Legacies of Haverfordwest’s Georgian and Victorian heritage are visible all over the town, although it has changed almost beyond recognition over the last half century.
Most of the architectural evidence is now well above eye-level, where Georgian and Victorian windows and even a few surviving Tudor roof features survive.
The town’s Norman castle and the churches of St Martins, St Mary’s and St Thomas, together with the ruined Priory, are the oldest structures on the skyline, and the quays and warehouses along the riverfront are later signs of the town’s erstwhile importance as a river port.
Before the coming of the railway in 1853, Haverfordwest’s main link with distant places was its shipping traffic, for the rudimentary road system meant long, uncomfortable journeys in what Victorian writers described as “the slow, lumbering coach.”
Fifty years ago there were three coaching inns with their stables behind, but two of them, the old part of the Castle Hotel and the entire Swan Hotel, have given way to store development and only The Mariners and the County Hotel (once The Salutation) remain intact, although the former is alone in retaining its access through to what was once the stable yard.
Its central position made Haverfordwest the County Town, although a few centuries ago that status was enjoyed by Pembroke.
Haverfordwest, like Carmarthen, was once one of the most important river ports in Wales, and port books from the Elizabethan era record trade by large sailing vessels with exotic names such as “Le Jesus de Haverford” and ”Le Saviur de Haverfordwest”. Imports from the continent and the west country included wine, sugar, salt and iron and the port exported hides, corn, barley, culm, sheep fells, tanned leather and wool.
Old prints show the river bristling with the masts of large vessels and more recent photographs taken during the 19th century and the early 20th, illustrate the busy trade that took place until the war saw its end with the last cargoes of flour in 1939.
The town was hit by the Black Death in the 14th century and again by Bubonic Plague at the time of the Civil War, and today its town centre commerce is being blighted by out-of-town shopping developments, which have virtually killed the High Street and caused the demise of long-standing local businesses. Iconic buildings have also been leased off or put on the market, such as the imposing Shire Hall built in 1835 and the town’s only Nash-built villa, Foley House, which is a prominent feature of the townscape.
But Haverfordwest is still well worth a visit, its riverside shopping centre presided over by the lofty Norman castle, and the view the motorist approaching from the east has as he crosses the crest near the Golf Club is a splendid one.
The town has a new leisure centre, with a swimming pool and gym facilities, an interesting museum in the castle grounds and other attractions for visitors, and a brand new skate-board park is currently under constructon beside the river near County Hall.