The Last Invasion of Britain, on February 22, 1797, happened in Wales. It was engineered by French troops (reportedly partly made up of 600 convicts) who planned it as a diversion to draw the British army away from Ireland, where the French planned a major attack.
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1400 French soldiers, led by an American, Colonel William Tate, landed at Carreg Wastad, near Fishguard. A retired sailor raised the alarm. The French then began their destruction by pillaging farms for chickens and skirmishing with local people. They were soon drunk enough to became easy prey for the local people who attacked them with homemade weapons.
Hearing the ticking of a grandfather clock, a French soldier fired at it—the clock with the bullet hole still exists. The Pembroke Yeomanry, hearing of the attack, marched from Stackpole Court to engage the enemy. The French, demoralized when their ships sailed away without them, surrendered on Goodwick Sands on the third day.
Local legend says it was the Welsh woman, with their red cloaks and black hats that saved the day. The French thought they were surrendering to British grenadiers. The prisoners were held in Haverfordwest, then in Portsmouth, then returned to France. A stone monument now marks the spot where the French landed. You can take a walk there—follow directions to the Carreg Wastad Point.
The story of this invasion is told in the Fishguard tapestry, worked by more than 70 stitchers as a community project. The work of art was initiated by the Fishguard Arts Society as their contribution to the 1997 Bicentenary of the Last Invasion of Britain.
The Tapestry measures 100 ft (30.4 metres) long. 178 different colours of wool were used in the embroidery and more than 40,000 hours went into the stitching. The tapestry incorporates actual events and local legends of the historical facts. The colours of the tapestry flow from day to night to day. The main events are described briefly in Welsh and English lettering in the borders. The first character in the tapestry is Nelly Phillips, a nine year old, who was the first to sight the approaching ships.
One legend says a maidservant was so scared she ran to a nearby farm without spilling a drop of the beer she was carrying. Another is that a local cobbler, Jemima Nicholas, captured 12 of the soldiers single-handedly with a pitchfork. Memorabilia of this “invasion” can be found at the Royal Oak Inn in Fishguard.
Fishguard itself consists of three settlements: Lower Town, at the mouth of the Gwaun valley is the original fishing village; Fishguard itself is at the clifftop; the eastern side of the bay, where the modern harbour and ferry service to Ireland is located, is called Goodwick.
Fishguard Tourist Information Centre
Town Hall, Market Square
Tel. 01437 776 636
Last Invasion Tapestry
Town Hall, Market Square
Just off public library in gallery on first floor
Open: April-Sep, Mon-Wed, Fri, Sat, 9.30am-5pm, Thu, 9.30am-6.30pm; Oct-March, Sat times change to 9.30am-1pm; check website for BH times
Web: Pembrokeshire Virtual Museum
International Music Festival each July
Photo of the Lower Quayside courtesy of Ilkeston Cam