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