In 1920, when Pembroke Castle was put up for public sale, the towers and walls were in a ruinous state. Pembroke Town Council couldn't afford the asking price of £10,000 and some years later it was bought by Major General Sir Ivor Phillips, who lived in nearby Cosheston Hall. He began renovation works in 1927 (which took a small team of people seven years to complete); and this secured the castle for the town and for the nation.
The imposing and indomitable site where Pembroke Castle stands today has been important strategically for ten thousand years and beyond. There is a huge cavern under the Castle called Wogan's Cavern which would have provided shelter for many of the cave-dwellers of the area after the end of the last Ice Age. Early stone tools have been found in the cave, with important later finds also made in the nearby Priory Farm cave, at Manorbier, in several caves on Caldey Island near Tenby, along the south cliffs of the coast, and also at Angle.
The South Pembrokeshire peninsular is dotted with Iron Age forts, standing stones and a burial chamber or two, and the likelihood is that the Castle site too would have been used as a fort and small settlement. The tidal water surrounding the promontory on three sides made the narrow spit of land easily defended in skirmishes between tribes, and would make any potential attacker easily visible.
Roman presence here
The remains of a fine villa in the north of the county and other archaeological evidence reminds us that Romans occupied various parts of Pembrokeshire, and they very probably had some kind of presence on the fine limestone outcrop of today's Castle. Opposition by the Iron Age early Welsh living here was probably minimal so there would have been little need for fortifications to be built - the land was fertile, the fine Milford Haven waterway would have been ideal for ships, and the prominence of the site was ideal for a small ruling base. Roman coins have been found near the Castle, and made of base silver and dated at around 260ACE (and now in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff).
As the Roman presence in Britain diminished, other invaders continued to use and exploit the peninsular – the Irish and the Vikings in particular. Early Christians arrived here too and established an early settlement at Monkton. There was a hermit’s cell on the hill above Pembroke, where St Deiniol's Church was built in the ascetic's memory. (Deinol went on to become the Bishop of Bangor.) St Govan's Chapel near Bosherston is another reminder of the early Christian presence in the area.
A Welsh Llys
It is sometimes easy these days to forget that the lands of south Pembrokeshire were once Welsh, and were ruled over by the kings of Deheubarth until the arrival of the Normans in 1093. Narberth is mentioned in the Mabinogion and was the site of a notable Llys or Welsh Palace. It is known that the lands of Carew were ruled by Rhys ap Tewdwr and were probably owned by his wife Gwladys, a Welsh princess in her own right. Carew then went to Gerald de Windsor as part of the dowry of his wife Nest.
Further evidence that the site of today's castle has been occupied continuously for thousands of years is apparent when considering that the Normans, when they finally invaded the south west of Wales, came directly overland – indicating that they knew of an existing settlement which was protected by deep water. The Welsh Marches had been invaded some twenty years earlier by marauding Norman knights, but the great Rhys ap Tewdr made a pact of peace with William the Bastard – known later as William the Conqueror – which held until Rhys’ death in 1093. William is known to have visited St David's where he would have met Rhys, and a peace treaty of some kind was made, with Rhys later making an annual payment to William in order for Rhys to retain his lands. Click here for the life and times of Rhys' daughter Nest. An excellent biography of Nest can be purchased from here.