St Mary, Pembroke, Pembrokeshire (PRN 3278)


Dyfed PRN 3278

 RB No. 3016

 NGR SM 9835 0152

 Listed Building No. 6400

 Grade I listed (1998)


Medieval church; 75% pre-19th century core fabric.

A multicell church, large. Consists of a chancel, 3 bays; nave, 4 bays; tower, (north of chancel), 4 storeys; north aisle (absorbs former north transept), 4 bays; south transept, 1 bay; medieval. South porch, early 17th century. South porch southern bay, 1876. West porch; boilerhouse (north of north aisle), 1924. Limestone rubble construction, with some ORS; internal walls with render/plaster. North aisle and south porch barrel-vaulted, tower (secondarily?) rib-vaulted. Slate gable roofs; boilerhouse with slated lean-to; tower roof not seen. Medieval openings in tower, medieval north aisle arcade, south door and chancel doorways are medieval, blocked medieval windows and door. Other openings, including the chancel arch, are mainly in yellow oolite from 1876.

(15th century monument; many 17th – 18th century monuments.)

Roofs: medieval vaulting and 1876 timberwork. Floors: 1876. Finishes: 1876-20th century.

Condition –  good.

Archaeological potential – very good. No external drain or cutting; churchyard raised around 30% of church; buildings near and against 60% of church; floor levels raised in 10% of church; ?underfloor void beneath 40% of church; no external memorials significantly close to church

Structural value (pre 19th century) – very good. 75% pre-19th century core fabric; medieval and early 17th century vaulting; medieval arcade, doorways, tower openings and blocked openings.

Group value – high. Landmark medieval church with tower, in town centre location; medieval town wall-line forms part of churchyard boundary; focal point of view; possible early buildings encroach yard.


Phase 1 – Nave, c.1200.

Phase 2 – South transept (and former north transept?), C14.

Phase 3 – Chancel and tower, c.1400.

Phase 4 – North aisle, c.1500.

Phase 5 – South porch, early 17th century.

Phase 6 – Restored 1876, medium impact.

Phase 7 – West porch, boilerhouse, 1924.


The present church

St Mary, Pembroke, is a multicelled church, of large size. It retains approximately 75% pre-19th century core fabric.

The present church consists of a 3-bayed chancel, a 4-bayed nave, a 3-storeyed tower north of the chancel west bay, a 4-bayed north aisle (absorbing a former north transept), a single-bayed south transept, a long, 2-bayed south porch, a west porch and a boilerhouse north of the aisle. Construction is in limestone rubble with some Old Red Sandstone in the north aisle. The north aisle and south porch are barrel-vaulted; the tower is rib-vaulted. There are medieval openings in the tower, the north aisle arcade, the south door and the chancel doorways are medieval, there are blocked medieval windows in the nave south wall and a blocked medieval door in the north aisle; other openings, including the chancel arch, are mainly from 1876 and in yellow oolite, in neo-Gothic style. Pointing is mainly from 1876 and the interior is plastered. Roofs are slated gables; the boilerhouse has a slated lean-to roof and the tower roof was not seen.

There are the remains of a 15th century monument, and 17th-18th century wall monuments.

The chancel is in random limestone rubble. The 5-light east window is from 1876 and has cusped ‘Geometric’ tracery beneath a 2-centred drip-mould on plain stops, all in yellow oolite. The north wall is largely shared with the tower, which is entered through a plain, deeply-chamfered 2-centred arch, without capitals or bases, from c.1400 (see Structural Development below), above which an internal corbel table, at eaves level, supports the tower upper stages. East of this a blocked doorway is visible externally, where it has lost its head, and is visible internally as a small, narrow, blocked 2-centred doorway noticeably further west and therefore with a skewed or dog-leg passage through the wall; the doorway, which  appears to be medieval and was presumably a ‘priest’s door’ from c.1400 (possibly into a former component- see below), was re-used as the entry to a former vestry erected in 1876, and was blocked in the 20th century when the vestry was demolished. The south wall was rebuilt in 1876 (Parkinson, 1980) with 3 windows, all of 2 uncusped lights with pierced spandrels and central quatrefoils, in yellow oolite; the easternmost sill descends to floor level for a sedilia. Internally, east of the windows, is a piscina with a plain 2-centred head and a sunken bowl, from 1876; above it a narrow 2-centred opening appears to run through the wall, also from 1876?. The 2-centred chancel arch is from 1876 and is in double-chamfered yellow oolite without capitals or bases. The chancel ‘wagon-roof’ ceiling has transverse deal frames with pitch-pine matchboarding, from 1876 (NLW, SD/F/534). The passages and sanctuary flooring are unknown, being fully carpeted; suspended board and woodblock floors, from 1876, above voids?, lie either side.

The nave south wall features a window either side of the south door, each set high in the wall and with a segmental embrasure that may be medieval; the 2-light windows themselves, with ‘Geometric’ tracery in yellow oolite and a central trefoil, are from 1876. There is now no evidence for the blocked semicircular-headed windows noted in 1938 (Mathias, 1938, 290-292). The south door has a full-centred semicircular surround of 3 roll-moulded orders and a similar drip-mould, without capitals or bases, from c.1200 and similar to that at nearby Monkton. Externally, an early 17th century memorial is set in a recess above. The west, gable wall features a doorway with a 2-centred surround, inserted in 1924 (NLW, SD/F/536). Above it is a 2-light window with uncusped plate tracery and a central quatrefoil, and a plain 2-centred dripmould, in yellow oolite from 1876, the mullion recently replaced; a possible area of blocking is visible externally beneath sill level. The softwood nave roof is from 1876 and lacks proper trusses, all rafters being scissors-braced, but every 4th pair is arch-braced from ashlar-posts; matchboarded above. The passage flooring, like in the chancel, is unknown, being fully carpeted; suspended woodblock floors, from 1876, above voids?, lie either side.

The 4-storey tower occupies a position, only seen within the area at one other church (Manorbier), north of the chancel west bay and in the angle with the north transept. It is also stylistically unusual, being very large, lacking the basal batter and string course typical of the region, being only slightly tapered, and having a spiral stair turret that is entered from the exterior, all characteristics which it shares with the nearby tower at Tenby St Mary which can be assigned a date of c.1400 (and which was constructed in the angle of the chancel and a former south transept). The external facework is all in roughly squared and coursed limestone rubble, with good quoins, and appears to represent a single build. The ground floor opens, via 2 tall, 2-centred arches, into the chancel and north aisle (formerly the north transept); the southern arch has deep triple-chamfers on both faces, without capitals or bases, from c.1400, while the northern arch is similar but with deep single chamfers. The east wall was pierced by a half-arch respond against the chancel north wall, with a semicircular profile and plain voussoirs, apparently representing an original passage into a former, contemporary component on the site of the later vestry (see Structural Development below); the arch was later blocked, in 1876 when the present 2-centred doorway, now itself blocked, was inserted?. The remains of a truncated east-west wall, against north end of the half-arch, and the lower of the two lean-to roof-scars visible above the arch on the tower wall, may both be from the medieval component; the upper scar represents the 19th century vestry roof line. To the north of this half-arch, and a somewhat higher level, the tower east wall is pierced by a 2-light window beneath a 2-centred outer arch, each light with a plain, 2-centred head in chamfered limestone from c.1400. A similar, single light pierces the north wall, also from c.1400; beneath it a blocked doorway is visible externally, in a similar position to the door at Tenby St Mary, with a 2-centred head of prominent voussoirs and without a surround, from c.1400; its head now lies only 1.2m above churchyard level. The north-west corner houses the spiral stair which projects as a clasping buttress from the north and west faces and lit by plain slit-lights; it is entered from the interior through a narrow, plain, 2-centred doorway from c.1400, and from the churchyard through a plain, lintelled doorway, from c.1400, in the north wall. The ground floor has a rib-vault which springs from the 4 corners. The ribs have square sections and may be later insertions, possibly secondary to the vault itself which may have originally been a barrel-vault like that at Tenby St Mary. The ribs continue around a central bell-raising port which is again like that at Tenby. The floor has been raised by over 1m concealing the medieval openings within, and now has a flagged surface, from 1876?, or the earlier 19th century?. The second stage is lit by deep, simple, square-headed single lights in all 4 faces, from c.1400 and now louvered, while the third stage exhibits a plain, louvered, large, 2-centred single lancet in each face, also from c.1400. The belfry stage has contemporary, 2-light openings, with square heads, in all 4 faces, now also louvered. The contemporary crenellated parapet lies on a corbel table which does not extend around the west side of the stair.

The north aisle communicates with the nave, to which its west, gable wall exhibits an external joint, via a 4-bayed arcade of plain, 2-centred arches, chamfered only on their square piers, from c.1500. The west bay absorbed an earlier north transept (see Structural Development below) and its north wall features a plain, full-height internal recess with a 2-centred head, representing the end (gable) wall of the former transept. A blocked opening into the tower lies high up in the east wall; its head is formed by the apex of the vault (see below) dating the opening to c.1500 or later; its sill extends as an offset to the south wall arcade suggesting that it may have been associated with a rood-loft or screen; a corbel lies at the same level on the east bay north wall. The north wall is in Old Red Sandstone rubble and has a slight external basal batter; it was heightened by 0.20m in 1876. It is pierced by 3 windows, each a single, 2-centred uncusped lancet in chamfered oolite from 1876. The east-central bay exhibits a blocked doorway lying opposite the south door; its head has gone and it lacks a surround, but it may be from c.1500, and was blocked by the mid 18th century  (see Structural Development below). The west wall is pierced by a window like that in the nave west wall and similarly from 1876, but with a central trefoil; beneath its sill and the floor is a plain internal offset, probably medieval – benching?. The aisle is barrel-vaulted, the vault having a plain, 2-centred profile which dies into the side walls without springers; its apex is substantially lower than the nave roof apex. Floored as the nave.

The south transept is entered from the nave through a 2-centred arch, like the chancel arch from 1876 and similarly in double-chamfered yellow oolite without capitals or bases. It is lit by a graduated triple lancet window in the south (gable) wall, in a 2-centred arch and surround with chamfered oolite dressings from 1876. The softwood roof is from 1876 and lacks trusses, all common rafters having collars and ashlar-posts, from which every third rafter is arch-braced. The floor is fully carpeted but may be like that in the nave. The transept has been a chapel since 1990.

The south porch is from the early 17th century, but was extended southwards to form a passage from Main Street in 1876. The original section has side walls that lean inwards slightly, and exhibit internal masonry benching from the early 17th century. The barrel-vault has a segmental profile and is also early 17th century. The flagged floor may be from 1876 but possibly re-uses earlier 19th century flags, and there are 3 steps down into the nave. The side walls of the 1876 extension are thicker, perpendicular and lack internal benching; the east wall features a doorway into the churchyard, with a 2-centred head, from 1876. The south wall is in snecked rubble from 1876 and is entered from Main Street through a contemporary 2-centred doorway with a chamfered oolite surround, flanked by single lancets with similar surrounds. The extension roof is from 1876, in softwood, and lacks trusses, all common rafters having collars and ashlar-posts. Floored as the original porch, with 3 steps down from Main Street pavement level.

The west porch is from 1924 and is in random limestone rubble but with good quoins; the side and west walls all feature an external offset in chamfered grey oolite. The doorway lies in the west (gable) wall and has a rounded, 2-centred surround in chamfered grey oolite, from 1924; above it is a contemporary, neo-Tudor, uncusped 3-light window in a square surround and plain label, also in grey oolite. The softwood roof and tiled floor are also from 1924.

The lean-to boilerhouse was added against the north wall of the north aisle east bay in 1924, in random limestone rubble. It is entered through a plain doorway in the east (end) wall, with a concrete lintel, and lit by a similar window in the north wall. An inserted flue in the aisle wall leads to a simple, square chimney with a plain offset, from 1924. The softwood lean-to roof runs up to aisle sill level.

There is neither an external drain nor a cutting, but churchyard ground levels have been altered and have been raised to the north of the church; domestic buildings lie close to, or against, the south and east walls. There is no evidence for former floor levels except in the tower, where the floor has been raised by over 1m. An underfloor void is probably present. No external memorials lie significantly close to the church.

Structural development

The Romanesque south door, and the 2 blocked, semicircular-headed windows that were formerly visible (Mathias, 1938, 290-292), provide a date of c.1200 for the nave. The south transept (and the former north transept) probably belong to the 14th century trend for transept construction. The tower and (rebuilt) chancel may be contemporaneous (Parkinson, 1980); the tower is very similar in general form to that at Tenby St Mary which can be dated to c.1400 and both it and the chancel can be assigned a similar date. The tower occupies a position only seen within the area at one other church, Manorbier, where it pre-dates the north transept; at Pembroke it post-dates the former transept, with which it exhibits a joint, but pre-dates the north aisle, which is from c.1500. A former component, contemporary with the tower, appears to have occupied the angle between it and the chancel, superseded, in 1876, by a vestry which in turn has gone (see below). The south porch is from the early 17th century.

A watercolour by Francis Place, dated to c.1678, shows the church much as today but lacks detail. A print from 1748 shows the church from the north-west with large ‘Perpendicular’ windows in the nave and north aisle west walls (15th-16th century?), and 3 square-headed windows in the aisle north wall; a sanctus bellcote lay on the nave east gable (Haverfordwest Library, Prints and Pictures, Pembroke from the north by S. & N. Buck, 1748).

The church was described in c.1810 as ‘shewing the pointed order, and consists of nave, chancel and north side aisle, with a small chapel to the south (the south transept). There are three arches now stopped up, two in the north aisle and one in the chancel, which evidently communicated with buildings now no more, that have left not a trace behind, and whose form and use we now vainly enquire after’ (Fenton, 1903, 204). The description is repeated by Lewis, 1833, but there is no suggestion that the doorways, all now blocked, led to any associated buildings, the chancel door being a former ‘priest’s door, and the main north aisle door being a north doorway into the church. A print from 1830 (Haverfordwest Library, Prints and Pictures, Pembroke from the north by H. Gastineau, 1830), taken from the north-west, is similar to that of 1748 but appears to show a smaller north aisle west window with a possible blocked doorway below it.

The church was ‘altered and restored’ in 1876, under the architect J. L. Pearson, of London, but according to plans prepared by C. Buckeridge (NLW, SD/F/534). The restoration was heavy; most openings were rebuilt, the walls were heightened, the chancel south wall was entirely rebuilt and the south porch was extended southwards by one bay to form a long ‘corridor’ from Main Street. A vestry was added in the angle between the chancel north wall and the tower, but this has since been removed. The church was reroofed, refloored, reseated and replastered.

The reredos was erected under Pearson, and the font moved to its present location, in 1892 (NLW, SD/F/535). Three windows were reglazed in 1908 (Green, 1913, 231) and early 20th century reglazing includes some glass by Kempe (Bartosch & Stokes, 1992).

The west porch and boilerhouse were added in 1924 (NLW, SD/F/536). The lead tower roof was replaced by the present slated roof in 1929 (NLW, SD/F/537). The interior has been replastered since 1938 (Mathias, 1938, 290-292).

The plain softwood pews, and the similar octagonal pulpit, may be from 1876. The large organ, the body of which occupies the tower ground floor, is dated 1890. The elaborate, oolite reredos, featuring a central Christ in Majesty and flanking niches, is from 1892 and was designed by Pearson (NLW, SD/F/535). The neo-Perpendicular, softwood-panelled altar table and low redaltar may be contemporary. The oak stalls, with carved bench ends and bookboards, and the similar reader’s desks, are from 1909 (Bartosch & Stokes, 1992). The softwood and glass west door lobby is from 1924. The neo-gothic softwood screen between the tower and the north aisle is dated 1932, and the similar north aisle altar table and rail may be contemporary. The low, main altar rail is dated 1937. The south transept chapel fittings, including the carved, oak altar table and reredos, and the oak-panelled wainscot, are dated 1990.

The limestone font has a square, scalloped bowl, a cylindrical stem with cable-moulding, and a square, cushioned base, all from the later 12th century.

The church was Grade I listed in 1998.


 There is no evidence for the pre-conquest religious use of the site.

St Mary, Pembroke, was a parish church, of the medieval Deanery of Pembroke, during the post-conquest period (Rees, 1932). It was a possession of the Benedictine Priory of St Nicholas at Monkton, Pembroke, and the advowson was appendant to the Manor of Monkton (Green, 1913, 230). It was a primary feature of the medieval borough of Pembroke, established during the 12th century although the first reference to the church was not until 1260 (Hindle, 1979, 78).

At the dissolution, it fell to the crown, and with Pembroke St Michael was purchased by Lettice, Countess of Essex (ibid.). The vicarages of St Mary, St Michael and St Nicholas, Monkton (the former Monkton Priory) were united from 1770 until 1872, when the latter 2 were separated from St Mary by Order of Council (Green, op. cit., 232). In 1833 the consolidated vicarage was rated in the king’s books at £9 (viz., £4 for St Michael and £5 for Monkton, St Mary being discharged) and in the gift of Sir John Owen (Lewis, 1833).

In 1998 St Mary, Pembroke, was a parish church. The living was a vicarage, held with Pembroke St Michael (Benefice 552), in the Archdeaconry of St Davids, Rural Deanery of Castlemartin (St Davids, 1997-8).


 Map Evidence

NLW, Ordnance Survey 1:2500, First Edition, Pembs. Sheet XL.9.

NLW, Ordnance Survey 1:2500, Second Edition, Pembs. Sheet XL.9.

NLW, Parish of Pembroke St Mary, Tithe Map, 1840.

Rees, W., 1932, South Wales and the Border in the XIVth century.

 Pictorial sources

 Haverfordwest Library, Prints and Pictures, Pembroke from the north by S & N Buck, 1740 (church from north-west).

 Haverfordwest Library, Prints and Pictures, Pembroke from the north by S & N Buck, 1748 (church from north-west).

 Haverfordwest Library, Prints and Pictures, Pembroke from the north by H Gastineau, 1830 (church from north-west).

 Pembroke Castle from the south, by Francis Place, c.1678 (reproduction in private collection).

 Pembroke Castle from the west, by Paul Sandby, 1808 (NLW collection, postcard reproduction).

Pembroke Castle from the west, by John ‘Warwick’ Smith, c.1787 (NLW collection, postcard reproduction).

Church in Wales Records

Bartosch & Stokes, 1992, Quinquennial Report, Pembroke St Mary.

St Davids, 1997-8, Diocesan Year Book.

NLW, SD/F/534, Faculty – Restoration of church, 1876.

NLW, SD/F/535, Faculty – Erection of reredos, 1892.

NLW, SD/F/536, Faculty – Erection of west porch and boilerhouse, 1924.

NLW, SD/F/537, Faculty – Tower roof, 1929.

Parish Records, Pembrokeshire Record Office, Haverfordwest

HPR/24 – Pembroke St Mary:-

HPR/24/5 – Drawing of church window, n.d..

HPR/24/83 – Churchwarden’s Accounts, 1892-1943.

PEM/SE/15/3 – Vestry Minute Book, 1861-1890.

Unpublished Accounts

Parkinson, A. J., 1980, St Mary, Pembroke, plan and notes (in National Monuments Record, Aberystwyth)

Thomas, W. G., 1964, St Mary, Pembroke (in National Monuments Record, Aberystwyth)

Printed Accounts

Gordon Partnership, 1993, Redundant Religious Buildings in West Wales.

Cadw, 1981, Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest (Pembroke and Pembroke Dock).

Colt Hoare, R., 1806, The Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales.

Fenton, R., 1903 edn., A Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire.

Green, F., 1913, ‘Pembrokeshire Parsons’, West Wales Historical Records Vol. III.

Hindle, B. P., 1979, ‘Medieval Pembroke’, The Pembrokeshire Historian No. 6.

Mathias, A. G. O., 1938, ‘St Mary, Pembroke’, Archaeol. Cambrensis Vol. XCIII.

Laws, E., 1909, ‘Monkton Priory’, Archaeol. Cambrensis Vol. IX, Sixth Series.

Lewis, S., 1833, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales.

Ludlow, N. D., 1991, ‘Pembroke Castle and Town Walls’, Fortress, Vol. 8.

RCAHM, 1925, Inventory: Pembrokeshire.

Salter, M., 1994, The Old Parish Churches of South West Wales.

Williams, I. A., 1954, ‘A Welsh drawing of Pembroke Castle’, NLW Journal, Vol. VIII.



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