Guided Tour of the Bishop’s Palace at St Davids : 13th September 2021

Fourteen members of PNTA gathered for this guided tour, by Amanda Canby-Lewis, lead Custodian for this CADW monument.

She set the scene talking of the birth of St David, in the 6th Century, and his establishment of a modest monastery in the area. In subsequent centuries, much travel was by sea. In response to Viking raids in the 9th and 10th century, when two bishops were killed, areas hidden from the sea, gained favour, hence the siting of the Cathedral, built by the Normans in 12th Century. Some of the Bishop’s Palace walls (the west wing) may have been built at this time.

It was Bishop Henry De Gower that had the vision for a grand Palace adjacent to the cathedral, in the 14th century, to celebrate the power of the bishop over the surrounding lands and people. It was a centre for the collection of tythes, administration of justice and a focal point for the many pilgrims that visited.

Moving on 2 centuries, the Dissolution saw Henry VIIth ordering Bishop Barlow to strip the palace roof of its lead, for the benefit of the monarch’s purse, which led to the buildings decline.

1633 was the last recorded formal use of the palace. It was stripped of valuable items. Subsequently the area was used for market gardens and animal grazing. In the 18th and 19th century it provided housing for paupers. In the 1920s it featured a tennis court!
In 1932 the Church passed the Palace to HM Commissioner of Works. In 1984 CADW took responsibility arranging repairs and opening the palace to the public and using it as a venue for events.

Had the Palace been built with dressed stone, much of the structure would have been raided and lost, but the rubble stone had little value, so there was still much for us to see on the tour.

We saw the vaults with its “cracks” in the ceiling, marking the stages of construction.
The Chapel walls had rendering, disguising the differing rates of weathering of the assorted stonework. Putlog holes, visible in wall, were signs of scaffolding support in construction.
The decorated arcaded parapets, similar to those seen at Lamphey, with their foreign appearance, were symbolic of Bishop de Gower’s extensive travels.
In its grander days the Great Hall boasted semi glazed windows, with shutters below the glass. The Rose or Wheel window has the only imported stone (from Bath). It has been given a fine render to protect it.
The “White Lady”ghost is said to haunt the Great Hall.

Our tour was punctured with talk of bats enjoying having the place almost to themselves, during lockdown; a barn owl trying to set up home, and a mitching schoolboy toppling a statue in his search for bird eggs.

For those visiting without a guided tour, information boards answer the most frequently asked questions, and models tucked away in the vaults show how the Palace would have looked.

Amanda completed the tour describing how their understanding of the history is ever evolving, as new information comes to light. She was thanked for her stimulating presentation that held our interest throughout.

Amanda Canby-Lewis shows PNTA members the Rose Window.

Report and photos by Andrew Weaver