The Priory That Became a Pub

A favourite place near Sandy Haven that I like to visit on a hot sunny afternoon is the Priory Inn in Lower Priory on the outskirts of Milford Haven.  The village of Lower Priory was once the site of a Priory founded in 1170 and dissolved in 1536. It was a daughter house of St. Dogmaels Abbey near Cardigan.  It was a priory of the Order of  Toron of Benedictine monks and was jointly dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Budoc.  It was founded by Adam de Roche who was a descendant of Godbert de Fleming. The priory had a number of possessions, a chapel to St Budoc about a mile NE of the priory (now St. Botolph), Steynton church, a mill, five orchards and a meadow. The priory was sold off by King Henry VIII in the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid- sixteenth the brothers Roger and Thomas Barlow of Slebech.  They bought not only this priory at what is now Milford Haven, but also Haverfordwest priory. The priories came with much land.

     Sir William Hamilton married Catherine Barlow in 1758 and inherited much of the land.  His wife died and is buried in Slebech churchyard where Sir William also lies.  However Sir William married again in 1791 the notorious Emma Hart who became the second Lady Hamilton. It was Sir William’s plan to build a new town on his inherited land, which is how Milford Haven formed as the result of an Act of Parliament on 9th June 1790.  The monastery at Lower Priory like that in Haverfordwest was eventually dissolved, followed by  quarrying for stone, roof tiles, wood and lead.  Graves with effigies of knights and their ladies were despoiled, so that modern archaeological work at Haverfordwest has revealed fragments of broken effigies. 

    The foundations of the priory building have been traced by ground penetrating radar and show as parch marks in the lawns. Some original walls of the priory still stand to a height of 9 m (See photographs).  It centred on a cruciform church 54 m long with a cross building housing a nave and chancel at least 40 m long. The north end the priory comprised a north transept, a crossing room, and a south transept.  Attached was a chapter house with a vestibule. Next was a range of undercrofts with overlying dormitory and a kitchen building or warming house. An infirmary lay to the immediate east.

   Today the Chapter house survives as part of a modern home. The east chancel arch and south wall of the transept still stand. The kitchen or warming house has been included in what is now the pub – The Priory Inn’. The cloister has been converted to a grass covered bowling green. In 1996 a sewage pipeline dug along the public asphalt road through the hamlet to the immediate north of the priory revealed a cluster of 31 graves, only one of which had a coffin. The human remains were later reburied near the east cloister.  

     The pub is surrounded by lawns except on the east side, where a stream runs down the valley. It is possible to sit in the pub garden which catches the afternoon and evening sunlight and admire the wall of the Priory Inn (see Figure).  Much of it was built by the monks and their stonework is very distinct comprising large Old Red Sandstone blocks. Their work was massive and has many buttresses. The building was evidently a ruin for a long time as the upper parts of the walls and the windows are modern. They are built with smaller shapeless stone and much cement.  Above the modern windows and doors are lintels made of blocks of black basalt – a rock that does not occur fresh and black in Pembrokeshire, and has been imported as a modern building stone.

     My pleasure is to sit in the later afternoon sunshine with a glass of chilled cloudy cider and study the stonework of the wall. I would like very much to take a paint brush and some white paint and draw on the face of the wall what I would call the Henry VIII th line.  This is a line separating the older stonework of the monks from the overlying modern stonework.  So the walls would be marked showing which parts existed in the time of Henry VIII and which parts are modern.

      Today the Priory Inn has a most unusual problem. It was built at the head of a tidal pill like others in the area that drain south into the Milford Haven Waterway.  Over the past 20,000 years with the melting of the great ice sheets, vast amounts of meltwater ran off through these pills into the sea.  The priory was in Hubberston Pill and had its own beach. Until recently, logs were floated up the pill at high tide to the beach where there was a saw mill in Lower Priory.  The next pill to the east is Castle Pill on the eastern margin of Milford Haven. To the west lies Sandy Haven Pill which is unspoiled by development. Unfortunately with the building of Milford Docks and the later infilling of much of Hubberston Pill to make a large shopping complex, including Tesco and Boots, Hubberston Pill has been blocked. A single concrete drainage pipe underlies the fill and empties into Milford Docks.  The remaining parts of the pill are now a lake adjacent to Lower Priory that is now half full of red mud from the runoff from the surrounding fields. Another branch of the pill is also cut off and a small lake (also with a concrete pipe outlet) is called Havens Head. The result is a great decrease for storing flood water in the pill.  Today Lower Priory and Haven Head are both subject to flooding, indicating that the underground pipes are too small to remove the storm water.

      In 2019 the Priory Inn was flooded a depth of eight feet, along with several houses in Lower Priory and Havens Head.  Two chair bound residents in Lower Priory had narrow escapes from drowning in their own homes. Insurance companies are unwilling to pay flood damage. The Milford Haven Port Authority – owners of the new landfill and inadequate drain pipes are trying to pass the blame on to the local council and the Welsh Government. It seems unlikely that the authorities will be able to get funding to correct the flooding problem because such funds are awarded on the number of homes flooded.  The Lower Priory flooding does not affect enough houses to compete with areas in England where many houses are flooded in some areas.  Meanwhile every year or so a new report is prepared on the problem.

Figure 1. Part of the Priory Inn public house showing the lower walls of massive buttressed stone built as the warming house by the monks.  The upper parts of the walls are modern using smaller stones.

Figure 2. Remains of the north transept arch and the south transept wall. 

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