FISHGUARD (ABER-GWAIN), a market town and parish, in two divisions, the Upper and Lower, in the hundred of KEMMES, county of PEMBROKE, SOUTH WALES, 16 miles (N.) from Haverfordwest, 26 1/2 (N.) from Pembroke, and 249 ( W. by N.) from London, containing 1990 inhabitants. The origin of the present town is of comparatively recent date, but the parish in many respects affords striking indications of very remote antiquity. The numerous Druidical relics which abound in the immediate vicinity prove it to have been a resort of the votaries of that ancient religion, for the solemnization of their sacred rites; and the extensive remains of foundations of ancient buildings still existing in a district within the parish, called Caerau, or "the Fortifications," in which, though it has been for ages under cultivation, they still occasionally obstruct the progress of the plough, are strong evidences of its having contained a numerous population at a very early period. According to Mr. Fenton, the historian of Pembrokeshire, this district was inhabited by an ancient race long before the invasion of Britain by the Romans, whom he supposes to have subsequently had a settlement in this place, in which opinion he is confirmed, in some degree, by the discovery, near the spot, of Roman coins, chiefly of the Lower Empire. In the early part of the fifth century, St. Dubricius is said by Bale to have lived in retirement at this place, and to have had a school, which was numerously attended by the inhabitants of the surrounding country, for some time prior to his elevation to the archiepiscopal see of Caerlleon. PwIl Dyvrig, a spot in the romantic Vale of Gwayn, within this parish, which derived its name from that circumstance, is still pointed out as the place of his retreat; and, within the memory of man, games in honour of that saint were annually celebrated on his festival. At the time of the Norman Conquest of England, this place was a small and unimportant fishing village, which, from its situation at the mouth of the river Gwayn, was called, by the Welsh, Aber-Gwain
. Soon after that period, an Anglo-Norman leader, named Martin de Tours, or de Turribus, whose services under the Conqueror had been rewarded by a grant of lands in Devonshire, on the coast of the Bristol channel, being desirous of extending the limits of his possessions, fitted out an expedition to act against such part of the Welsh coast as he should find least prepared for defence; and having sailed round the south-western extremity of the county, he succeeded with little difficulty in landing his troops at this place, and in subduing the territory, which subsequently formed the ancient lordship of Kemmes, within the limits of which it was included, and one of the lordships marcher. In the subsequent partition of the conquered territories among his followers, Martin assigned the town of "Aber-Gwain," and nearly the whole of the district which is at present comprehended within the parish, to Jordan de Cantington, who introduced into his newly acquired possessions an English colony, by which the name of the town was changed to Fish-Garth
, the latter word signifying in the Anglo-Saxon language a "wear;" and of this name its modern appellation of Fishguard
is only a slight modification. Jordan, after repeated attempts to excite in his Welsh and English subjects sentiments of reciprocal conciliation, and peaceable subjection to his authority, in which endeavours he was invariably frustrated by their mutual dissensions, finally gave the whole to the abbey of St. Dogmael's, which had been founded by his patron, Martin de Tours, in the vicinity, and in the possession of which it remained till the period of the general dissolution of religious houses, The origin of the present town, or at least its elevation from an obscure and inconsiderable fishing village to some degree of importance, may be referred to the sixteenth century, when Newport, the head of the barony of Kemmes, being visited with a desolating pestilence, the inhabitants were driven from it and compelled to seek safety in all directions. Many of them, attracted by the open situation of this place, and the purity of its air, established themselves at Fishguard, which, from these advantages of its situation, had entirely escaped the contagion; and to this circumstance are usually ascribed the first increase and the present prosperity if the town, which, however, only obtained the privilege of a market towards the close of the last century, through the exertions of the late William Knox, Esq. In the year 1797, a French force of about eleven hundred men, under the conduct of General Tate, effected a landing on this coast, within a few miles of the town; but after committing some ravages in the neighbourhood, they were made prisoners by the troops under Lord Cawdor. This event, though generally referred to Fishguard, took place in the adjoining parish of Llanwnda.
The town is beautifully situated on the river Gwayn, near its influx into St. George's channel, and is divided into the Upper and Lower town, the former crowning the summit of a hill commanding an extensive and beautiful marine view, and the latter occupying the banks of the river, over which there is a neat stone bridge of five arches. The Upper Town includes the principal portion, containing the church, market-place, and principal shops, and consists chiefly of three streets, diverging from a common centre, partially paved, and consisting of houses irregularly built and of indifferent appearance. Some improvements, however, have recently taken place, and a better style of building and greater regularity prevail in the houses of more modern erection. The inhabitants are abundantly supplied with water of excellent quality, and the springs are so numerous that, wherever the ground is opened, water is found at a small distance below the surface. The neighbouring lands are, with a trifling exception, enclosed, and the greater portion is in a superior state of cultivation: the soil is tolerably fertile. The surrounding scenery is finely diversified, assuming in some parts a striking boldness of character, and in others a pleasing combination of picturesque features and romantic beauty. The situation of the town upon a small bay in St. George's channel, to which it gives name, and the shores of which are distinguished for the beauty of their scenery; the salubrity of its atmosphere; the abundance and cheapness of the commodities brought to its markets; and the facility for sea-bathing, contribute to render Fishguard desirable as a place of residence, and attract to it numerous visitors during the summer. As a proof of its salubrity, the number of aged inhabitants is, perhaps, greater than in any other place of equal population in the kingdom: from a return of the bills of mortality made by the vicar, in compliance with an order from government, from 1813 to 1830 inclusive, it was found that in every year of the above period there was a majority of persons from seventy to ninety, and often to one hundred, years of age. Fishguard bay extends a distance of three miles in a direction from east to west, and about a mile and three quarters from north to south, varying in depth of water from thirty to seventy feet, in proportion to the distance from the fine bold shore by which it is enclosed. The bottom is firm, affording good anchorage to ships of the largest size, which may ride in safety in all parts of the bay during the prevalence of gales from any point of the compass, except north and north-east. According to a survey made by Mr. Spence, in 1790, by order of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, this bay is reported to be the only place, between Milford Haven and St. Tudwal's roads, which is seventeen leagues farther north, where large vessels navigating the Irish channel can put in for shelter. The harbour, which is capacious and easy of access, is situated on the western side of the bay; it is irregular in form, being about two thousand four hundred feet in length, and about one thousand one hundred and sixty feet wide at the entrance, which is free from obstruction either from rocks or a bar. The erection of a pier, which was strongly recommended by the engineer who surveyed the bay, would greatly tend to improve it; and, according to an estimate delivered by the engineer, it might be completed, for the accommodation of one hundred sail of merchant vessels of the usual class, at an expense of £14,785. The harbour was again surveyed, under the direction of the Lords of the Admiralty, by the late Mr. Rennie, who confirmed the preceding report, and recommended, in addition to the proposed pier from Fort Point, the construction of a breakwater from Cow and Calf Point. The expense of both these works, according to Mr. Rennie's estimate, would not exceed the sum of £80,000, and their construction would render the harbour one of the safest and most commodious on the coast for vessels of almost all descriptions. But in consequence of neither of the above plans having been carried into effect, and no public man in the county interesting himself with government towards the attainment of so desirable an object, the prosperity of the place has been greatly retarded, and, owing to the very indifferent state of repair of the present small pier, Fishguard is daily becoming more impoverished; as not only its own shipping, but vessels from other ports, were accustomed to put in and remain here, while the pier was in a state of good repair, for a greater or less period, making Milford their port as a matter of necessity. The trade of this place, notwithstanding the many local advantages which it possesses, and the spaciousness of its harbour, is consequently very inconsiderable: it consists chiefly of the exportation of corn and butter to Bristol and Liverpool, and the importation of shop goods, coal and culm (from Milford and Swansea), coal (from Newport, Cardiff, &c.), limestone (from Milford), and timber. Some of the largest vessels belonging to the port are engaged in the general carrying trade from Bristol, Liverpool, Milford, and London, to Ireland, &c. The Irish packets often put in here, when driven by stress of weather. The herring fishery, which formerly afforded employment to a considerable number of the inhabitants, became latterly unproductive, and has been discontinued, with the exception of procuring a supply for the immediate neighbourhood only. Lead-ore has been recently found within the parish, but not of sufficient quantity, nor of quality rich enough, to encourage any attempts to work it. Slate of very good quality abounds in the neighbourhood, and iron-ore has been found near the town. The market is on Thursday, and is well supplied with grain, and with provisions of every kind. The fairs are on February 5th, Easter-Monday, Whit-Monday, July 23rd. and November 17th. Fishguard is thought to have been anciently an incorporated borough, and is traditionally reported to have possessed a charter, granted by King John, which was lost during the great civil war of the seventeenth century: there is a district in the parish still known by the name of "The Borough." By the late act for amending the representation of the people it has been constituted a contributory borough with Haverfordwest and Narberth, in the return of a representative to parliament: the right of election is vested in every male person of full age occupying, either as owner or as tenant under the same landlord, a house or other premises of the annual value of not less than ten pounds, provided he be capable of registering as the act directs: the present number of tenements of this value within the limits of the borough, which are given in the Appendix to this work, is fifty-five: the sheriff of Haverfordwest is the returning officer. It has also been made one of the polling-places in the election of a knight for the shire.
The living is a discharged vicarage, in the archdeaconry and diocese of St. David's, rated in the king's books at £4. 0. 5., endowed with £200 royal bounty, and £800 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the King, as Prince of Wales. The vicar receives one third of the whole tithes of that portion of the parish which is situated to the west of the river Gwayn, and the impropriator all the remainder. The church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is pleasantly situated in the Upper Town: it has recently been repaired, and is a neat small edifice, but not distinguished by any peculiarity of architecture. A handsome vicarage-house, called Vicar's Park, from the name of the plot of glebe on which it stands, has been erected by the present incumbent, the Rev. Samuel Fenton, M.A., which has much improved the entrance into the town from Haverfordwest. The town, previously to the erection of the present church, is said to have comprised two distinct parishes, now forming only one; and the ruins of three ancient chapels, called respectively Llan-Vihangel, Llan-Vartin, and Llan-Ist, may still be traced: of these, two probably were parish churches, and the third a chapel of ease to one of them. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Calvinistic Methodists. The hills in this parish, which enclose the romantic Vale of Gwayn, were formerly thickly strewed with Druidical relics, of which several vestiges may still be traced; and near the site which was formerly occupied by the ancient town called Caerau, three Roman urns have been found, containing numerous coins, chiefly of Gallienus, Posthumus, Claudius, and some other emperors; but they were melted down soon after their discovery. In various parts of the parish are numerous tumuli, some of which have been found to contain relics of the rudest ages, urns of various forms and of the coarsest workmanship, implements of stone, bones, ashes, and curiously wrought stones. Near the town are several tumuli, or artificial mounds, intrenched, as if for military purposes, and called Castellau, or "the Castles," probably from that circumstance: these Mr. Fenton supposes to be sepulchral monuments of a very remote age, and to have been reduced to their present form, which is that of a truncated cone, and probably surmounted by forts, during the wars between the Welsh and the invading Saxons. On the bank of the river Gwayn, in a secluded and romantic situation, stands the neat mansion of the late Richard Fenton, Esq., barrister-at-law, and author of a "Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire;" it is pleasantly embosomed in a thick grove of trees, and is now the property and residence of his eldest son. A mineral spring in the parish was formerly in high estimation for its efficacy in the cure of numbedness of the limbs and other complaints. The average annual expenditure for the maintenance of the poor is £480. 11.
Gareth Hicks, 5 Jan 2000