The building of the stone defensive walls in Tenby began in the first half of the 13th century on the initiative of the earls of Pembroke, the Marshal family, or slightly later in the 80s and 90s of the 13th century. They certainly replaced the earlier wood and earth fortifications from the 12th century. The construction was probably completed during the time of William de Valence, the first Earl of Pembroke, after the town was sacked in 1260 by the Welsh prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, although still in 1328 there were seven-year murage related to further work on the town’s fortifications.
In the mid-15th century, Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford, ordered a thorough repair and modernization of the town walls. They were raised and widened to allow faster movement of the defenders. The fortifications were also repaired in 1588, as evidenced by a commemorative plaque. These works were certainly carried out due to the threat of the Spanish Armada.
The demolition of the fortifications, and in particular the town gates, began at the end of the 18th century to facilitate the increasing town traffic, but yet since the civil war of the 17th century, like the entire town, they were in a state of decline. The sieges of Tenby in 1644 and 1648 contributed to the destructions.
The perimeter of the defensive walls was erected on a plan similar to a triangle, filling the headland of the land cutting into the Bae Caerfyrddin Bay, with an extension towards the east to the castle, which was located at the very tip of the peninsula. From the north, the defensive circuit was secured with coastal cliffs, similarly in the south it bordered the seashore. A long straight curtain was directed towards the land on the west side, which was the most heavily fortified as the most threatened.
The wall was built of stone rubble. In the 15th century, it was raised by 1.5 meters (to about 7 meters in height) and widened by 1.8 meters from the town side, thanks to which it had a wall-walk based on arcades. It was protected by a battlement mounted on the breastwork supported by corbels, in the merlons of which there were arrowslits. The four-sided openings in the lower part of the breastwork (parapet) indicate that at least in the periods of danger, the wall was equipped with a hoarding porch. The perimeter of the walls at the end of the Middle Ages was reinforced with about 26 towers: four-sided, cylindrical and horseshoe-shaped in plan, most densely placed in the long western curtain.
Originally, four gates led to the town: the Great Gate, also known as Carmarthen (Great Gate) on the north-west side, the south gate, the west gate today known as the Five Arches Gate, and the Quay Gate. The west gate had an extended barbican from around 1320, closed with a portcullis, lowered in the portal located right next to the curtain of the wall. The outer defense zone was a moat, widened in the 15th century to 9.1 meters wide.
The fortifications in Tenby are one of the best-preserved medieval town walls in Great Britain. It has survived a long fragment of defensive walls on the south-west section of the circuit (South Parady Street) along with six towers and a gate’s barbican. The latter is today the most distinctive element of the fortifications, although the passages pierced in it, all but one (side one), were created in the 20th century in order to improve communication.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Salter M., Medieval walled towns, Malvern 2013.
The Royal Commission on The Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions in Wales and Monmouthshire. An Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire, VII County of Pembroke, London 1925.