IF you are anything like me you would have found history to be of fleeting interest at school, a distraction from the main agenda of larking about.

We lived just yards from the castle and scarcely gave it a glance as we hurried past.

Interest is sparked by motive, and I have developed an interest in how people lived in conditions which were so different to ours in the 21st century. My 92 year old mother is a living record of the amazing changes that have happend in the last 100 years.

People of all ages have considered themselves to be at the pinnacle of development: no one, they think, can have a truer view of reality, and so we had an Earth centered universe and the belief of Descartes that animals were just clever machines.

The world view of humans has developed over millions of years, and our supposedly rational clarity is now finding it's own limitations.

I think that pictures of past lives, based on the facts extracted from the records by historians gives us a perspective on our own incompletness.

It was a good place for a town. A decent size boat could get that high, when the tides were right, and the river could, this far down, still just be forded. You could spot enemies coming from their most likely direction of travel, and they would have a hard scramble getting up to you on most sides.

Tancred, sent into Wales by Henry 1 to settle the over taxed natives, set about building a sound castle in around 1120. The identity of the builder is disputed, some historians claim that Gilbert de Clare of Pembroke was responsible. According to a Wikipedia entry, a wooden structure was already in place, and it seems quite possible that such a defensible position would have been used earlier - Roman coins have been found in the Haverfordwest district.

Like all such monuments in a similar state of dereliction, the present day castle lacks life. It could, perhaps, do with a permanent cast of actors, striding about as soldiers to a backdrop of horses munching the grass, a pig man with some Welsh Blacks, and someone shoving yet more garbage on to a midden.

A midden is a historic waste dump, and they are very interesting places to poke about in. This was the posh way with rubbish. In the narrow little alleys and mean streets of towns, every sort of waste was dumped in the street and would have made such places unacceptable to our delicate expectations.

Take a walk around an authentically recreated west side of the castle and you would run the risk of falling into an open pit of toilet waste emanating from the houses of easement on the walls.

I hear that they have since moved on a bit at Windsor. It would have been an unvarnished place. Sometimes the sound of animals being slaughtered would have been evident, and the deed was done in convenient proximity to the kitchen. Contrast that to our shrink wrapped dissassociation to the process of meat provision, but also our much higher, and still to be improved standards of animal handling. This is one of the benefits of our developing culture. In medieval times, an all too organic variety of sensory inputs would have been accepted as the norm.

The earliest occupants would have to endure a smoky gloom in winter months when the wooden window shutters were closed against the elements. Glazing did not appear until the 13th century. Flooring, in those deep green, nature dependent times, was rush or reed on packed earth. The reeds were changed to allow the unspeakable detritus from dogs, cats, rats , mice and meat based meals to be cleared away. This was always done when important visitors were expected, just as we might do an emergency tidy up today. Trestle tables, removed between meals, were the norm, unless you were very grand. A little touch of sophistication amidst this rough simplicity was provided by the use of white tablecloths.

King Edward I and his feisty wife, Eleanor of Castille, stopped at the castle for a couple of nights in November 1284, and I bet some heavy duty cleaning went on before that visit. Afterpaying a high price, Eleanor obtained the castle to add to her bulky properties portfolio. She liked the location, but she had been raised in the most cultured surroundings of the 13th century, and Haverfordwest castle obviously needed a complete make over.

The castle we know today is the somewhat reduced result. Eleanor had a first level hall of wooden board flooring, with huge windows that let in the morning sun. She would have been one of the few to have been able to afford glass at this time. The upgrade included plenty of fireplaces instead of the central hearth, characteristic of Saxon times, and even early Welsh castles, and which might, or might not, send it's smoke through a hole in the roof.

After Eleanor died in 1290, our historic monument was known as Queen's castle, and the steeply sloped little quad between it and St. Martin's church is still called Queen's square. The town that grew around the markets that were held at first in Queen's square, was originally called Castleton. Haverfordwest evolved from a coincidence of landscape features that was home to a society that was still inclined to violent rebellion, and yet was advanced enough to construct a mighty bastion of authority.

Sources and notes:


Information on flooring and glass checked with a National Trust guide on a visit to Westward Manor, Wiltshire.

The Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer. Kindle edition. Recommended by Dr. Diane Williams, FSA cadw. Although the aspects of local life were affected by Welsh law, similar cultural conditions and customs apply.

Eleanor of Castille : The Shadow Queen. by Sara Cockeril. Kindle edition.

Haverfordwest Castle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haverfordwest_Castle

Thanks to Cllr. Simon Hancock, Curator, Haverfordwest Town Museum, for factual help and encouragement.

By Carw.