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Site Details

© Copyright and database right 2020. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey licence number 0100022206

NPRN 33213

Map Reference SN10SW

Grid Reference SN1346600437

Unitary (Local) Authority Pembrokeshire

Old County Pembrokeshire

Community Tenby

Type of Site TOWN

Broad Class CIVIL

Period Multiperiod

Site Description The site of Tenby shows evidence of settlement dating back to the Iron Age (NPRN 304240 and 304238), and has been in continuous occupation since the early medieval period, when it served as a Viking fishing village. 'Tenby' is an Anglicisation of 'Dynbych y Pysgod', little fortress of the fish. The town began to develop in earnest following the Norman Conquest, when Arnuf Montogomery arrived in the region in the late eleventh century and recognised the strategic potential of the site, which could be defended against any Welsh attack from land, and re-provisioned by the sea bordering the town on three sides. By the mid-twelfth century Tenby Castle (NPRN 92614) had been established on the promontory overlooking the town. The town suffered brief attacks at the hands of the Welsh in 1153 and 1187, but it was the near destruction of the town by Llewellyn ap Gruffydd in 1260 that lead to the provision of imposing town walls (NPRN 127).

The town was granted its first charter by William de Valance in the reign of Henry III, later extended in 1402. Under the Tudors Tenby became an important mercantile town, the harbour (NPRN 34354) facilitating an extensive trade network, most notably with the Flemish. The English Civil War lead to a temporary decline in Tenby’s fortunes, but by the Victorian period the town began to develop with renewed pace, as it became famed for the believed restorative powers of its waters and Assembly Rooms were established to cater for the visitors (NPRN 32059 and NPRN 32126). Today it is a popular seaside location frequented by tourists.

Sources iclude:
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition

K Steele, RCAHMW, 8 January 2009

Tenby is a bustling market and seaside resort town in the western part of Carmarthen Bay. Archaeological evidence shows that settlement in the area dates back as far as the Iron Age and in the medieval period, Vikings established a fishing village on the site of the current town. Following the Norman Conquest in the twelfth century, the English Crown encouraged Flemish and English settlers to the region and it developed the name of ‘Little England beyond Wales’. Tenby developed into a major Norman port and a castle was established on Castle Hill to defend this strategically important site. After three attacks by Welsh forces, including almost total destruction of the town by Llewelyn ap Gruffydd in 1260, the circuit of town walls was constructed in the late thirteenth century.

Tenby was a major merchant and shipping town up to the Elizabethan period, but fell into decay after the English Civil War due to its remoteness as well as suffering a dramatic decline in population after an outbreak of plague. The town’s fortunes returned with the rise in popularity of sea-bathing and the development of the seaside ‘resort’ towards the end of the eighteenth century. With heavy investment into the establishment of elegant hotels and fashionable bathing houses, whose Georgian and early Victorian design still dominate the architecture of the town, polite society and money started pouring in. Visiting for a few days in 1796, the Austrian count Gottfried Wenzel von Purgstall, was full of praise for the view from Castle Hill as one of the best in Wales. He also enjoyed a pleasant evening, playing cards with a small assembly of spa visitors; a few of the ladies present were even ‘quite pretty’!

Record updated as part of the AHRC-funded project 'Journey to the Past: Wales in historic travel writing from France and Germany'.
R. Singer (Bangor University) and S. Fielding (RCAHMW), 2017.

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