The day after my visit to Dinefwr, I headed off to Tenby with some friends and they left me to explore the Tudor Merchant’s House while they went for a (very windswept!) walk. The house is said to be one of the oldest houses in South Wales and is tucked away down Bridge Street, a narrow alley overlooking the attractive harbour. As far as location is concerned, I’m quite envious of the Tudor merchant, whoever he may have been.
Unfortunately, details about former occupants of the house are scarce, especially from the early years of the aforesaid Tudor tradesman and his family. The house’s more recent history is also far from noteworthy and when Tenby County Council took over the property in 1910, it was reported to be a virtual ruin. The National Trust got involved in the 1930s and repaired the roofs and floors and it was then let to a number of tenants, including the Ministry of Defence, which housed officers and evacuees there during the war years. The last occupants left in 1975.
In 2012, the National Trust celebrated 75 years as owner of the site and embarked on a major refurbishment. One of the volunteers told me that most of the old furnishings that were once displayed there have been replaced with reproductions that can be handled, sat on and generally interacted with, which makes a more child-friendly environment and turns this into something of an educational tool rather than a show house.
Without having seen the house and put this into context, I might have bellowed with outrage or at the very least frowned an extra line or two into my forehead, but actually I don’t object too much as far as this particular property is concerned. There are, after all, only three rooms open for public view and with no knowledge of the early residents and no surviving examples of original furniture, the Trust has done the best it can with what it has and has simply chosen to present the site as a generic example of Tudor living.
This was perhaps my shortest visit to date but I did it as comprehensively as I could, taking a leaflet and reading up about Tudor life as I drifted from floor to floor, accompanied by some very soothing and atmospheric chamber music. As usual, the volunteers were a friendly bunch and as it wasn’t busy I could probably have taken one with me for a personal tour of the house. As it was, I was given a potted history of the site and was then accompanied for a quick guided tour of the kitchen before heading upstairs by myself. An interesting highlight (if you can call it that!) is the cesspit, which is right alongside the kitchen hearth and would have needed a very heavy curtain to try to keep the good and bad smells separate from each other. On the next floor, a corner latrine sits directly over the pit (note: this is the only toilet in the house but is certainly not for public use!)
On the way out, the volunteers also shared some of their wisdom about other NT properties in the area and I was a little sorry that I didn’t have time to get to the Colby Woodland Garden to meet their new ducks! Don’t worry, ducks, I’ll be back another time.
Highlights: Location, friendly volunteers