Lydstep straddles the border of Manorbier and Penally. The name means an inlet or bay and recalls Viking raids on this coast a thousand years ago or more. Lyd may have been a personal name.
Occasionally remnants of a submerged forest are visible at the north end of Lydstep Haven and finds now at Tenby Museum indicate that people roamed over the former land surface, perhaps 6000 years ago. The ‘long stone’ which used to stand just east of the parish boundary in the field behind the Palace, may have been a Bronze Age monolith.
Occupation during the Iron Age is suggested by a promontory fort about half a mile south of the village at Skomar. Earthworks on Lydstep Point were destroyed by quarrying in the 19th century.
Welsh and Normans
The descendants of the Iron Age Celts were dominant here until the end of the 11th century, and there may have been a holding or holdings of high status. The Normans arrived in the late 11th century and the Cantref of Penfro was re-organised as the Lordship of Pembroke.
The Manor of Manorbier and Penally
Held by various individuals in medieval and Tudor times, in 1601 it was leased by Queen Elizabeth I to Thomas Bowen esq. of Trefloyne in Penally. In 1670 another Thomas Bowen, conveyed the manor to Sir Erasmus Philipps of Picton Castle.
The Manorial Court of Longstone
This was the fortnightly court of the freeholders of Manorbier and Penally, possibly held near the Lydstep ‘long stone’.
In 1811, the antiquary Richard Fenton, having commented on a house in Penally, continued ‘to the east and south-east on to Ludstep the country was formerly thickly studded with houses above the rank of such as farmers might have been supposed to inhabit most of them being surrounded with a court, and entered by an arched gateway…’ The 19th century antiquary and artist E L Barnwell recorded an ancient house (or possibly two houses) in the approximate location of Lydstep Home Farm. It was demolished about 1908.
The property of the Adams family for over a century, it was often let to tenants. The house did not merit any particular comment. In 1856 P H Gosse wrote, ‘we pull across Lidstep Bay – a shingle beach, backed by low, green hills and fields, with a few farmhouses’. Quarrying in progress, would have diminished the attractions of the property, but in 1841 it had a Lodge on the approach lane from the village.
The first large-scale OS map shows two or three old quarries to the north of the village and an old lime kiln a field’s distance from the road just north-east of Lydstep Cottage. Other old quarries are indicated near South Lodge and on the headland. It is not known when commercial exploitation at the Point began, but the picture which emerges is of the stones being conveyed in trucks over a tramway on the flat of the quarry to the edge of a cliff, and of a device involving a frame to lower the stones on to the vessels, which, although of up to one hundred and thirty tons would lie in close underneath the cliffs for loading. This was a summer trade and boats came from other parts of Wales (Cardigan is named) and North Devon (for example Bideford).
John Wynford Philipps – Viscount St Davids
In the last decade of the 19th century Lydstep House and other property was purchased by John Wynford Philipps and his first wife Nora (Gerstenberg). Lydstep House was extended, a new drive constructed and hundreds of trees planted. The village was enlarged to accommodate workmen and servants.
A new house was built at Lydstep Farm (which became Home Farm) and the Lodges and a Reading Room constructed. The red pantiles which were part of the style can still be seen. Mrs Philipps/Lady Nora had a deep commitment to a variety of causes in London, Wales and the local area. Her constructive approach emerges very clearly in the nine numbers which appeared of ‘Our Village Society Chronicle’ (Manorbier, Penally, St Florence and Gumfreston) from January 1913. Mr Philipps, the eldest son of Rev Canon Sir James Erasmus Philipps 12th Baronet of Picton, in due course succeeded his father as 13th Baronet. A Liberal MP, elevated to the House of Lords in 1908 as Lord St Davids, he was created Viscount in 1918. He suffered the death of Lady St Davids, and the loss of their two sons in action in 1915 and 1916. A son and daughter were born of his second marriage.
Lydstep House Recalled
A member of the local history group recalls that a relative of his, Maurice (Morris) Davies of Lydstep son of Edward Davies, was bound apprentice to Thomas Davies of Manorbier, Builder and Cabinet Maker, for five years from 24 May 1899 and that during his apprenticeship they worked at Lydstep House.
Departure and Change
In 1926 Lydstep Haven Estate was for sale. Following the departure of Lord and Lady St Davids, Lydstep Haven House was occupied first by the Earl of Essex and then by Colonel John Edward Grimble Groves. After the war Mr Harry Victor Thomas opened it as a guest
house and introduced the first caravans. His son, Mr David Thomas, sold it to Pontins in 1982. It is now a Bourne Leisure Holiday Complex.
World War II
The army requisitioned houses and built Nissen huts at Lydstep Haven. Most of Lydstep House was also given over to the use of the Anti-Aircraft School at Manorbier. In ‘The Girls Behind the Guns: With the ATS in World War II’, Dorothy Brewer Kerr, recalls work with radar, computing in the library of Lydstep House, quarters in a Nissen hut, and the warmth and welcome to be found in Mrs Walters’ cafe.
Meeting Places and Inns
Mrs Walters’ cafe is now part of the Lydstep Tavern where the local history group met. Lydstep has never had a church, chapel or school and the Reading Room is now a residence (Sea View). In 1851 John Twigg was innkeeper of the Quarry Hotel on or very near the site of the present inn. Described variously as The Quarry Hotel, Quarry Inn and the Quarry, the public house was kept for a long period at the end of the 19th century by Andrew Nicholl but by 1906 it had ceased to exist, apparently in an attempt to prevent workers drinking their wages. A Trade Directory of 1910 lists a Temperance Hotel kept by Henry Fair, subpostmaster. The inn was re-opened as the Lydstep Tavern on 4 July, 1974.
Wonders of Lydstep Bay were caverns called the Cave of Beauty, the Tower cave, the Drot (local pronunciation of Droch or Draught) and the Smugglers Cave. Mrs F P Gwynne in her ‘Guide to Tenby’ mentioned Betsy Brinn who with her child lived in the guide’s cottage and would show visitors the caves and the route along the Highlands round the entire peninsula and back to the Ivy Lodge. (Betsy Brinn and her daughter were living at Drot in 1871).
Above the beach at the eastern end, a few yards away from the path, there used to be a crossstone in memory of J Cockburn Thompson who was drowned while bathing on 26th May 1860.
In 1936 Lydstep headland consisting of about fifty four acres and with a total coastline of one and a quarter miles was acquired by the National Trust from J L Adams, W G Wynne and F George Loring.
Point to point horse races began in 1947, the main one being the South Pembrokeshire Hunt on Easter Monday.
Walks and Wildlife
The walk to Lydstep Point, owned by the National Trust, is mostly level and affords excellent views. Lydstep caves involve a steep climb down and a scramble over the rocks. Check the tide tables; the caverns can only be reached at low tide. For a longer walk, head north to Norchard Farm and over the Ridgeway to St Florence. You could return using the Ritec Walk to Penally and back along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Along the coast path enjoy typical limestone scenery and flora. On sea-facing slopes, look out for salt tolerant plants such as Sea Beet, Rock Samphire, Sea Lavender and Thrift. In spring a wide range of seabirds nest on the cliffs and you may spot a Peregrine Falcon. Overhead, look out for Buzzards and Kestrels.