pembroke history pembroke story eighteenth century



From the Bucks panorama of Pembroke 1748

Civil War effected a great change in West Wales.  The district was exhausted, and Pembroke ceased henceforth to have any political significance.  However, there is plenty of evidence that a recovery occurred.  The late seventeenth  century saw a revival and the population had risen to about 250 households.  This upsurge reflects a growth of trade within the county as a whole and this particularly affected Pembroke because it was the main port of Milford.  Greatly increased coal exports from the Pembrokeshire mines, close contacts with a rapidly developing Bristol, and a modest cut in the quickly-growing trade with the West Indies and the American colonies brought renewed prosperity to the town.  

Between 1724 and 1727 Daniel Defoe published “A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain” in which he wrote of Pembroke   “This is the largest and … most flourishing town of all South Wales.  Here are a great many English merchants, some of them men of good business: there were near 200 sail of ships belonged to the town, small and great.  In a word, all this part of Wales is a rich and flourishing country.”


The town also benefitted form the influence of the geat country estates, particularly of the Owen family of Orielton estate.  Until the family's demise in the 19th century they owned much of Pembroke and Monkton, providing many Mayors of Pembroke as well as representing Pembroke in Parliament.

By the late eighteenth century a large number of the present houses in Main Street would have been built. On the South side of the town there are many fine examples of Georgian town houses, many built on earlier, medieval foundations with vaulted undercrofts. 

Orielton Terrace named after the estate is composed of fine Georgian style houses where the Owens owned a town house.

The port was thriving, trade was good and, although Pembroke was never again to play an important part in the history of the nation, it flourished.


In the eighteenth century Pembroke was governed by its own Common Council and its   councillors were elected for life by the burgesses. Councillors were responsible for electing the Mayor and exerted absolute control over all appointments and the internal affairs of the corporation.  They also supported the political interests of the Owens of Orielton who represented Pembroke in Parliament and, not only controlled the town, but owned a great deal of the property in it in it.  


Before the Reform Act of 1832, elections were far from democratic.  The MP was elected not only by the burgesses of Pembroke, but by those of Tenby and the rotten borough of Wiston.  In  the1710 election the supporters of the Tory Lewis Wogan arrived in Pembroke to challenge Sir Arthur Owen and his Whig supporters.  The Owen party were waiting for them and a brawl ensued,  and the Owen party seized the Town Hall and threatened to beat up any Wiston men who attempted to vote.  Eventually the Wiston voters managed to cast their votes on the castle green where they voted solidly for Sir Lewis Wogan. 

The returning officer, an Owen man, ignored the Tory vote and elected Sir Arthur Owen.  The Wiston burgesses later appealed to the House of Commons and their complaint was upheld.  In retaliation, the Pembroke Common Council increased the number of burgesses to ensure electoral success!  



1763 John Wesley visits Pembroke

The medieval chapel. Pembroke St Daniel's Church, Pembroke John Wesley

According to the Visitors Guide to Pembroke 1891, the Society first met in the old chapel which stands to the rear of the former York Tavern. John Wesley visited Pembroke on several occasions which are noted in his Journal. On his first visit August 21st 1763, and he says in his journal that he “preached in the evening. A few gay people behaved ill at the beginning, but in a short time they lost their gaiety and were as serious as their neighbours.”

He was subsequently prevented from preaching at St Mary’s but on a later visit on Sept 1st 1767 “I rode into Pembroke and on this and the next evening preached in the Main Street to 'far more than the house could have contained.'  The house referred to was the building behind the York inn – now called the Mediaeval Chapel.  John Wesley would hardly have approved, but this chapel was later used by the York Inn for brewing beer and the vat is still there!

Wesley also preached at St Daniel’s, the Town Hall and Monkton Church which he described as “a large, ruinous old building, many there were gay and genteel people.”

Altogether there are 13 recorded visits of John Wesley to Pembroke and he appears to have been treated with great respect by “elegant and fashionable audiences” 




The story of the French invasion of Fishguard is well known.  Stories of Jemima and the local ladies parading in their welsh costume to fool the French have passed into Pembrokeshire legend.  Pembroke played its part in the tale.

On the 22nd February 1797 a force of some 1,400 French landed near Fishguard in what was to be ‘the last invasion of Britain’.  Led by an American Colonel Tate in the belief was that the invasion would provoke a peasant’s revolt of the poor against the rich, the whole enterprise failed ignominiously.

There was no army of professional soldiers to repel them immediately and for a while there was panic: step forward Lord Cawdor of Stackpole Court and his band of volunteers, the Castlemartin Yeomanry.  He quickly assumed overall command of the local forces and marched to Fishguard where he accepted the surrender of the French on 24th February at the Royal Oak Inn.  There had been no pitched battle: the invasion had turned into a fiasco, the unruly French looting and drinking themselves incapable. 

Stackpole Court

Lord Cawdor and Stackpole Court


Jigsaw of the Invasion, Pembroke Museum      Scene from the Fishguard Tapestry

The story goes that local women, dressed in their Welsh costume of tall hats and red shawls, marched around the hills in sight of the French, who mistook them for a great army of soldiers and were terrified into surrender.  Although highly unlikely, the story has passed into local folklore. There is one legendary heroine by the name of Jemima Nicholas, a formidable woman by all accounts.  She is said to have cornered 12 Frenchmen with a pitchfork and herded them into the guardhouse at Fishguard.  Her tombstone, outside Fishguard church, is inscribed:


In memory of


of this town.


Who marched to meet

The French invaders

Who landed on our shores in

February 1797


Five hundred French prisoners were sent to Pembroke to be confined in Golden Hill prison, the site of the present Golden Farm. There they were allowed to eke out their very meagre rations by the sale of models, which they carved out of bone. 

Two local girls were employed to bring in food  and to carry away refuse from the prison.  They fell in love with two of the Frenchmen who,   using the bones from their provisions, dug a tunnel. The girls carried off the soil in their refuse buckets.  When the tunnel was complete the girls watched the pill until some vessel should arrive.  At length a sloop came in loaded with a consignment of culm for Stackpole and the prisoners made their way down to the water, boarded the sloop, and bound the crew hand and foot.  Unfortunately the vessel was high and dry, and it was found impossible to get her off.  However, alongside was a small yacht belonging to Lord Cawdor which they managed to launch. This would not take them all, but the two women and 25 men got on board, taking with them the compass, water casks and provisions from the sloop.


In the morning there was a grand hue and cry.  Dr. Mansell, a leading man in Pembroke, posted handbills over the whole country, offering 500 guineas for the recovery of these two treacherous women, alive or dead.  In a few days the stern of the yacht and other wreckage being picked up, the patriotic party were satisfied that the vengeance of Heaven had overtaken the traitors.  They were, however, mistaken, for the Frenchmen had captured a sloop laden with corn, and abandoning the yacht, compelled the crew to carry them to France.  When they were safe it is pleasant to read that the commissary and engineer married the girls: during the short peace, the engineer and his wife returned to Pembroke and told their story, they then went to Merthyr, and obtained employment in the mines, but on the renewal of hostilities went back to France, where it is to be hoped that they lived happily ever afterwards.

 Apparently the girls married their lovers: one was an engineer and he and his wife returned to Pembroke and told their story. They then went to Merthyr, and obtained employment in the mines.

Source: Edward Laws 'Little England Beyond Wales'


Monument to Lt Colonel Samuel Ferrior in St Mary's Church, Pembroke


Pembroke 1818 by JP Neale


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