Situated on a high ridge between two tidal inlets in the south-west corner of Wales, Pembroke Castle, with its walls still standing sentinel after hundreds of years, dominates the landscape. These walls stand as silent witnesses to a narrative of pre-historic occupation as well as centuries of tumultuous history; to the power of William Marshall, ‘England’s Greatest Knight’; and to the birth of the most infamous of all English royal dynasties, the Tudors. Pembroke Castle is best known today as the birthplace of Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII , but recent archaeological excavations may reveal Henry VII was not born in one of the towers at all!
The impressive walls of Pembroke Castle in Wales ( Geoff Pickering / Adobe Stock )
Wogan’s Cave At Pembroke
The castle stands on a site that has been occupied since prehistoric times, with a large cave known as Wogan’s cavern hidden beneath the castle. The name Wogan is derived from the Welsh word ogof, which literally means ‘cave’. The cave, formed of natural limestone, is an enormous 25 meters (82 feet) long. In 1908 the nearby Priory Farm Cave was excavated by Dr Durrell Style and Mr Dixon, which conclusively proved that there was Palaeolithic occupation in the area. Their finds included flint tools and worked bone, on display at the National Museum of Wales.
Wogan’s Cavern under Pembroke Castle ( ceridwen / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Wogan’s cavern, despite its easy accessibility from both ground level and within the castle, until recently had been little explored. Curators and visitors alike were satisfied by knowing that it was a likely site of ‘Stone Age’ occupation. However recent initial archaeological investigation has revealed its floor surface is pristine and proves that visitors are literally walking in the footsteps of people from the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods. Excavations undertaken in 2021 under the direction of Rob Dinnis and Jenni French, of Liverpool University, have uncovered a large and varied assemblage of worked flints, animal bones and shells in situ just centimeters below the surface of Wogan’s Cavern, dating to 10,000 years ago. Clearly the Palaeolithic inhabitants were making use of the cave’s natural shelter and taking advantage of the access to water and the food sources that it provided via access to the Milford Haven Waterway. With further excavations being planned for the next few years, who knows what secrets the cave might yet yield, but there is another secret to Pembroke Castle.
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Rebecca Batley has a Bachelor’s degree in archaeology (University of Wales) and a Master’s degree in Classics. In the field she has worked on sites dating to the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Romano-British, Roman, Medieval, Tudor, Georgian and modern periods. Employed by the Louvre Museum, she researched and excavated at sites in Egypt, Syria, and Israel. She works at the Military Intelligence Archive to help to prepare World War One records for cataloguing and digitalisation and she is a part time History tutor.
Top Image : Historic Pembroke Castle birthplace of King Henry VII, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK ( Marcin/ Adobe Stock )
By: Rebecca Batley