18TH CENTURY RECOVERY
Civil War effected great change in west Wales. The district was exhausted, and Pembroke ceased henceforth to have any political significance.
However, there is plenty of evidence that a recovery occurred. Between 1724 and 1727 Daniel Defoe published A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain in which he wrote of Pembroke:
“This is the largest and … most flourishing town of all South Wales. Here are a great many English merchants, some of them men of good business: there were near 200 sail of ships belonged to the town, small and great. In a word, all this part of Wales is a rich and flourishing country.”
By the late eighteenth century a large number of the present houses in Main Street would have been built. Orielton Terrace is composed of Georgian houses displaying an elegance which must have meant prosperity. Pembroke also boasted an Assembly Room. The port was thriving, trade was good and, although Pembroke was never again to play an important part in the history of the nation, it flourished.
1763 John Wesley visits Pembroke
According to the Visitors Guide to Pembroke 1891, the John Wesley Society first met in the old chapel which stands to the rear of the former York Tavern. Wesley visited Pembroke on several occasions, which are noted in his Journal. Of his first visit on August 21st 1763, he says in his journal that he “...preached in the evening. A few gay people behaved ill at the beginning, but in a short time they lost their gaiety and were as serious as their neighbours.” He was apparently subsequently prevented from preaching at St Mary’s Church, but on a later visit to the town on Sept 1st 1797 he wrote, “I rode into Pembroke and on this and the next evening preached in the Main Street to far more than the house could have contained.” The house referred to was the rook behind the York inn – now called the Mediaeval Chapel. John Wesley would hardly have approved, but this chapel was later used by the York Inn for brewing beer and the vat is still there!
Wesley also preached at St Daniel’s Chapel, the Town Hall and at Monkton Church which he described as “a large, ruinous old building, many there were gay and genteel people.” Altogether there are 13 recorded visits of John Wesley to Pembroke and he appears to have been treated with great respect by “elegant and fashionable audiences”.
1797 The last invasion of the British mainland and the story of the French prisoners
The story of the French invasion of Fishguard is well known. Stories of Jemima and the local ladies parading in their Welsh costume to fool the French have passed into Pembrokeshire legend. But Pembroke too has a chapter in the tale, and a romantic one at that.
Five hundred French prisoners were sent to Pembroke to be confined in Golden Hill prison, the site of the present Golden Farm. There they were allowed to eke out their very meagre rations by the sale of models, which they carved out of bone.
Two young local women were employed to bring in food and to carry refuse away from the prison. They fell in love with two of the Frenchmen who, using the bones from their provisions, dug a tunnel. The enamoured women helped the escape attempt by carrying off the soil in their refuse buckets.
When the tunnel was complete the women watched the pill until some vessel should arrive. At length a sloop came in loaded with a consignment of culm for Stackpole and the prisoners made their way down to the water, boarded the sloop, and bound the crew hand and foot. Unfortunately the vessel was high and dry, and it was found impossible to float. Alongside was a small yacht belonging to Lord Cawdor which the escaping prisoners managed to launch.
Apparently the young women married their lovers: one was an engineer and he and his wife returned to Pembroke and told their story. They then went to Merthyr, and obtained employment in the mines.