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TENBY - from Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1833)


TENBY (DYNBYCH Y PYSCOED), a parish, including the In-Liberty and the Out-Liberty (each of which separately maintains its own poor), the former constituting the borough, and comprising the sea-port and market town of Tenby, and having exclusive jurisdiction, though locally in the hundred of Narberth, county of PEMBROKE, SOUTH WALES, 11 miles (E.) from Pembroke, 20 (S. E.) from Haverfordwest, and 245 (W.) from London, containing 2128 inhabitants, of which number, 1942 are within the limits of the borough. This place was at a very remote period occupied by the ancient Britons as a fishing town, for which its situation on the coast rendered it extremely favourable; and from this circumstance it obtained its Welsh name, of the first part of which its present appellation is an obvious modification. According to George Owen, an eminent antiquary of the reign of Elizabeth, whose manuscript history of Pembrokeshire is now in the library of the British Museum, the origin of the present town is attributable to the settlement of the Flemings in this part of the principality by Henry I, who placed them under the protection and control of Gerald de Windsor, governor of Pembroke castle, whom he ordered to provide them with habitations, on condition of their garrisoning the castles which the king then had in Wales, and which were erected by the Normans for the security of the territories which they had usurped by conquest. In order to protect themselves from the repeated attacks of the native Welsh, and to maintain possession of the lands which had been assigned to them, they soon found it necessary to build the towns of Tenby, Pembroke, and Haverfordwest, which they fortified with strong and lofty walls; and from that time Tenby began to assume a high degree of importance as a strongly fortified military post, and progressively to enjoy, from its advantageous situation, considerable prosperity as a maritime and commercial town. In the year 1150, Cadell, eldest son of Rhys ab Grufydd, Prince of South Wales, being on a hunting excursion in the neighbourhood, was suddenly attacked by a party of the inhabitants of Tenby, who lay in ambush for that purpose, and who, rushing from their concealment, soon put to flight the unarmed retinue by which he was attended: but Cadell resolutely defended himself against the assailants, of whom he killed several, and, though severely wounded in the conflict, ultimately effected his escape. Two years after this event Meredydd and Rhys, brothers of Cadell, in order to avenge this outrage, assembled all their forces, and, advancing to Tenby, scaled the walls of the town, surprised the castle, and put most of the garrison to the sword. During the minority of Isabel, Countess of Pembroke, the several castles in her earldom were entirely neglected, and the castle of Tenby, being unprovided with a sufficient garrison, was attacked by Maelgwyn and Hywell, sons of Rhys ab Grufydd, who, coming against it with an overwhelming force, destroyed the fortress, burned the town, and put many of the inhabitants to the sword. It was a considerable time before Tenby recovered from the devastation it suffered upon this occasion: the castle was repaired, and its fortifications strengthened, by William Marshall, who, espousing Isabel, was created Earl of Pembroke; but the town remained for a much longer time in ruins. William, had five sons, who all succeeded in turn to the palatinate: of these, Walter, the fourth son, gave orders for restoring the town and building a church and an almshouse; but dying before his intentions were carried into effect, Warren de Mountchensy, who married his sister, and succeeded in her right to the earldom completed the plans of his predecessor, and made to the church a valuable present of plate and jewels.

During the wars of the houses of York and Lancaster, the fortifications were repaired and strengthened by Jasper Earl of Pembroke, who, in the 36th of Henry VI., caused the platform along the summit of the walls to be widened for the greater facility of posting soldiers on the battlements, and the moat by which they were surrounded to be much increased in depth and breadth. Henry Earl of Richmond, and his mother, sought shelter in the castle of this place, to which they were brought by David ab Thomas, one of the brothers of Sir Rhys, a zealous adherent of the House of Lancaster, from Pembroke castle, where they had been besieged. Here they received due attention from the mayor of the town, and embarked for Britanny under the protection of Jasper Earl of Pembroke, and uncle of Henry, who accompanied them to the continent. In the reign of Elizabeth, a memorial was presented by the Bishop of St. David's, and the principal persons of the county, praying that fit persons might be sent to inspect the castle and fortifications of Tenby, preparatory to putting them into a state of defence against the threatened invasion of the Invincible Armada of Spain. The walls were consequently restored by order of the queen, whose initials, with the date 1588, are still visible. At the commencement of the civil war in the reign of Charles I., the castle and the town were garrisoned for the king; but in 1644, Colonel Laugharne, with a strong body of parliamentary forces, laid siege to the place, which was resolutely defended by Colonel Gwyn, the governor, for three days, when a breach being made in the walls, it was taken by storm, and the governor, the high sheriff, and three hundred men were made prisoners. In 1647, the castle and town were seized for the king by the same Colonel Laugharne, who, in conjunction with Colonel Poyer, who had been made governor of Tenby by the parliament, and Colonel Powell, had abandoned the parliamentarian cause, and embraced the royal interests;and from the strength of the garrison, composed of three hundred men, with twenty - five pieces of ordnance, and the abundant store of provisions and ammunition with which it was supplied, it proved a formidable obstacle to the entire subjugation of the country to the authority of the parliament. Cromwell, who was soon after despatched into South Wales with an army of eight thousand men, sent a detachment of twelve hundred, under the command of Colonel Read, to besiege this place. For five days it held out against all the efforts of the united forces of Colonel Read and Colonel Constable, by whom the former had been joined, until, the suburbs having been taken by storm, and a breach made in the walls, the garrison was compelled to surrender at discretion, and among the prisoners were numerous gentlemen of the surrounding country.

The Town

The town is romantically situated on the eastern and southern sides of a rocky peninsula stretching out into the Bristol channel, and rising to an elevation of one hundred feet above the level of high water: it consists of one principal street, and several smaller ones diverging from it, which latter are, in some instances, inconveniently narrow. The houses are in general well built and of respectable appearance, and several of recent erection command some fine views over the sea. Considerable improvement has been made of late years, among which may be noticed the erection of a new markethouse by the corporation, and the formation of a new line of road, by which the approach to the town has been greatly facilitated, by avoiding a steep and dangerous descent from Narberth and the eastern parts of the adjacent country, and which was opened to the public in 1831. The principal street is well paved, but not lighted, and the inhabitants are provided with water from conduits in the town, supplied by pipes from a reservoir, into which it is conveyed from springs in the neighbourhood: these works were constructed at the expense of the corporation, on a plan recommended to their adoption by Sir William Paxton, who, having purchased a considerable portion of land in the borough, caused a survey of the adjacent country to be made, with a view to supply this desirable and important accommodation, from the want of which the inhabitants had previously suffered great inconvenience. The reservoir, however, fails to afford a sufficient supply once in about every ten years, for five or six weeks together, during which time the inhabitants are obliged to supply themselves from a brook at nearly the same distance as the reservoir. The surrounding scenery is romantically beautiful and picturesque: the majestic masses of rock, of various forms and hues, which line the coast; the numerous bays and distant promontories stretching into the sea; the receding coasts of Carmarthenshire, with the projecting headland of Gower, enclosing the great bay of Carmarthen, on the western boundary of which the town is situated; the small islands of Caldey and Lundy, with the distant shores of Somersetshire and Devonshire, combine to impart a high degree of interest, variety, and beauty to the sea view, which is pleasingly enlivened by the frequent passing and repassing of vessels navigating the Bristol channel. On one side of the town there is a drive of eleven miles to the ancient town of Pembroke, through a fine champaign country, studded with churches, villages, and gentlemen's seats surrounded with plantations and pleasure grounds; and on the other the country is agreeably diversified with swelling eminences, clothed with verdure, and small valleys richly wooded. The beautiful situation of the town, the fine beach and firm and smooth sands, the transparency of the sea-water, and the pleasant walks and extensive drives in the vicinity, have rendered it a fashionable place of resort for sea-bathing, and, since the close of the last century, raised it from the decline into which it had for many years previously fallen, to a high rank among the most favourite watering places on the coast. Many good lodging-houses have been built for the accommodation of visitors, and several respectable private houses are appropriated, during the season, to the reception of families. Baths, provided with every convenience, were erected by Sir William Paxton under the castle hill, and are supplied from a capacious reservoir filled from the sea at every tide: this establishment comprises two spacious pleasure baths, one for gentlemen and one for ladies, four small cold baths, and also warm sea-water and vapour baths, with apparatus for heating them to any degree of temperature required. The same building contains also lodging-rooms for the accommodation of such invalids as may find it inconvenient to be at a distance from the baths, and a general room as a promenade, and for the purpose of taking refreshments. The exterior of the building is neat, but without any pretension to architectural style, and an excellent carriage road has been made to the house, which commands a fine view over the sea, on one side, and, on the other, of the shipping in the bay. A neat small theatre was erected about the year 1810; but dramatic performances not being much encouraged here, it has never been made an architectural ornament to the place. A private reading-room and subscription library are in general well attended, and balls and concerts occasionally take place under the direction of a master of the ceremonies. The sands afford delightful promenades, and abound also with shells of various descriptions, not less than one-half of the British collection of six hundred varieties having been found on this coast, on which many valuable shells, commonly esteemed foreign, have also been found.

The Harbour

Soon after the settlement of the Flemings at this place, the small harbour of Tenby was greatly improved for the convenience of the shipping employed at the port, the trade of which, from that time, progressively increased; and a very considerable part of its population was employed in carrying on the woollen manufacture, which was introduced by these settlers, and continued to flourish here for many years. From what cause the commercial and manufacturing importance of the town first began to decline has not been clearly ascertained, but its manufactures have been discontinued for a great length of time, and the only trade at present consists in exporting to the western and southern coasts of England the coal, culm, and limestone raised in the Out-Liberty of the parish, and which are chiefly shipped from Saunder's Foot, three miles to the north, to which place a tram-road from the different works is now in progress; and in the importation of shop goods from Bristol, between which place and Tenby a regular communication is maintained by means of a steam-packet, which conveys goods and passengers twice in the week during the season. The harbour, which, according to the custom-house regulations, is a creek to the port of Milford, is dry at low water, and is sheltered from the south and west winds by the lofty peninsula on which the town is situated; while on the east it is protected by the castle hill, and on the north by a small but handsome pier of ancient erection, which, stretching north-westward from the castle hill, in an irregular curve, terminates in a kind of circular bastion, the whole forming a remarkably picturesque object: the mouth of the harbour is daily cleared by a body of water retained each tide by flood-gates: the coal is never shipped here except when the weather will not permit vessels to receive it at Saunder's Foot, at which place a pier is now in progress of erection, and is almost completed, which will afford increased facilities for shipping coal and culm. The adjacent bay of Carmarthen abounds with almost every species of fish, and is frequented by vessels from all the neighbouring and opposite coasts, which frequently put into this harbour, as being the nearest place of safety to the fishing stations. The market days are Wednesday and Saturday, and the fish market, which is plentifully supplied with excellent fish is opened daily. Fairs are held annually on May 4th, Whit-Tuesday, July 1st., October 2nd, and December 4th: that called St. Margaret's fair may, by charter, continue for three days; but since the establishment of the fair at Narberth, in the reign of Charles II., in consequence of the more central situation of that place, the fairs of this town have been on the decline, and are now but very thinly attended. A new market-place, as noticed above, was constructed in the High-street, at the expense of the corporation, in 1829: it is commodiously arranged, and has a handsome facade, with the arms of the borough sculptured in relief, on a shield of white marble, in the tympanum of the pediment above the entrance.


The inhabitants were first incorporated by William de Valence, with the consent of his consort Johanna, by whose right he had succeeded to the palatinate: this nobleman's charter, ordaining that the burgesses should choose annually from among themselves two portreeves, and that they should have free common over all his lands from mowing and reaping times until the Feast of the Purification, is still extant, and was confirmed and enlarged by his son, Aymer de Valence, and by Laurence de Hastings, successive Earls of Pembroke. Under the charter of these noblemen the government of the borough was vested in two equal provosts. Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and Earl of Pembroke extended the privileges of the burgesses; and all the charters granted by the earls, as well as those granted by the reigning sovereigns, were confirmed by their successors from the time of Edward II. to the reign of Elizabeth. Henry IV., by charter granted in the year 1402, first vested the government in a mayor and two bailiffs, to be elected annually. Elizabeth, in the 23rd of her reign, confirmed all preceding charters, and incorporated the inhabitants under the designation of "the mayor, bailiffs, and burgesses of the borough of Tenby," granting them power to elect a second justice of the peace from among the aldermen, who, with the mayor, should hold courts of quarter session, with authority to punish for all felonies, trespasses, and misdemeanours, not affecting life or limb. Charles I, by charter, added a third justice of the peace, and two serjeants at mace, one to be nominated by the mayor, and the other by the bailiffs, whom he made keepers of the common gaol and house of correction, and also charged with the execution of all writs. Under these charters the government of the borough is vested in a mayor (who is also coroner), two bailiffs, two justices, and an indefinite number of common-councilmen and burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk, two serjeants at mace, and other officers. The mayor and bailiffs are annually elected by the existing mayor and the common council, and submitted to the approval of the burgesses in common hall assembled. The justices, who are styled aldermen, and, with the mayor, exercise exclusive magisterial authority within the borough, are elected by the mayor and common- councilmen alone: the common- councilmen are elected by the mayor and a majority of their own body from among the burgesses, and the burgesses are chosen by the mayor and a majority of the common-councilmen. This borough, with Wiston, was, by the 27th of Henry VIII., made contributory to Pembroke, in the return of one parliamentary representative: by the recent act to amend the representation, Milford is added to that district of boroughs, while Tenby retains its ancient right with unaltered limits. The elective franchise has heretofore been vested in the burgesses at large, in number nearly four hundred, of whom about one hundred and thirty are resident; and by such of these latter alone, and of the £10 householders, as are duly registered, will the right of voting now be exercised: the present number of houses within the limits of the borough, of value sufficient to qualify their tenants, is two hundred and twenty-two. Tenby is one of the places at which the poll is appointed to be taken at county elections. The corporation hold quarterly courts of session for the borough, on the Friday after the county sessions are held, in which the mayor and the two justices preside, for the trial of all offenders, of whom the punishment does not affect life or limb; a court of record for the recovery of debts to any amount above the sum of forty shillings, called the monthly court, which is held before the mayor on the first Thursday in every month, and has power to issue process to hold to bail in actions for debt; and a court every fortnight, on Monday, in which the mayor presides, for the recovery of debts under the amount of forty shillings. The jurisdiction of these courts extends over the entire In-Liberty of the parish, constituting the borough, in which neither the county magistrates nor the sheriff have any authority. The borough prison is a neat edifice, consisting of two wards, one called the common gaol, and the other the house of correction, both under the jurisdiction of the bailiffs, and the superintendence of the gaoler, who is appointed by the mayor: it is used only as a place of temporary confinement, prior to the committal of prisoners to the county gaol at Haverfordwest.

The Parish

The living consists of a consolidated rectory and vicarage, in the archdeaconry and diocese of St. David's: the rectory is rated in the king's books at £26. 10. 10., and the vicarage, which is discharged, at £13. 6. 8.: the benefice is in the patronage of the King, as Prince of Wales. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a venerable and spacious structure, principally in the early style of English architecture, with a square embattled tower surmounted by a lofty spire, one hundred and fifty-two feet in height: being situated in the centre of the town, it forms a prominent feature in the view of it from the sea and the surrounding country. It was erected in the year 1250, by Warren de Mountchensy, Earl of Pembroke, after the destruction of the town by the sons of Rhys ab Grufydd: the body consists of a nave, north and south aisles, and a chancel, and is richer in sepulchral monuments than any church in South Wales, excepting the cathedrals. Of these, the most remarkable are the monuments of John and Thomas White, brothers, and eminent merchants of this place, which are sumptuously embellished and elaborately sculptured: each has the effigy of the deceased, in the costume of the time, and in each also are four compartments, containing those of other members of the family, of whom was Griffith White, mayor of the borough when Henry Earl of Richmond embarked at this port for the continent, and to whom, after his accession to the throne, that monarch, in recompense for his services, granted a lease of all the crown lands in the vicinity of the town. The western entrance to the church is beneath an arch surmounted with the inscription, in characters of the thirteenth or fourteenth century, "Benedictus Dominus in Domis Suis." The ceiling of the nave is of neatly carved wainscot, and that of the chancel is of wainscot much more richly ornamented. According to Mr. Fenton, three chantry priests were appointed to officiate in this church, one at the altar of Jesus, another at that of St. Anne, and a third at the "Rood of Grace;" for these services lands producing at that time £13. 3. per annum, together with thirteen shillings and four pence for lamps, were settled on the church. There are places of worship for Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists; and a building on the pier, said to have been dedicated to St. Julian, and used as an oratory, in Roman Catholic times, by seamen, prior to their setting out on a voyage, is occasionally used by the Dissenters as a marine chapel. A Sunday school is supported by subscription; and it is in contemplation to establish a National school, under the patronage of the principal residents, for the gratuitous instruction of poor children.


A hospital in this town, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, was founded at a very early period, but by whom is unknown: about the year 1236, it was endowed by Gilbert Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, with lands for the relief of the lepers therein, and its revenue at the dissolution was valued at £3. 5. Queen Elizabeth, in the 23rd year of her reign, vested them in the corporation, in trust for the benefit of the poor; and in the 43rd of the same reign, by an act of parliament for the better regulation and support of the poor, these estates were transferred from the former trustees to the overseers and churchwardens of the parish of St. Mary, Tenby. The present annual income arising therefrom is about £50 per annum; but, on the expiration of the present leases, which were granted many years ago, the annual income will be much increased. The corporation are trustees for seventeen twenty-seventh parts of a farm bequeathed to the poor of this parish, by Mrs. Bowen, the rents of which she appropriated for distribution, in equal shares, among three aged and decayed housekeepers of this parish, each of whom now receives £5. 13. 4. per annum: this farm was let about sixty years ago, upon a lease for lives, on the falling in of which the property will be greatly increased in value. Two marks, or £1. 6. 8. per annum, are paid to the poor by the proprietor of the estate of St. Botolph's, in the parish of Steynton; being a bequest made about the year 1633, by Richard Budd, in consideration of his having been saved from shipwreck by taking refuge within Tenby pier. William Risam, in 1633, bequeathed the sums of £50 and £200, to be lent without interest to young tradesmen, which are now lost, having been improvidently lent. Anne Lloyd, in 1619, bequeathed £40, and Thomas Barret, in 1623, left £10, to the poor. Dr. John Jones left in trust to his brother, the Rev. William Jones, certain property, to be applied to such charitable uses as he might think proper; and, in 1703, the latter gentleman appropriated £413, to be vested in the purchase of land, now producing £63. 1. per annum, for apprenticing poor children, and towards the maintenance of such poor persons as cannot support their families by their own labour. Elizabeth Pict, in 1639, bequeathed £10; Thomas Wyat, in 1657, bequeathed £60; and Richard Gethin and nine other benefactors left various small sums, now producing together £6. 12. per annum, to the poor of this parish.

The Castle and the Surroundings

The remains of the ancient castle are very considerable, though mostly in a dilapidated condition: this fortress formerly comprised within its defences the whole of the little rocky peninsula which, projecting eastward from the eastern extremity of the town, forms the southern limit of the small bay of Tenby. The only portions now sufficiently entire to convey any idea of its original strength and importance are, a bastion and a square tower, which are in tolerable preservation, some portions of the walls, and the principal gateway entrance. The state apartments may still be traced among the ruins, and they exhibit the appearance of a splendid baronial residence, rather than the features of a military fortress. On the north of the grand entrance are the ruins of a once stately hall, one hundred feet in length, and twenty feet wide; and near the gateway are the remains of another apartment, eighty feet long and thirty feet wide: attached to this are smaller rooms, which appear to have been offices and barracks for the garrison: a portion of the keep still remains, occupying the most elevated part of the castle hill, and has an appearance of great antiquity. The ancient walls by which the town was surrounded are still in some places entire: the path along their summit, from the northern extremity of the fortifications to the south gate, may be traced; and the pointed arches by which the platform for manning the battlements was supported are still discernible: there yet remain two of the towers by which they were defended, the battlements of which are supported by corbels; and likewise the south gate, surmounted by a low semicircular bastion of great strength: besides these, some other towers of smaller dimensions, chiefly circular, and a square turret near the eastern extremity, are in tolerable preservation. Several of these towers are richly mantled with ivy, and the whole convey an imposing idea of the ancient strength and importance of this fortress. Numerous specimens of ancient domestic architecture, formerly existing in the town, have been removed within the last few years, for the purpose of widening the streets, and otherwise improving the town; but there are sufficient remaining to give some idea of the style of architecture prevailing in it during its occupation by the Flemings. Several beautiful engravings of remains of ancient military and domestic architecture, now entirely destroyed, are preserved in the "Etchings of Tenby," by C. Norris, Esq., published in 1812. Among the ecclesiastical establishments formerly existing at this place were, an hospital or free chapel, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, founded by William de Valence, which, at the dissolution, had an endowment of £9. 3. 2. for an officiating priest; and a convent founded by John de Swinemor, in 1399, for Carmelite friars, and dedicated to St. Mary. Near the coast to the east of the town are several gentlemen's seats, some of them of very ancient date: among these are, Cilgetty, the residence of the ancient family of Canon; Hên Castle, the seat of Thomas Stokes, Esq.; Merrixton, belonging to Charles Swan, Esq.; and Bonville Court, the seat of the family of Bonville. To seaward are some insulated rocks of romantic appearance, in which some curious natural caverns have been excavated by the action of the winds and tides: some of these are accessible on foot at low water, and one, off the castle point, called St. Catherine's island, has been completely perforated by the action of the waves, and presents a curious and interesting appearance; and about two miles from the main land is Caldey island, which is described under its own head. Robert Loughor, L.L.D., distinguished by his literary attainments, and by the offices which he filled in the university of Oxford, was a native of this town, in which he died in 1585. Robert Record, M. D., also a native of Tenby, is mentioned by George Owen as having been greatly renowned for his works on cosmography, arithmetic, and geometry: he died in the reign of Queen Mary. The average annual expenditure for the support of the poor in the entire parish amounts to £212. 18., of which sum, £193. 8. is assessed on the In-Liberty, and £19. 10. on the Out-Liberty.



Gareth Hicks, 9 Jan 2000