Pembrokeshire 3 - St Davids/The Bishops Palace/Rita the meter maid/a city - what's that all about?

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March 24th 2019
Published: March 24th 2019
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So let's talk about a quiz question? Where is the smallest city in the United Kingdom?

Answer - Thanks to Pembrokeshire council Gabby is currently parked up on a leafy almost empty car park. Out of the front windscreen we can see the ruined but impressive Bishops Palace and the small cathedral of St David. St Davids has a cathedral. a bishop who sits upon his throne and a population at the last census in 2011 of 1,841 . It was originally granted its city status due to having a cathedral but this was lost and only restored in 1955. St Davids appears to be a one man street. Probably it has a High Street or a Main Street, a Church Street and a Chapel Street but little else. Am I being a little unkind now?

We decide to sit in Gabby and discuss cities whilst we eat our lunch. "What about North Wales and its cities?" There is Bangor with its cathedral, its university, its wonderful views of Snowdonia and the Menai Straits. Bangor has a population of just 18,808 at the same census and this includes around 10,500 seasonal students at Bangor University . It is one of only six places classed as a city in Wales, Finally in the north we have St Asaph. Again with a cathedral and a population of 3355. Ok you can see where this conversation was going. What about Wrexham? How many times had it tried and failed to gain city status. We had lost count over the years . There was always somewhere else more important. With a population of 61,603 it is the fourth largest urban area in Wales. It does not have a cathedral unless you include the Catholic Cathedral of St Mary but it does have a fabulously beautiful church dedicated to St Giles. It was the town where the Welsh Football Association was founded. We decided that it is a political thing and it is not right . We feel mightedly aggrieved and ask what do you have to do to acquire city status.

As we eat our conversation drifts towards vegetarianism. To be fair we cover all sorts of topics from city status to vegetarianism , from football to the weather and from BREXIT to our next trip. I was struggling with my 6;1 diet it was obvious that vegetarianism would come up at some point on this trip. You won't find any mention of the 6:1 diet on the t'interweb. I gave it the name as I have cut down on meat. I never ate a lot of it in the first place but a health scare give me the reason to think about meat in a different way I have s ix meat free days and on the seventh I indulge in a bacon sandwich or chicken roast dinner. Sadly the pubs down here don't seem to cater much for non meat eaters.

As we completed eating our meal Rita the meter maid turned up. She gave a cursory glance to the parking machine and then meandered between all the vehicles checking for parking tickets. She didnt bother with us for some reason.

It was now though time to head off in the direction of the dark brooding austere cathedral. From a distance it looked almost black as if built in north wales slate.

We expected to pay to enter but were surprised that the only money requested was for a candle if you chose to light one or for a donation. We expected a guide handing out instructions and guides. Nothing , No vergers , no visitors - in fact the cathedral was deathly quiet and we were left to wander at will, Not a good thing as we were sure to miss something important .

Inevitably we found ourselves comparing St Davids Cathedral with Hereford and others we have visited over the years. ."Is it better?" "Is it less well endowed?". So what interested us most ? The intricate wooden carved ceiling joists with a magnificent wooden crucifix over the nave. Some interesting side chapels containing the shrine of St David the patron saint of Wales and his mother Non. On the walls plaques to local families. Along the chancel many gravestones of knights and eminent bishops. Many old and ravaged by both time and the weather. Feet and hands missing. Features indistinct. The signs above them explaining who they were and when they lived and died.

Before we left we had already made our minds up not to visit the Bishops Palace. No idea why. Perhaps it was the poor weather .

As we left the porch of the cathedral however we changed our minds. It looked interesting . We might not come this way again so why not visit? It was free . Yet again thankyou CADW. We certainly have had our monies worth this trip. We were welcomed by the guides . They told us the complex was large and most of the things to see were on the first floor. It competed with its near neighbour the cathedral. In fact it overpowered it in size and presence. The palace was built around a courtyard . We walked up the first of the grand staircases. There were two in the complex. This entrance had been the ceremonial entrance to the main buildings and the entrance important visitors would use. How many feet must have walked the same way we were walking today. Again we had the place to ourselves. Was it the weather keeping folks at home?

A hint of what was to come came as we walked through the Great Porch. On either side of the doorway were representations of Edward III and his wife Queen Philippa. It all though was a shadow of its former self but what a building it must have been, How wonderful it must have looked with its roof intact. Its firegrates burning brightly and the smell of food permeating from the kitchens. Each room displaying the wealth of the bishop for all to see.

The arches above the windows were decorated in a chequerboard style of red and white tiles and bricks. A Bath stone wheeled window once full of tracery and coloured glass overlooked the cathedral as if to say "I can see you and I am above you". It was a sunny room and one that would have welcomed visitors to the palace. The palace was silent today but what would it have sounded like with servants talking amongst themselves and the noise of kitchens clanging and banging. We saw areas for entertainment, servant quarters and kitchens . A massive undercroft would have housed the tithes paid over by the villagers and the cathedrals congregation.

The earliest building on the site was constructed in the 13th century by Henry de Gower bishop between 1328 and 1347. How it survived the dissolution of such houses is hard to understand. It survived the Civil war although at some point the locals must have prided themselves on using the stones for their own humble dwellings.

What a treat. An unexpected one at that. Perhaps these are the best ones . You fall on them accidently and they deliver more than you ever expect.

Additional photos below
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25th March 2019

Definition of a City is that it has to have a Cathedral - I think!! Unless you know any cities that dont have a Cathedral?
25th March 2019

Hi Jackie I think that was the old criteria for cities but I am sure it doesn't exist now. I was thinking Swansea only has a roman catholic cathedral same as Wrexham . I am not sure about Hull I shall do some digging.
25th March 2019

found the answer
UK cities without cathedrals include: Bath, Cambridge, Hull, Lancaster, Newport, Nottingham, Plymouth, Salford, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent and Wolverhampton. Swansea as well UK towns (and one village) with cathedrals that aren't cities include: Bury St Edmunds, Chelmsford, Blackburn, Guildford and Southwell. It seems size isn't important any more nor is the fact you have a cathedral . Apparently the Queen has to confer the status on the place. You can tell I am a North Walian and can never feel happy every time Wrexham gets turned down. I think it must be my age . We have just got our Green card for Montenegro and Bosnia . Counting the days down
26th March 2019

Mmmmm....I think more research is needed! Im pretty sure Bath has a Cathedral. Newport has St Woolas Cathedral and Plymouth also has a Cathedral (but run down!) we think. Also Chelmsford is the latest place to be made a City? Interesting stuff! x
27th March 2019

cathedrals and cities
Sounds like a mission - a bit like Sion our welsh sheep who comes with us everywhere and his best friend Woolly Mammoths mission to hunt out the Roman Hadrian and toilets. Seriously though I know you used to have a cathedral to qualify for city status but that seems to have gone by the by over the last few years.
28th March 2019

I think you are most definitely correct!! I found this on the internet - interestuing stuff!! - All UK towns (through their local council) can apply to become a city, whether they have an Anglican cathedral or not. ... In the end government finally broke the link between cathedrals and cities when they decided Belfast and Birmingham could become cities without cathedrals and Southwell would remain a town.
28th March 2019

We live about 15 miles or so from Southall and I had forgotten about its wonderful cathedral . I know Wrexham have tried many times and been turned down in favour of other towns. How long are you home for before you set off on your travels again? We are counting the days down .Cant come soon enough.

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