Pembrokeshire and Tenby are steeped in history. Did you know that it has connections to past British monarchs, well-known wars, and much more?
The coastal town of Tenby is one of Pembrokeshire’s most popular destinations for a seaside holiday. It’s a wonderful place to explore with family and friends and enjoy a holiday but Tenby has a most fascinating history to explore too. Here is a selection of interesting facts about Tenby you may not have known before.
When walking around Tenby you will be drawn to its preserved town walls and famous Five Arches located along the South Parade. Try and spot the castle too! These walls are Grade 1 listed medieval defensive structures, and they are assessed as one of the most important surviving medieval city walls in Britain. Built in the 13th century by the Earls of Pembroke and later improved in the 1450s.
Tenby Castle sits peacefully high on top of Castle Hill and has a spectacular view over the surrounding coastline. A lot of this castle has over time become ruins however a tower still remains at the highest point and there is still a gateway standing over the path up from the harbour.
In 1260 Llewellyn ap Gruffydd captured and destroyed much of the town. William de Valence rebuilt the town and reinforced the defences once put in place. He enclosed the town with towers and added the iconic Five Arches which you can still see today.
Get ready to time travel to Tudor Tenby and discover what life was really like during the 15th century and explore a merchant’s house. Here you can step into the world of a successful merchant and his family in 1500 when this fine three-story house had just been built. The Tudor Merchant’s House is a late 15th-century middle-class townhouse furnished as it was in 1500 and features a great fireplace and authentic period furniture and other household objects. The house was a successful merchant dealing in cloth, coal, pots, spices, and vinegar. It is the oldest house in Tenby and a reminder of the days when Tenby harbour was a bustling centre of trade.
Owned by the National Trust, they have gone to great lengths to bring Tudor life to modern-day visitors. There are usually guides on hand to explain 16th-century customs, including table manners and social etiquette. There are exhibits from the time, including Tudor costumes, it’s a really interesting insight into the town’s rich history.
Lying just off the coast of Tenby is St Catherines island which has been used as a filming location for the popular BBC series Sherlock. However, St Catherines Island was originally home to a small chapel which later became the property of the Corporation of Tenby who later sold it to the War Office in the 19th Century for only £800. During this time the island took on a much more important role in Tenby’s life.
In 1867 it was decided that the island needed to be worked on the make a secure fort that would provide protection against incomers from the sea. By the end of the decade, the War Office had established a garrison with a total of 9 guns and 100 men. The army and the navy both held control of the island until the early 20th Century until the Windsor Richards family bought it and converted the fort into their summer home. St Catherine’s Island even became a small zoo in 1968 but in 1979, this relocated and the island has since stood empty.
In the 6th Century Monks first came to Caldey. Pyro, the first abbot is remembered in the island’s Welsh name, Ynys Byr (Pyro’s Island). Pyro was followed by St Samson, from the Celtic monastery at Llantwit Major. Viking raids may have ended this settlement in the 10th Century. In the 12th Century Benedictines from St Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire, set up a priory on the island. They remained until the Dissolution in 1536. In 1906 pioneering Anglican Benedictines purchased Caldey and built the present Italianate style abbey which now towers above the village. They were received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1913. Their stay was relatively short, financial difficulties forcing them to sell in 1925.
The present monks of Caldey Abbey are Reformed Cistercians. They came from Scourmont Abbey in Belgium in 1929, re-establishing the strong Cistercian tradition in Wales. (13 monasteries before 1536). It was the development of the perfume industry and tourism that eventually brought them financial independence.
Even when their numbers became dangerously low in the early eighties they stayed spiritually strong. Following that lean period, there was a steady stream of new vocations, and the community began to grow again. In more recent times, however, some of the older members have passed away, and vocations have been fewer, leaving the numbers once more quite low. Although somewhat reduced in numbers, the monks continue to practice their vocation of cheerful faith and robust prayer and to thrive in their spiritual and community life.
You can enjoy a visit to the picturesque Caldey Island. This is one of Britain’s holy islands. You can get here on a 20-minute boat trip. This remote and pretty island is a haven of tranquillity and peace. The monks and islanders are pleased to welcome day-visitors to share the delights of their island home throughout the summer season. Take a picnic as there are plenty of things to do and see here to enjoy a day out.
Want to learn more about Tenby’s history? Tenby Museum and Art Gallery is the oldest independent museum in Wales it was established in 1878. To this day it continues to develop its collections and displays to preserve and promote the history of the town, giving a sense of place and heritage to both the locals and the visitors.
We love the Story of Tenby Gallery which traces the history of the town from the 9th century through to the present day. The gallery features bilingual interpretive panels, photographs, and artefacts from the museum’s collections as well as a Kid’s Corner where children can enjoy doing drawings and quiz sheets.
All children up to the age of sixteen have free admission to the museum when accompanied by an adult which is brilliant. Such a fun, affordable, exciting day out and a way to learn.
Let us know your favourite history fact about Tenby in the comments.