About: Tudor Thomas

Tudor has strong links with Tenby as all his father's family have lived here for generations. He retired here some six years ago after a varied career in consulting and business management. He recently became chair of Tenby Civic Society and has a degree in history and a life-long interest in Tenby local history.

Posts by Tudor Thomas:

  • Local Treasures, 11 Jan 2020 in Culture&Heritage&History
  • New Year’s Customs / Promises, 03 Jan 2020 in Culture&Event
  • Sluice, 13 Oct 2019 in Heritage&History
  • A Tenby Town Walls Trust?, 28 Jun 2019 in Culture&Heritage&History
  • Pembrokeshire Street Food Festival, 10 Jun 2019 in Culture&Event
  • St Catherine’s Island, 02 Apr 2019 in Culture&Event&Film&Heritage&History
  • Shifting Sands, 02 Apr 2019 in Heritage&History&News
  • Beltain / Calan Mai, 28 Apr 2019 in Culture&Event&Heritage&History
  • The Hanging Toilets of Tenby, 18 Nov 2015 in Culture&Heritage&History

  • Local Treasures

    Tenby Civic Society started as the Friends of Tenby in the 1960s. It was set up to campaign for the reinstatement of the trees outside the town walls along South Parade and St. Florence Parade. Since then its activities have expanded to cover any activity which the Society feels will benefit Tenby and the lives of those who live, work and visit the town. To give a flavour of how the Society’s work has developed until recently here is a sample of our activities from our website.

    Tenby Civic Society aims to make Tenby a better place to live, work, shop and visit by promoting high standards of planning and architecture whilst preserving and protecting historical features yet allowing sustainable and thoughtful development of existing and new features ultimately resulting in prosperity, wellbeing and civic pride.
    The Society discusses and makes active and direct contributions to the National Park Planning Authority and Pembrokeshire County Council on all new planning and licensing applications in Tenby.

    Other business covers the design and installation of new, and refurbishment of old, Blue Heritage Plaques, highlighting new dilapidations, such as Scotsborough House, to Cadw and PCC, and ongoing fund raising and grant applications to fund new projects undertaken and managed by the Society such as the Tenby Characterisation Study which began in March 2017.

    The Society was bequeathed Allen’s View some fifty years ago. Allen’s View is a hill top garden alongside the Pembrokeshire (now Wales) Coastal Path towards Saundersfoot, at the top of Northcliffe. It was gifted by Jessie Allen, the landowner, in 1965 to the Friends of Tenby (now Tenby Civic Society) and represents a significant ongoing project both in terms of responsibility as a Trustee and a major use of funds. The views are breath-taking but managing the planting and overall landscaping when vehicle access is limited can be time consuming for volunteers and expensive when specialist help is needed. Have a look at the Allen’s View BLOG to see what has been happening recently.

    The Society also provides welcome advice, information and support to other local bodies such as St Catherine’s Island Trust and the Brynhir Action Group as well as attending to the usual Committee business.
    We make charitable contributions to deserving local groups, societies and individuals.
    For some years we have run an annual award scheme to reward building developments and improvements which make a positive addition to look of Tenby. About five such properties have received certificates to display and we are waiting for one renovation to finish so that we can congratulate the owner who has worked for many years on a difficult scheme for a visually prominent building. (Watch our website for updates).

    All of this work is low key, behind the scenes work, depending on a lot of time-consuming toil by a small group of volunteers. It struck the committee some time ago that worthwhile as this work is, it concentrates on the place, the buildings, the background rather than the people. Then came an idea for an award for deserving residents arising from a post by Dave Bolton on Plastic Free Tenby’s social media.

    The Civic Society took up the idea and started a scheme to recognise “Local Treasures”. These are people, Tenby residents, who contribute hugely through their charitable and other work to the life of the town, frequently unrecognised, certainly unrewarded and over a long period. We aim to present a framed certificate to those people at a public ceremony, with the press present, so that as many people as possible know how much they contribute to the town by their unselfish activities. Frequently they tend to be people who would turn down a certificate if it was suggested to them, so an element of secrecy is necessary to get the recipient, their friends and family, the press and the presenter together at one and the same time to make the presentation.

    So far, we have presented two certificates. The Tenby Observer reported as follows:
    On Saturday 7th July, 2018 Michelle Watkins was hoodwinked into visiting St Catherine’s Island under the
    pretence of being at a photographic shoot for her son’s recent wedding. On entering the fort Michelle was
    astonished to be greeted and applauded by a very large group of family and friends, representatives from
    Tenby Civic Society, Plastic Free Tenby and Island staff.

    In Michelle’s case the award has been made for “her continuing voluntary effort over a number of years to
    keep Tenby South beach litter-free“. Mr. Tudor Thomas presenting the certificate, bouquet and small
    hamper on behalf of the Tenby Civic Society stated… “For a number of years the Civic Society has made
    awards for buildings which improve Tenby. But a town is much more than buildings It is those people
    throughout Tenby who deserve our gratitude and thanks for their voluntary efforts for the town. We hope
    that this, first of a kind award,will be one of many as we look for further nominations and proposals”.

    The second presentation in 2019 was to Cllr. Trevor Hallett, long-serving Tenby Town Councillor, Mayor for
    numerous terms of office and well-known to everyone in Tenby. That presentation was more low-key but
    easier to arrange as Trevor is also a Tenby Civic Society committee member.

    Both Michelle’ and Trevor’s surprise and delight was more than enough reward for us and confirmed the
    scheme was worthwhile. We haven’t had anyone refuse to accept an award or walk away yet. We have our third worthy recipient
    already lined up and we are in the process of organising a presentation. Let’s hope our sneaky scheme for
    the venue and presentation doesn’t leak out and it goes well. Wish us well and watch this space!

    New Year’s Customs / Promises

    I was asked to do a blog on local traditions of Pembrokeshire. This could have ended up as some rehash of other people’s work. However, I decided to concentrate on one tradition which has personal connections. When I was a child of about eight my father told me that as a boy of the same age, growing up in Tenby pre- and post-First World War, he took part in the Tenby tradition of the “Cutty Wren”.

    He said that on “Twelve NIght”, which was twelve days after the 25th of December, he and other boys went down to the marches and burrows behind the South Beach to look for a wren. If they found one, which was difficult in itself, and caught it, again difficult, it was put in a wicker cage and paraded round the streets. They would knock on doors and sing a song about the wren. In return they would get hot milk and mince pies. Eventually the wren would be released, no doubt a bit shocked but unharmed.
    I thought no more about it until Steeleye Span, a folk/rock group those of a certain age will remember, had a song called “The King” on their second album in 1971. The lyrics sounded very familiar….

    Joy, health, love, and peace be all here in this place
    By your leave, we will sing concerning our KingNEW YEAR TRADITION
    Our King is well dressed, in silks of the best In ribbons so rare,
    no king can compare We have travelled many miles, over hedges and stiles
    In search of our King, unto you we bring
    We have powder and shot to conquer the lot
    We have cannon and ball to conquer them all Old Christmas is past,
    Twelve-tide is the last And we bid you adieu, great joy to the new!

    Not the same as my father’s song but similar enough to make me investigate further. I discovered that the tradition of the Wren and Twelve Night was common throughout the British Isles but Steeleye Span had collected the song from Pembrokeshire. It was in English because it came from the Englishry of South Pembrokeshire but there are also versions in Welsh.

    The original tradition was much, much older and much darker. The wren represented the old year and the robin the new. They were the King and Queen of animals and birds. The old year had to be killed so the new year could continue. In other words it is the ancient tradition of sacrifice of an animal to appease the Gods. So the robin and wren would fight. The robin won and the wren was killed but the robin’s redbreast was a result of the blood from the fight. (Told you it got darker).

    It is interesting that “Twelve NIght” is very close to the old New Year in the Julian, now Orthodox, calender. It is also interesting how many innocent old customs and songs have more sinister roots. Think of “Ring a ring a roses” which is about the Black Death. Sing it to yourself and it will become clear.

    On the happy note, everyone, please, have a very happy New Year. Jenny Wren has been released and is now safe in her nest.


    Back in January 2019 the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Lord Elis-Thomas, announced £2.2 million for 23 projects across Wales, to improve the visitor experience and develop “high quality destinations”. Tenby, Marloes and Broad Haven were to be among the county’s tourist hot spots to receive part of a £323,000 funding boost, of which Pembrokeshire County Council would receive £128,000 to replace the Tenby Harbour sluice entrance stop logs with an electronically-controlled gate that could be easily opened on demand. This would extend the operating season and create a year-round harbour excursion offer.

    TENBY HARBOUR SLUICEThe sluice was originally built in the early 17th century to store water at high tide which could then be released as the tide went out to scour out any build-up of sand and debris from the harbour. Since then it has been rebuilt a number of times, notably in 1763 when the landward side was built to make a wharf to unload ships. It retains some old features such as the three blocked arches which originally allowed boats under Sleeman’s Stores, now Tenby Sailing Club, to unload goods. The sluice is listed Grade 11 as an unusual harbour feature.

    The stop logs do a useful job but the outer wall is not strong enough to hold water at high tide as it was originally designed to do. They also provide some shelter during the winter for some boats from Northerly winds and tides. However, many boatmen choose not to use it as there is insufficient protection from the flow of water created on an incoming tide; this water could cause boats to slam against the sluice walls.

    There are also other developments mooted for the sluice area. Mr. Jim Cornwall’s, secretary of Tenby Sailing Club, understanding of the situation is that permission has been granted to cover one third of the sluice starting from the Mayors Slip. The ribs and dinghies that are currently housed at that end would be moved onto the covered area. The sailing club is also still in negotiations with the PCC about extending the balcony above the sluice thus enjoying the evening sunshine.

    Nothing appears to have progressed since the beginning of the year ……………

    A Tenby Town Walls Trust?

    Andrew Davies, Town Clerk to Tenby Town Council  wrote to a number of Tenby organisations last October saying that  the Council had been concerned about the maintenance of the town walls for some time. Pembrokeshire County Council is responsible to Cadw for maintaining this Grade One listed structure but due to austerity cuts has a very limited budget to cover maintenance for all the historic buildings in the county.

    Tenby Town Walls are of national importance and, internationally, Tenby is the founder member of the Walled Towns Friendship Circle (Now European Walled Towns).


    Cllr. Caroline Thomas, a former Mayor of Tenby had heard that a volunteer trust had taken over the maintenance of Pembroke Town Walls. Tenby Council wanted to find out whether any group or individual might be interested in forming a similar voluntary organisation which could take over the Tenby town walls from the County Council, as they would have access to sources of charity funding not open to either council.

    The aim in the first place would be to make sure the walls were maintained for future generations. There are then a number of proposals to make the walls a greater attraction for tourists and to involve local people more closely with a worthwhile project close to home. Obviously, if a voluntary organisation were set up it would need a proper constitution and a wide number of people and talents to make sure that it was well-run and effective. Among the skills and experience needed would be people with business knowledge, architectural expertise, an appropriate historical background, fundraising experience and practical skills like stone masonry and gardening. More important is enthusiasm, common sense and a desire to commit time and effort.

    So this article is in a way an appeal. If you are a Tenby resident, or a frequent visitor to the town, and you feel that you have skills and expertise to offer and would like to get involved, then please get in touch.

    Pembrokeshire Street Food Festival

    Advance notice for all you foodies and munchers on the hoof!! …. Pembrokeshire Street Food Festival returns for another year. It will happen at the South Beach Car Park, Tenby from Friday 14th June starting at 12:00 and going on to finish at 22.00 on Sunday 16th June.  Expect another sell-out glorious weekend of fantastic fresh food and delicious drinks! All the smells, tastes and fun of last year, but even bigger and better!

    With an outstanding array of different food on offer, from fresh delicious hot dogs to gooey gourmet Mac ’n’ Cheese, to crumbly cheesecake, to banging bao buns. Come and enjoy a range of mouth-watering food from all over the world alongside an ice-cold pint of beer or fresh zesty Mojito! Confirmed vendors:-

    Assembelly – Seafood and Wild Food, following Toby’s labour of love we’re sure his food is going to blow your minds!

    Pakora Pod – Spice up your life with this all vegan and vegetarian Indian cuisine.

    Spicers Meat Wagon – Low and Slow – Smokin’.

    The Dog House – Delicious gourmet hot dogs with a choice of tasty toppings!

    Clark’s Kitchen – Lovely Clark with his lovely halloumi fries!

    The Gourmet Street Kitchen – Cheesey, gooey and oh so moreish Mac and Cheese!

    Makasih – Cravin’ Malaysian!

    Meating Point – Greek BBQ time!

    Street Food South West – Moroccan deliciousness!

    Orgazmic Milkshake – The best milkshake you will ever taste!

    Chock Shop – Melt in your mouth brownies.

    Pink Peppercorn – The notorious caravan of deliciousness.

    Chai Street – A spicy, Indian bonanza!

    Bao Selecta – Beautiful Baos.

    Rue de la Cocotte – Bonjour to French food!

    Taffys Treats – Fabulous Fudge.

    Ice Green – Frozen vegan treats!

    Dutty’s Cheesecake – creamy cheesey dessert goodness!

    Toastie The Difference – The ultimate toastie experience.

    Completely FREE and family friendly, bring the kids, Grandma and the dog – eat with us!

    The event is organised by Street Food Warehouse

    St Catherine’s Island

    As many of you may know St. Catherine’s Island, Tenby, re-opened two years ago after the previous Tenby Island Project unfortunately had to close. We open when the tide is out, the winds are reasonable, the rain is not blowing horizontally and there are visitors in Tenby. We try to open most of the year but our opening times are subject to all  the above plus daylight. You can find exact times on our website http://saintcatherinesisland.co.uk, our Twitter account and on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pg/StCatherinesIsland/posts/?ref=page_internal.ST CATHERINE's ISLAND

    Assuming we are open, getting on to the island is an adventure in itself, lots of steps, a bridge and a few more steps before you get to our “we-are-open” Welsh flag on the Second World War gun emplacement. Wear sensible shoes for the uneven steps, take your time and be prepared to carry your dog over the open bridge. What you can see when you get to the top (and a chance to get your breath back) are the views – 360 degree views around Carmarthen Bay and the best view of Tenby. Then it’s just an easy walk to the fort itself. Inside, at the moment, we have open the main gun-deck of the mid/late nineteenth century Palmerston military fort. There we show our films and give regular half-hour illustrated talks on the history of the island and fort. This is originally where six of the huge guns were sited in casemates facing east and west to protect the anchorages against enemy ships. Three more guns, even bigger, were sited on the roof facing out to sea.

    Finally, here we also have our regular events. The latest in our regular film shows was just pre-Christmas, six showings of the “Polar Express”, the Tom Hanks animated film. We originally planned one evening show but had 240,000 hits on our Facebook page and it turned into a major five-night event with about 500 visitors, staff in costume, refreshments, Father Christmas in his grotto and presents for the children. Our preparations were inevitably interrupted with a fire inspection but fortunately we passed. Fortunately, also, everyone who came seemed happy and we were only forced to postpone one day because of the weather. Our next major planned event will be in April with our Titanic evenings, ballroom dancing on our “promenade deck”, refreshments and a scramble for the lifeboats at the end of the evening to get off the island (Ship) before the tide comes in. (Only a limited number of lifeboats I’m afraid). We say planned event but at the moment we are floating ideas for an event for before Easter. Watch our Facebook page and in the meantime get your tailcoats and long dresses out of mothballs and pressed.

    SAINT CATHERINE's ISLANDWhen we get the necessary permissions and finance in place we will be able to show you the rest of the fort – plans are prepared to show visitors three more areas: the gunpowder magazines set into the rock at the back of the fort (Re-flooring and lighting planned to start soon), the living accommodation for the 100 soldiers and officers of the Victorian garrison in the basement, and the roof with even better views. To open these two last areas we will need to install lighting, fire doors and a new staircase and safety features to the roof. Then, at parents’ request, we can lock the children in the old prison in the basement. Sorry, that should read: “show pirate films for the children in the old prison to keep them entertained and happy.”

    Shifting Sands

    I am sure I am not the only person noticing the way that the sand on the beaches around Tenby seems to be higher, lower and more or less rocky than before.  For example, I seem to remember that when I was doing my bucket and sand heavy engineering , damming streams on the North Beach (Aged about 5 or 6),  that the beach was much lower. I seem to remember many more rocks showing and plenty of water under the diving board on Goscar Rock.

    Now some of the build up of sand on the North may have been a result of the “new” promenade in the 1960’s.  But that can’t explain the loss of sand from the dunes at the Penally end of the South Beach. My impression is that the sand seems to be moving from west to east from Giltar, around the Tenby beaches and on towards Waterwynch.

    Now this may be a temporary thing. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks. So is there any way we can actually see the difference in the height of sand on the various beaches at various times over the past fifty years or so? It may be that looking at postcards and photographs from then and now will show differences in the beaches.  Have a look below and see what you think…

    SOUTH BEACH 2019

    SOUTH BEACH 1960s


    NORTH BEACH 2019

    NORTH BEACH 1920s

    Beltain / Calan Mai

    Coming up soon is the first of May (May Day) and in the Gaelic parts of Ireland and Scotland that means the Celtic festival of Beltain, (Irish La Beltaine) to mark the beginning of summer, halfway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. But this is not just for the Irish and Scots, this was a European tradition and there is also the Welsh equivalent, Calan Mai or Calan Haf.

    This was marked May Eve by lighting bonfires in South Wales up until the middle of the 19th century. BURNING STRAW MANOn that evening hawthorn (draenen wen or white-thorn), was gathered to decorate houses to celebrate new growth and fertility. On May Day itself, there was summer dancing or Dawnsio haf. in certain parts around a Maypole, with feasting and drinking of mead or metheglin (Shades of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings), sometimes made of herbs, including woodruff, a sweet-smelling herb to make the drinker merry and also act as a tonic for heart and liver. This change from Winter to Summer was also marked by a mock fight between the man representing Winter on one side with a blackthorn stick (Draenen ddu) and a shield with bits of wool on it to represent snow, and Summer, a man decorated with garlands of flowers and carrying a willow-wand which had spring flowers tied to it with ribbons.

    GREEN MAN & MAY QUEENAfter the long fight, which Summer won, of course, the May King and Queen were chosen and crowned, and the festivities could start with feasting, dancing , games and drinking till the following day.

    There was also a darker side to Calan Mai. In parts of North Wales there was the tradition of crogi gwr gwyllt, or hanging a straw man. A man who had lost his girlfriend to another would make a straw man and put it somewhere near the girl’s house. The straw man represented her new man and the less-than-complimentary contents of the note pinned to the effigy often lead to fights between the two men at the May Fair.

    Also May Eve was considered an ysbrydonos, or spirit night, when the spirits of the dead were about and divination was possible. The divination took various forms, the twca or knife test walking round a church seven times, the Candle and pin test, the clothes drying test, the washing test and the pullet’s egg test, all concerned with a girl trying to get the spectre of her future husband to appear. Unfortunately, in some cases a coffin would appear which meant she would die an old maid, or the devil to take her to hell. Dangerous business!

    The Hanging Toilets of Tenby

    If you were a prosperous Victorian householder in Tenby it was important to show how modern you were. The go-ahead and dynamic town council were now supplying those new-fangled drains and piped water. You wanted to take advantage of this latest invention. Unfortunately you had two problems in doing so, one small, one more difficult to solve.

    Before, using hot water in jugs for your baths was not only inconvenient but was also wearing out servants as they trudged up and down the stairs with heavy loads of hot water.  Now you could install a bath by converting one of the small bedrooms and get the evicted servants to double up in the attic. Problem solved.

    The second problem was more difficult to crack. You wanted one of those new water closets. No more cold visits to the outside privy for you. But where were you going to put it? Tenby house sites were very cramped. There was no room in the garden and usually there was solid rock underneath. So no way to install sewers. In any case you wanted it near the bedrooms.

    Then came the answer, the half-landing between the first and second floors only had a big window in the wall. Why not put a toilet there? All you had to do was build a wooden box, put your shiny new toilet in it and put some nice big pillars to support it outside the house.( Your only problem then was calm the fears of the ladies as, in effect,  they stepped over a cliff to use the loo. )


    A special feature of Tenby was born. A magnificent example of this type of hanging loo overlooks the beach between Castle Sands and the Paragon for all to see, as if to say “Look what I can afford”..

    As fittings became cheaper,  later in the century, flush W.C.’s in boxes hung outside the back wall moved downmarket and became more common in Tenby. But they also were more discreet as the Victorians became more prudish. Now they were hidden away and carefully covered in slates to make them less conspicuous.

    Once there were dozens. Now you have to hunt down the survivors. The author has counted fifteen. There may be more. See if you can spot them.