St Mary, Tenby, Pembrokeshire (PRN 3713)


Dyfed PRN 3713

 RB No. 3666

 NGR SN 1342 0044

 Listed Building No. 6177

 Grade A listed (1998)

Grade 1 Listed in 2022.

First listed in 1951. Last amended in 2002.

Reasons for listing: Graded I as an outstanding late medieval church with exceptional roofs and monuments.


Medieval church; 80% pre 19th century core fabric. The largest medieval parish church in Wales.

A multicell church, very large. Consists of a chancel, 4 bays above crypt; nave, 5 bays; north chapel, 3 bays, south chapel, 2 bays; tower (south of chancel west bay), 3 storeys, with spire; north aisle, 5 bays; south aisle, 5 bays; south porch (formerly with parvis?); medieval. North porch, 1862-66. Vestry (2 storeys, south of chancel east bay), 1 bay, 1885. Limestone rubble construction, some ORS; internal walls with render/plaster. Tower and porch barrel-vaulted; chancel, nave and south aisle with medieval oak roofs. Slate gable roofs; tower with medieval spire. Medieval arcades (open, with mouldings), chancel arch, few windows, doors (open and blocked), piscinae, tomb recesses with effigies, south porch vault, doors and parapet, medieval tower with vault, openings, rood loft stair (blocked), parapet and spire; dressings mainly in yellow oolite. Few early 17th century windows. Windows mainly from 1862-66, and 1885, neo-Perpendicular, with yellow and grey oolite dressings.

(15th century altar table, 17th century pulpit, 16th-18th century memorials).

Roofs: medieval vaults, late 15th century oak roofs and c.1840 softwood roofs. Floors: 1862-66. Finishes: 1862-1966.

Condition – good. (Effigies and tomb recesses poor.).

Archaeological potential – excellent. Surviving below-ground archaeology around ?100% of church; former component beyond 5% of church; church; very shallow, concrete external drain around 100% of church; levels unchanged; crypt beneath 20% of church; below-ground floor in 10% of church; suspended floors over heating ducts in 80% of church; below-ground heating chamber in 5% of church; marked burials beneath 80% and evidence for earlier church plan(s); no external memorials significantly close to church.

Structural value (pre 19th century) – very good. 80% pre-19th century core fabric; medieval arcades, chancel arch, windows, doors, piscinae, tomb recesses with effigies, south porch vault, doors and parapet, medieval tower with vault, openings, rood loft stair, parapet and spire; early 17th century windows.

Group value – very high. Important medieval landmark church with tower, the largest medieval parish church in Wales, in coastal clifftop location; at centre of historic walled town; churchyard with associated remains of medieval ‘college’ of chantry priests, medieval town hall and gaol.


Phase 1 – Nave, chancel west bays (and former south aisle), C13.

(Phase 2 – Former south transept, south porch, and ?north transept, c.1300.)

Phase 3 – South chapel, tower (and spire), north aisle, c1400.

Phase 4 – South aisle, chancel east bay, mid-late C15.

Phase 5 – North chapel, late C15.

Phase 6 – South porch, c.1500.

(Phase 7 – Vestry, early C19.)

Phase 8 – Restored 1862-66, medium impact; north porch built.

Phase 9 – Restored 1885, medium impact; vestry rebuilt.


The present church

St Mary, Tenby, is a multicelled church, of very large size, being the largest medieval parish church in Wales. It retains approximately 80% pre 19th century core fabric.

The present church consists of a long, 4-bayed chancel, partly over a crypt and formerly featuring a loft-chapel, a 5-bayed nave, a 3-bayed north chapel, a 2-bayed south chapel, a single-bayed, 2-storeyed vestry east of the south chapel, a 3-storeyed tower, with a spire, south of the chancel west bay, a 5-bayed north aisle, a north porch, a 5-bayed south aisle, and a south porch, formerly with a parvis?. A ?cruciform west porch was formerly present. Construction is in local limestone rubble, with some local Old Red Sandstone. The chancel arch and arcades are medieval, and some openings. Other openings are from 1862-66 and from 1885, neo-Perpendicular, Gothic, with yellow oolite dressings. Pointing is mainly from 1862-66, 1885 and the 1960s; the interior is plastered. The tower and the south porch are barrel-vaulted, and there are late 15th century carved oak wagon-roof ceilings. Roofs are slated gables; the tower carries a medieval masonry spire. (There are a 15th century altar table, a 17th century pulpit, medieval effigies, and a number of good 16th – 18th century memorials.)

The external levels surrounding the church have been much altered through time, but the survival of below-ground archaeology was demonstrated during recent excavations of the former west porch (Williams and Brennan, 1994, 26-9). There is structural evidence for many former components that have been absorbed into the present church. The church is surrounded by a very shallow, concrete external drain. There is no evidence for internal floor level changes. A medieval crypt lies beneath the chancel east bay. The vestry ground floor is below-ground, from 1885. Floors are suspended over heating ducts, and there is a below-ground heating chamber in the nave. Many marked burials lie beneath the south chapel, and occur throughout the church. No external memorials lie significantly close to the church.

The chancel

The chancel is very long, and the east end lies over a medieval crypt that is partly above-ground (not seen); the sanctuary is thus approached up a flight of 11 steps. The chancel is also unusual in the region in having clerestorey level openings, cf. Haverfordwest St Mary, but here lighting a former loft over the chancel which served as a chantry chapel to St Anne (Thomas, 1984, 7) which was founded in the late 15th century (Walker, 1978, 303) and entered from the south chapel (see below); it was dissolved in 1545-47. The name St Anne’s Chapel has occasionally been applied to the entire chancel (eg. Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1610).

The east wall has very large, crude quoins in limestone and Old Red Sandstone. The large, 5-light east window has neo-Perpendicular tracery in a 2-centred surround and dripmould on lozengic stops, all in yellow oolite and from 1855 (Thomas, 1984, 7); there is a large, 2-centred outer or relieving arch above the window, of medieval date. The gable apex was rebuilt with a small square opening into the roof space, with a triangular surround, probably during the 19th century but before 1855 (Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1753).

The side walls are largely arcades to the flanking chapels, but the east bay projects beyond their end walls; the north wall, however, exhibits an offset at ¾ height which represents the roof-creasing for a former lean-to building, which had gone by the mid 19th century and is of unknown nature. The offset coping forms the head of a 3-light window, of ogival openings with simple neo-Perpendicular tracery in a square surround, of yellow oolite, probably from 1855. The sill of this window corresponds with the creasing for a second, ?earlier lean-to roof, possibly late medieval and associated with 2 blocked arches that lie below. These both have segmental heads from the late 15th century and represent a former arcade into the crypt, the vault of which lies within; the eastern of the two arches lies at a higher level and a window has been inserted through the blocking, having 3 square-headed lights in a square surround, in weathered limestone, from the early 17th century.

The south wall of the east bay was similarly a former outside wall and the impression of a large, blocked segmental-headed window is visible internally; this was blocked in 1885 when the vestry was built against the wall, which entered through a doorway, from 1885, with a 4-centred, double chamfered surround in yellow oolite.

The side walls of the 3 western bays are arcades. The northern arcade comprises three 4-centred arches, on slender piers formed by a cluster of 4 attached shafts with plain abaci and tori, in oolite from the late 15th century; a low wall lies within the arches, added in the 19th century. There is a visible horizontal joint above their apices, above which the wall leans outwards. The 2-bayed arcade into the south chapel has narrower, 2-centred arches of roll- and cavetto-moulded yellow oolite, on similar piers, with foliated abaci, all from c.1400. The westernmost bay is occupied by the arch into the tower ground floor (see below).

The chancel arch springs from the side walls and is nearly full height, with a 4-centred profile, is in triple-chamfered oolite and has a plain impost on the northern limb, all from the late 15th century.

Internally, the chancel side walls exhibit moulded corbels for the roof timbers. When the internal plaster finishes were stripped during renovations of the 1960s a line of internal sockets was revealed high up in the south wall, and small, blocked clerestorey windows in both side walls (NMR, Pe 0721-0775), associated with the flooring and lighting of the former ‘St Anne’s Chapel’ (see above). Four of the windows were reopened and have 2 square-headed lights in square surrounds, in limestone, probably from the 16th or earlier 17th century. A medieval piscina has been relocated within the crypt (Thomas, 1984, 7).

The chancel roof occupies a continuous level with that in the nave. It is an oak wagon roof ceiling with a 2-centred profile, and substantial frames and plaster panels, from the late 15th century; at the frame intersections are carved, mainly heraldic bosses, while the transverse timbers are carried on the wall-corbels via carved figurines. The whole was extensively restored in the 1960s (NMR, Pe 0721-0775).

Much of the floor is occupied by the 11 steps up to the sanctuary, which overlies the crypt; both floor and steps comprise yellow oolite flags, probably from 1862-66 (Pembs. R. O., HPR/78/125), and incorporate earlier memorial slabs.

 The nave

The nave side walls are both pierced by inserted arcades (see below), but the west, gable wall is pierced by what was the main, processional church entrance, with a former west porch (see Structural Development below). The doorway has a double-ogee head, in alternate, shallow roll- and cavetto-mouldings to form 3 orders, the outer order with moulded tablet flowers. Above it is a band with the raised Latin inscription ‘Blessed be God in his gifts’ and above this, in turn, a double-ogee dripmould on out-turned stops. The whole is in weathered yellow oolite from the very late 15th century, but its asymmetric appearance suggests that it has been at least partly rebuilt. Above the door is a large 5-light window with neo-Perpendicular tracery featuring a large, quatrefoil spandrel, in a 2-centred surround and drip-mould on lozengic stops, in yellow oolite from 1868. There is an area of blocking below sill-level and a disturbed area of masonry north of the window, associated with a ?medieval window; the internal semi-circular line of dressings above the present rear-arch relate to a post-medieval window, possibly that shown in drawings of 1838 and 1862 (Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1390 & 1993/71), which had 5 lights beneath a 4-centred head.

The nave has an oak wagon-roof with a semicircular profile, of slighter frames than that in the chancel, without the corbelled figurines but with carved figurine bosses, and plaster panels; it is of a similar late 15th century date to that in the chancel but similarly restored in 1966.

The floor is oolite flagged like that in the chancel, over heating ducts from 1862-66.

The north chapel

The north chapel is traditionally known as ‘St Nicholas’ Chapel’ although, during the medieval period, it was called ‘The Aisle of the Rood of Grace’ and was a chantry chapel founded in the late 15th century (Walker, 1978, 303) and dissolved in 1545-47. A rood (with a screen?, see below) was formerly present at the east end.

The east, gable wall has been much rebuilt. A window was inserted in 1885 (Thomas, 1984, 9), into a wall that has previously been blind here and is shown thus in a mid-19th century drawing (Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1753) when the roof creasing of the former lean-to against the chancel north wall, noted above, was still visible; the 3-light window has neo-Perpendicular tracery, a 2-centred head and drip-mould on human mask stops, and a similar internal surround, all in grey oolite. Probably contemporary with the window is the refacing of the northern half of the wall in larger rubble; the buttress at the northern corner is later still and divided by a vertical joint. The outline of an earlier, lower gable is visible externally, this had been heightened, in small limestone rubble, by the mid 19th century (ibid.); also visible the creasing for the lower, ?earlier lean-to roof seen on the chancel south wall, and a vertical joint low down in the wall which may represent the northern jamb of a former light. The mid 19th century drawing (ibid.) also shows a small squinched area high up in the angle between the east wall and the chancel; this may have been associated with a former rood-loft.

The north, side wall has a low, basal batter. The uppermost metre of the wall was, like the east wall, raised/rebuilt in small rubble before the mid 19th century. The wall is pierced by 3 large windows, all like that in the east wall but both 3- and 4-light, similarly from 1885 but possibly occupying earlier openings; the windows were square-headed, with labels, and of 2 – 3 lights in 1862 (Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1993/71). Towards the west end is an area of rubble blocking, visible high up on the external face; function?. Against the east end of the internal face is a Jacobean chest tomb, with the recumbent effigy of Margaret Mercer, d.1610, and the kneeling figure of her husband Thomas ap Rees, both painted; the chest has a moulded frieze of weepers, and the back has a rich entablature supported on debased Corinthian columns, acroteria and a crown with a device motif.

The south wall is represented by the aisle into the chancel described above; in the eastern arch is a plain chest tomb with the recumbent limestone effigy of Robert Tully, Bishop of St Davids d.1481, in Episcopal dress and mitre, with brass inlaid characters.

The wagon roof ceiling has a 2-centred profile, is framed and plaster-panelled, and is entirely painted; it does not appear to be medieval and may be part of the re-roofing of the church in the 1840s.

The floor is oolite flagged like that in the chancel, incorporating memorial slabs from 1457 – 19th century.

The name St Nicholas Chapel is derived from a nearby street name, which continued in use when the chapel was re-dedicated in 1899 (Thomas, 1984, 11).

The south chapel

The south chapel is traditionally known as ‘St Thomas’ Chapel’; it contains a very large number of memorials, including an assemblage of wall-monuments and tablets from the 17th-19th century.

The solid east end wall rises above the gable of the adjoining vestry to the east, with which the chapel communicated via a doorway with a 2-centred surround, square head and neo-Perpendicular moulded tympanum, from 1885 (Pembs. R. O., HPR/78/125). To the north is a Carolian monument, at floor level, with a kneeling figure of William Risam, d.1633; the entablature, supported on Ionic columns, has a crown with a device motif, and an illegible inscription that by tradition was damaged during the Civil War.

The north wall is represented by the aisle into the chancel described above. Above the western arch is a corbel table, which presumably survives from the earlier, pre-chapel chancel. Below it is a socket and corbel associated with the former ‘St Anne’s Chapel’ over the chancel, described above. In the eastern arch is an alabaster, double chest tomb (set end-to-end) with extravagantly moulded, neo-Perpendicular chest sides and recumbent limestone effigies of Thomas White and his son John, both probably from 1507.

The south, side wall is in roughly squared and coursed limestone rubble, with a cavetto-moulded oolite corbel table for the roof eaves, from 1885. There are 2 large 3-light windows like those in the north chapel, similarly from 1885, and again possibly occupying earlier openings, but in yellow oolite that perhaps retains some weathered elements of the 15th century surrounds. At the west end is a small, 2-light window set high in the wall, with cusped heads in a cavetto-moulded, square, yellow oolite surround, 16th-17th century but re-opened and restored in the 1960s (NMR, Pe 0721-0775). Below the window is an external, blocked square opening with a chamfered yellow oolite surround, above which is an area of infill; the whole represents the blocked doorway to a gallery which was approached via an external stair, was lit by the window mentioned, and led from the chapel into ‘St Anne’s Chapel’. Internally, at the east end of the wall is a piscina with a cusped, 2-centred head, in chamfered limestone, probably 14th century and relocated from the chancel when the chapel was built. To the west, between the 2 windows, is a Jacobean oolite chest tomb, simply moulded with panelled sides and a plain back, without effigies, to Ralph Mercer d.1613.

The softwood, wagon roof ceiling has 6 straight cants, framed and matchboarded, and is entirely painted; it may be part of the re-roofing of the church in the 1840s. The medieval roof-line was higher (Thomas, 1984, 9).

The limestone flagged floor is 20th century, and features 18th-19th century memorial slabs.

The tower

The 3-storey tower occupies a position, unusual within the area, south of the chancel west bay and in the angle with the south aisle. It is also stylistically unusual and was assigned an early (13th century) date by Thomas, 1964 and 1966, but is probably from c.1400 (see Structural Development below). It is very large, it lacks the basal batter and string course typical of the region, and is only slightly tapered, characteristics which it shares with the nearby tower at Pembroke St Mary. The external facework is all in roughly squared and coursed muddy limestone rubble, with good quoins, and appears to represent a single build.

The ground floor opens, via 3 tall, 2-centred arches, into the chancel, south chapel and south aisle; the south external wall is slender meaning that the corners of this stage are effectively piers, deeply chamfered towards the tower interior, that carry the second stage. The south-west corner also houses the main spiral stair which projects as a clasping buttress from the south and west faces and lit by plain slit-lights; it was entered from within the tower but access is now from the churchyard, through a plain 2-centred doorway, of 19th century date but with an incomplete head, in its south face. The north-west corner is occupied by a second spiral stair entered from the nave east bay through a small, square-headed doorway in its north face, now blocked, which formerly led to the rood-loft. The door was temporarily unblocked in 1906 and the stairwell interior was apparently found to feature a medieval mural painting of the Crucifixion (Thomas, 1984, 15); to the west of the door is a piscina beneath a full-centred semicircular arch.

The arch from the tower ground floor into the chancel has deeply chamfered external stops that do not continue into the arch itself. The arch to the south chapel is similar but only the northern stop has an external chamfer; a 2-centred recess was probably for statuary and a corbel above is associated with the former chapel roof. The similar arch into the south aisle is deeply chamfered in just the southern stop, the chamfer continuing into the secondary thickening of the wall added later in the 15th century (see below). The south, external wall of the tower ground floor is pierced by a doorway into the churchyard, with a chamfered, 2-centred surround in weathered limestone from c.1400. Above the door is a window with a 2-centred embrasure from the 15th century but now containing a 3-light window with simple, uncusped tracery and a drip-mould on plain stops, all in yellow oolite from the mid-19th century.

The ground floor has a barrel-vault from c.1400 which springs from the 4 corners and is pierced by a central bell-raising port. It is now occupied by a organ, and the floor is not visible.

The second stage is lit by a deep, simple, single-lancet in all 4 faces, from c.1400. It formerly served as a chapel and retains a stone altar table in the east lancet embrasure, and a piscina (Thomas, 1984, 16). The belfry stage has contemporary, similar single-lancet openings in all 4 faces, but larger. The contemporary crenellated parapet lies on a corbel table.

The tower is surmounted by a spire, in limestone ashlar, that may be contemporary; it lies within the parapet but is broached up to a string-course, and octagonal above. It was repaired during the 18th and 19th centuries before the upper part was rebuilt in 1963 (Thomas, 1984, 16).

The north aisle

The gabled north aisle is the same width as the nave, with which it communicates through an arcade of five wide, 2-centred arches which are roll- and cavetto-moulded into 4 orders, without capitals or bases, in yellow oolite; in its present form the arcade dates from c.1400 (see Structural Development below).

The aisle also communicates with the north chapel through a tall, wide 2-centred arch in yellow oolite inserted in the late 15th century when the chapel was added (see Structural Development below), similar to the south aisle arcade but roll-moulded into 3 orders, and with plain abaci and tori. Externally, the gable rises above the chapel roof; the upstand carries a weathered apical pinnacle, possibly medieval (shown in 1862 on Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1993/71), and was rendered in the 20th century.

The north wall is in random, small limestone rubble, but the bottom 2 courses are large and roughly squared, earlier?; there is a cavetto-moulded oolite corbel table for the roof eaves, like that in the south chapel and also from 1885?. At the east end of the wall is a large external buttress rebuilt in the 1830s (Pembs. R. O., HPR/78/57) but on the site of an earlier structure; it is in limestone ashlar, with ‘lean-to’ coping up to the wall face, and incorporates a chamfered, 2-centred arch, without abaci, that is from the 1830s but retains earlier (medieval?) Old Red Sandstone in the jambs, which lie on octagonal bases. The north is now pierced by 4 windows, all 4-light with neo-Perpendicular tracery in yellow oolite and with dripmoulds, like the north chapel windows but from 1862-66 (Pembs. R. O., HPR/78/58); they replaced ‘Tudor’ 4-light windows with square heads and labels, of unknown date, shown in drawings of 1838 and 1862 (Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1390 & 1993/71). The 2 easternmost window interrupt the blocking of earlier windows, which lay somewhat further west and are thus unlikely to represent the ones shown in the drawings, possibly representing blocked medieval windows; at the west end of the wall is a further large area of blocking, again west of the present window but rather amorphous and lying beneath a horizontal line of weathered Old Red Sandstone rubble. The north door lies in the central bay between the two western windows; it is medieval in origin but had been blocked for some time prior to its reopening, and rebuild, in 1862 (shown as such on Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1390 & 1993/71). It has a 2-centred surround in yellow oolite, roll- and cavetto-moulded into 2 orders with a drip-mould in the form of a scroll bearing the date ‘1860’.

Internally, the north wall features 2 tomb recesses. In the central bay, east of the north door, is a tomb recess from c.1400 and contemporary with the wall itself, with a crocketed, pinnacled, cusped ogival surround in yellow oolite, which interrupts the adjacent window-sill and is in rather poor condition; the limestone effigy, of a recumbent female in 14th century costume, in similar poor condition, was probably relocated from the nave but was turned to face west in the late 19th century (Thomas, 1984, 12). The second recess lies west of the door and is from later in the 15th century, having an uncusped, 4-centred pinnacled surround with a quatrefoliated spandrel, in yellow oolite that is similarly in rather poor condition; it contains an oolite chest that features a moulded cusped arcade and may be derived from a different (earlier?) tomb, on which is mounted a male gisant effigy of an unknown ecclesiastic (possibly John Denby, d.1499), also in poor condition.

The west, gable wall has a slightly lower apex than that of the nave; the upstand, from 1866?, lies above an earlier, still lower gable line. It exhibits a joint to the nave west wall. It is pierced by a large, 5 light window with uncusped, intersecting tracery in a 2-centred surround and plain drip-mould, all in yellow oolite from 1860 and shown in a drawing of 1862 (Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1993/71); it replaced  a 5-light window with a 4-centred head, of unknown date, the lower half of which was blocked by 1838 (Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1390) but with an outer arch that can still be seen above the present window.

The ?oak roof has collar-rafter trusses arch-braced from wall-plates, and boarding, 19th century but possibly later than the re-roofing of the church in the 1840s.

The aisle is floored as the nave, with 18th-19th century memorial slabs. There are also a number of 17th-19th century wall-monuments and tablets.

 The north porch

 The north porch was added in 1862-66 and does not appear to occupy the site of an earlier building. It is constructed from squared and coursed limestone rubble with stepped angle buttresses on the external northern corners, and lacks internal plaster. The contemporary door has a 2-centred surround in limestone, roll- and cavetto-moulded into 4 orders, on cylindrical, attached, double-nookshafts with acanthus-moulded capitals; there is a 2-centred drip-mould on stiff-leaf corbels. In both side walls is a contemporary window featuring 2 cusped ogival lights with neo-Perpendicular tracery in a segmental surround.

The softwood roof, similarly form 1862-66, lacks trusses, all common rafters having collars, with matchboarding. The quarry-tiled floor is also from 1862-66 and is laid directly on the substrate.

 The south aisle

The gabled south aisle is wider than both the nave and the north aisle. It communicates with the nave through an arcade of five wide, 2-centred arches which do not follow the spatial rhythm of the north aisle arcade, and which, in their present form, are from the late 15th century (see Structural Development below); the arches are roll- and cavetto-moulded into 3 orders, with foliated abaci and plain tori, and feature, to the north, hoodmoulds on human mask stops, all in yellow oolite. Except for the western arch, which is weathered, all have been subsequently restored and the easternmost arch, which is higher, was entirely rebuilt in 1828 (Pembs. R. O., HPR/78/57); there is a rounded, projecting offset towards the nave over the unrestored western arch, above which the wall is thicker – representing the pre-arcade thickness?.

The east wall was originally the side wall of an earlier south transept (see Structural Development below), which is represented by the thicker, lower section of the wall and the deeply chamfered western half of the tower arch which appears to have led into a skew-passage prior to the addition of the tower. The plain offset back to the tower wall-face may have supported a rood-loft or gallery; the thinner, upper half displays a vertical stop which represents the projecting tower stair turret, into which there is a plain square headed doorway with a sill at offset/?loft level, blocked in the 19th century. When the aisle was rebuilt in its present form the southern half of the wall was thickened externally, in large, squared limestone rubble, with a joint that is visible from the south; it exhibits a blind, external opening near the south-east corner with a square surround and label on human mask stops, all in weathered limestone from c.1600, in situ?. Internally, an unusual ‘squinch’ offset lies at eaves level in the south-east corner.

The south wall has an external corbel table at eaves level, like that in the north aisle and south chapel and also from 1885?. It is the product of a number of builds (see Structural Development below). It now features 3 large windows like those in the north aisle and similarly from the 1862-66 restoration. An area of ?contemporary infill is visible above the windows; that of the westernmost window fills the 4-centred arch of an earlier window of unknown date, which lay somewhat to the west of the present window and the western jamb of which, in oolite ashlar, is represented internally by an offset. The south door lies in the central bay between the two western windows; it has a tall, rounded 2-centred rear-arch from the later 13th century when this bay formed an earlier south porch (see Structural Development below) but the segmental outer arch was rebuilt at a lower level in the 18th century (Thomas, 1984, 16) when the present 2-centred surround was inserted. A simple, single lancet lies above the door, which also belonged to the earlier porch. Beneath the westernmost window is a vertical joint representing the south-west corner of this earlier porch, to the west of which the lowest three facework courses are in large, squared rubble. Further west still are 2 small openings, lying one above the other; the lower is blocked and represented by a square surround in chamfered Old Red Sandstone from c.1600, while the upper opening has a square embrasure and with a wide single lancet in chamfered Old Red Sandstone (re)built in 1862-66. The lower half of the south-east corner of the aisle is chamfered internally.

Internally, a plain, rectangular recess for a medieval piscina lies beneath the easternmost south wall window; the east bay of the south aisle was possibly a former chantry chapel called ‘The Altar of Jesus’ (Thomas, 1984, 21) the foundation of which may have been early (Walker, 1978, 303). It was dissolved in 1545-47.

The west, gable wall has large, limestone quoins. The north half of the wall is continuous with the nave west wall and represents the west wall of an earlier, narrower south aisle, contemporary with the nave, the south-west corner of which is marked by the vertical joint beneath the aisle west window (see Structural Development below). This earlier aisle was lit by a window of which the segmental head, and the blocking, can be seen externally north of the present window. There is a second vertical joint just north of the south-west corner which, unless it merely represents a break between the construction of the present aisle south and west walls, cannot readily be explained. The present west wall window has 5 lights with very early neo-Perpendicular cusped tracery in a 2-centred surround and plain drip-mould, from before 1838 (shown as at present in Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1390, from 1838), but after 1822 when a drawing by Charles Norris shows a 4-light window, of early 19th century date?, with simple, uncusped tracery (NLW, Original Drawings, Pemb. B, MSS 15023, 27).

The oak roof has collar-rafter trusses, arch-braced from the wall-head, from the late 15th century (Thomas, 1984, 15) and with ?contemporary boarding.

The aisle is floored as the nave, with some 18th-19th century memorial slabs. There are also a number of 18th-19th century wall-monuments and tablets.

The south porch

The south porch is from c.1500 in a severe style, of large, very roughly squared and coursed limestone rubble. The main door is in the south wall, but there is also an entrance in each side wall. The main door has a wide 2-centred surround in yellow oolite, with shallow roll- and cavetto-moulded divisions into 3 orders, and a 2-centred drip-mould on out-turned stops, all stylistically derived from the nave west door. The side wall doorways are similar but lower, and wider. Above the west door is a small, square-headed doorway that may be inserted; it may have led to a ‘parvis’ chamber in the roof-space above the present vault. A crenellated parapet runs around all 3 faces of the porch, the central merlon in the south wall rising as a shallow gable; the parapet was ‘renewed’ in 1726 (Thomas, 1984, 16) and lies on a heavily restored string-course in yellow oolite.

The porch has a segmental barrel vault from c.1500. The post-medieval flagged floor is laid directly on the substrate.

 The vestry

The 2-storeyed vestry was added in 1885 (NLW, SD/F/648) replacing an earlier 19th century building, of similar dimensions, which is shown on an estate map of c.1850 (NLW, Picton Castle Colln., Vol. 4, 109). It has snecked limestone rubble facework and is entered from the south chapel through the doorway described above, and from the churchyard through a doorway in its south wall, with a segmental-headed surround and drip-mould, both are from 1885 and open onto a landing of the internal timber staircase connecting the 2 storeys.

The upper vestry is also entered from the chancel through the doorway described above. It is lit by a large, 3-light window in the east, gable wall, with neo-Perpendicular tracery identical to that in the north chapel east window, and a 2-centred drip-mould on simple stops, from 1885; a single cusped lancet in the gable apex, also from 1885, lights the roof-space. There is a disused fireplace in the north wall. The softwood roof is from 1885, as is the suspended timber floor between the upper and lower vestries.

The lower vestry is partly below ground level. It too is lit by a window in the east wall, set low down and comprising 3 cusped, ogival lights with pierced spandrels in a square surround with a label, all in grey oolite and similarly from 1885; there is a blind, square external recess to the south, function?. The external south-east corner is chamfered at this level. The floor is laid directly on the substrate, at a higher level than the floor of the chancel crypt.

Structural development

This large church has a very complex structural history, which has to a large extent been clarified by Thomas. The chronology adopted here is largely that of Thomas, 1966 and 1984. Amendments from the slightly different sequence in Thomas, 1964 are noted; further alterations are those of the present author. In summary, there were 3 main building phases: the late 13th century, c.1400 and the mid-late 15th century.

The nave may be fundamentally 13th century. Also present at an early date was a short chancel and a narrow south aisle now represented by the northern half of the west wall of the present south aisle. To this had been added, by 1300, a south transept, with a skew-passage, represented by the east bay of the present south aisle, and a south porch, the south wall and doorway of which is represented by the south door and adjoining masonry of the present south aisle. The chancel had been lengthened and there may also have been a contemporary north transept on the site of the present north aisle east bay.

Thomas suggests that the tower is also 13th century; however, its overall morphology is in the tradition of the ‘mainstream’ Pembrokeshire towers of the later medieval period, its features are similar to the later 14th century tower at Haverfordwest St Martin, Pembs., and the openings, if not other structural details, are not unlike that of the tower at Kidwelly, Carms., of c.1400. Furthermore, the 3 arches into the tower ground floor, from the chancel, south aisle and south chapel, all appear to be primary pre-supposing the existence of a south chapel. The present south chapel can be dated by its arcade to c.1400 and, though divided from the tower by a vertical joint, may be broadly contemporary. The spire may be also be contemporary with the tower, being similar to that at Bridgewater dated to 1367 (Thomas, 1964, 322). The north aisle can also be dated, by its arcade and ?in situ tomb recess, to c.1400; it absorbed any earlier north transept.

Its arcade dates the rebuilding of the south aisle in its present form to the mid-late 15th century, when the chancel was once more extended eastwards to reach its present length and the chancel arch was rebuilt; the present oak roof is contemporary and can be dated by its boss inscriptions to 1461-75 (ibid.). The north chapel can be dated by its arcade and the arch into the north aisle to the late 15th century and it may be broadly contemporary with the effigy, from 1482, lying within. The nave and south aisle roofs are from a similar date.

The nave west door can be dated stylistically to the very late 15th century; it is not known whether there was a pre-existing west door. The south porch is similar, but its detail suggests a stylistic derivation from the west door of a slightly later date, c.1500.

A loft-chapel was established in the chancel at an unknown date; the windows lighting it are, however, from c.1600. The chancel crypt lights are from the early 17th century.

The vestry and north porch are both late 19th century (see below).

A building said to represent the former west porch was demolished in 1831 (Thomas, 1984, 16); an inscription, now in the south chapel, was apparently recovered from the porch and bears the date 1496 (Thomas, op. cit., 9). The area was excavated in 1993 (Williams and Brennan, 1994, 26-9) but the evidence obtained poses more questions than it answers. The porch has, on the basis of documentary evidence, long been supposed to have been cruciform, stylistically similar to – and contemporary with – the nave west door. However, drawings made in the early 19th century, after its conversion into a schoolroom (eg. NLW, Original Drawings, Pemb. B, MSS 15023, 27), show a rectangular, east-west 2-storey building detached from the church. Excavation revealed the corner of such a structure, connected by a former narrow passage to the west door, the mouldings of which it obscured and with which it is thus unlikely to be contemporary.

There is little evidence from the earlier post-medieval period at St Mary, Tenby (but see below for fittings). Expenditure during the 18th-early 19th century chiefly concerned minor repairs to the tower and spire (Pembs. R. O., HPR/78/48 and HPR/78/57). However, the south porch parapet was apparently ‘renewed’ in 1726 (Thomas, 1984, 16) and the south door was rebuilt during the same century. Two phases of lean-to buildings against the chancel north wall survive as structural evidence, but the buildings had gone by the mid 19th century; the north door had also been blocked. The former west porch had, by the early 19th century, been converted into a schoolroom (see above), demolished in 1831.

More work appears to have been undertaken during the earlier 19th century. The eastern arch of the south aisle arcade was entirely rebuilt in 1828 (Pembs. R. O., HPR/78/57) and the odd arched buttress against the north aisle/north chapel junction, of medieval origin?, was rebuilt in the 1830s (ibid.). The north and south chapels, and the north aisle, were at least partly reroofed during the 1840s (ibid.) when a timber west gallery was (re)built. Contemporary prints, nearly all taken from the north or west, depict these sides of the church as being fenestrated with ‘Tudor’-style windows with square heads and labels, or with 4-centred heads; whilst there may have been a campaign of refenestration in c.1600 it seems more likely that the square windows, at least, were insertions from the earlier 19th century. The south aisle west window is an early example of good neo-Perpendicular tracery, dating from 1822-38 (NLW, Original Drawings, Pemb. B, MSS 15023, 27; Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1390); The mid 19th century chancel east window was an odd feature in idiosyncratic, broadly neo-Gothic style (Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1753); it was replaced by the present window in 1855 (Thomas, 1984, 7) when the present south window was probably built replacing a square window. The present north aisle west window had been inserted by 1862 (Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1993/71). A vestry had been established on the site of the present building by c.1850 (NLW, Picton Castle Colln., Vol. 4, 109).

The church was partly restored in 1862-66 (Pembs. R. O., HPR/78/58), when the north door was unblocked and the north porch added; the architect responsible is not known. The north and south aisles were refenestrated with the present windows. The timber west gallery was removed. Underfloor heating was installed. The church was refloored, replastered and reseated.

There was a second restoration in 1885. A faculty application was made for the construction of the present vestry and the conversion of the chancel crypt into a boilerhouse and coalhouse, to the designs of the architect J. P. Seddon (NLW, SD/F/648). This was not granted, but work was nonetheless undertaken in a modified form, and to the same designs. The crypt conversion did not go ahead, but the vestry was built. A window was inserted into the north chapel east wall, hitherto blind (Thomas, 1984, 9) and its north wall was refenestrated; the south chapel was also refenestrated. The church was reseated again in 1903.

A major refurbishment of the 1960s exposed the chancel clerestorey windows, a small light in the south chapel south wall and a lancet over the south porch, which were reopened and restored (NMR, Pe 0721-0775). The medieval roofs were restored, particular attention being given to the chancel roof bosses. The upper part of the spire was entirely rebuilt (Thomas, 1984, 16).

The tower was repointed in 1981(Pembs. R. O., HPR/78/124).

The chancel altar table is 15th century, and was restored to use in 1889 (Thomas, 1984, 7); the remainder of the altar fittings are from the 1960s. The octagonal, panelled ?rosewood pulpit bears the date 1634, and there is a Jacobean oak chair in the south aisle.  The brass weathercock on the spire may be from 1715 (Thomas, 1984, 16) and the sundial over the south porch door is form 1726 (ibid.), restored in 1903. The doors in the south doorway are from the 18th century (ibid.). The Vowles organ in the tower ground floor is from 1869 but has subsequently been enlarged (Thomas, op. cit., 15). A clock was present in 1650 (Thomas, op. cit., 18) but the present tower clock dates from 1889. The neo-Perpendicular, oak north chapel screen is from 1892 (Thomas, op. cit., 8); its oak altar fittings, pews and panelled dado are from 1966 (Thomas, op. cit., 11). The free-standing oak stalls, and the similar pews?, are from 1903 (Thomas, op. cit., 8). The altar fittings in the south aisle are 20th century. The oak, glazed lobby around the nave west door, and the similar panelled dado either side and extending into the aisles, are from 1965, as is the neo-Perpendicular oak tower screen. The similar lobby around the north door is dated 1988; the south door lobby may be contemporary.

There are 2 fonts. The main font, in the north aisle, is from 1887 (Pembs. R. O., HPR/78/59) and has an octagonal bowl and stem in yellow oolite, both with panelled neo-Gothic recesses and figure sculpture; there is a contemporary oak, neo-Perpendicular font-cover in the form of a spire, with a hoist. The second font lies within the south chapel and has an octagonal bowl and a slender octagonal stem, all in oolite from the 15th century and with notches for a canopy; it formerly stood near the main west door (Thomas, 1984, 9).

There were 5 bells in 1659 (Thomas, 1984, 18), recast several times before 1789 by, inter alia, Rudhall of Gloucester. There is now a peal of 8 bells in the tower, including 4 of the 6 bells cast in 1789 by Bilbie of Chewstoke, Somerset. One of the 18th century bells was recast in 1888 when 2 treble bells were added; the remainder was recast in 1951 when the bells were rehung (ibid.).

A bell lies loose in the south chapel, inscribed ‘SANCTA ANNA’ and with the initials of the Bristol founder R. T., from c.1500 (Thomas, 1984, 9).

Part of a damaged female effigy, medieval, and a piece of timber which may be derived from a Jesse Tree, also lie loose in the south chapel.

The church was Grade A listed in 1998.

Grade 1 Listed in 2022.

First listed in 1951. Last amended in 2002.

Reasons for listing: Graded I as an outstanding late medieval church with exceptional roofs and monuments.

 The churchyard formerly contained a complex of late medieval buildings, the remains of some of which survive. To the south of the church are the remains of the Town Hall and gaol (Dyfed PRNs 3712 and 11615) including the remains of an arch into the yard. To the west of the church are the remains of the east wall of a building known as the ‘College’ (Dyfed PRN 3708) which probably represents the remains of a college of chantry priests (Thomas, 1984, 21), there having been at least 3 chantry chapels in the late medieval church, which were dissolved in 1545-7 (Walker, 1978, 303). Records exist of other buildings in the north-west area of the churchyard, including the medieval ‘White’s House’ to which a surviving cellar (Dyfed PRN 11603) may relate (Williams and Brennan, 1994, 27). The remains of an undated building, possibly with a fireplace, were excavated in 1993 some 7m west of the north-west corner of the present church (Williams and Brennan, op. cit., 28).


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

St Mary, Tenby, was a parish church during the post-conquest period (Rees, 1932), of the medieval Deanery of Pembroke. Its foundation date is unknown (Walker, 1978, 301) but it was probably established by the 12th century. The rectory was a sinecure normally held by absentee pluralists including Giraldus Cambrensis (ibid.). The church was granted, at an unknown date, to the Priory of St Nicholas at Monkton (ibid.).

Monkton Priory was suppressed as an alien priory by Henry V, and the advowson of Tenby fell to the crown. It was granted, in 1440, to the Earl of Pembroke (ibid.) who in turn granted it to St Alban’s Abbey in 1442. The gift was confirmed in 1445 conditional upon the appointment of a vicar (ibid.); however the late 15th century Earl of Pembroke, Jasper Tudor, took a great interest in the town of Tenby and its civic enhancement and his personal influence may lie behind the contemporary development of the church. At the dissolution the advowson returned to the crown. There were at least 3 chantry chapels within the church (see above), 2 of which were late 15th century foundations; all were dissolved in 1545-47 but one chantry priest remained as a curate (Walker, op. cit., 304).

In 1833 the benefice, which was in the patronage of the crown, consisted of a consolidated rectory, rated in the king’s books at £26 10s 10d, and a discharged vicarage, rated in the king’s books at £13 6s 8d (Lewis, 1833).

In 1998 St Mary, Tenby, was a parish church. The Rectorial Benefice of Tenby included Gumfreston and Penally (Benefice 702) in the Archdeaconry of St Davids, Rural Deanery of Narberth (St Davids, 1997-8).


 Map Evidence

NLW Colln., D495, Estate Map, 1811.

NLW, Ordnance Survey 1:2500, First Edition, Pembs. Sheet XLI.11.

NLW, Picton Castle Colln., Vol. 4, Estate Map Book, 109, c.1850.

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

 Pictorial sources

 Haverfordwest Library, Prints and Pictures, 1740 (church from north by S. and N. Buck).

 Haverfordwest Library, Prints and Pictures, early 19th century (church from north by John Fenton).

 Haverfordwest Library, Prints and Pictures, early 19th century (church from south-east).

NLW, Original Drawings,  Pemb. B, MSS 15023, 27, 1822 (church from south-west).

NLW, Original Drawings,  Pemb. B, MSS 15024, 12, 1822 (church from west).

NLW, Original Drawings,  Pemb. B, PB 2805, T1/2, n.d. (chancel interior).

Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1510, 1838 (church from north-west).

Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1993/71, 1862 (church from north-west).

Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1610, n.d. (St Anne’s Chapel interior).

Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1985/44, n.d. (chancel interior).

Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1753, mid 19th century (church from north-east).

Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1358, c.1809 (‘College’ by Charles Norris).

Tenby Museum & Art Gallery, 1983/1640, c.1809 (‘College’ by Charles Norris).

NMR, Pe 0174-0211, Photographs of church, c.1941 (in National Monuments Record, Aberystwyth).

NMR, Pe 0721-0775, Photographs of church during restoration, c.1960 (in National Monuments Record, Aberystwyth).

NMR, 1981/95/5-6, Photographs of tower during repointing (in National Monuments Record, Aberystwyth).

NMR, 711103-4, 712545-50, Photographs of church fittings etc. (in National Monuments Record, Aberystwyth).

Church in Wales Records

Bartosch & Stokes, 1995, Quinquennial Report, Tenby St Mary.

St Davids, 1997-8, Diocesan Year Book.

 NLW, SD/F/648, Faculty – Rebuilding east end, 1883 (not granted).

NLW, SD/F/649, Faculty – Chancel screen, 1891. 

NLW, SD/F/650, Faculty – Holy table, 1898.

 NLW, SD/F/651, Faculty – Memorial tablet, 1917.

NLW, SD/F/652, Faculty – Removal of body, 1925.

NLW, SD/F/653, Faculty – Memorial window, 1927.

NLW, SD/F/654, Faculty – Electric lighting, 1930.

Parish Records, Pembrokeshire Record Office, Haverfordwest

HPR/78 – Tenby St Mary:-

HPR/78/48 – Churchwarden’s Accounts, 1723-1808.

HPR/78/57 – Vestry Minute Book,  1791-1841.

HPR/78/58 – Vestry Minute Book,  1841-1883.

HPR/78/59 – Vestry Minute Book,  1884-1949.

HPR/78/64 – Parish Register,  1897-1906.

HPR/78/123 – Architect’s specifications, c.1980.

HPR/78/124 – Architect’s specifications, 1980.

HPR/78/125 – Building Committee Account Book, 1883-5.

HPR/78/136 – Correspondence re: church bells, 1937-51.

HPR/78/139 – Archdeacon’s Certificate for stall bookboards, 1984.

HPR/78/141 – Churchwarden’s Accounts, 1916-1950.

HPR/78/156 – Account for ironwork at church, 1750.

Unpublished Accounts

Thomas, W. G., 1964, Pe 1125, Tenby St Mary (in National Monuments Record, Aberystwyth).

Printed Accounts

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

Anon., n.d., St Mary’s, Tenby: a Short Guide.

Cadw, 1977, Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest (Tenby).

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

Freeman, E. A., 1852, ‘Architectural Antiquities of South Pembrokeshire’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. III, Second Series.

Green, F., 1914, ‘Pembrokeshire Parsons’, West Wales Historical Records Vol. IV.

Laws, E., and Edwards, E. A., 1909, ‘Monumental Effigies of Pembrokeshire’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. IX, Sixth Series.

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

RCAHM, 1925, Inventory: Pembrokeshire.

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

Soulsby, I., 1983, the Towns of Medieval Wales.

Thomas, W. G., 1964, ‘Tenby: St Mary’s Church’, Archaeol. Journ. Vol. CXIX.

Thomas, W. G., 1966, ‘The Architectural History of St Mary’s Church, Tenby’, Archaeol. Cambrensis, Vol. CXIV.

Thomas, W. G., 1984, Tenby Parish Church.

Walker, R. F., 1978, ‘Tenby’, in Griffiths, R. A. (ed.), The Boroughs of Medieval Wales.

Williams, G., and Brennan, D., 1994, ‘Excavations outside St Mary’s Church, Tenby’, Archaeol. In Wales, Vol. 34.

Updated – February 2022 – PKR


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