Pembroke

Pembroke is perhaps best-known as the birthplace of Henry Tudor, who became Henry V11 after his victory over Richard 111 at Bosworth Field in 1485.

The massive castle where Henry was born is also one of Britain’s better-known ancient monuments, painted by Turner and visited by thousands of visitors every year.

Pembroke is the ideal centre for the exploration of South Pembrokeshire. It was once the County Town until this role was taken by Haverfordwest, with its more central position.

Sited at the head of the Milford Haven Waterway, the town derives its name from the ancient cantref or hundred of Penfro, a Welsh name which combined the words Pen (head or end ) and Fro (region). Some scholars translate it as Landsend as it was the westernmost fortified town in Britain. The town’s antiquity is reflected in its old buildings. On Westgate Hill, beneath the castle’s southern ramparts is what Pevsner describes as “the best surviving group of medieval town houses in West Wales,” one of which is of 15th century vintage and sits astride a barrel-vaulted undercroft which was entered by a doorway, now blocked, which has an ornate eliptical head. The architectural features include an upper storey, jettied out on corbels in 16th century style. Across the valley on the same side is Monkton Priory, dramatically placed on the hillside facing the castle. It fared better than many other monastic bulldings after Henry V111th’s attention. The Parish Church of St Nicholas incorporates the remains of the Benedictine Priory founded in about 1098. The 13th century nave was kept after the Dissolution and is still used as part of the church, having been restored between 1879 and 1885 and the 14th century chancel, whose shell had survived, was restored between 1887 and 1895 together with the medieval north chapel. The many architectural features are of great interest to those who enjoy exploring ancient buildings. The site of the Victorian vicarage nearby commands such a fine view of the castle that Cromwell set up his cannons there during the Civil War siege of 1648. About 150-yards south-east of the church is another ancient bulding, Monkton Old Hall, a tall, medieval pile with a magnificent vaulted undercroft which Pevsner suggests was the former hospitium or guest house for the Priory, and which is described as being the finest example of South Pembrokeshire’s many inhabited stone-vaulted houses.

On the other side of the castle, 13th century St Mary’s church at the junction of the Main Street and Dark Lane, is also worth a visit with many historic features.

Beneath the northern wall of the castle is the quay and a carpark which was once the site of the tidal mill, and the millpond stretches from here east behind the Main Street, a favourite walk along which enables visitors to admire and feed the many swans and ducks. The town is well-served by shops, including several well-stocked with antiques, and annually the Main Street fills with amusements, for its traditional Fair still survives.

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