Moving on from St David’s, we arrived in the town of Haverfordwest, and set out to explore, with the eerie remains of the towns Castle looming overhead…
Status: Pembrokeshire, Town, Wales
Eating & Sleeping: Premier Inn (A40 North)
Attractions: Castle Ruins, Western Cleddau, Castle Square, Pembrokeshire County Hall, New Bridge, Shire Hall, Palace Theatre, St Martin’s Church, St Thomas’s Church, St Mary’s Church, Pembrokeshire County Hall etc
South Wales would appear to be a fantastic place for Car Parking. St David’s was quite cheap, having parked at the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Visitor Centre, and Haverfordwest was even better, with a FREE car park up by the Leisure Centre, looking down across the rest of the town.
At 1st glance it looks to be very pleasant, multi-coloured buildings which remind me of coastal towns in the South of England, St Thomas’s Church Tower in the background, flanked by lush green tree tops. We set off to explore, heading down “Hill Street” as we descended towards the town centre, and the riverside…
On the way, we passed the “Palace Theatre”, a fabulous building which began life in 1849 as the new Corn Market, designed by William Owen, a local architect who hadn’t even entered the design competition for the building, but was awarded it anyway!
By 1862 the Corn Market’s prominence in the town was growing, as the towns Council Chamber was built on the 1st floor, and it would be another 50 years before the next major change in the buildings history.
1912 saw the arrival of Sidney White, a cinema entrepreneur from the City of Swansea, who bought the building and converted it into the Palace Cinema. The change of venue also saw a change in the exterior walls, as a lot of them were plastered over, although in various places you can see through to the stone underneath. Happily it would appear the building is still in use, having avoided the fate that befell many cinemas/theatres by the end of the 1960’s. It’s a beautiful building, which has so much more to it than originally meets the eye, and it was a great way to kick off our sightseeing tour around Haverfordwest.
Haverfordwest was founded at least by the 12th century, and lies in a strategic position between St Davids, Milford Haven and Pembroke. Much of the town is built on a hill, with most streets sloping downwards, including the High Street, until they reach the river. Because of this, it was the perfect location to build a medieval Castle, with a commanding view out past the town, and across the surrounding countryside.
This is “Hill Street”, aptly named, which meets the High Street at the Church of St Mary’s, the square tower of which you can just see at the bottom of the road. Behind it, off in the distance, the spire of St Martin’s rises proudly into the sky, notable as the oldest of the 3 main Churches in Haverfordwest (along with St Mary’s and St Thomas’s), located just across the road from the Castle itself.
We soon reached St Mary’s Church, which is the largest in the town. It has an impressive history to match its fine exterior, with the oldest sections of the building through to be the Nave (12th century) and various Carvings (13th century). However, the main bulk of the Church had to be rebuilt during the 1240’s thanks to an attack by Llewelyn the Great (1172 – 1240, Prince of Gwynedd) in 1220.
A new Organ was installed in 1737 by Harris & Byfield, making it 1 of the oldest in the UK. The Tower was also once topped by a mighty wooden spire, however it was removed in 1802 as Lady Kensington, who lived in a house nearby, was worried it may eventually fall and land on her house.
The position of St Mary’s gives it a grand feel, at the top of the High Street, looking down towards the other major landmarks in town, including the Shire Hall.
Gazing down from St Mary’s along the High Street, Haverfordwest reminded me of 1 of the many charming Cornish Villages we had visited earlier in the year, with colourful buildings, sloping high streets and bunting flapping in the wind.
The High Street is full of grand looking buildings, each with a historical story to tell. Let’s take a look at a few…
Located at Number 41 High Street is the fine looking HSBC Building, which began life in the 19th century as 2 individual terraced houses. By 1900 it had been taken over by the Metropolitan Bank, and the premises were merged together by D. E. Thomas. The Bank was later taken over (presumably bought out) by the Midland Bank, founded in 1836 in the English city of Birmingham.
The building is of course now home to the HSBC, the 4th largest bank in the world. Beginning life in Hong Kong in 1865, the initials are a mixture of “Hong Kong” and “Shanghai Banking Company”. They bought out the Midland Bank in 1992, so the branch was rebranded, and remains open for business as HSBC.
To the left of the HSBC is Number 42, which is far older than its exterior facade would suggest. Around 1880 the building was bought by Bisley H. Munt and remodelled (including the addition of the Clock), and if you look closely you can see that the name is still above the shop window. Ever since Mr Munt began trading here, the store has been a Jewellers, and remains so to this day.
Just a few doors down from Munt’s Jewellers is the old Shire Hall, perhaps the stand out building on the High Street, designed by William Owen (who also designed the old Corn Market), and completed in 1837. It sat alongside the aforementioned Corn Market in the day to day running of the town, as the Market had the Council Chamber, and the Shire hall the Assize Courts. Just a decade before Sidney White arrived to convert the Market into a Theatre, a new Council Chamber was built here by Arthur Thomas in 1901. Pembrokeshire County Council moved in, and remained the buildings owners until the early 2000’s, when a new structure was erected specifically for the council along the banks of the River Western Cleddau, becoming their new permanent home.
At the end of the High Street, before you make your way across the Cleddau, you can stop in Castle Square, and gaze up at the mighty walls of Haverfordwest Castle above you.
If however you choose to bypass the square, you will reach the bridge shown above, known as the “New Bridge”, and another fine contribution to the town by our friend William Owen, in 1837. It originally opened as a Toll Bridge, the Tolls later being removed in 1878.
As noted earlier, it spans the River Western Cleddau, which itself consists of Eastern and Western branches which meet near Priskilly Forest, continuing their journey together down through Haverfordwest. The Western Cleddau eventually unites with the River Eastern Cleddau at Milford Haven to form a large estuary called the Daugleddau Estuary.
Looking past the bridge, you can see a creamy coloured building with a pointed roof. This is the new Pembrokeshire County Hall building, facing the much older part of town across the river.
The view from this side of the river, looking back at the town centre is fantastic, with a mixture of old and new along the riverbank. High above us, the great Castle watches our every move, and must have been a frightening sight to any advancing armies.
The original Castle was built in 1120, with most of the buildings crafted out of Timber by the Earl of Pembroke, Gilbert de Clare (1100 – 1148). It was 1 of Gilbert’s successors as the Earl of Pembroke (William Marshal) who would go on to replace the Timber buildings with new stone ones, with the blessing of the English King John (1166 – 1216) who had taken possession of the Castle. Marshal’s new defences proved effective, as an attack by Llywelyn Fawr (1172 – 1240, Prince of Gwynedd) in 1220 resulted in the near total destruction of the town, but he never reached the Castle, which survived. The attack also destroyed St Mary’s Church as I mentioned earlier.
Most of what you see today dates from around 1290, when the Castle was reconstructed by Queen Eleanor of Castile (1241 – 1290, Queen Consort of King Edward I). The Castle also saw action during the English Civil War, when the town was taken by an army on the side of the Royalists in 1644. At the end of the War Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658, Leader of England/Scotland/Ireland) ordered the Castle destroyed, and it fell into disrepair. Over the years it has had a number of reprieves, and seen use as a Prison, Police Station etc, and it was even the home of the Pembrokeshire Record Office until 2013 when it was rehoused.
The towns riverfront is a slick looking modern affair, a major part of which is the new Riverside Shopping Centre, connected to the town centre by a pedestrian footbridge.
The Eastern bank of the River (on the shopping centre side) is marked by a large Clock Tower, which I believe was a gift to the town. It also contains a “Vogue” shop, and as their website puts it, it’s in a “unique setting”.
Looking further up the River, you can see the main section of the Riverside Shopping Centre, as well as another historic Bridge over the River. This is the older of the 2, and as the other is the “New Bridge”, this is the “Old Bridge”.
The Old Bridge was completed in 1726, given to the town as a gift by Sir John Philipps (1701 – 1764, 6th Baronet who served as MP for Pembrokeshire between 1761 and 1764).
On the left, opposite the Riverside Shopping Centre is the towns more modern Market, completed in the 1980’s. It’s quite a brutalist building, overhanging the River on pillars, yet somehow it does seem to fit in quite nicely with its neighbouring buildings. Overall we found the Riverside here to be quiet pleasant, and stopped for a break from exploring to enjoy our surroundings.
As Haverfordwest is essentially built on the side of a hill, there are many places where you can cut through between the various streets, usually consisting of a rather steep side road, or a set of steps. It’s amazing where you might end up following these shortcuts, and we ended up on a old, rugged looking street, almost level with the Castle, which we could see in the distance through a patch of foliage, which I think framed it rather nicely.
Our final stop was back where we started, having found our way into the Churchyard of St Thomas’s, opposite where we parked. It is 1 of the oldest buildings in the town, well part of it at least. It’s origins lie in the early 12th century, although its most obvious feature, the tall square tower, was only added in the 15th. It’s present appearance came about thanks to a major rebuild which occurred in the 1850’s, instigated by E. M. Goodwin.
The presence of so many Churches in Haverfordwest is quite unique, as apparently it is the only Welsh Town to have 3 different parishes within the boundaries of the settlement, all of which were set up during Norman Times.
So that was our trip to Haverfordwest, an interesting town which has been at the centre of Pembrokeshire for centuries, as the historic County Town, and the main settlement where the main roads out towards the other major towns/ports all meet. Architecturally there are many stand out buildings, all of which have a unique history to tell, and there is always more to them than meets the eye. The local railway station provides train services to Milford Haven in the West, and East towards the major cities of Swansea and Cardiff. From there you can get a train in various directions, although direct services run all the way through Hereford in England to the City of Manchester.
We pressed on however, towards the historic town of Pembroke, 11 miles to the South (even if the SatNav decided not to warn me about the Toll Bridge which crosses the Cleddau at Pembroke Dock)…