Modern Times 1900 - the Present

County Hall: new bastion of the local authority
County Hall: new bastion of the local authority
See: Pembrokeshire County Council

One hundred years ago Haverfordwest was very much as William Owen had left it. The first forty years of the 20th century brought a dribble of changes. A monstrous cinema, in almost luminous red brick, was built on the river bank adjacent to Owen’s New Bridge. A new Post Office, solidly Classical in style, went up in Quay Street. A few filling stations appeared, and some housing on the perimeter - but little else. In the gloom of 1940, the writer Evelyn Waugh (whose battalion was billeted briefly in Haverfordwest) recorded in his diary that it was ‘a town of great beauty’.

The second half of the 20th century was less kind. In the aftermath of World War 2 minds were focused on recovery and development. Conservation was not a concept much regarded, and ignorance was widespread. When the local authority acquired Foley House in the 1950s it replaced Nash’s stucco exterior - with roughcast!

High Street is much as it was in Owen's day
The main entrance to Pembrokeshire College
See: Pembrokeshire College

Holes began to appear in the town. Kensington House was demolished. The old Butter and Fish Market also disappeared, along with 18th century warehouses on the Old Quay. The Little Theatre was torn down - so was the luminous red cinema which, although certainly an eyesore, was valued for having the only large auditorium in the town.

The fine old Swan Hotel, on a sensitive site at the north end of Bridge Street, made way for a retail outlet of unsurpassed ugliness. The former Grammar School was replaced by a bizarre County Library. The Churnworks gave place to roadworks. (In spite of vast expenditure on bypass roads, the traffic problem seems insoluble.)

The prize for inept development in the postwar period goes to the telephone exchange, situated uncomfortably close to the castle. Tesco’s aircraft hanger is mercifully hidden away. Not so the new Market building which obtrudes over the river.

On the opposite bank, the Riverside Quay pedestrianised shopping development (with its multi-storey carpark) has once more shifted the commercial centre of the town, down the hill from St Mary’s. This private sector project tries - by variations in the roofline, for example - to fit into the townscape. But it is unlikely to endure as long as the buildings it has displaced.

The same reservation applies to County Hall, home of Pembrokeshire County Council, whose massive bastions are built on infilled land that was once occupied by shipping. On the far side of the town, Pembrokeshire College is the only new building that rivals it in scale. The interior of the college is spacious and imaginative.