Exploring a millennium of rich history in Tenby16th June 2019
From princes to plague, civil war and presidential visits, Tenby has a depth of history that will astonish most!
Whilst many people come to Tenby each summer to revel in its glorious beaches and amble around its beautiful independent shops, the town’s quaint streets and medieval walls boast a rich past that has come to play an important role in Britain’s history.
From its birth under the Norman Conquest nearly a millennium ago through to the industrial revolution, Tenby has its fair share of historical locations to discover on your next visit and this piece explores some of the key events that have shaped the town we know today.
Tenby’s Norman roots…
Founded in 1093, Tenby started its life as a colonial outpost of the Norman dynasty – something that would distinguish Pembrokeshire and its people from much of the rest of the nation for centuries to come.
This Norman heritage can still be found in the town’s modern day infrastructure, with the stunning walls that make up the perimeter of the town having initially been built by the Norman Earls of Pembrokeshire in 1245, in a bid to defend against opposing Welsh forces.
Tenby’s walls were later fortified by William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke, after Tenby was ransacked by the notorious Welsh Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd in 1260.
Whilst the town walls have been removed or collapsed in a number of locations, the remaining walls are Grade I listed and represent a wonderfully unique feature of the town.
Tenby’s beautiful castle was also first built by the Normans in the same period of history, with its elevated location making it difficult to assault and affording a tremendous panoramic vantage point of the surrounding coastline in anticipation of enemy forces.
Although the castle has fallen into disrepair over its lifetime, in part due to it being successfully captured by Welsh princes on a succession of occasions over the 12th Century, it still remains an iconic part of Tenby’s enduring appeal and a reminder of its monarchical history.
The Prince’s escape… Tenby’s unique role in the War of the Roses
As with much of Pembrokeshire, Tenby played a key role within the War of the Roses and boasts some fascinating links to the Tudor dynasty.
In 1457, Jasper Tudor, uncle to Henry Tudor, invested heavily in the refurbishment of the town and its defence structures as a result of its economic significance to the region.
The extent to which the town was once considered to be an important port is exemplified by the development of the “Five Arches” tower, which stands to this day and was built amidst fears of assault from the Spanish Armada.
Read more on the county’s history: Pembrokeshire’s best castles
The tower is understood to have been built in the mid-16th Century and is now a popular attraction within the town.
Perhaps the most interesting fact from this significant part of the town’s history is the successful escape of Henry Tudor to Brittany in 1471.
Just 14-years-old, the future king was forced to hide in a damp underground chamber (beneath what is now Boots!) as the war raged, before fleeing to the continent.
Tenby’s demise and the re-emergence as a cornerstone of British tourism
Despite its importance in the Tudor period of British history, Tenby faced a brutal demise in importance during the mid-17th Century when a series of bloody battles during the English Civil War saw Oliver Cromwell’s forces seize the town in 1648 – before the plague then ravaged its population in 1650.
The industrial revolution saw Tenby development as a tourist location, thanks to its popularisation as a spa town by Sir William Paxton in the Victorian Era, with workers in the major cities utilising the fresh coastal air of Pembrokeshire as a welcome escape from the busy and often unsanitary conditions they lived in.
The birth of Tenby as a tourism destination of choice has lasted through to the modern day, with thousands of people escaping to the town annually to enjoy their holidays.
The Georgian and Victorian tourism boons that saw Tenby establish itself as a firm favourite amongst British holidaymakers is reflected by the number of grandiose townhouses that offer breath-taking views of the county’s coastline and have become synonymous with the town’s charm.
Tenby’s war-time exploits
Like most British towns and cities across the 20th Century, the impact of war saw scores of Tenby’s townspeople tragically lose their lives over the First and Second World Wars.
Tenby’s South Beach was identified as a potential landing site for glider-borne assault troops from Nazi forces and an anti-aircraft gun was therefore installed to protect the town from any potential invasion.
Whilst Tenby avoided the damage that was inflicted upon other strategically significant locations within the region by Luftwaffe bombing raids – most notably Pembroke Dock – the beaches of Tenby were utilised as practice grounds ahead of the D-Day landings.
The town also received a visit from a man that would later become President of the United States during this period of its history, with General Eisenhower visiting the United States 110th infantry regiment at Tenby in March 1944.
A memorial commemorating the 200 residents of Tenby that were killed or left missing in the two wars can be found on South Parade Close and is a beautiful representation of the town’s sanguine mentality amidst a time of bleak prospects.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this whistle stop tour to Tenby’s place in the British history books and that this guide inspires you to check out some of the town’s incredible places of historical note.
If you would like to learn more about the county then please feel free to check the articles below on some of Pembrokeshire’s historical jewels!