Our next explore wraps up our time away in Pembrokeshire where we visited a country retreat, used as an escape from the burdens of church life just a short distance from St. David’s, join us as we wander around a lovely rural hideaway here at Lamphey Bishops Palace.
The palace is mainly the work of Henry de Gower, Bishop of St David’s from 1328 to 1347. Think of Lamphey not as a palace in the usual sense of the word, but as a place to get away from it all and a retreat from the hustle and bustle of St David’s. Though many of the buildings we see today were the work of Bishop de Gower and his successors, Lamphey was actually in use before the Norman Conquest. The palace was just one of three palaces used by the bishops and Lamphey seems to have always been their favourite palace, and seeing the magnificent architecture that has survived that is not surprising.
Not only the bishops came here; Lamphey was used by powerful church officials in addition to the bishops of St David’s. Here they could let their hair down and be more comfortable. the bishops of St David’s were very much the equal of medieval nobles; they enjoyed all the privileges of rank, including great wealth, social status, and power, They were religious leaders but they were also very powerful men who exercised enormous worldly influence over their territory and on the national stage.
It was left to the Norman bishops to turn Lamphey into a grand country palace, suitable for a medieval bishop. The Norman bishops added ranges of buildings including a great hall which was the the centre of communal life in the palace, we will wander around there later on.
The palace was developed with two courtyards. The main part of the palace enclosure was located to the south-east where you will find the Old Hall, the earliest part of the existing Palace, built in the 13th century. Next to it is the Western Hall, added by Bishop Richard Carew, whose term in office spanned the years 1256-1280.
The centrepiece of Bishop Gower’s palace was the great hall, to the east of the earlier Old Hall and Western Hall. The great hall stretching 82 feet long (25m). This was the social hub of the palace, where important guests were entertained and where meals were held. It was a chamber built to impress. Though it is ruined, the architecture gives you some idea of just how sumptuous the palace must have been during its heyday.
The bishops lived a life of luxury, their diet consisted by fish raised in a fishpond outside the south wall. After the Reformation Lamphey passed through several sets of private owners and was eventually purchased by the Earl of Essex. After Essex fell from grace in the reign of Elizabeth I the palace was allowed to decay until it became a romantic ruin. The Palace was used by Cromwell’s troops during the Civil War. After the war ended the estate was purchased by the Owen family, who used the once-grand Palace as farm buildings.
The major historic features on the site include the outer wall, still standing to its full height in most places, the striking central bell tower, a chapel, and several smaller halls and ranges of domestic rooms. The palace is a fascinating glimpse into the private lifestyle of powerful medieval churchmen back in the day.
The palace itself is very similar in style and is often compared to St. David’s, although here the inner gatehouse to the central courtyard still survives and is amazing to wander around. There is a long range of living quarters on the south side and at the first floor it has two great halls, one is known as Gower Hall, impressively its 82 feet in length and a wonderful sight to see and the other is known as the western hall, both of double height. The range is topped with an impressive arcaded ramparts built above, built with the contrasting local limestone and purple stone which gives off a beautiful chequer board impression. They were made so that it would impress guests when they can see the stunning views of the palace grounds. Below the Gower hall and Running the full length of the range, is the under croft, with the floor slightly below ground level. This would have contained the storage areas and importantly the bishop’s wine; it was also a place where the servants’ sleeping quarters were.
In the western hall, there remains a faint trace of cream interior plaster that was once decorated with red flowers that would have covered the entirety of the space. The two halls were built either side of the original great hall which was across to the chapel were the beautiful east window still remains.
Large amounts of the bishops wealth came from their estates, standing in the corner was a massive corn barn and was built to store the vast amount of grain produced by nearby farmers, barns of a huge size like at Lamphey tells us how profitable the estate must have been. A dovecote, deer park fishpond, an orchard and herb gardens were built here, which would have provided fresh and high-quality food. Many gardeners, servants, guards, and cooks were employed here and a document from around 1536 shows that the palace had an amazing 27 rooms.
We quite enjoyed being able to wander inside the inner gatehouse, where a beautiful tower stands, has access up some tight and uneven stairs to the bishops quarters, this was somewhere he could go and relax away from the hustle and bustle all around him. Quiet small, but it would have had everything someone could need to relax. Although a gatehouse suggests a defensive function, the interior had a latrine so was definitely domestic in use, and was in fact used to separate the Bishop’s living quarters from the more mundane buildings in the outer courtyard, such as the storehouses. Its pretty amazing that this place isn’t booming with tourists, but perhaps it’s not well known, in our opinion this is exactly the kind of places that need to be put on the map. It’s completely secluded, beautiful to spend some time here and best of all a hidden gem which costs nothing to visit.
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Till Next Time!