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


Early History

HAVERFORDWEST, a sea-port, borough, and market town, and a county of itself, locally in the hundred of Rhôs, county of PEMBROKE, SOUTH WALES, 10 1/2 miles (N.) from Pembroke, and 250 (W. by N.) from London, through Gloucester and Monmouth, containing 4328 inhabitants. This town, called by the Welsh Hwlfordd, of which its present name is supposed to be a corruption, with the addition of another distinguishing syllable, was originally built by the Flemings, who, driven from their native country by an inundation of the sea, which laid waste a great part of Flanders, obtained from Henry I. an asylum in England, and were subsequently settled by that monarch in this part of Wales, in order to serve in some degree as a check upon the movements of the native inhabitants, who were constantly endeavouring to recover the territories of which they had been dispossessed by the English. The Flemings, who were equally expert in husbandry and in war, maintained possession of the district which had been assigned to them, notwithstanding all the efforts of the Welsh to regain their ancient possessions; and their descendants, who are easily distinguished from those of the aboriginal inhabitants by their language and manners, still constitute a distinct class among the inhabitants of the principality. The district in which these strangers thus settled, and of which Haverfordwest became the metropolis, obtained, from the similarity which subsisted, between the Flemings and the English, both in manners and in language, the appellation of "Little England beyond Wales." The town was fortified with a strong castle, erected on a commanding eminence above the Western Cleddau river, and surrounded by an embattled wall having four principal gates, three of which remained in nearly a perfect state till within a very recent period, but have been. subsequently removed. The erection of the castle is by most writers attributed to Gilbert de Clare, first Earl of Pembroke, who appointed Richard Fitz-Tancred his castellan, upon whom he also conferred the lordship of Haverfordwest, in which he was succeeded by his son Robert, called also Robert de HwIfordd, who founded on the bank of the river, at a short distance from the town, a priory of Black canons, in which he afterwards passed the remainder of his days. The lordship, upon this, devolved to the crown, and was granted by King John to Walter Marshall, or le Mareschal, from whose descendants it again reverted to the crown in the reign of Henry VII., and since that time has continued to form part of the royal demesnes. In 1220, Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, Prince of North Wales, taking advantage of the absence of the Earl of Pembroke, who had been appointed by Henry III. to the command of his forces in Ireland, laid waste the territories of that nobleman in Wales, and extended his ravages to this place, but was unable to make any impression on the castle. Richard II. honoured the town with his presence, and conferred upon it many valuable privileges: during his stay he confirmed a grant made by Robert Niger of a burgage in Haverfordwest, to the Friars Preachers, which was the last public act of his reign. In that of Henry IV., the command of this fortress was entrusted to the Earl of Arundel, who valiantly defended it against the assaults of the French auxiliaries whom Charles VII. of France had sent over to the aid of Owain Glyndwr. These forces, immediately after landing at Milford, advanced to this place and laid siege to the castle, but they experienced so formidable a resistance from the garrison, and sustained so considerable a loss in their numbers, that, after setting fire to the town and suburbs, they were compelled to abandon their attempt to reduce it. During the civil war in the seventeenth century, the castle was garrisoned for the King by Sir John Stepney, but was never regularly besieged: the garrison, apprized of the rapid successes of the parliamentarians in the surrounding country, hastily withdrew, leaving behind them their ordnance and all their military stores and ammunition.


The town, which may be regarded as the modern capital of Pembrokeshire, is finely situated at one of the inland extremities of Milford Haven, upon the declivities, and at the base, of very steep hills, round which the Western Cleddau flows: it consists of numerous streets, some of which are regularly built, and contain the town residences of many of the neighbouring gentry, others are steep and narrow, and, from the inequalities of the ground, which prevail throughout the town, travelling is attended with much inconvenience. The streets are but indifferently paved, and the town is partially supplied with water from the "Fountain Head," on the road to Milford, which is brought by pipes into a public conduit; and also to private houses, on the payment of a small annual rate to the lessee of the corporation, by whom this plan for supplying the town was carried into effect about a century ago. Considerable alterations are at present contemplated under the provisions of an act of parliament, about to be obtained, for removing nuisances and widening the streets and bridges. The plan embraces the removal of certain obstructions in the line of a new street, to be formed in continuation of the High-street, to Cartlet bridge, on the other side of the river, a distance of a quarter of a mile; the erection of a new bridge across the Cleddau, and the improvement of the other approaches; lighting the town with gas, the supply of the upper part of it with water, and the construction of a common sewer. These alterations, which are to be carried into effect under the superintendence of Messrs. W. and J. Owen, architects of this place, will materially contribute to the improvement of the town, and render it in every respect worthy of the distinguished rank which it holds among the chief towns in the principality. The views from the higher grounds are extensive; and along the summit of the castle hill is a public walk, overlooking the river and the ruins of the ancient priory, and commanding an extensive prospect of the surrounding country. Theatrical performances occasionally take place by itinerant companies, but no particular building is appropriated to that use; and meetings are held at the assembly-rooms, which, though possessing no exterior attractions, are considered as the best ball-rooms in South Wales. The Pembrokeshire races take place annually in the Autumn, and are held on "Poor-field," commonly called Portfield, an unenclosed and spacious common adjoining the town. They were originally established about sixty years ago, but afterwards partially abandoned: in 1829 they were re-established, and are liberally supported, and in general well attended: the members for the county and the borough each give a plate of £50; and a £50 plate is also given by the tradesmen of the town, exclusively of sweepstakes, contingent on the amount of subscriptions. The Pembrokeshire Hunt, established in the year 1813, and which is supported by the principal gentry of the county, has its meetings at this town, where a pack of fox-hounds is kept. The hounds go out twice every week during the season; but in the second week in November, called the "Hunt Week," the members assemble in the town, and the hounds are out three days, namely, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, on the evenings of which days a ball is held at the assembly-rooms.


The port is dependent on that of Milford, to which it is a creek, having a custom-house subordinate to the establishment there; but from its central situation it attracts considerable trade, chiefly coastwise: the exports are principally oats and butter, with a small quantity of leather and bark; the imports are chiefly groceries, manufactured goods, and other miscellaneous articles, for the supply of the shops. Coal is brought by water from Newport in Monmouthshire, and from Liverpool; but the poorer inhabitants principally use culm, which is brought from a distance of about three miles: the hard or stone coal, for malting, procured about five or six miles off, is here shipped to the southern coast of England, and even to London. A great quantity of native cattle is sent from the neighbouring district for sale to the English market. The river is navigable to the bridge for barges, to a lower part of the town for larger vessels, and to a place immediately below the town for ships of two hundred and fifty tons' burden. According to the official returns, one hundred and thirty vessels (including different arrivals of the same) entered inwards, and fifty-nine (reckoning as above) cleared outwards, at this port, in the year ending January 5th, 1831; and in the course of the same year five hundred and thirty-eight quarters of wheat, six hundred and thirty-eight quarters of barley, and seven thousand seven hundred and thirty one quarters of oats, were shipped coastwise. The trade of the town consists chiefly in the supply of the inhabitants and the neighbourhood with various articles of home consumption, and its commercial intercourse is greatly facilitated by its situation on the mail-coach road from London to Ireland, by way of Milford. The markets are held on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, the last of which is for corn; and during the three winter months an additional market is held, every Thursday, for the sale of cattle. Fairs, at which tolls are taken, for the sale of horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs, are held annually on May 12th, June 12th, July 18th, September 23rd, and October 18th; and another, which is toll-free, has been recently established. A very commodious market-house has lately been erected; it is a spacious quadrilateral building, containing covered shambles for eighty butchers, with ample accommodations for the sale of poultry, butter, vegetables, and hardware: there are also convenient market-places for the sale of corn and fish.


This town, which had received divers privileges from Richard II., was, by charter of Edward IV., constituted a county of itself, and invested with additional immunities, which were afterwards confirmed by the 27th of Henry VIII., which conferred corporate rights and the privilege of returning a member to parliament. A subsequent charter of incorporation was granted by James I., confirming the previous grant, and enacting, amongst other important things, that the sites of the priory and house of Friars Preachers, the hill called Prior's Hill, the prior's marshes, and the friars' gardens, situated within the limits of the town, should for the future be esteemed part of the said town and county of the town of Haverfordwest. Under this last charter the corporation consists of a mayor, sheriff, two bailiffs, and twenty-four common-councilmen, of whom fifteen are styled aldermen, assisted by a town clerk, chamber-reeve, two serjeants at mace, and other officers. By an ancient grant of the crown, made while Pembrokeshire was a county palatine, this town enjoys the privilege of having a lord-lieutenant of the town and county of the town, which is possessed by no other town in Great Britain. The mayor, who is also admiral of the port, coroner, escheator, and clerk of the market, is annually elected from the common councilmen at the first hundred-days' court held after the festival of St. Michael: the sheriff is chosen from the same body, or from among the burgesses at large; and the bailiffs are elected from among the latter only. The borough first received the elective franchise in the 27th of Henry VIII., when its superior importance caused it to be endowed with this privilege in lieu of its being conferred on the Merionethshire boroughs, and since that time it has continued to return one member to parliament. The right of election was formerly vested in freeholders of forty shillings a year, inhabitants paying scot and lot, and the burgesses; but the late act for amending the representation of the people has vested it in freeholders in fee or fee tail of forty shillings per annum, in the present freeholders for life or lives of forty shillings, in after freeholders for life or lives of ten pounds, in resident burgesses and those within seven miles, in male householders occupying premises of the annual value of ten pounds, and in scot and lot inhabitants for their lives, provided they be capable of registering as the act demands. The towns of Fishguard and Narberth, and the villages of Prendergast and Uzmaston, are now entitled to share in the representation. The present number of houses of the annual value of ten pounds within the limits of the borough, which have been enlarged by the late Boundary Act, and are minutely described in the Appendix to this work, is three hundred and ninety-six; and the number of resident burgesses is one hundred and forty-two, and of those within seven miles, fifty-six: the sheriff of Haverfordwest is the returning officer. The freedom of the borough is obtained by birth, being inherited by all the sons of a freeman; by servitude of seven years to a resident freeman; and by election of the burgesses at large, on the presentation of the mayor and common-council. The mayor for the time being, and his immediate predecessor for one year only after the expiration of his mayoralty, are justices of the peace within the limits of the town and county of the town, within which the magistrates of the county of Pembroke have no concurrent jurisdiction: the other magistrates of the town are appointed in the same manner as in counties at large. The corporation hold courts of assize and quarter session, at which the mayor presides, for the trial of all offenders not accused of capital crimes; a court of record every month, for the recovery of debts to any amount exceeding forty shillings; a fourteen-days' court, for the recovery of debts under that amount; and a mayor's, or, as it is generally called, a hundred-days' court, for swearing in burgesses, and transacting other business relating to the corporation. The assizes for the county of Pembroke are also held at Haverfordwest, which by the late act has been made one of the polling-places in county elections. The guildhall, situated at the extremity of High-street, (and obstructing a fine view of the venerable church of St. Mary, of which the tower, when surmounted by its delicate spire, must have formed a fine object terminating the view,) is a plain structure, comprising only, in the upper story, the court in which the assizes and sessions are held: there is no room for the accommodation of the grand jury, who consequently sit at one of the principal inns: the lower part was formerly appropriated to the use of the market, previously to the erection of the new market place. The borough gaol and house of correction, a modern building situated on St. Thomas' Green, in the upper part of the town, is now, by a recent act of parliament, devoted to a lunatic asylum, as well for Pembrokeshire as for Haverfordwest; and by the same act the common gaol and house of correction for Pembrokeshire, to the purposes of which the remains of the ancient castle have been assigned, are appropriated for the reception of prisoners both for Pembrokeshire and Haverfordwest: the buildings are well calculated for the classification of prisoners, and comprise eight wards; two work-rooms, one for males and one for females; eight day-rooms and eight airing-yards, in one of which is a tread-mill.


The town and county of the town comprise the whole of the parish of St. Mary, and part of the parishes of St. Thomas and St. Martin, together with a very small part of the parish of Prendergast, and a large extra-parochial area called "Poor-field;" the parishes of St. Thomas and St. Martin also comprise divisions respectively called the hamlets of St. Thomas and St. Martin, which are within the hundred of Rhôs: the hamlet of St. Thomas separately maintains its own poor, independently of that part of the parish which is within the borough. The living of St. Mary's is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry and diocese of St. David's, endowed with £20 per annum chargeable on the tithes of the parish of Tremaen, in the county of Cardigan, under the will of Mr. Laugharne, dated in 1714, for reading daily prayers; with £200 private benefaction, £200 royal bounty, and £200 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Corporation, who are impropriators of the tithes, and pay the incumbent a stipend of £100 per annum. The church, situated at the upper end of High-street, is a spacious and venerable structure, in the early style of English architecture, with a low tower, which was anciently surmounted by a spire of elegant proportion. The interior consists of a nave, chancel, and north aisle: the nave is lofty, and ceiled with panelled oak, richly ornamented with carving; it is lighted on each side by a range of clerestory windows, of various character, and is separated from the chancel by a lofty pointed arch, supported by clustered columns, and from the north aisle by a series of similar arches of lower elevation, resting on clustered columns having capitals richly ornamented with sculpture. The east windows of the chancel are lofty, and highly enriched with tracery; and the windows of the north aisle, which are similarly embellished, are of good proportion and elegant design. There are several good monuments, and in the chancel are some of splendid character, to the memory of various members of the family inheriting the neighbouring seat of Picton Castle. The living of St. Thomas' is a rectory not in charge, in the archdeaconry and diocese of St. David's, and in the patronage of the King, as Prince of Wales. The church is situated on the summit of a hill, and in the centre of an extensive cemetery, overlooking the ruins of the priory: according to some records preserved at St. David's, it appears to have been built in the year 1225; but these most probably refer to the ancient church of the priory, which was also dedicated to St. Thomas, for there is nothing in the style of architecture which corroborates that testimony: it is a plain building, with a square tower crowned with a projecting battlement. The living of St. Martin's is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry and diocese of St. David's, endowed with £1200 royal bounty, and £1200 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of Hugh Webb Bowen, Esq. The church, supposed to be the most ancient in the town, is a venerable structure, displaying portions in the early style of English architecture, with a low tower surmounted by an elegant spire: it consists of a nave, chancel, and south aisle, but has suffered so extensively by the insertion of windows and other alterations, that little of its original character remains: the nave and chancel are long and lofty, and are separated by a fine old arch, which reaches to the roof; in the chancel, on the southern side, are some ancient stalls in recesses. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists, Moravians, and Presbyterians.

Schools and Charities

The free grammar school was founded by Thomas Lloyd, of Kîl Kifith, Esq., who, by will dated November 22nd, 1612, endowed it with dwelling-houses, lands, and fee-farm rents, in the parish of St. Martin, Pembrokeshire, and in the parishes of St. Mary, St. Thomas, and St. Martin, in the town and county of Haverfordwest, producing at present an income of £144. 15. 4.: to this, Mr. John Milward, late of this town, added a third part of certain houses and lands near Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, giving the other two portions respectively to the master of the Birmingham free grammar school, and the Principal and Fellows of Brasenose College, Oxford, for the foundation of a scholarship in that college for a boy from each of those schools alternately. The portion of the estate assigned to the school of this town, having been let by the corporation, who are trustees, upon a lease of ninety-nine years, produces only £18 per annum, and the other two portions being injudiciously let on leases for twenty one years, subject to large fines on renewal, produce only £8. 6. 8. per annum each; consequently, the scholarship is not sufficient to induce any young man from either of those schools to enter at that college: the mastership of the Haverfordwest school is in the gift of the mayor and corporation, who also nominate the boys to be educated in it. Sir John Perrot, in 1579, by deed gave certain houses, lands, and fee-farm rents, in the parish of Camrhôs, in Pembrokeshire, and in the parishes of Haverfordwest, now producing £173. 16. 4. per annum, for the repair of the roads, walls, bridges, and quays, and for the general improvement of the town, and supplying it with water. James Howard bequeathed an annuity of £22, payable out of an estate in the parish of Merton, in the county of Surrey, for the augmentation of Haverfordwest hospital, which annuity, as no such hospital has existed for many years in the town, is divided by the corporation among the poor. William Vawer, by deed in 1607, gave houses, lands, and fee farm rents, in the parish of St. Mary, Haverfordwest, and in the city of Bristol, now producing £161. 14. 4. per annum, towards the support of six decayed burgesses of this town; and Anne Laugharne bequeathed an annuity of £6, payable out of an estate at Boulston, near this place, for the relief of aged women of honest fame in the parishes of St. Mary and St. Thomas: to the poor of the latter parish the late Captain Parr, of this town, also bequeathed £5 per annum, to be distributed in bread. Mary Tasker, otherwise Howard, bequeathed certain farms and lands in the parish of Camrhôs, now producing £133. 14. 4. per annum, for the erection of an almshouse, and for the education of poor children of both sexes, in the parishes of Rudbaxton, Steynton, and Haverfordwest. The same benefactress also bequeathed, in 1634, an annuity of £20 for the maintenance of poor children; and William Middleton gave £100 for apprenticing four poor children of the town: the former of these benefactions does not appear to have been ever paid. In addition to these several charities, for the appropriation of which the corporation are trustees, are numerous others, of which the greater part, also in their patronage, have been lost by failure of securities in their investment, or by other accidents. Of these may be noticed, a bequest of £265 by Richard Howell and Owen Phillips, for the use of the poor; £200 bequeathed by Rebecca Flaerton, in 1744, for the relief of aged widows, on the nomination of Robert Prust; £100 by William Middleton, for apprenticing poor children; £80, given in 1739, by Mary Llewelyn, for such charitable purpose as should be recommended by Robert Prust; £100 by a person unknown, for the relief of insolvent debtors in the gaol of this town; £100 given by William Fortune, in 1764, to the poor of this town; a rent-charge of £10 by William Wheeler, for the poor; an annuity of £3. 10. given by Thomas Roch, in 1707; and various other donations which appear to have been for a considerable time unavailable to the purposes for which they were originally given.


The priory of Black canons, originally founded, as before observed, by Robert de HwIfordd, and situated in a meadow on the western bank of the river Cleddau, continued to flourish till the dissolution, at which time its revenue was estimated at £135. 6. 1. and the site was granted to Roger and Thomas Barlow. The present remains, consisting chiefly of the skeleton of the church and some foundations of ancient buildings, afford indications of an establishment originally of considerable extent: the church was a spacious cruciform structure, apparently in the early style of English architecture, with a lofty central tower, supported on four noble arches, of which portions are still remaining: it appears to have been one hundred and sixty feet in length from east to west, and eighty feet in breadth along the transepts, and was no less elegant than spacious, the windows being composed of lancet-shaped lights. The house of the Friars Preachers originally occupied the site on which the Black Horse Inn, in Bridge-street, was subsequently built: its founder, and the exact time of its erection, are unknown, but it was in existence prior to the time of Richard ll., in whose reign, as before noticed, the grant of a burgage for the enlargement of the house was confirmed. To this establishment Bishop Hoton left £10, and his successor, Bishop John Gilbert bequeathed £100, with vestments, desiring also to be interred within its walls. The castle, from the discovery at various times of foundations of buildings and portions of ruined walls, appears to have occupied the whole of a rocky ridge on the northern declivity of the eminence on which the town is situated; and from its commanding site, as well as from its extent and massive walls, it forms a conspicuous and imposing object, towering above all the surrounding buildings, and overlooking the town. The remains consist principally of the keep, a spacious quadrangular pile, with lofty and massive walls, and which, from the elegance of its pointed windows and other architectural embellishments, especially on the eastern side facing the river, appears to have comprised the chapel and the state apartments, and conveys an idea of its original grandeur and magnificence. This venerable portion of the remains has been converted into the county gaol, without in any degree detracting from its interest as a noble relic of ancient baronial splendour. In the suburb of Prendergast, on the opposite side of the river, are the remains of an ancient mansion, formerly inhabited by a family of that name; and about a mile and a half below the town is the ancient seat of the family of Haroldston, now in ruins. Skomar, an islet off the coast of Pembrokeshire, near the mouth of the Bristol channel, forms part of the parish of St. Martin: it consists principally of limestone rock, and comprises an extent of about seven hundred acres, of which a considerable portion is let to a resident tenant, and in a state of cultivation: it is plentifully supplied with water, and abounds with rabbits. This islet, which forms the northern limit of St. Bride's bay, is separated by a strait about a mile and a half in breadth, called Broad Sound, from the islet of Skokham, which is about three miles from the main land, and about five miles west by south from the mouth of Milford haven. The average annual expenditure for the support of the poor amounts to £1082. 7. for the whole town, of which the proportion for the parish of St. Martin is £402. 3., for that of St. Mary £510. 9., and for St. Thomas' £169. 15.


Gareth Hicks, 5 Jan 2000