Spring Gardens

Page added 22nd March 2016

A re-enactment scene on the iron work balcony of Spring Gardens.
Costumes by Sophie Dobson

There can be few people who have journeyed down Barn Street in Haverfordwest and not at some point or other wondered about the beautiful property on the left with the outstanding ironwork gracing the whole of the outside. And equally, hoping that the ongoing and lengthy work being done is not another destructive interloper/developer doing more damage to this unhappy, unique place. Not at all; Peter and Lucy Brooker make the ideal pair to take on property conservation, he a builder and she an architect. They live in Manorbier and have given a second life to many old properties.

Spring Gardens has the most delicious history attached to it. It was built in 1839 with its first resident being a solicitor named William Rees. The property was originally built as two very separate houses, the one on the left being the smaller. An assumption could be made that Rees’ very successful law business allowed him to consider that he needed a prestigious property somewhat larger than the norm and as such the two were altered to be interconnected. Another suggestion made is that he used one property as the offices for his law practice.

Rees took on as an apprentice William Davies. Davies, from Prendergast and born into absolute poverty did well as an articled clerk. In fact he did considerably more than that and not only married one of his boss’ two daughters but took over the business when Rees died, expanded it hugely...and moved into Spring Gardens.

In addition Davies saw that investment companies were uninterested in the tiny amounts that the poor of the country, who amounted to 90% of the population, were trying to put away for their old age; this was before old age pensions.

As such Davies introduced savings schemes that allowed the poor to save one or two pennies per week. This became so popular that it made Davies very wealthy. He opened offices all over the UK stood for Parliament and became an MP.

He also purchased Scoveston Manor and tended to live there rather than Spring Gardens on his return to Pembrokeshire.

After starting out as a Liberal with his election success in 1885, Davies moved his political stance to stand as a Gladstonian Liberal the following year which meant that he, like Gladstone, supported Home Rule for Ireland...quite a radical position. Nevertheless he was once again successful in the 1886 election.

He stood down in 1892 and at that point was knighted. There is of course no suggestion that the £20,000 that he gave to the Liberal Party influenced such an act.

In amongst all of this busy, busy life, Davies sought change in another area. Following the death of his wife he sought to marry her sister – his sister in law. The law in this country forbade such a practice considering the relationship to be too close and Davies had to take her to the Continent where it was allowed.

For decades attempts had been made in Parliament to alter the law and it seems that Davies may have had influence; it was finally rectified in 1907.

But all of this success had already come to a shuddering halt by 1895 when the enormous business empire went into bankruptcy. Excessive spending and poor investment are considered to be factors. The sad fact is that the people who lost the most were the very poor whose entire meagre savings disappeared.

Toby Petersen is a specialist blacksmith from Meidrim who undertakes metalwork conservation. The spectacular ironwork on Spring Gardens, created by the Marychurch foundry that stood for centuries in the space where Ocky White had their business, has taken him three months to repair. It has required the replacement of inset casts of decorative scrolls and new wrought ironwork. I was advised by Toby that to view ironwork of this scale and this quality would require a visit to Cheltenham. And after that, a journey would need to be made to Boston in the USA.

Much of the repair work that can’t be seen is being done by conservation builder Barrie Thomas.

Lucy Brooker suggests that conservation of this kind is a dangerous game as there is a tendency to fall in love with every property. In addition, the specialist work needed on one like Spring Gardens is so expensive that it can never be sold as to do so would incur a loss.