The Tudor Merchant's House is a 15th-century town house located in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, in south west Wales. The house was built in the late 15th century from stone. At the time, Tenby was a busy commercial port, and the occupant of this type of house would have been a merchant who'd trade goods that were brought into and out of the town's harbour. The building consists of three stories; the lower floor was originally used as a shop by the merchant to conduct his business, the first floor as living quarters for the family and the upper floor for the sleeping quarters. The first floor would have been accessed by an external staircase and toilet facilities were located in a tower at the side of the house. The ceilings are supported by oak beams. The building is the oldest house still standing in Tenby, and was listed with Grade I status (indicating a building of exceptional interest) on March 19, 1951. Today it is operated as a historic house museum, with the building furnished and decorated as it would have been in the year 1500 with a combination of period and reproduction items.
With its strategic position on the far west coast of the British Isles, and a natural sheltered harbour from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea, Tenby was a natural settlement point. The earliest reference to a settlement at Tenby is in "Etmic Dinbych", a poem probably of the 9th century, preserved in the 14th century Book of Taliesin. At this point the settlement was probably a hill fort, the mercantile nature of the settlement possibly developing under Hiberno-Norse influence. After the Norman conquest, the lands came under the control of the Earls of Pembroke who strengthened the easy to defend but hard to attack hill fort on Castle Hill by building the first stone walled castle. This enabled the town to grow as a seaport but the need for additional defences was shown when it was attacked by Welsh forces in 1187 and again in 1260 by Llewelyn the Great. The town walls were built by William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke, in the late 13th century, enclosing a large part of the settlement into what is now termed the "old town". Although the actual wooden gates into Tenby no longer exist, the Five Arches at the edge of the old town give an insight into what travellers would have marvelled at as they entered.
During the Wars of the Roses Henry Tudor, the future King Henry VII of England, sheltered within Tenby before sailing into exile in 1471. Consequently, in the Late Middle Ages, Tenby was awarded various royal grants which financed the maintenance and improvement of the town walls and the enclosure of the harbour. The harbour during this period became a busy and important national port. Originally based on fish trading, traders sailed along the coast to Bristol and Ireland and further afield to France, Spain and Portugal. Exports from Tenby included wool, skins, canvas, coal, iron and oil; while in 1566 Portuguese seamen landed the first oranges to be brought to Wales.
Two key events caused the town to quickly and permanently decline in importance. Firstly, in the English Civil War, the town declared for Parliament and resisted two attempts by Charles Gerard, 1st Earl of Macclesfield to capture it for the King, Charles I. In 1648, the Royalists captured the castle for ten weeks before surrendering to Colonel Thomas Horton, who welcomed Oliver Cromwell to the town shortly afterwards. Secondly, in 1650, a plague epidemic killed half its population. Resultantly bereft of trade, the town was abandoned by the merchants, and slid inexorably into decay and ruin. By the end of the 18th century, the visiting John Wesley noted how: "Two-thirds of the old town is in ruins or has entirely vanished. Pigs roam among the abandoned houses and Tenby presents a dismal spectacle.
With the Napoleonic Wars restricting rich tourists from visiting the spa resorts in Europe, the need for home-based sea bathing grew. In 1802 locally resident merchant banker and politician Sir William Paxton bought his first property in the old town. From this point onwards he invested heavily in the town, with the full approval of the town council. Engaging the team who had built his home at Middleton Hall, engineer James Grier and architect Samuel Pepys Cockerell were briefed to create a "fashionable bathing establishment suitable for the highest society." His baths came into operation in July 1806 and, after acquiring the Globe Inn, transformed it into "a most lofty, elegant and convenient style" to lodge the more elegant visitors to his baths. Cottages were erected adjoining the baths, and livery stables with an adjoining coach house. In 1814 a road built on arches overlooking the harbour was built at Paxton's full expense. He later got passed a Bill in Parliament to enable fresh water to be piped through the town. Despite these accomplishments, his 1809 theatre was closed in 1818 due to lack of patronage.
Paxton also took in "tour" developments in the area, as required by rich Victorian tourists. This included the discovery of a chalybeate spring in his own park at Middleton Hall, and coaching inns from Swansea to Narberth. He also built Paxton's Tower, in memorial to Lord Nelson whom he had met in 1802 when mayor of Carmarthen. Paxton's efforts to revive the town succeeded, and even when victory at the Battle of Trafalgar reopened Europe, the growth of Victorian Tenby was inevitable. Through both the Georgian and Victorian eras Tenby was renowned as a health resort and centre for botanical and geological study. With many features of the town being constructed to provide areas for healthy seaside walks, due to the walkways being built to accommodate Victorian nannies pushing prams, many of the beaches today still retain good disabled access. In 1856 writer Mary Ann Evans (pen-name George Eliot) accompanied George Henry Lewes to Tenby to gather materials for his work Seaside Studies published in 1858.
Braille guide is available. Sensory experience. Induction Loop. There are three steps to the entrance of the building. Ground floor has steps and uneven floors. Stairs to other floors. Spiral staircase with narrow treads. Assistance dogs are welcome. No toilets -please use public toilets or nearby catering establishments offering refreshments.
Location : Quay Hill, Tenby, Pembrokeshire, SA70 7BX
Transport : Tenby (National Rail) 11 minutes. Bus Routes : 349, 351, 352, 360, 361, 381 and X49 stop nearby.
Opening Times : Daily 11:00 to 17:00; Tuesday and Wednesday until 18:15
Tickets : Adults £5.00; Children £2.50
Tel. : 01834 842279