Rosemaket Village Introduction and Overview

The sleepy village of Rosemarket may appear somewhat insignificant to those passing through it today, but over the centuries this small village has had mixed fortunes and during the Middle Ages enjoyed a brief but nevertheless important period of prominence.

From a geographical perspective the village is also somewhat unique comprising a small network of linked streets which have all been in place for centuries. The two main roads named Front Street and Middle Street run parallel to each other from north to south and the long lane to the west side of the village does likewise; these are joined by interconnecting roads and lanes and this grid system is quite unusual indeed for such a very small rural community. Additionally there are six separate roads into and out from the village, these from the north, east, south and west. On each of these six roads, prior to entry from any direction, one has to descend a small hill, to cross over a small bridge with a stream beneath, and to then come up a small hill into the village, or do the opposite of course when leaving the village. Almost all of these routes are tree lined which also adds to the ambience and image of Rosemarket.

Today there are about two hundred properties in the village, this having doubled since the 1950’s with the building of four large local authority housing estates which began in 1948 and then with numerous private property developments in recent decades.

 Rosemarket village 1892-1908

This map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

An Ancient Village

Rosemarket is indeed an ancient village. There were certainly people living here in Roman times, 2000 years ago, and they were most likely Celts, speaking the language that later became Welsh, and living in and around the Iron Age Hill Fort to the south and rear of the village church and known locally and to countless generations as ‘The Rings’. Within this area there would have been numerous circular thatched roof dwellings. A similar complex, now totally overgrown with trees and vegetation, has very recently been discovered by archaeologists just across and on the other side of the valley, just a further quarter of a mile away; this too would have contained numerous thatched roof circular dwellings. Adjacent to this latter complex a major historical find was recently discovered, this being the grave burial site of an iron-age warrior. It is understood that in this era only persons of very special significance would have been buried in such a manner as most were cremated upon death. There has only been one similar burial site discovered in the UK, this in the north of England. All this of course, the twin hill forts to either side of the valley and this very special burial site, all then raise the spectre of the very great importance of the village of Rosemarket in this era.

The village church itself is dedicated to St. Ismael, and indeed it is possible that the ring dwellers may have been converted to Christianity by him, a colleague of St. David who became the Patron Saint of Wales. Indeed if this is so he would likely have travelled by boat up the Haven waterway and into Westfield Pill and then further upstream to the village, and upon his arrival here, then seeing the two Iron Age hill forts ahead of him. Here he would establish Christianity in Rosemarket and of course this was a century before St. Augustine came to Canterbury.

In later centuries Rosemarket appears to have become a settlement of several related families within the district of ‘Rhos’ which was the name given to the large area between the Haven waterway and the old ‘landsker line’ - the unofficial boundary between Welsh and English Pembrokeshire. The whole of Rhos was overrun by the forces of King Henry 1 in the year 1108, and ‘The Rings’ was refortified by the King as the ‘The Castle of Rhos’. The church was rebuilt at the same time and a borough established with a market, this being ‘Ros marche’ as the name is first recorded. The village then became the commercial market centre for the whole region with close links to the Norman stronghold of Pembroke and its castle.

The market here was controlled by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. The Knights were a group of military brethren who gained great prestige during the First Crusade. Gifts of land and property rained upon the Knights from all parts of Europe. “The Church …..of the Castle of Ros” was the first recorded gift in Wales to be given to these Knights, and later, when a Commandery of the Order was established at Slebech to the east of Haverfordwest, then the whole village of Rosemarket was given to it and indeed then remained in its possession from the 12th century until the Reformation. All that now remains in the village as evidence of the Knight’s tenure is the Dovecote which provided one of the Slebech Commandery’s few sources of winter meat. The Dovecote is sited at the lower end of Front Street and just a few hundred yards from the church. This like the church itself is one of the oldest structures remaining in the village and is now classified as of historical importance as few buildings of this nature survive in the county today.

Rosemarket then became an ‘incorporated borough town’ with 92 burgages. A burgage was a property consisting of a house and business premises fronting the street, and with a plot of land behind it and occupied by a burgess who paid an annual fixed rent of 12 pence. Surprisingly perhaps it should be noted that the burgage rents were still 12 pence per year almost 500 years later!  The form of these medieval houses can best be seen by the small undercroft which still survives today as the cellar of Cross Farm, which is directly opposite the church. This was where a merchant’s goods would have been made, displayed and sold. This was Rosemarket’s greatest period of importance, but it was not to last long.  When the nearby town of Haverfordwest developed as a trading centre, the decline of Rosemarket’s prominence then began.

Outside the borough boundaries at this time were three large fields, these called Eastfield, Westfield and Furzehill; these were cultivated in rotation and each divided into strips. Around each field was an area on which the villagers had the right to freely graze and water their cattle. A corn mill was first recorded in the village in 1220, and later a fulling mill for finishing woollen cloth. Records reveal that a mill still existed in the village in 1840.

The most famous inhabitant of Rosemarket was Lucy Walter, who was born at the Big House Farm in Front Street. She became the wife or mistress of King Charles II. A son James was born to them in 1649 and he was given the title of Duke of Monmouth, but his ill-judged attempt to claim the throne resulted in defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor and his subsequent execution. Legend has it that Charles and Lucy were secretly married here at our church in Rosemarket, but the marriage was deliberately kept secret so that it could not be used against him and thus deliberately hinder his restoration as King.

During Tudor and Stuart times and for hundreds of years afterwards almost every villager was at least partly dependent on the land for a livelihood. Most would have been farmers or farm workers. Cattle were clearly the basic stock for everyone, providing milk, butter, cheese and meat for the households. Oxen would have been used for ploughing. All living here except the poorest persons would have kept a variety of stock; cows, sheep, pigs, goats, poultry and bees are recorded.

Religion also played a very important part in village life. The church building is basically 12th century although presumably a church tower could never be afforded. By 1640 it is recorded as being in a ruinous state but by 1688 it had been restored into a satisfactory condition. In later century’s visits to the village by nonconformist ministers, later to be known as Congregationalists, resulted in the chapel being built in 1831 at the top end of Middle Street. A census reveals that on 30th March 1851 at total of 110 people attended the morning service in chapel, 54 attended the afternoon Sunday School, and that a further 75 went to the evening service. Sadly with dwindling attendances the chapel formally closed a few decades ago although the building, now a private residence, and its surrounding graveyard is still well maintained and remains a focal point in the village.

Changing Times

The heads of all households and indeed most villagers continued to work on the land or in associated jobs, but this began to change in the 19th century with the development of a large naval dockyard at Paterchurch, now known as Pembroke Dock. This was to become one of the largest naval dockyards in the country. Men from the village became shipwrights, sawyers or labourers there, mainly attracted by the higher wages; labourers earned 12 shillings per week, this double that earned for farm labouring, and the work supporting the dockyard was also seen as a job of national importance in this grand patriotic age.

Another major impact on the village occurred in 1856 with the construction of the South Wales Railway from Haverfordwest through Rosemarket to Neyland. Upon completion the railway provided a more convenient means of leaving the village in the following years. Hard times were falling upon farming and the agriculture community and more and more jobs were being created ‘up the line’ with the development of the South Wales coalfields and the associated industries. The drift away from the agriculture which had begun with the naval dockyard then intensified. Many villagers would likely have been employed in the construction of the railway and the numerous cuttings and construction of embankments, tunnels and bridges. Afterwards when it became operational many would also have obtained regular employment at the large terminus which was created at nearby Neyland.

Education was not forgotten in the village either. At Rosemarket Church one of the earliest English language schools in West Wales opened in 1744 with 49 pupils attending. The records for the following years are somewhat sparse although it is understood that several types of school existed. In 1860 the church school opened at the top of the village although its early years were not totally successful and in 1862 the master was seemingly given the sum of £2 to give up the profession!  By 1878 however, things had much improved and the school house was built adjoining the school and also an additional classroom. The village school remained here for more than one hundred years until its closure in the 1980’s, this then in an era when many small village schools in Pembrokeshire were closed.

Opposite the school is the Village Hall and which was erected on the site about 80 years ago. The hall, a wooden construction, was originally built as a troop accommodation hut and was sited at Hearston Camp to the east of nearby Sardis. When it was no longer required for this purpose, and its subsequent use for poultry farming, it was bought by the village community and then erected in its present position after the site had been obtained. In earlier years the hall was very much a centre of all village activity. There were regular concerts, film shows, sales of harvest produce, wedding and birthday parties and a venue for numerous village groups and societies such as girl guides and boy scouts, youth clubs, bingo sessions and the school children had their daily lunches here. In recent years, this utilisation has sadly declined significantly as interests change and alternatives appear.

To the north of the old school there is a large area of public land named The Beacon. This is the highest point of the village and with lovely views to the distant Preseli Hills to the north. Here in earlier centuries the villagers would have been allowed to freely graze their animals and have access to the area at all times. Today it is used as a small sports field and children’s playground, but through previous centuries it has long been used as a village gathering place for a variety of events. Here the school sports were held, village carnivals and fetes and also bonfire and firework displays on special occasions.

In previous generations this land was referred to as The Beckoning rather than the Beacon, and of course in earlier centuries that would have been a prime purpose, to light a large fire or beacon here, this to beckon people or to warn and alert them to an issue of concern, an invasion perhaps. In turn similar fires would then have been lit at other high vantage points so that the alarm could be spread throughout the county. A bonfire at the Beacon could be seen from the Preseli’s and in turn a bonfire set alight there, or vice versa, and this chain of communication then dispersed further in every direction to the north, south, east and west.

A number of wells also exist around the village. Several can be identified on the old ordnance survey maps although the exact location of some are unknown. Through the centuries these wells would have likely provided the only source of all water for drinking, washing & bathing and cooking to the inhabitants. The most important is St. Leonard’s Well on the hill to the east of the church. This is a spring which provides  drinking water which many in the village believe to have beneficial and health giving properties and which still flows and is occasionally tasted by villagers walking by today. The two other main wells which are enclosed within small brick chambers are still in situ today to the west of the village but are no longer used. All these wells were used abundantly until the mid-twentieth century at which time a mains water supply was brought into the village for the first time making them redundant.

Beginning of the Modern Era

Rosemarket residents contributed in various ways during both the First and Second World Wars. Some soldiers from Rosemarket parish gave their lives in service to our country and never returned. During the Second World War, the Home Guard used the Village Hall for storage and training and Rosemarket had its very own ‘Welcome Home Committee’ providing appreciation and support to service men and women.

Within the latter half of the twentieth century, further change and modernisation was occurring. Electricity was introduced into the village and oil lamps and candles for lighting the homes became redundant, although a number of village properties still retained these until into the 1960’s; street lighting was introduced at the same time and also a village sewage system introduced to all homes with a sewage disposal system built on the outskirts of the village. In this same post war period, mechanisation was increasing significantly and soon horses and carts gave way to the motorcar. Up until this time horses and carts were commonplace in the village.

Rosemarket experienced some darker times. A notorious episode was recorded in the years following the Second World War, whereby a Rosemarket landowner was murdered by his tenant farmer. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death.

Village services developed. In the early years of the nineteenth century a postal service was established and subsequently a Post Office opened. Mail started to be regularly delivered to households in the village. Some small village shops began trading. Rosemarket also then boasted two public houses, these being The Barley Mow at the upper end of Front Street and The New Inn at the lower end of Middle Street and its junction with West Street but both closed in the early years of the twentieth century.  A new public house The Huntsman, sited opposite the old New Inn, opened fifty years ago however and this still remains a focal point in the village. Within this same period the grand Rosemarket Social Club was opened in West Street and it soon became a major entertainment centre for many far and wide with nightly activities and dances with a resident band. In its heyday the club hosted many well-known national musical artistes, although sadly, with declining fortunes, it too closed several decades ago.

Sport increasingly became a feature of village life, with a number of traditional leisure activities being linked with Rosemarket such as cockfighting and quoits. The Pembrokeshire Hunt met at Rosemarket on New Year’s Day and the Saturday before Remembrance Sunday for many years. Rosemarket is perhaps best known however for its cricket club, the tradition of which dates back to the nineteenth century and continued through to the 1980s, with both league and cup success enjoyed.

As communications developed into the twentieth century, a telephone service was brought into the village and in due course a public telephone kiosk installed outside the Post Office as initially not many homes were able to afford a domestic phone. Through this same period and particularly through the decades following the end of the Second World War a large number of local delivery services developed bringing to the village regular weekly supplies of lamp oil and coal and logs, and a range of foodstuffs such as meat, bread, fish, lemonade and ice cream, plus of course a daily delivery of milk to supplement that available from the local village shop and farms. With changing shopping habits in recent decades almost all of these services have now been discontinued. The telephone kiosk, which many villagers still remember queuing up outside to use, was removed a few years ago having seen very little use with the improvements in communication and technology. 

So this then concludes the summary of our unique village of Rosemarket. This story begun in the Iron Age of 2000 years ago and ended with the very recent changes and developments here in the village. Hopefully you will have found this overview to be of sufficient interest to now encourage you to look further into our little village and its fascinating and varied history of which we are so very proud.