Narberth Town Hall
Origins of Narberth The town has grown around the walls of its stone castle, but the name is older than the castle. Narberth is derived from ‘Arberth’, the pre-Norman name for the district (or commote). This Celtic heritage is also represented in the myth and legend of the Mabinogion - ancient Welsh folk tales that were written down in the 14th century, originating from an earlier tradition of oral storytelling. Two branches of the Mabinogi in particular are centred on ‘Arberth’, which was reputedly the court of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed.
Castle & Lordship Narberth, and other castles, are linked with the Norman invasion of the area. The Normans gradually drove the native Welsh northwards and built a line of defensive strongholds stretching from Roch to Amroth, to protect their lands. This line became known as the ‘Landsker’, a Norse word meaning frontier. Despite the ending in the 16th century of the medieval system of lordships, manorial powers continued. In the mid 17th century George Barlow of Slebech obtained the lordship from the crown and it remained in his family until the late 18th century when the estate was sold to Nathaniel Phillips. It was his daughter who married Baron de Rutzen. This family then retained the lordship until the last Baron was killed during the 2nd World War.
Education By 1718 the gentry of the parish, led by Sir John Philipps of Picton, had founded Narberth’s earliest known school with money left by the Rector. From 1764 circulating schools were also held at intervals. In the 19th century Narberth appears to have had many schools before there was a state system. A British School established at Tabernacle, became the Board School in 1871. This later moved to the site of the present Primary School. The Church School was opened in 1869 and closed in the 1960’s when pupils moved to the Primary School. The town’s first Grammar School, started by a local man, John Morgan, was at one time held at Tabernacle vestry and was the forerunner of Narberth County Intermediate School.
Roads & Transport For centuries Narberth has stood on two important routes: the road east to west from Carmarthen to Haverfordwest and the ancient trading route from Tenby through to Cardigan. The 18th century saw an increase in traffic, due mainly to limestone quarrying at Ludchurch, and coal mining in the Pembrokeshire coalfield; consequently roads went from bad to worse. In 1771 the Tavernspite Turnpike Trust was established to maintain the main route through Tavernspite and Narberth. Tollgates were erected, including one near Narberth Bridge (at Mill Lane) and one at Redstone Road (at Plain Dealings). In 1791 the Whitland Trust was established. The tollgates were one of the targets of the Rebecca Riots, a movement in 1839-43 caused by rural distress. Many local gates and Narberth’s workhouse were attacked. Eventually the roads became the responsibility of the local authority.
Markets & Fairs In 1688, James II granted a royal charter to Sir John Barlow, as lord of the manor, allowing Narberth to hold a weekly market and 3 fairs annually. The weekly market continued and the number of fairs increased. During the 18th and 19th centuries drovers regularly bought cattle at Narberth and drove them to the English markets, but by the end of the 19th century livestock was transported by train. At one time St. James Street was known as ‘Sheep Street’ and on market days pens of sheep would line the street. High Street was known as Pig Market Street, until the mart ground became the venue for the pig market, and cattle and horses were tethered in High Street. In Market Square all types of food and household items were available: farmers’ wives sold eggs, butter and cheese, while the Llangwm fisherwomen sold cockles, oysters and salmon. During the 19th century the town expanded with many craftsmen becoming established: blacksmiths, wheelwrights, spinners, weavers, drapers, milliners, hatters, millers, shoe and boot makers, clock makers and brewers, to name but a few. At one time there were as many as 30 public houses in the town!
The Town The buildings, which one sees today in the streets leading from Market Square, represent the period from the early 19th century, though they may be on earlier foundations.
The Drang is an ancient path linking St. James Street and Spring Gardens. Back Lane is probably of medieval origin. The character of this narrow town lane still exists, with the rear gardens of houses in High Street backing onto it. Tunnels As in many ancient towns there is a tradition of tunnels. One such tunnel under Narberth can be authenticated by an incident early in the 20th century when a cow roamed into a passage and had to be recovered.
1. Narberth Town Hall A building on the site in 1833 was listed as ‘a lock up house with a room over it in which a magistrates court and parochial meetings were held’. By 1858 it was reported that the Town Hall was dilapidated, so the magistrates and county courts were eventually moved to the new courthouse. The Town Hall then became known as the Mechanics Institute with a library, reading and recreation room. The clock tower was added in 1881 and in 1912 the top floor was built. Bethesda 2. Bethesda Baptist Chapel The Baptist movement locally started late in the 17th century when meetings were held at Rushacre, Narberth, the residence of Griffith Howell. Narberth’s first Baptist chapel (1808) was a branch of Molleston. A new chapel was erected in 1837, due to a large increase in the congregation, and again in the late 1880’s when a house and school room were also built. 3. Plas Hyfryd was used as a Rectory between 1902 and the 1950’s and was then known as Belmore House. Bloomfield House
4. Bloomfield House was built in 1819 as a gentleman’s residence. The last resident, Miss Lewis-Lloyd donated the neighbouring fields to the town. For some 25 years the house was the headquarters of Narberth Rural District Council and today is a busy sports and community centre. 5. Eastgate House was, in the 1840’s, a private school training men for the nonconformist ministry. Later it was the home of Hubert and Howard James, who built one of the first aeroplanes in Wales. Their first flight was in 1913 in nearby Clunderwen and they decided to start an aeroplane factory in Narberth; their plans were however halted by the Great War, in which they both served with the Royal Flying Corps. 6. The Old Wesleyan Methodist Chapel built in 1905, is now the Masonic Hall. 7. The Old County Intermediate School whose permanent buildings were opened in 1896 was enlarged in 1908 and made a distinguished contribution to local education. As a result of reorganisation, after the 2nd World War, it became a Secondary Modern School until its closure in 1986. The old buildings have now been converted into workshops and are occupied by local businesses and PLANED.
8. Railway Station In the 1860’s authority was granted to build a railway line between Whitland and Tenby. A tunnel was driven through the hillside at Blackaldern, quite an engineering achievement at the time. Narberth Station was opened in 1866 and the station house was built in 1878. A familiar figure in the town between the late 1920’s and the 2nd World War was ‘Ben the Bus’, who used to operate a horse-drawn taxi between the town and railway station. Library
9. Library The building was originally (around 1811) a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. From 1905 until the late 1930’s, the building was a petty sessions courtroom, with a police station and lock-up next door. Tabernacle
10. Tabernacle United Reformed Church was founded in 1817 and the original Congregational chapel building was erected a year later. The present building was opened in 1859, in front of the first chapel. Tabernacle Lane (alongside the chapel) was known as Occupation Lane during the nineteenth century, perhaps because it was a route used by local people walking to work. 11. Market Square was the centre of activity on market and fair days, with local traders lining the streets. Until the 1850’s there was a house in the middle of the square known as ‘Island House’; the war memorial was unveiled in 1924. Later the names of local men who died in the 2nd World War were added. The electric lamp standard was lit for the first time in 1900 to celebrate the relief of Mafeking. 12. De Rutzen Arms was built by Baron de Rutzen in 1833, replacing a smaller inn. When the main coaching route to the west took travellers through Narberth this was a busy inn. It has recently been converted into flats. In 1832 the Baron and Baroness also built a market hall behind the hotel. This splendid building became known as the Victoria Hall and was intended to discourage market traders from trading on the streets. The hall had also been used as a cinema, dance hall and a bottling depot for local brewers, James Williams, before it was recently demolished. 13. The Court House was purpose-built and completed in the early 1860’s. It was used as a county court and later a magistrates court until its closure in 1991.
14. The Castle (see Castle and Lordship) 15. St. Andrew’s Parish Church existed as early as 1249. By 1879 the church was in a frail state and was totally rebuilt apart from the original tower and part of the north wall. Queen Victoria contributed £100 to the costs.
16. The Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception was originally erected in 1869 as a Church of England (or National) school. It became a church in 1981. 17. Plas Farm shows few traces of the Elizabethan mansion probably built by John Vaughan before 1582. The house eventually passed to his elder daughter and her husband, John Elliot of Amroth Castle. In 1670 it had 6 hearths, making it the largest house in the town. Apparently its most remarkable feature was a two-storey tower (appears in the Buck engraving of 1749). The Elliots owned most of the land on the west side of Narberth, including the Town Moor, which was given to the town in the 18th century. 18. The Wilson Museum opened in 1989 is housed in the former offices of James Williams (Narberth) and named in memory of Desmond Wilson, a past Managing Director of James Williams (Narberth). James Williams was established as a wine and spirits business in 1830 and until the late 19th century brewed and bottled its own beer. The museum collection reflects the social history of the town over the last 150 years.
‘As Rhiannon lay sleeping’ from the Mabinogion
Respect • Protect • Enjoy • Be safe - plan ahead and follow any signs. • Leave gates and property as you find them. • Protect plants and animals, and take your litter home. • Keep dogs under close control. • Consider other people. Text researched and written by Narberth residents & members of Narberth Society in conjunction with Cambria Archaeology Design by Waterfront Graphics Illustrations by J Murphy & Geoff Scott SPARC © 2002