Fishguard - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
FISHGUARD, a market-town and parish, in two divisions, the Upper and Lower, situated in the poor-law union of Haverfordwest, hundred of Kemmes, county of Pembroke, South Wales, 15 miles (N.) from Haverfordwest, 25 (N.) from Pembroke, and 249 (W. by N.) from London; containing 2013 inhabitants. The origin of the present town is of comparatively recent date, but the parish in many respects affords striking indications of remote antiquity. The Druidical relics which abound in the vicinity prove it to have been a resort of the votaries of that ancient religion, for the solemnization of their rites; and the extensive remains of foundations of old buildings still existing in a district within the parish, called Caerau, or "the fortifications," in which, though it has been for ages under cultivation, the progress of the plough is still occasionally obstructed, are strong evidences of its having contained a numerous population at a very early period. According to Mr. Fenton, the historian of Pembrokeshire, this district was inhabited by an ancient race long before the invasion of Britain by the Romans, whom he supposes to have subsequently had a settlement in this place, in which opinion he is confirmed, in some degree, by the discovery, near the spot, of Roman coins, chiefly of the Lower Empire. In the early part of the fifth century, St. Dubricius is said by Bale to have lived in retirement here, and to have presided over a school, which was numerously attended by the inhabitants of the surrounding country, for some time prior to his elevation to the archiepiscopal see of Caerlleon. Pwll Dyvrig, a spot in the romantic Vale of Gwayn, in the parish, which derived its name from that circumstance, is pointed out as the place of his retreat; and almost within the memory of man, games in honour of that saint were annually celebrated on his festival.
At the time of the Norman Conquest of England, this place was a small and unimportant fishing-village, which, from its situation at the mouth of the river Gwayn, was called, by the Welsh, Aber-Gwain. Soon after that period, an Anglo-Norman leader, named Martin de Tours, or de Turribus, whose services under the Conqueror had been rewarded by a grant of lands in Devonshire, on the coast of the Bristol Channel, being desirous of extending the limits of his possessions, fitted out an expedition to act against such part of the Welsh coast as he should find least prepared for defence; and having sailed round the south-western extremity of Pembrokeshire, he succeeded with little difficulty in landing his troops here, and in subduing the territory, which subsequently formed the ancient lordship of Kemmes, and one of the lordships marcher. In the subsequent partition of the conquered territories among his followers, Martin assigned the town of "Aber-Gwain," and nearly the whole of the district which is at present comprehended within the parish, to Jordan de Cantington, who introduced into his newly-acquired possessions an English colony. The name of the village was changed to Fish Garth, the latter word signifying in the Anglo-Saxon language a "weir;" and of this name the modern appellation of Fishguard is only a slight corruption. Jordan made repeated attempts to excite in his Welsh and English subjects sentiments of reciprocal conciliation, and peaceable subjection to his authority, but in these endeavours he was invariably frustrated by their mutual dissensions, and he finally gave the whole to the abbey of St. Dogmael's, which had been founded by his patron, Martin de Tours, in the vicinity, and in the possession of which it remained till the period of the general dissolution of religious houses.
The origin of the present town, or at least its elevation from an obscure and inconsiderable fishingvillage to some degree of importance, may be referred to the sixteenth century, when Newport, the head of the barony of Kemmes, being visited with a desolating pestilence, the inhabitants were driven from it and compelled to seek safety in all directions. Many of them, attracted by the open situation of the place, and the purity of its air, established themselves at Fishguard, which, from these advantages of its situation, had entirely escaped the contagion; and to this circumstance are usually ascribed the first increase and the present prosperity of the town, which, however, only obtained the privilege of a market towards the close of the last century, through the exertions of the late William Knox, Esq. In the year 1797, a French force of about 1500 men, under the conduct of General Tate, effected a landing on this coast, within a few miles of the town; but after committing some ravages in the neighbourhood, they were made prisoners by the troops under Lord Cawdor. This event, though generally referred to Fishguard, took place in the adjoining parish of Llanwnda.
The town is beautifully situated on the river Gwayn, near its influx into St. George's Channel, and is divided into the Upper and Lower town, the former on the summit of a hill commanding an extensive marine view, and the latter occupying the banks of the river, over which is a neat stone bridge of five arches. The Upper Town includes the principal portion, containing the church, market-place, and chief shops, and consisting mainly of three streets, diverging from a common centre; partially paved, but formed of houses irregularly built and of indifferent appearance. Some improvements, however, have taken place, and a better style of building and greater regularity prevail in the houses of more modern erection. The inhabitants are abundantly supplied with water of excellent quality, and the springs are so numerous, that wherever the ground is opened, water is found at a small distance below the surface. The parish comprises an area of 3430 acres: the soil is tolerably fertile; the lands, with a trifling exception, are inclosed, and the greater portion is in a superior state of cultivation. The scenery is finely diversified, assuming in some parts a striking boldness of character, and in others a pleasing combination of picturesque and romantic features. The situation of the town, upon a small bay in St. George's Channel to which it gives name, and the shores of which are distinguished for the beauty of their scenery; the salubrity of its atmosphere; the abundance and cheapness of the commodities brought to its markets; and the facility for sea-bathing, contribute to render Fishguard desirable as a place of residence, and attract to it numerous visiters during the summer. As a proof of its salubrity, the number of aged inhabitants is, perhaps, greater than in any other place of equal population in the kingdom: from a return of the bills of mortality made by the vicar, in compliance with an order from government, from 1813 to 1830 inclusive, it was found that in every year of the above period there was a majority of persons from seventy to ninety, and often to one hundred, years of age.
Fishguard bay extends a distance of three miles in a direction from east to west, and about a mile and three-quarters from north to south, varying in depth of water from thirty to seventy feet, in proportion to the distance from the fine bold shore by which it is inclosed. The bottom is firm, affording good anchorage to ships of the largest size, which may ride in safety in all parts of the bay during the prevalence of gales from any point of the compass, except north and north-east. According to a survey made by Mr. Spence, in 1790, by order of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, this bay was reported to be the only place between Milford Haven and St. Tudwal's Roads, off Carnarvonshire, where large vessels navigating the Irish Channel could at that time put in for shelter. The harbour, which is capacious and easy of access, is situated on the western side of the bay; it is irregular in form, being about 2400 feet in length, and about 1160 feet wide at the entrance, which is free from obstruction either from rocks or a bar. The erection of a pier, which was strongly recommended by the engineer who surveyed the bay, would greatly tend to improve it; and according to an estimate delivered by the engineer, a suitable pier might be completed, for the accommodation of 100 sail of merchant-vessels of the usual class, at an expense of �14,785. The harbour was again surveyed, under the direction of the Lords of the Admiralty, by the late Mr. Rennie, who confirmed the preceding report, and recommended, in addition to the proposed pier from Fort Point, the construction of a breakwater from Cow and Calf Point. The expense of both these works, according to Mr. Rennie's estimate, would not exceed the sum of �80,000, and their construction would render the harbour one of the safest and most commodious on the coast for vessels of almost all descriptions. But in consequence of neither of the above plans being carried into effect, the prosperity of the place has been greatly retarded, and, owing to the very indifferent state of the present small pier, Fishguard has become much impoverished: while its pier was in good repair, not only its own shipping, but vessels from other ports, were accustomed to put in and remain here, for a greater or less period, making Milford their port only as a matter of necessity. It was originally intended that Fishguard bay should be the terminus of the South Wales railway, but a deviation seems likely to be adopted, which will terminate at Abermawr, some miles distant from the town. A few particulars of the line are given under the heads of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, and a fuller account under that of Glamorganshire.
The trade, which is very inconsiderable, consists chiefly in the exportation of corn and butter to Bristol and Liverpool, and the importation of shop goods; of coal and culm from Milford and Swansea; coal from Newport, Cardiff, &c.; limestone from Milford; and timber. Some of the larger vessels belonging to the port are engaged in the general carrying-trade from Bristol, Liverpool, Milford, and London, to Ireland, &c. The Irish packets, and vessels bound for Liverpool, often put in here, when driven by stress of weather. The herring fishery, which formerly afforded employment to a considerable number of the inhabitants, becoming unproductive, has been some time discontinued, with the exception of procuring a supply for the immediate neighbourhood only. Lead-ore has been found within the parish, but not in sufficient quantity, nor of quality rich enough, to encourage any attempts to work it; slate of very good quality abounds in the neighbourhood, and iron-ore has been found near the town. The market is on Thursday, and is well supplied with grain, and with provisions of every kind: an act for establishing a market was obtained in 1834. The fairs are on February 5th, Easter-Monday, WhitMonday, July 23rd, and November 17th.
Fishguard is thought to have been anciently an incorporated borough, and is traditionally reported to have possessed a charter, granted by King John, which was lost during the great civil war of the seventeenth century; but the only officer appointed in the present day is a mayor, whose election is merely nominal, as there are now no burgesses, or other vestige of borough jurisdiction. This mayor, who is chosen from among the tenants of the manor, which formerly belonged to the crown, is selected by the lord's steward, and submitted by him to the jury present, who, upon their oaths approving of the appointment, allow the candidate to be sworn in. There is a district in the parish still known by the name of "The Borough," which is co-extensive with the manor. By the act of 1832, for "Amending the Representation of the People," the place is constituted a contributory borough with the boroughs of Haverfordwest and Narberth, in the return of a representative to parliament. The right of election is vested in every male person of full age occupying, either as owner, or as tenant under the same landlord, a house or other premises of the annual value of not less than �10, provided he be capable of registering as the act directs: the present number of tenements of this value within the limits of the borough, is sixtyfive. The sheriff of Haverfordwest is the returning officer. Fishguard is also one of the polling-places for the election of a knight for the shire.
The living is a discharged vicarage, rated in the king's books at �4. 0. 5., endowed with �200 royal bounty and �800 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Lord Chancellor; present net income, �111. The tithes have been commuted for �230 payable to J. Hughes, Esq., and �70 payable to the vicar: there is a glebe of twelve acres, valued at �16 per annum. The church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is pleasantly situated in the Upper Town, and is a neat small edifice, but not distinguished by any peculiarity of architecture. A handsome vicarage-house, called Vicar's Park, from the name of the plot of glebe on which it stands, has been erected by the present incumbent, the Rev. Samuel Fenton, M.A., which has much improved the entrance into the town from Haverfordwest. Fishguard, previously to the erection of the present church, is said to have comprised two distinct parishes, now forming only one; and the ruins of three ancient chapels, called respectively LlanVihangel, Llan-Vartin, and Llan-Ist, may still be traced: of these, two probably were parochial churches, and the third a chapel of ease to one of them. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Calvinistic Methodists; and five Sunday schools, one of them in connexion with the Established Church.
The hills in this parish, inclosing the romantic Vale of Gwayn, were formerly thickly strewed with Druidical relics, of which several vestiges may still be traced; and near the site that was occupied by the ancient town called Caerau, three Roman urns have been found, containing numerous coins, of Gallienus, Posthumus, Claudius, and some other emperors; but the coins were melted down soon after their discovery. In various parts of the parish are tumuli, some of which have been found to contain relics of the rudest ages, urns of the coarsest workmanship, implements of stone, bones, ashes, and curiously wrought stones. Near the town are several tumuli, or artificial mounds, intrenched as if for military purposes, and called Castellau, or, "the castles," probably from that circumstance: these Mr. Fenton supposes to be sepulchral monuments of a remote age, and to have been reduced to their present form, which is a truncated cone, and probably surmounted by forts, during the wars between the Welsh and the invading Saxons. On the bank of the river Gwayn, in a secluded and romantic situation, stands the neat mansion of the late Richard Fenton, Esq., barristerat-law, and author of the "Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire;" it is pleasantly embosomed in a thick grove of trees, and is now the property and residence of his eldest son. Upon Fort Point, on the north-east of the town, is a battery, but the guns from disuse and neglect have become unserviceable. A mineral spring in the parish was formerly in high estimation for its efficacy in the cure of numbness of the limbs and other complaints.