Dale Fort Blog Number 52

1 11 2017

This blog tells you all you need to know (and possibly more) about Stackpole and Bosherston


In 1188 Gerald of Wales mentioned a man called Elidyr de Stackpole, the owner of the Stackpole Estate.  Elidyr founded the church and employed Simon de Gingo (he had red hair) to look after things.  Simon made sure everyone (the workers included) was well fed and housed and spent a lot of Elidyr’s money. He didn’t live on the estate but seemed to vanish at night.  He was instructed to economise but failed to do so.  As a result, a member of the Elidyr family followed him one night and reported seeing him turn into a demon and consort with a bunch of other demons down by the mill pond.   Simon’s mum confirmed that actually, she’d been ravished by the devil (disguised as her husband) and 9months later out came Simon.  Simon (now) the Demon was sacked but went on to have a successful career in banking, politics and Pay-Day Loans.


By the late 14th Century Joanna de Stackpole (possibly with a bloodline to Elidyr) married a Vernon (from Haddon Hall in Derbyshire) and the Vernons held the 8,000 acre estate for 200 years.  In 1578 the widow of Sir Thomas Stanley, (son of the Earl of Derby) leased the estate to her attorney, George Lort.  By 1611 the Lorts had purchased the whole estate.


Sir Alexander Campbell of Cawdor (Nairnshire, Scotland) was a university friend of Gilbert Lort.  He was visiting Gilbert when a long spell of bad weather prevented their return to Cambridge (most of the journey was by sea).  During his extended stay, Campbell fell for and married Gilbert’s sister Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, (who was by now widowed) inherited the estate in 1698.  She managed it until her death in 1714 when it passed to her son John Campbell.  The Campbells held the estate until 1976 when it was sold by Hugh the 6th Earl and 25th Thane of Cawdor.


The manor house was rebuilt in the 1730s and became the largest house in South-West Wales.  By 1770 a later John Campbell began landscaping on a huge scale.  Three tidal inlets were dammed to prevent the sea getting in allowing them to fill with fresh water from surrounding streams.  By 1840 the main works were complete together with several decorative bridges (The 8-Arch Bridge conceals a controlling dam).  The lakes were enhanced by large scale tree planting producing the landscape we see today.

bosh lilly

In 1938-9 the War Office requisitioned 6,000 acres of the estate to make the Castlemartin Artillery Range.  During World War 2 the mansion was also requisitioned to house soldiers.  This was the beginning of the end for the private estate.  By the time they left, the military had reduced the mansion to a dilapidated state and still retained three quarters of the land.  In 1963 Hugh Campbell decided that the costs of restoration were too much and demolished the house.  In 1976 he sold off the family’s remaining Welsh lands to the South Wales Electricity Generating Board Pension Fund.  The coastal parts (roughly 1900 acres) were transferred by the Treasury to The National Trust as part of a deal to settle Death Duties.


The pools are now a National Nature Reserve famous for their profusion of white lilies.  They attract water birds, otters and tourists and are regarded as one of the best coarse fisheries in West Wales.  They are managed to maintain their populations of stoneworts (calcareous green algae) which require low nutrient, alkaline water.  Nutrient rich water (a product of agricultural run-off) is culverted by an underwater pipe to discharge to the sea at the end of the valley.



Bosherston started out as Stackpole, named after the sea-stack called Church Rock at Broadhaven.  In the 13th Century, William Bosher was a big local land owner and the name became Stackpole-Bosher and eventually Bosherston.  There are far fewer Welsh place names in South Pembrokeshire than the north, reflecting the influence of Scandinavian raiders and the rapid take-over of South Wales by the Normans.


By far the most notable feature of Bosherston is The Olde Worlde Café.  The building is 2 ex-coastguard cottages (1834) knocked together.  It has been a cafe for 75-odd years run for 70 or so by Mrs. V. Weston who inherited the business from her parents.  She was 90 in 2011 and celebrated with a bungee jump from The Green Bridge of Wales.  Actually, I made that last bit up, but she did go for a flight in a Spitfire.  In 1987, I was running a walking course that stopped for tea and cakes at Mrs. Weston’s café.  It happened that my fiancée Sandy had joined the group and let it be known that our wedding was to take place in 4 days.  Mrs. Weston overheard this and refused to take payment for the massive quantities of tea and cake that we had already guzzled.  It was our first wedding present.  The café is very popular with both tourists and climbers.  (The latter appear in large numbers once the seabirds have finished nesting on the cliffs).  Mrs. Weston was honoured with an MBE for services to lemon drizzle cake in 2007.  Mrs. Weston (known as Auntie V) finally went to run the Great Tea Shoppe in the Sky in 2016, aged 95.


Mrs Weston with a cup of tea (proper tea made with leaves not teabags)

  The Church of St Michael and All Angels was built on an existing church site in the 13th Century.  The tower is a bit younger being 14th or 15th Century.  It has a hagioscope, which sounds exciting but is actually a hole in the wall of one of the transepts, cut so that you can see the alter.  The building was restored in 1855 by Lord Cawdor of Stackpole (the Campbells).  Outside is a 13th Century mediaeval cross.  The top part and the bottom part are of different stone, so it’s thought that it might be a composite of two different crosses.  There’s a worn carving of a face at the intersect which may represent Jesus Christ.


On the cliffs just down the road is St. Govan’s Chapel.  It’s only accessible if the tank range is not in use and it occupies a crevice halfway down the limestone cliffs.

St. Govan, who died c586, is not very well documented.  He might have been Irish born c500.  Some say he was actually Sir Gawain, the nephew of Arthur.  Some say Gawain is a reference to a pre-Christian Irish hero.  It’s all a bit lost in the mists of time but it’s well worth a visit.  The number of steps down to the chapel are supposed to be uncountable but it’s definitely somewhere between 55 and 172.  St. Govan is said to have possessed a silver bell that he rang on special occasions and birthdays.  One day an Irish pirate called Lysgi (also involved with Boia at St Davids and has Porth Lysgi Bay named after him) stole the bell.  God saw this and sent a storm to wreck Lysgi’s vessel and toss the bell back up to St. Govan where he encased it in a rock.  You might hear the bell tinkling within the stone on stormy days.  There’s a well (now dry) under a stone chamber just below the chapel.

 st gs cahpel

St Govan’s Chapel (thanks to John Archer-Thomson for the picture).

End of Blog 52.  Look out for number 53.












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