Book of the Month – A History of Little England Beyond Wales

Posted by Tenby Museum on Mar 27, 2018 Blog No Comments

Edward Laws was born in Lamphey Court in 1837, the home of the Mathias family. His mother was Mary Mathias. After a short military career with the Royal Sussex Regiment, he returned to Pembrokeshire and devoted the rest of his life to the study of archaeology, history and antiquities of Pembrokeshire. He was the prime mover in the establishment of a Local Museum for Tenby and became the first Honorary Secretary of the Museum’s trustees. He immersed himself in the activities of the town, being variously a member of the Borough Council, Mayor, J.P. and Sheriff of Pembrokeshire. He played a significant part in the organisation of Tenby Museum from its inception in 1878.

Laws knew a great many historians and archaeologists and had access to newly-opened public records. He deplored the wanton destruction of prehistoric monuments, not just by archaeologists but also by farmers and locals using stones for gateposts, walls or housing.  He studied the works of George Owen of Henllys (1552 – 1613), author of A Description of Pembrokeshire, and Richard Fenton’s A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire (1810)

Laws observed that cromlechs and related sites over Pembrokeshire were also common in Europe where the Iberian race was prevalent (eg North Africa, Spain, Portugal, Western France and Wales – but not Ireland). This was a finding first suggested by Tacitus and which is now supported by DNA evidence.

In 1888 Laws set himself the task of telling the story of Pembrokeshire from start to finish. In his book, Laws studies the early history of Pembrokeshire, Owain Glyndwr’s last attempt for Welsh independence resulting in the sacking of Haverfordwest and Tenby. He also gives the history of Henry ap Edmund ap Owain ap Merdydd ap Tudur, born at Pembroke Castle, victor at the Battle of Bosworth and crowned Henry VII of England. Laws also investigates the Civil War in Pembrokeshire, how the lords of Pembrokeshire initially fought for Parliament, but had a financially motivated change of heart in 1648 and then declared allegiance to the king. Because of this, Pembrokeshire’s most important parts and strongholds were utterly destroyed and the resources of the county totally exhausted. He states, “during the 19th Century, though Pembrokeshire has failed to regain the relatively prosperous condition it once enjoyed, actual decadence is stayed”.

Laws does not comment upon the 19th Century and ends his history with Pembrokeshire churches, local superstitions and apocryphal stories.

The edition is a black leather-bound book with British Museum (and crown logo) printed on front and back. It has a ribbed spine with LAWS – The History of Little England Beyond Wales, London 1888 in gilt on it.

Contents start with Pleistocene and Neolithic Pembrokeshire; it looks at the Welsh and Christianity, the Scandinavians, Normans and even Flemish immigrants. Geraldus Cambrensis has two chapters devoted to his writings and then there is the 100 years’ peace, before Laws explores Elizabethan Pembrokeshire and the Civil Wars, with a penultimate chapter on Pembrokeshire Churches before the concluding chapter that describes Pembrokeshire natives as “colonists of Little England look to the mother country”; how Tenby is ruined as a fishing village; destruction of fortification gates or towers; history; agriculture; traditions and an Ethnology and statistics of colourings of school children and the “strange persistence of priscan colouring, evidence that the inhabitants of Pembrokeshire have at no period been exterminated”; Christian names – Agitation for Disestablishment – Characteristics of South Pembrokeshire Men.

Illustrations include the Ogham Alphabet, Chimney in Monkton Hall, Lamphey Palace, Narberth Castle and the Seal of Tenby Corporation.