The stonework shows there were a great deal of alterations over time, though inside to the left of the main door – which may have originally had a drawbridge above it – there is an early medieval fireplace at first floor level suggesting a lord’s fine hall.
In 1324 Sir Walter Malefant held only half a knight’s fee from the Earl of Pembroke, and this is recorded at neighbouring Nash rather than Upton, though the lands in question may have been the same. One factor in the relatively late building of the present castle may simply have been financial – it could well have cost more money (and a monetary economy was coming in by then) than the estate alone could generate. That there was some money in the family from time to time is indicated by Sir Henry Malefant being one of three commissioners appointed to raise funds to buy a truce from Owen Glendower in 1405, but the sources of wealth may lie elsewhere, either from lands, marriage or (later on) trade.
If they couldn’t afford a stone castle until the early 1300s – and Edward I was certainly building many castles in Wales on borrowed money around the time of the death of the last Welsh Prince of Wales in 1282 - this begs the question of where the lords of the estate lived before then, and how they protected the inhabitants from the regular Welsh revolts against the Norman presence. The Time Team have determined that the chapel was built around 1200, and Upton is not a Welsh name, so we have a picture of Normans moving northwards from Pembroke though the history of Pembrokeshire suggests it was by no means a steady expansion.
The Time Team found the walls of the present castle kitchen to be medievally thick, and have postulated a rectangular-plan castle with a courtyard at the rear. A late 18th century print of the castle shows a mound of earth around it that has been subsequently levelled in Victorian times, as shown by the discovery in the courtyard area of 19th century levels below soil containing earlier finds! If there was something like a motte and bailey castle on the site before the stone building, a fortified settlement of earth and wood, the Victorian landscaping has hidden all signs of it.
The Normans first supported Pembrokeshire by sea – the first recorded Sheriff was also Sheriff of Devon – and it is notable that most early castles are along the shore line. Not only is there a stream past the castle which indicates a necessary local source of water for occupation, but the estate backs onto Milford Haven. It’s a pity that the Time Team didn’t comment on the masonry building down near the water, though it may not be medieval.
Short of further archaeological digs on the site, the early history of Upton may have to be inferred from knowledge of the ways in which the Normans, imported Flemings and Welsh interacted over time, an appreciation of local geography and settlement, and the conflicting tides of invasion and revolt. Trouble for the English crown such as the baronial revolts from the time of Magna Carta onwards meant opportunities for Welsh princes to attempt to reassert control of Pembrokeshire, though the two aristocracies did begin to intermarry from the early 1100s. Henry Owen (Old Pembroke Families 1902) says the castle finally went out of the family through the marriage of Alice Malefant to a local Welsh lord in the mid-15th century.
Andrew Maliphant August 2015
The Time Team investigation in 2012 decided that the chapel was built around 1200 in the Norman style, earlier than the stone castle.
It was not unusual for the pious Normans to build their churches in stone first, before their castles, but that does not mean there was no military presence in 1200. The Time Team suggested that the inhabitants of Upton at the time were non-Welsh, who may well have needed protection from regular Welsh revolts against the Norman invaders – though PembrokeCastle (built from 1093 on) is not far away.
The part of the church nearest the castle is the oldest part, with a font dated around 1200. The elaborate knightly monument is considered from the style of clothing to be Sir William Malefant who died in 1362. Henry Owen (Old Pembroke Families 1902) says William married Margaret Fleming, an heiress who brought lands from Glamorgan to the marriage, which may help explain the wealth reflected by the tomb. Infra-red photography in the 1970s showed up the family crest as we know it painted on the wall above the tomb, together with the Lord’s prayer.
(As an aside, there are many families with memorials in the chapel, but only one per family – this suggests that the Upton estate itself was not particularly wealthy, and that the memorials reflect the varying tide of wealth acquired elsewhere.)
The Time Team found that the second part of the chapel was built sometime later, presumably before the death of William’s wife Margaret who is considered to be the fine memorial nearest the altar. Before then, there was a semi-circular apse just beyond the connecting doorway, a feature which also points to a Norman date for the original church.
On the other side from Margaret is the statue of a huge man reportedly brought over from St Mary’s Church at Nash. This is the neighbouring parish towards Pembroke, and it is interesting that William’s presumed father Walter is recorded as holding half a knight’s fee from the Earl of Pembroke at Nash, rather than Upton. The crossed legs of the statue suggest the man may have been a crusader, and we know the Third Crusade was preached through Wales by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1188, so whoever he was (there are no surviving records of any Malefants in Wales before William’s presumed great-grandfather in 1258), he may possibly have been the builder of the chapel.
The other unusual feature of the chapel is the clenched fist near Sir William’s memorial built to hold a candle, but we don’t know the meaning behind this. In the early days this would have been close to the original altar. There is no knowledge either of the identity of the man commemorated in the more priestly or monastic memorial in the newer part of the church.
Andrew Maliphant August 2015