Our next stop was the town of Pembroke, famous for the incredible Castle ruins which overlook the town…
Status: Pembrokeshire, Town, Wales
Eating & Sleeping: Castle Cafe
Attractions: Pembroke Castle, Pembroke River, Mill Pond, War Memorial, St Nicholas Church, Mill Bridge, Clock Tower, St Mary’s Church etc
We parked up in the shadow of Pembroke Castle, a mammoth construction high on a rocky outcrop. Wales is famous for its magnificent Castles, such as those in the North at Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris, and this is no exception.
To the right you can see a little path leading off around the Castle Rock, so we followed it to see where we ended up…
Gazing up at the exterior walls, we were in awe of its impressive construction. It’s a stunning building, and has to be 1 of the most fantastic Castles in the whole of South Wales. The path led all the way around the Castle, into the town centre where you can access the Castle’s main entrance.
Also by the main entrance you will find the Pembroke War Memorial, crafted out of Granite in 1924 by TW Colley & Sons, a local firm of Masons. Unveiled by Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd (1853 – 1926, a British Army Officer in charge of the London District branch, helping to protect London from Zeppelin attacks during WWI), it commemorates all those from Pembroke who sadly perished in WWI (and later WWII).
The main entrance to the Castle is through the stunning Gatehouse, the full scale of which you can see by looking at the size of the actual entrance at the bottom of the building, compared with it’s overall height!
Two enormous flags emblazon the tops of the twin towers, with the Union Jack on the right, and the Welsh Flag (complete with mighty dragon) on the left. Nearly all of the towers within the Castle Complex are climbable, and whilst we couldn’t get up the flag towers themselves, the slightly shorter ones on either side were fair game, and offered some fantastic views across the rest of the Castle…
In this shot we had climbed the walls, and were scaling 1 of the smaller towers. From here we gazed out towards the famous Castle Keep, the tall rounded building at the other end of the complex.
The Keep dates back to the late 12th/early 13th centuries, when William Marshal (1146 – 1219, 1st Earl of Pembroke) purchased Pembroke Castle, which at that time was a much smaller affair, designed in a motte & bailey style, with a central wooden Keep.
Marshal replaced the existing buildings with new, grand stone affairs, starting with the new Keep, and the Inner Ward, the stone structures that surround the Keep. It was bounded by a large stone wall, however as this side was open to the Pembroke River, and at the top of large stone cliffs, the defences weren’t as extensive as at the landward end, which included the Gatehouse I mentioned earlier, with walls that reach multiple metres thick.
By the 13th century a Grand Hall had also been constructed, close to the Keep, to the far right of the 2nd picture. The whole area was contained within a large wall, with access being restricted to a gateway shaped like a horseshoe, which was presumably located just to the left of the great Keep.
The main Gatehouse itself, along with the other towering defensive walls that mark the Castles landward end weren’t built until much later, when the Pembroke family took possession of the Castle in 1247, before it became the property of the Crown. Indeed the English King Henry VII (1457 – 1509) was born here in 1457, becoming King after his forces later famously defeated King Richard III (1452 – 1485), to win the Battle of the Roses for the house of Lancaster.
Sadly, like many great Castles around Britain, it was the Civil War that started the process of decay, as the Parliamentarians captured the Castle in the 1640’s. After a revolt which saw the same forces defect to the Royalists, Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658, Ruler of England/Scotland/Wales) himself came and took the town, and gave the order for the Castle to be dismantled, and the building became abandoned. It would eventually be bought however by the Philipps Family in 1880, and Sir Ivor Philipps (1861 – 1940, Major-General in the British Army) began to restore the Castle to some of it’s former glory. Today it remains jointly owned by the Philipps and Pembroke Town Council, and the building itself is in remarkably good condition.
You may have by now also noticed the large map of Wales painted on the tarmac in the middle of the Castles Courtyard, which shows the locations of all the major Castles/Religious Sites around the whole of Wales. The map includes Conwy & Caernarfon in North Wales, as well as St David’s Cathedral, and Cardiff Castle amongst many others.
According to the Pembroke Castle Website, The Map is notable for being: “the largest painting in the UK and the largest map of Wales in the world.” Of course you get the best view from the top of the various towers, with the Gatehouse giving the best view of South Wales, and the Keep of North Wales.
Speaking of the Keep, we couldn’t resist climbing it as well, and we were treated to a great view, back towards the Gatehouse, and on to Pembroke Town Centre. Pembroke is in a unique setting, with half the town bounded by the Mill Pond and the Pembroke River.
The Castle Keep is a magnificent 75 ft tall, and as such you get the best views in this area of Pembrokeshire. Looking North West, you can see the outer defensive wall of the Castle, with the path we traversed when we arrived down below it.
Off in the distance, we spied the towers of the Pembroke Refinery over at Hundleton, on the far side of the Pembroke River, shown in the foreground. This vast complex has processed Crude Oil for use as various types of fuel since 1964. This eventually had knock on effects for the nearby village of Rhoscrowther, as during the 1990’s, Texaco (who owned the Refinery until 2000) bought most of the houses in the village, and subsequently demolished them, leaving only the centuries old Church, and a scattering of houses left today.
Just in front of the Refinery, directly on the bank of the river is the smaller Pembroke B Power Station, which only actually opened in 2012. It’s the largest Power Station in Europe to be powered by Gas, and it replaced the previous Oil Powered Station on the site which was demolished in the early 2000’s.
Turning to look West, the Castle has a rival for the Pembroke skyline, in the form of the “Priory Church of St Nicholas”, which is technically located in the small village of Monkton which is contiguous with Pembroke itself.
The original Church of St Nicholas was tied to Pembroke Castle, as in 1098 the Church was established within the Castle complex. This was long before William Marshal built the incredible structure you can explore today, so it’s thought that the very 1st incarnation of Pembroke Castle was in Monkton not Pembroke. The Church would soon be placed under the administration of the Abbey in the Town of Sees in Normandy, which is part of modern day France. This was presumably a consequence of the Norman Invasion of Wales, which followed William the Conqueror’s (1028 – 1087, Duke of Normandy) Invasion of England in 1066, largely completed by the end of 1094.
Of course this meant that it was the possession of a foreign country, and as England spent much of the next few centuries at War with France, it’s connection to Sees was soon severed, and it was put under the control of St Alban’s Abbey in Hertfordshire, England by the mid 15th century. This would last less than a century however, as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, instigated in the 1530’s by King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547, Founder of the Church of England) of England once more severed the buildings connection with its Abbey. It fared better than the many Abbeys Henry brought down, and was turned into the local Parish Church, which it remains today.
It’s a beautiful building, and along with the Castle it perfectly showcases the fine history of Pembrokeshire.
From the Gatehouse Towers, which we had climbed at the start of our visit to the Castle, we got a panoramic view across Pembroke Town Centre, and many of it’s major landmarks.
On the left, is the Mill Pond Bridge, which spans the similarly named “Mill Pond”, which was originally part of the Pembroke River, and acted as an inlet, or harbour where the River had its eastern terminus. The area was tidal, so a large Mill was built across it to take advantage of this. The building was presumably built around the start of the 13th century, as the British Listed Buildings website for the Bridge states that:
“Provision for the tidal mill was first granted in 1199 by King John to the Knights Templar”.
By 1821 a new Mill building occupied the site, along with a rebuilt Bridge/Causeway, with at least 4 storeys. After suffering 2 fires, the 1st in 1885 (after which it was restored), and the 2nd in 1955, it had to be demolished, leaving only the Bridge left. The loss of the Mill must have been a significant alteration to Pembroke’s landscape, and I can only imagine how impressive it must have looked, coupled with the town centre, beautiful scenery, and the Castle towering over the lot.
Over to the right, is another Church, this time called that of “Saint Mary the Virgin”, whilst again to the right of that is the famous Red Clock Tower. We were intrigued by both of these, and as an alternative route back to the car via the town centre/high street would take us past both of them, we left the Castle to find out more…
Like the Church of St Nicholas, St Mary’s is also a Parish Church, and the oldest parts of the structure date back to the 13th century, in the form of the Nave/Chancel. The building work follows a basic pattern that appears in a lot of Churches we have visited, that of the Nave and or Chancel being the oldest sections, followed by a Church Tower added sometime in the 14th or 15th Centuries, and indeed this is the case here, as the Tower was added during the late 14th Century.
A major restoration was carried out during the Victorian Era, beginning in the 1870’s, and concluding in 1880 with work done on the overall standing structure, the roof, and interior furnishings. These would be supplemented by 1st the West Porch (shown just behind the tree to the left) in 1926, and then the South Porch in 1937, which protrudes out onto the High Street between the Clock Tower and the building to its immediate left.
The Clock Tower itself is built atop what I presume was a 19th century building, which had its 1st Clock added in 1829. At this stage the building looked very different, with the Tower much shorter, and the outer sections either side of it were only single storey.
These were gradually raised to 2, then 3 storeys by 1899, and it was at this time than an extra section was added to the Clock Tower. Originally the Clock was directly above the top floor of the Tower, however it was replaced by a short Octagonal Section, which then led up to the Clock and the cupola at the top. The Clock itself was also replaced, by John Charles Froyne (Retired Dockyard Worker who lived in Pembroke, and later served as the town’s Mayor) at the same time, and it remains in working order today. Currently the building is in use as the offices of an Insurance Consultant.
It is possible the building sits on the site once occupied by the former Town Hall, however the current version is sat directly across the road, out of shot.
After a walk around the town centre, we took a stroll across the Mill Bridge, turning to look back at the Castle where our adventure had begun. It really is magnificent to look at, and anyone who is familiar with the famous, huge Castles in North Wales would not be disappointed to visit Pembroke Castle.
Pembroke is a great little town, in a stunning location. There is lots of history within the towns borders, and many sights for you to explore. Pembroke is linked quite well to the local, and wider country transport networks, with a railway station that is the penultimate stop on the West Wales line from London. The line splits into 3 branches after it leaves Swansea, towards Fishguard, Milford Haven, and Pembroke Dock (via Pembroke Town), giving the town direct connections to the major cities in South Wales, and the M4 corridor towards the British Capital, London.
Pembroke was a memorable town to visit, but we had 1 more stop of the day, in the neighbouring town of Pembroke Dock, on the South bank of the River Cleddau…