First World War there was a yearning for security and the fond remembrance of more peaceful times. There were a handful of individuals living then whose minds could stretch back to halcyon and more innocent days when life seemed simpler and the county town of Pembrokeshire was synonymous with prosperity and stability.  Such memories can be highly selective and conveniently ignore the more unsavory aspects of life in former times; nevertheless such memories are still precious. One such person who could regale contemporaries with stories of early nineteenth century Haverfordwest was 93-year old Warren Carter of Hill Street. This was a ripe old age for a time when average life expectancy was considerably shorter than it is today. In his lifetime Haverfordwest changed from a town with medieval shambles and sedan chairs to a town whose core was more or less as it appears today. For Warren Carter the changes were not dry facts in history books, rather they were his lived experiences.

Warren Carter was born in High Street in 1826 in the building later occupied by Messrs. S and F Green, ironmongers. The family moved across to Short Row, a collection of buildings which ran from the entrance to Quay Street right up the middle of the present-day High Street past the entrance to Hill Lane. It contained seven separate properties one of which was the furniture workshop of William Owen, the great town improver, who started out in life as a cabinet and furniture maker. Short Row was demolished in 1836 after the town improvements committee allocated the sum of £1,000 to take it down. Warren Carter was baptized at St. Mary’s Church on 16 March 1826.[3]

Plan of Haverfordwest showing Short Row at the bottom of High Street (Pembrokeshire Archives DX/289)

He was the son of John Carter, a millwright, and Jennett (or Jane) his wife. John Carter was also the town crier and he died in April 1834 at the early age of 40. The family removed to Dew Street where Warren’s mother became a baker. In 1841 the family consisted of 40-year old Jane and her children John, aged 17, Warren, aged 14, and 8-year old Nathaniel. In later life Warren would recall the good supply of spring water available in Dew Street, or Chute-Street as he recalled it, on account of the chute of water which was located near the infants’ school in the street. There was another water supply by the Fish Market and he recalled how local women earned a living carrying water to the houses of local residents, the most memorable of whom was intriguingly known as ‘Queen Anne’, obviously someone with pretentions of grandeur.[4]

Warren was an eyewitness to historic times, remembering how the old Guildhall appeared near St. Mary’s Church, later occupied by the memorial to the fallen of the Boer War. Warren knew the site of the Shire Hall before that imposing structure was built and eighty years after the event could describe the rough blocks of stone being cut and smoothed in the building’s construction. Before the advent of gas lighting the dark streets of the county town afforded almost endless opportunities for boyish pranks and japes. These ‘full blooded youths’ would stand at the top of Market Street and would seize strangers from behind and push them down the street with all the rapidity of which they were capable.[5] Guy Fawkes with the fireworks and tar barrels was eagerly anticipated as was Pancake Day which saw scores of footballs kicked up and down the streets by numerous male inhabitants. Shopkeepers wisely barricaded their windows and after the exertions were concluded there were plentiful supplies of pancakes dispensed to all and sundry by ladies from their doorsteps.

Warren Carter served his apprenticeship to Mr. Palmer, draper of High Street, and then took the decision to seek his fortune in the great metropolis of London. It must have been with considerable trepidation that the young Warren mounted the mail coach at Castle Square which then proceeded through Bridge Street, the Old Bridge, Cartlett, Narberth, Carmarthen, Swansea and thence to Bristol where he took the train to Paddington. Pembrokeshire people have an uncanny knack of gravitating to those who also hail from Wales’s premier county no matter where they happen to find themselves. During his years in London Warren met a young man from Fishguard who befriended him and who took him to a meeting at Sergeant’s Inn.[6] He met one George Williams who duly became Sir George Williams (1821-1905), an English philanthropist and founder of the Young Men’s Christian Association in 1844. Interestingly, like Warren Carter he too had arrived in London to work in a draper’s shop. Whilst living in the capital in the early 1850s Warren was a witness to national events. He visited the Great Exhibition of the Work of Industry of all Nations, the world’s first trade fair, which was held at Hyde Park from 1 May to 15 October 1851. He also witnessed the funeral procession for the great Duke of Wellington who had died on 14 September 1852 aged 83.[7] Warren was one of over one million people who lined the route through which passed Wellington’s cortege, including the extraordinary 12-ton, six-wheeled funeral car, on 18 November 1852 on the way to St. Paul’s.

Perhaps city life was not truly conducive to the young Warren Carter and within a few years he was back in his native Pembrokeshire. He returned to Haverfordwest and entered into a business partnership with Stephen Davies to establish the drapery concern of Carter and Davies. On 3 October 1854 Warren married Sarah Davies, third daughter of the late Mr. Stephen Davies, farmer, at Lawrenny Church.[8] Whether there was a family relationship between his late father-in-law and business partner has not been established. The business, which was located in Market Street, seems to have been reasonably prosperous despite occasional difficulties. In August 1859 Thomas Williams, a cutter in their employment was charged with stealing half-a-crown, for which he received an exemplary sentence of three calendar months imprisonment with hard labour.[9] In 1862 two tramps named William Taylor and John Brown received sentences of two calendar months in custody with hard labour for stealing a coat from Warren Carter valued at £2.[10] On at least one occasion Warren himself was on the wrong side of the law.  In January 1855 he and his business partner were summoned for having placed and exposed for sale on the common footway in Market Street five rolls of cloth, contrary to statute. They were fined 6d. plus 8s. 6d. costs.[11]

The partnership of Carter and Davies came to an end on 19 April 1861 when Warren Carter and Stephen Davies, ‘drapers and mercers’, formally dissolved their partnership.[12] In addition to their premises in Market Street, Haverfordwest they also had Argyle House in Tenby.  Warren acquired the ‘moiety or share in a certain freehold dwelling house and premises situate in Market Street’. Thus Warren had bought out his partner. It was a substantial business. In 1861 the 33-year old Sarah Carter was also employed in the drapery business and in addition to the three children at home there were a number of dressmakers, milliners, assistants and apprentices in the shop. Given the sheer scale of competition locally, (Commerce House was just down the street,) business must have been tough. Once there was very nearly neither business nor indeed any shop at all. In November 1862 a workman took a lighted candle while looking for a gas leak in Warren’s shop. Copious amounts of water were thrown upon the extended flames but the crisis was resolved with the timely arrival of Mr. Gibbon the local gas superintendent.[13]

As a local tradesman and a man of some standing, Warren was induced to stand for election to the Haverfordwest Borough Council  in October 1860 and in his election address he promised to discharge the duties ‘with zeal and fidelity’ if elected.[14] He seems to have served only one term, deciding not to stand for re-election in October 1863. The perilous state of his drapery business might have been a factor in the decision since his own enterprise required every moment of his attention. In fact the mid-1860s seem to have been a low point in his long life. In March 1864 the London Gazette announced how Warren Carter of Pope Hill had become bankrupt, although curiously he was described as a grocer in the announcement. Warren appeared before the Bristol Bankruptcy Court a few weeks later where it was stated he was only offering creditors 5s. in the pound and had no more to offer than £150.[15] Rumours reached the court that Warren had not disclosed the true extent of his assets. Upon which the learned judge warned Warren that the law was strong enough to reach him in the event of dishonesty. It appears Warren entered into an agreement with two of his former business assistants, Isaac Lewis and Neville Harries, in September 1863. They would purchase the stock, fixtures, furniture and goodwill of the business. Warren’s debts stood at £3,400 although this was reduced to the still substantial sum of £2,500.[16]

Bankruptcy was followed by even more distressing events when Warren’s wife Sarah died in January 1865 at Pope Hill in the parish of Johnston at the age of 36 after a long and painful illness.[17] Those years must have been very difficult to cope with as he returned to his former occupation as a draper and had a family to bring up. In 1871 Warren was living at Venn in the parish of Steynton along with his children, Catherine Jane, aged 14, Martha Ann, aged 11 and 10-year old Lyrus Maryan Carter. He had enough funds to employ a domestic servant, Sarah James. Warren contracted a second marriage in 1877 when he wed Jesselina Trent at Hackney. The family had returned to Haverfordwest and they were living at Propert House, Goat Street. In 1881 53-year old Warren lived with his 35-year old wife Jesselina, described as a milliner, daughter Catherine and son Edwin E.M. Carter, aged two. There were also boarders and servants in residence. By this time Warren’s children from his first marriage started to marry. On 9 January 1890 Annie Carter, Warren’s second daughter married Richard Bennett of Helston, Cornwall at All Souls, Regent Street, London.[18] Warren’s son Edwin Ernest Warren Carter, who was admitted as a Freeman of Haverfordwest in 1899, (Warren was a Freeman) married Mary Hennessy at New Ross, Ireland in 1902.[19]

Warren Carter and his family had moved to Hill Street by 1890. Sixty years before Warren had remembered the area as ‘King Street Flags’, a favourite promenade route for the well-to-do who lived in this salubrious part of town. In 1901 the Carter family was living at Bryn Ivor House, Hill Street where 74-year old Warren was a temperance hotel keeper. The couple had one daughter Jeannette, aged 20 at home. Sadly Warren was widowed for a second time when his wife of nearly 25 years, Jesselina, died on 3 January 1902 aged 55.[20] He was still in employment which was by no means uncommon since there was no state aid in old age until the passing of the Old Age Pensions Act in 1908. Warren did receive some charitable help from the Vawer Trust of which he was an almsman. In 1897 he and a further eleven recipients benefitted to the tune of £150 10s. per annum, which was shared between them.[21]

In his twilight years Warren had the benefit of being looked after by two of his daughters. He had ten children in total, of whom four had died young. In 1911 he lived in Hill Street where Catherine Carter, aged 50 and single, was the housekeeper and Jeannette, aged 30, was an assistant, perhaps in a restaurant. The house also had two boarders, James Brown, aged 68, and   16-year old Marian Sime. By this time Warren, although deaf, was still in full possession of his faculties, and due to the span of his memory he became a sage-like figure and local treasure on account of his links with the Haverfordwest of nearly a century before. Who else could remember the wooden drawbridge across the river Cleddau and the county balls held at the Assembly Rooms? He remembered the use of sedan chairs and of how the young boys would try to steal a ride in one of the chairs.[22] His reminiscences of boyish pranks resembled those conjured up by W. D. Phillips who penned the highly popular book Old Haverfordwest (1925).

Warren remembered Portfield Fair when it was at its original location off the Broad Haven road and before it was removed to St. Thomas’ Green. Ninety-three year old Warren described the building of the Corn Market in 1848 which was full of corn. People always brought their bushel of wheat to the Cartlett or Priory Mills to be ground. A quart of wheat was taken from each bushel as a charge for grinding.[23] Warren Carter died at his home in Hill Street on 26 February 1919 and was buried in Machpelah burial ground after a short service at Bethesda Baptist Chapel. Later the pastor, the Rev. Owen D. Campbell, paid tribute to Warren at the close of a Sunday service, reflecting on the life of  his friend who had spent 77 years in the fellowship of the church and who was a constant attender of services.[24] As has often been said, ‘nothing is ever lost to us as long as we remember it.’ And how true that was for Warren Carter. We are indebted to the grand old man of Haverfordwest for handing down the rich detail of life in the town; real human experiences to bring the dry facts of history to life.




  1. Jeremy Black and Donald M. Macraild, Studying History (Basingstoke, 2007), 3.
  2. Peter George Coleman, ‘The role of the past in the adaptation to old age,’ PhD thesis, University of London (1972).
  3. St. Mary’s Parish Registers, Haverfordwest, Baptisms, Pembrokeshire Archives, (PA). HPR/2/6, Baptisms 1813-50.
  4. Pembroke County Guardian, 7 July 1916.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Haverfordwest& Milford Haven Telegraph, 5 March 1919.
  8. Lawrenny Parish Registers, Marriages, PA. HPR/42/6, Marriages 1837-1970.
  9. Pembrokeshire Herald, 19 August 1859.
  10. Potter’s Electric News, 6 August 1862.
  11. The Welshman, 26 January 1855.
  12. Pembrokeshire Herald, 26 April 1861. The Pembrokeshire Archives holds the abstract of a conveyance from Stephen Davies to Warren Carter regarding a moiety or share of a certain freehold dwelling house and premises in Market Street. This document (D/LJ/1023) clearly relates to the dissolution of the partnership.
  13. The Welshman, 21 November 1862.
  14. Pembrokeshire Herald, 26 October 1860.
  15. The Welshman, 6 May 1864.
  16. Ibid., 19 May 1865.
  17. Pembrokeshire Herald, 3 February 1865.
  18. Ibid., 17 January 1890.
  19. Ibid., 24 October 1902.
  20. Ibid., 17 January 1902.
  21. Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph, 18 May 1898
  22. Pembroke County Guardian, 7 July 1916.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph, 5 March 1919.