Tenby is probably the most iconic and well-visited seaside town in Wales. Steeped in ancient history and surrounded by an imposing medieval stone wall. Tenby has seen many changes through time, but it has been on the leisure map for over 200 years. With all that experience, the people of Tenby certainly know how to offer each and every visitor an unforgettable time.
There are plenty of shops in the town specialising in locally produced items and plenty of attractions such as boat trips, wildlife parks, golf and plenty of walks within the surrounding areas across the many beautiful beaches and the famous Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.
When you visit Tenby you will discover a maze of narrow little streets. The roads are pedestrianised during the day in summer when the bars and restaurants set up al fresco seating. There are plenty of fascinating and quirky shops. You can also find plenty of hotels, B&Bs, and self-catering apartments in and around Tenby.
Tenby was an ideal settlement point for its strategic position on the west coast of Britain. The town was naturally sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea, making it a perfect site for a hill fort. The earliest reference to a settlement at Tenby is in Etmic Dinbych, a poem from the 9th century that was preserved in the 14th century Book of Taliesin.
Tenby’s rich history dates back to the 12th century when it was taken over by the Normans. Located in West Wales, the town was known for its bustling trade and seaport. However, after being sacked multiple times by Welsh forces, the Earl of Pembroke ordered the construction of the Tenby town walls in the late 13th century. The stone wall, towers and gates served to protect the settlement and its people. Today, the ‘old town’ is a well-preserved part of Tenby’s history.
In 1457, Jasper Tudor agreed to share the costs of refurbishing and improving Tenby’s defences with the town’s merchants. This work included heightening the wall to include a second tier of higher arrow slits behind a new parapet walk. Additional turret towers were added to the ends of the walls where they abutted the cliff edges, and the dry ditch outside walls was widened to 30 feet (9.1 m).
In the Late Middle Ages, Tenby was awarded royal grants to finance the maintenance and improvement of its defences. These grants financed the construction of the large D-shaped tower known as the ‘Five Arches’. This tower was built following the failed Spanish Armada invasion of England in 1588.
The town’s decline began with two key events. First, Tenby declared for Parliament in the English Civil War. After being taken by Royalists forces in 1648, the town was surrendered to Colonel Thomas Horton ten weeks later. Second, a plague outbreak killed half of the town’s population in 1650.
Lack of infrastructure and resources led to the town’s further ruin. Most of the merchant and business class left, causing the town’s economy to fall into decline. By the end of the 18th century, John Wesley noted during his visit how: “Two-thirds of the old town is in ruins or has entirely vanished. Pigs roam among the abandoned houses and Tenby presents a dismal spectacle.”
Tenby’s fortunes revived after another war. In 1798, the French General Napoleon Bonaparte began conquering Europe and restricting the British upper class from making their Grand Tours to continental spa towns. In 1802, local resident Sir William Paxton bought his first property in the old town. From this point onwards, he invested heavily in the area with the full approval of the town council.
With the growth in saltwater sea-bathing for health purposes, Paxton engaged engineer James Grier and architect Samuel Pepys Cockerell to create a “fashionable bathing establishment suitable for the highest society.” His sea-bathing baths came into operation in July 1806 and, after acquiring the Globe Inn, he transformed it into “a most lofty, elegant and convenient style” to lodge the more elegant visitors to his baths. Cottages were erected adjoining the baths with adjoining livery stables and coach house.
In 1814, a road was built on Paxton’s expense overlooking the harbour at Paxton. He had a Private Act of Parliament passed to enable fresh water piping through the town. Despite these accomplishments, his 1809 theatre was closed in 1818 due to lack of patronage. The Market Hall was completed in 1829 and remodelled to serve as Tenby Town Hall in 1860.
Paxton also took in developments in the area as required by rich Victorian tourists. This included the discovery of a chalybeate spring in his own park at Middleton Hall, and coaching inns from Swansea to Narberth. He built Paxton’s Tower, in memorial to Lord Nelson whom he had met in 1802 when mayor of Carmarthen. Paxton’s efforts to revive the town succeeded and after the Battle of Trafalgar, the growth of Victorian Tenby was inevitable.
Tenby has a long history as a health resort and centre for botanical and geological study. The town’s many walkways, built to accommodate Victorian nannies pushing prams, still retain good disabled access. In 1856, writer Mary Ann Evans (pen-name George Eliot) accompanied George Henry Lewes to Tenby to gather material for his work Seaside Studies. In 1852, the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society deployed a lifeboat to the town, taken over in 1854 by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. In 2005, a slip-way equipped lifeboat station was built on Castle Hill.
Tenby is a historic town located in Wales, known for its castle walls, Victorian architecture, and beautiful coastline. The town’s economy is based on tourism, with a range of craft, art, and other stores. As of April 2017, there are 372 listed buildings and other structures in and around Tenby.
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