Pembroke, a town in southern Wales, was, until the end of the 18th century, the most prosperous market town in the surrounding area. Daniel Defoe wrote in 1725, “This is the largest and richest and . . . most flourishing town of all South Wales.” Coal, wool, wheat, lime, cloth, leather, and other goods were shipped to Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, and other parts of Britain.
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The market town developed rapidly from 1090, the building of the first castle. Regular fairs were held near the castle, one of which was the hiring fair. Shepherds, cowherds, labourers, and other workers would come looking for employment. Pembroke still has an annual fair in October with festivals, castle events, and recitals.
Before the Normans settled in the area, both pirates and Vikings made Pembroke a regular port of call on their raids. The town walls, bits of which still stand, were constructed in the 13th century for protection and took 30 years to complete.
The advent of the railroads ended Pembroke’s role as a shipping centre, along with the development of Pembroke Dock as a naval dockyard. The river gradually silted up, denying access to Pembroke by large ships. Milford and Haverfordwest took over the role of seaport to the area. Today, there are two attractions in Pembroke—the castle and the Museum of the Home—worth a visit.
Although Pembroke Castle—given in 1454 to Jasper Tudor—is the birthplace of the Welsh Henry VII (1457), who began the Tudor line of monarchs, the castle was always under English control. While little remains of the castle’s stone interior, the massive walls are remarkably intact.
The first castle on the site, built of timber and earth, was begun by Roger de Montgomery around 1090 when a small inner bailey was built at the end of a promontory on a rocky ridge. Surrounded on three sides by the tidal waters of the Haven Waterway, it was an ideal spot for defence and served as a headquarters for the Norman plots to conquer Ireland. The Welsh stormed the castle in 1094 and 1096 but failed to take it.
The stone castle that replaced it was the work of William Marshall (1189-1219) and his son. The castle evolved into a fortified palace and courthouse with living rooms and working buildings. During the Civil War (1642-49) it was held by both Parliament and King. Cromwell led a siege on the castle, and it eventually fell. Some restoration work was done on the castle in the 20th century.
The Great Tower is the most impressive part of the castle. The 75-ft. high, four-storey keep, crowned by a stone dome, was built as a cylinder so there would be no corners to undermine during a siege. The gatehouse has three portcullises and a battlemented flying arch that seems to serve no purpose.
An interesting feature of the castle is that part of it is built over a natural cavern, Wogan’s cave. Although the floor of the cave is muddy and watery—it opens out into an inlet—you can stand at the entrance and imagine boats coming in to, and going out from, the castle, having the advantage of being unloaded in the safety of the cave. The cavern was probably occupied during prehistoric times as flint tools were uncovered in the mud.
The castle has a video and outstanding interpretive panels and displays on the castle and the history of the people involved with it. There is a Pembroke Yeomanry Exhibition. Events are held throughout the summer—longbowmen, falconry display, medieval societies and others.
The privately owned Museum of the Home is easy to miss, situated across from Pembroke Castle in a private home. But it’s one of the most interesting small museums I have ever explored.
The Stimson’s turned two floors of their four-level Victorian home into a museum to display their collections, amassed over 45 years. The museum is unique and contains every aspect of life found in an ordinary home over the past 300 years.
The items—more than 3000—are displayed with the professionalism of a curator, and Mr. Stimson is a wealth of information on anything and everything in the museum. All the items are grouped together according to their use.
The entry floor contains dairy, garden and smallholding items, while the next floor has fascinating personal toilet, baby care and medicinal items that make you glad you live today. On this floor are food storage and cleaning equipment. In a kitchen area are cooking equipment, a hearth display, and eating and drinking utensils. Sailors used to bring back glass rolling pins to their wives and these, too, are part of the collection. Even early lighting devices are included. The laundry display shows, by comparison, what convenient modern machines we have today.
One section of the museum is set up as a parlour area with writing equipment, tobacco and snuff taking paraphernalia, personal accessories, needlework tools, and decorative crafts.
There is an outstanding collection of games and toys. An original 19th century Welsh costume and early 18th and 19th century Welsh lovespoons complete the picture. One particularly interesting item is a pair of miniature loveshoes. These were given to a couple at their wedding. One contained a lump of sugar for sweetness in the marriage, the other a lump of coal for warmth.
The Museum contains a mystery. It’s an item no one can identify. If you visit, be sure to ask to see it. Perhaps you’ll be the detective to solve the mystery. Treat yourself to a couple of hours to delve into the fascinating items and discover their history.
Tel. 0646 684585/681510 for opening times
Pembroke Tourist Information Centre
Tel. 01646 622246
The Museum of the Home
7 Westgate Hill
Tel. 01646 681200
Open: May-end Sep, 11-5, on Mon, Tue, Wed and Thu.
Not suitable for handicapped or children under age 5.
Winner of Prince of Wales’ Award.
Photos courtesy Wales Tourist Board and Calverton Cam and Trent Cam