By Nathen Amin
A new campaign for a statue and visitor centre for Henry VII in Pembroke is underway, led by the town council in close conjunction with the Pembroke and Monckton Local History Society.
In November 2014 Pembroke Town Council agreed to commission a marquette and public consultation is now ongoing as to the details of the project. A site has been earmarked on the bridge which crosses the picturesque Mill Pond towards the rear of the castle. It is certain that should a statue be sited on this bridge, the backdrop of the castle would ensure this monument’s location would be one of the most spectacular in the country.
On 3 October 2015 the Pembroke and Monckton Local History Society hosted a coffee morning to invite discussion over the plans and to seek public opinion. A well-received talk on ‘Pembroke and the Tudors’ was given by prolific Welsh author Terry Breverton and also present was Tudor historical fiction author and Pembrokeshire native Tony Riches. A brief introduction was given by town Mayor Pauline Waters who stressed the importance of the statue to Pembroke and underlining the support of the town council for the project. A presentation was then given by Linda Asman of the local history society who has been responsible for the organisation of the campaign thus far.
It was announced that the town council had commissioned a small model of the proposed statue by local sculptor Harriet Addyman which was praised by those present. The model depicts Henry Tudor in his traditional full length robe and black cap whilst a greyhound stands loyally to his side, indicative of not only the earldom of Richmond but also the tradition of greyhounds in the local area. It was also further announced that Pembrokeshire County Council had agreed to match fund from their Town Centre Support Programme although the majority of the funds would still need to be raised.
In addition to the statue, those involved in the campaign also spoke passionately about their ultimate aim of opening a dedicated Henry Tudor Visitor Centre in Pembroke. A national appeal will be conducted to help fundraise and the hope is that the centre will serve as a must-visit location in the study of England’s Welsh king.
Why Does Pembroke need a Henry Tudor statue?
The Tudor Dynasty is without doubt one of the Europe’s most infamous families; their story has been told and retold across the centuries and remains today a massive, multi-million pound industry centred around the key figures who once ruled England – Henry VIII and Elizabeth I to name but two. ‘Tudor England’ in itself has become a well-known phrase that covers many aspects of the era, particularly architecture, arts and the lifestyle. What is often overlooked however is that the Tudors, whilst coming to encompass all that is considered great about England, were a Welsh dynasty with their roots firmly entrenched in the hills across Offa’s Dyke.
A descendant of Welsh royalty through his paternal family, Henry Tudor was born in Pembroke Castle on the night of 28 January 1457. It was alleged by a later chronicler that Henry’s birth took place in one of the outer gatehouse towers, marked today by a wonderful exhibition featuring his young mother Margaret Beaufort. Henry it appears stayed at Pembroke until he was around four years old when he became the ward of William Herbert and relocated to Raglan Castle in Monmouthshire.
Nonetheless, this precocious young child was a son of Pembroke and a son of Pembroke he remained. With this in mind it is somewhat disappointing to note the lack of celebration towards the birth and subsequent life of Henry Tudor in West Wales. This isn’t merely a location with a tenuous link to the Tudors, it’s an integral part of the Tudor story as the birthplace of Henry VII, Father of the Tudor Dynasty. With the plethora of Tudor related places in the region it is very surprising and almost unacceptable to learn that this wonderful historical occurrence hasn’t been capitalised upon. There is a large and lucrative Tudor market in England which has proved to be provide a consistent income from tourism and it is galling that Pembrokeshire has yet to adopt such measures.
If people are willing to travel hundreds of miles, sometimes thousands, to visit Tudor locations throughout England then surely Pembroke and indeed Pembrokeshire should be marketing itself as the “Birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty”. It is difficult to overstate the financial benefits the Tudors bring to the UK touristy industry, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans alone regularly visiting the many palaces and castles in England to place themselves in the very spot history happened. Hampton Court. Windsor. Kenilworth Castle. Ludlow Castle. Even Stratford-Upon-Avon with its Shakespeare links. York has built an entire tourism industry by capitalising on its, admittedly unique, heritage. The list is endless.
I have previously campaigned for a statue to be erected of Henry Tudor in Pembroke, supported by the castle and the town council. It would give an overt and obvious indication of the importance of the castle to the Tudor story and could prove to be a lucrative marketing aspect for Tudor addicts. It is all very well having exhibitions inside, but the key is attracting people to the area in the first place, and a statue would certainly do that. As a comparison, the small North Welsh village of Corwen has a magnificent statue of Owain Glyndwr and as a result has been able to attract scores of Welshmen from all over to view it. Imagine tapping into only a mere percentage of the gigantic Tudor Tourism Industry and persuading them to come to Pembroke for a similar pilgrimage to the one they already make to many different locales throughout England.
The castle itself, under the managerialship of Jon Williams, has certainly done all it can financially do to increase tourism although their ambitions are drastically reduced by the economic issues of running such an enterprise without any outside funding. Jon once stated to me “we are gradually adding to and modernising our interpretation here and although we don’t lack ambition and ideas unfortunately it takes money to make things happen on a major scale“. Indeed Pembroke Castle itself is a small independent charitable trust “that needs to spend a lot of resources to simply maintain the castle as a visitor attraction“. Jon further stated “it would make perfect sense to have a statue although my opinion is that it would benefit Pembroke more if it were at the opposite end of the main street to the Castle. Firstly this would encourage Castle visitors to wander the town and secondly it would act as a good welcome to people arriving at East End Square“.
A statue or visitor centre of Henry Tudor would certainly benefit Pembroke and it would benefit Wales. Pembrokeshire’s most famous son deserves more than a couple of mere plaques and in an age of austerity any attempt to bring in tourism to boost the stuttering economy must be seriously looked at. Pembroke is the home of the world famous Tudor Dynasty and deserves recognition that would certainly place it on the global scale alongside other famous Tudor locations in England.