The Augustinian priory was founded around 1200 by Robert FitzRichard, on the outskirts of the important market town of Haverfordwest. In addition to land, Robert donated the income to the Augustinians from three town churches: St. Thomas, St. Mary and St. Martin, in which the brothers were to conduct pastoral activity. Because the area received by the monks was wet and swampy, the construction of the monastery was preceded by a fairly long period of preparation combined with, among others, drying and securing the area against flooding.
At the end of the thirteenth century, the monastery already had eight subordinate churches, in addition to Haverfordwest, temples at Camros, Llanstadwel, St. Ishmaels, Dale, and Haroldston. It is not known whether they exercised direct control over the more distant ones or by the help of subordinate vicars, although thanks to that the brothers were closer to the local community and enjoyed great popularity, both among Anglo-Normans and native Welsh. At least half of the monks living in Haverfordwest also came from the latter. In addition, the monastery’s income was increased by quickly obtaining the right to organize a fair in Pembroke. Perhaps too much success caused that when in 1284 Archbishop Pecham of Canterbury visited the Welsh monasteries, he criticized the lack of discipline and poor expenditure management. He ordered especially to refrain from swearing and general misconduct. Less meat was to be eaten, and meals were to eat together in the refectory with the prior, except for visits by important guests.
Until the beginning of the 16th century, the convent flourished, was expanded, and fortunately avoided major shocks. This was probably due to the monks’ non-involvement in the Welsh rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr in the early 15th century, thus avoiding damages and post-uprising repression. The end of the monastery came in 1536. As a result of Henry VIII’s edict, it was dissolved along with all other convents not earning more than £ 200 (Augustinians from Haverfordwest had £ 133 annual income), and its land and buildings became private property. One of the owners was Sir John Perot, who deepened the ruin of the buildings, using a stone from the priory to repair his home. Subsequently, the priory’s areas remained largely unused and neglected until 1982, when they were transferred to state care and intensive excavation and conservation works were carried out.
The priory was built on the marshy area of the west bank of the Cleddau River, outside of the Haverfordwest town. The main element of the priory was the 13th-century church, erected on a cruciform plan, with a 15th-century tower erected above the nave just in front of the intersection with the transepts. It was a single-nave building, although a northern aisle could have been added in the late Middle Ages. The nave was forty-five meters long and was separated from the choir and chancel by a rood screen. Unusually, the main entrance to the church was on the north side, due to the slope of the area in the west and the river in the east.
To the south of the church there were priory buildings, located on three sides of the courtyard surrounded by cloisters. A narrow sacristy touched the south transept, and further to the south there was a rectangular chapter house, to which ran a magnificent, carved portal. In the 15th century, the chapter house was rebuilt and crowned with a vault. Next, it was most likely a dormitory (bedchamber) and a small building with latrines. The remains of a rectangular building, located at a certain distance in the south, can be relics of infirmary. The southern range near the patio was a refectory, place where monks ate their meals. The entrance to it was on the west side, where there was also a long stone tank in which the monks could wash their hands. To the south of the refectory there were utility buildings, probably a kitchen and a buttery. There was also a western range with an unknown destination, and on the eastern side there were extensive monastery gardens.
To this day, a part of the south-eastern corner of the nave and fragments of the transept of the church have been preserved, both almost to the height of the roofs and a small fragment of the western range of the priory. Only the foundation parts are visible from the other elements of the convent. The ruins are open to visitors.
Burton J., Stöber K., Abbeys and Priories of Medieval Wales, Chippenham 2015.
Website ancientmonuments.uk, Haverfordwest Priory.
Website coflein.gov.uk, Haverfordwest Priory, Priory of St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr.