St Mary’s Church
St. Mary's Church, c. 1980
The size and position of St Mary’s Church has meant that it has always been a dominant building in the town. The church was built in about 1200. At this time the town was still being formed but its development was even by this point extremely successful.
The Flemings were noted craftsmen and all important trade was ensuring that the town as a river port was already attracting sufficient wealth to support three large churches.
St Mary’s isn’t the oldest, that honour belongs to St Martin’s, but the three were all built within perhaps one hundred years of each other. Adding even further importance and status to this is the association that the church had for centuries with the Town Council.
St Mary’s is often described as being of cathedral proportions and with its attached wealth of history is acknowledged as being one of the most important churches in Wales.
All of this is remarkable in that the parish that St Mary’s serves is the smallest in the country. It consists of an area of about thirty acres and embraces just a few streets in Haverfordwest. And yet the church would have been overflowing every Sunday, the reason being that the parish area, encompassed the important thoroughfares of the town where landed gentry and merchants had their town houses. These were always staffed with large numbers of domestic servants who were obliged to attend church with their masters and mistresses.
Many churches have at one time or another had comprehensive structural rebuilds but St Mary’s stands out as being, in the main, original. The main entrance was on the Dew Street side through the south porch, although for many years the north porch (which until the mid 19th century had the Town Council’s meeting room above it) has been found to be more convenient.
Until 1802 St Mary’s tower boasted a spire. This was however of poor construction being of timber covered with lead and a structural survey deemed it necessary to be taken down. Various grandiose replacement designs were commissioned but were never acted on. Nevertheless, this magnificent 13th century tower remains a completely magical place and still houses eight bells, each with an inscription and the clock that has been in place since the mid 17th century.
Inside the huge church there is a wealth of architecture, plaques, memorials and glass that is quite breathtaking. The stained glass windows aren’t old. The oldest depicting St Phillip and St Luke, was commissioned in 1843 and is in the style of colour used during the medieval period. At the point that it was installed as a memorial to Rev James Thomas, Headmaster of Haverfordwest Grammar School, it created controversy which hinged on the reintroduction of such colour and iconography being seen by some as a return to High Church and Popery.
The huge east window was created in 1893 by architect Charles Kemp who was the foremost 19th century designer of stained glass windows and used Whitefriars Glassworks in London until opening his own factory. Kemp’s windows are hugely esteemed throughout the country and St Mary’s is proud to have nine; there are only ninety in Wales.
The church organ dates from 1737 and is the oldest church organ in Wales that is still in use. Various repairs and renovations over the past three centuries have resulted in it now having two thousand pipes that allow it to have four ‘voices’. It is one of the finest instruments in Wales. The wedding and funeral music of many of those people commemorated by plaques on the walls all around the church would have been played on this organ.
Memorial plaques date to the early 17th century. The oldest is to Elizabeth Knethell (on the rear wall) who died on 28 November 1609.
Restoration projects have been huge and expensive; the new roof in 2005 costing £700,000.
From the churchyard outside the porch you have an elevated view of the next series of historic buildings in St Mary’s Street which can be reached by going through the medieval arched gate on your left and down the steps. Opposite you, at the bottom of Tower Hill, is...