The town has grown around the walls of its stone castle, but the name is older than the castle. Narberth is derived from ‘Arberth’, the pre-Norman name for the district (or commote). This Celtic heritage is also represented in the myth and legend of the Mabinogion – ancient Welsh folk tales that were written down in the 14th century, originating from an earlier tradition of oral storytelling. Two branches of the Mabinogi in particular are centred on ‘Arberth’, which was reputedly the court of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed.
By 1718 the gentry of the parish, led by Sir John Philipps of Picton, had founded Narberth’s earliest known school with money left by the Rector. From 1764 circulating schools were also held at intervals. In the 19th century Narberth appears to have had many schools before there was a state system.
A British School established at Tabernacle, became the Board School in 1871. This later moved to the site of the present Primary School. The Church School was opened in 1869 and closed in the 1960′s when pupils moved to the Primary School. The town’s first Grammar School, started by a local man, John Morgan, was at one time held at Tabernacle vestry and was the forerunner of Narberth County Intermediate School
Roads & Transport
For centuries Narberth has stood on two important routes: the road east to west from Carmarthen to Haverfordwest and the ancient trading route from Tenby through to Cardigan. The 18th century saw an increase in traffic, due mainly to limestone quarrying at Ludchurch, and coal mining in the Pembrokeshire coalfield; consequently roads went from bad to worse. In 1771 the Tavernspite Turnpike Trust was established to maintain the main route through Tavernspite and Narberth. Tollgates were erected, including one near Narberth Bridge (at Mill Lane) and one at Redstone Road (at Plain Dealings). In 1791 the Whitland Trust was established. The tollgates were one of the targets of the Rebecca Riots, a movement in 1839-43 caused by rural distress. Many local gates and Narberth’s workhouse were attacked. Eventually the roads became the responsibility of the local authority.
Markets & Fairs
In 1688, James II granted a royal charter to Sir John Barlow, as lord of the manor, allowing Narberth to hold a weekly market and 3 fairs annually. The weekly market continued and the number of fairs increased. During the 18th and 19th centuries drovers regularly bought cattle at Narberth and drove them to the English markets, but by the end of the 19th century livestock was transported by train.
At one time St. James Street was known as ‘Sheep Street’ and on market days pens of sheep would line the street. High Street was known as Pig Market Street, until the mart ground became the venue for the pig market, and cattle and horses were tethered in High Street. In Market Square all types of food and household items were available: farmers’ wives sold eggs, butter and cheese, while the Llangwm fisherwomen sold cockles, oysters and salmon.
During the 19th century the town expanded with many craftsmen becoming established: blacksmiths, wheelwrights, spinners, weavers, drapers, milliners, hatters, millers, shoe and boot makers, clock makers and brewers, to name but a few. At one time there were as many as 30 public houses in the town!
The buildings, which one sees today in the streets leading from Market Square, represent the
period from the early 19th century, though they may be on earlier foundations.
The Drang is an ancient path linking St. James Street and Spring Gardens.
Back Lane is probably of medieval origin. The character of this narrow town lane still exists, with the rear gardens of houses in High Street backing onto it.
As in many ancient towns there is a tradition of tunnels. One such tunnel under Narberth can be authenticated by an incident early in the 20th century when a cow roamed into a passage and had to be recovered.
Plas Hyfryd was used as a Rectory between 1902 and the 1950′s and was then known as Belmore House.
The Old County Intermediate School
The Old County Intermediate School whose permanent buildings were opened in 1896 was enlarged in 1908 and made a distinguished contribution to local education. As a result of reorganisation, after the 2nd World War, it became a Secondary Modern School until its closure in 1986. The old buildings have now been converted into workshops and are occupied by local businesses and PLANED.
In the 1860′s authority was granted to build a railway line between Whitland and Tenby. A tunnel was driven through the hillside at Blackaldern, quite an engineering achievement at the time. Narberth Station was opened in 1866 and the station house was built in 1878.
A familiar figure in the town between the late 1920′s and the 2nd World War was ‘Ben the Bus’, who used to operate a horse-drawn taxi between the town and railway station.
The Court House
The Court House was purpose-built and completed in the early 1860’s. It was used as a county court and later a magistrates court until its closure in 1991.
The Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception
The Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception was originally erected in 1869 as a Church of England (or National) school. It became a church in 1981.