Medieval Carmarthen Ysgol Dyffryn Taf Tony Price – History Department
Although not medieval, John Speed’s map of 1610 gives us a fair idea of how Medieval Carmarthen would have looked as the layout of the town had changed little between Medieval and Stuart times. The Middle Ages The Tudor Age The Stuart Age c.1000 - 1485 c.1485 - 1603 c. 1603 - 1714
You are about to take a tour of Medieval Carmarthen. On the next page ‘Click’ on the labels to discover more about that particular part of the town. Modern photographs have been added so that you can compare Medieval Carmarthen with the town as it is today.
The Bridge The Keep King Street Quay Warehouses The Church Quay Street Dark Gate The Mill The Friary Lammas Street END
The Keep The first castle on the site was a wooden motte and bailey built in 1109. The original wooden castle from Henry I’s reign was rebuilt in stone in the 13th century. The shell keep was roofed in stone in the reign of Edward I, and was his centre of government for South Wales. It is possible to climb to the top and see the modern view over Carmarthen.
King Street King Street developed outside the original walls of New Carmarthen, but the upper part of the street had been within the Roman town and was part of Old Carmarthen. (New Carmarthen refers to the town that grew up around the castle, whereas Old Carmarthen refers to the settlement that survived from the Roman Town, and was treated as a completely separate town until they were joined in the reign of Henry VIII.) The later walls, which enclosed the expanded New Carmarthen, were built in the reign of Henry V and ended at the far end of the street. Modern alleys such as Jackson‘s Lane still lead off it and give a good idea of the narrowness of the Medieval streets. The street is named after one of Carmarthen’s early medieval inhabitants William Kyng.
St. Mary’s Church Today’s Guildhall dominates the central square of Carmarthen as did the old St. Mary’s Church. The Church dates probably from the 1240’s and was nicknamed the Rood Church as a Rood ( a cross) stood outside. The street to the right is still called St. Mary’s Street. It was a rich church where people paid to have masses sung for the souls of their dead relatives. It was dissolved in the reign of Edward VI as part of the Protestant reforms.
Dark Gate This was the gateway to the town for travellers and merchants travelling from the west, and the main route to the cultivated fields to the west of the town. It would be approached over a small bridge over the Wynveth, but the stream was covered over at the end of the 18th century, and a covered wagon way, now Blue Street, was built down to the quay.
Lammas Street There were just a few houses in what is now Lammas St. The Lammas fields were thrown open to the people for grazing on Lammas Day (August 1st). The Welsh name for the street is Heol Awst(August Street).
The Bridge There have been a succession of wooden bridges on or near this site since Roman times. It marked the lowest crossing point of the Towy prior to the coming of the railway. The first stone bridge was built in 1233 with the current stone bridge dating from 1938.
Quay Street In Tudor times, the fashionable merchants’ houses would have lined the street. The old wooden houses have been rebuilt since the 18th century, but the street still follows the same line, from the town centre down to the quayside. It was paved in 1770.
The Mill This was powered by the water from the Wynveth stream which now flows under Blue Street. The site was close to the quay so that the grain could be exported. In 1251 Henry III granted Henry le Arblaster the right to divert water to the Wynveth stream to power his mill in exchange for a third of the profits.
Quay Warehouses Ships would have unloaded their cargoes from all over Europe at the quay, and the goods stored in warehouses. The actual warehouses were probably a little further upstream than this current building, which used to be the Heritage Centre. In 1324 all ships capable of carrying 40 tons or more of wine were pressed into the King’s service.
The Friary The current Tesco Store was built on the site of the Friary. This was one of the largest centres for the Franciscan monks, called Grey Friars, in Britain. The friars travelled around the area preaching and tending to the sick and needy. Within the Friary were tombs of local important people, including Rhys ap Thomas, (who helped Henry Tudor defeat Richard III) . Rhys’s tomb was moved to St. Peter’s Church after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530’s.The founding date for the Friary is uncertain, but the first record shows that William de Valence, son of the Earl of Pembroke was buried inside its church.