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Lise Hull

Haverfordwest Castle
Haverfordwest Castle

Wandering the narrow lanes and streets lining Haverfordwest's centre, one immediately experiences an affinity with its medieval past. The castle towers overhead, crowning a rocky knoll some 28 metres above the western branch of the River Cleddau. The river still cuts through Haverfordwest, but ships sailing from Milford Haven can no longer reach this far inland. Three medieval parish churches mark the skyline, while ageing buildings, shops and street names (and a few blue plaques) remember the past. It is as a planted borough that Haverfordwest achieved its success and the official status of a 'county in itself,' first by charter in 1479 and then reiterated by statute in 1543.

Recently, historians have come to accept that it probably was Tancred, a Fleming, who began Haverfordwest Castle in about 1110. Tancred (or Tancard) also had ties to the villages near Hayscastle called Upper and Lower Tancredston and Tancredston Bridge, still located about five miles north of Haverfordwest. Tancred's castle at Haverford dominated the hilltop overlooking the Western Cleddau at the highest tidal point where ships could safely sail inland. The view commanded by the castle certainly explains the choice of its siting, as does its location just 140 metres from the river.

The Fleming's castle would have featured earth and timber defences, which were eventually replaced with stone. The basic plan of the original castle is easy to identify in the current remains. The site also determined the future layout of the town. Initially, villagers probably lived in thatched huts on the hillsides close to the castle, while the wealthiest residents lived just beyond the castle walls. The layout of medieval Haverfordwest and its physical association with the castle are still quite evident in the plan of the present town.

In 1543, Henry VIII signed the second Act of Union, which proclaimed that 'the town of Haverfordwest shall be a county in itself as it hath been before this time used, at the will and pleasure of the King's said Majesty, and that it shall be separated from the county of Pembroke at the King's said pleasure.' Unfortunately, Haverfordwest Castle declined so much during the reign of the Tudor monarchs that, by 1577, it was considered 'utterlie decayed'.

Nonetheless, Haverfordwest Castle was deemed strong enough to play a part in the English Civil War, and initially supported the Royalist cause. In 1643, the Parliamentarians seized the castle, but it continued to endure months of alternating alliances. In 1645, the Royalist garrison was resoundingly defeated at nearby Colby Moor, and Parliamentary forces gained permanent control of Haverfordwest Castle. In 1648, Cromwell's forces defeated the Royalists once and for all, and their leader ordered the corporation of Haverfordwest to slight the castle. The expense of the work led only to a partial demolition of the castle; however, portions of the site promptly became a quarry for building material.

Today, Haverfordwest Castle is freely accessible to the public.

Excerpt from Castles and Bishops Palaces of Pembrokeshire, Logaston Press, 2005:

The Journey
When I first rode BritRail into Haverfordwest on my way to a new military posting at Brawdy, I had no idea that the journey would transform my life. Now, almost 20 years later, I can still vividly remember my first view of the hulking brown ruins that dominate the town centre. As an American, newly arriving in the UK suddenly thrust into the passenger's seat in a car driving on the opposite side of the road to which I was accustomed, I had my hands full clutching the armrest as the person who picked me up at the railway station plummeted towards the overburdened roundabout near the river. Yet, immediately before me, I managed to catch my first glimpse of Haverfordwest Castle. The image was, for me, entrancing.

While some of my acquaintances complained that the castle was nothing more than a shell, it was exactly that shell, that pile of masonry remains, which drew me to it. In time, I discovered that castle ruins have a palpable energy which binds us to the past, and to the lives of those who came into contact with them over time. Castles ooze with history, and are physical proof of an individual's existence or an event having occurred long ago. They chronicle history just as manuscripts and other artefacts document the past, but offer more - the physical remains of the past. Even as monuments to warfare and suppression, castles are an essential part of the historical landscape and Welsh heritage.

The Research
Having first discovered Britain's castles in the 1980s, I have since made castle research a lifelong pursuit. Prepared by my background in archaeology and historic preservation, which I studied in college and graduate school in the States, I found myself enthralled with the wealth of archaeological and heritage sites ripe for exploration throughout Britain. Researching castles was a natural outgrowth of my personal interests and education.

Since 1985, I have repeatedly made my way back to Great Britain, to explore the castles of Wales and England, and in 1999 I returned to Wales to gain a Master's Degree with Distinction in Heritage Studies from the Department of History and Welsh History at the University of Wales Aberystwyth. I have explored well over 300 castles throughout Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany. I have wandered their baileys and clambered up their towers in all kinds of weather, and have found each one distinctive in its own right. I have come to appreciate the distinct differences between true castles and their modern sham counterparts, and to descry activities that degrade the sites in the name of "progress". This website is a product of my ongoing relationship with Britain, its castles and historic landscape, and with Pembrokeshire in particular.

Text and images © 2005-2006 Lise E. Hull