Today, Tenby is a popular Welsh tourist resort which welcomes many visitors and holiday makers to within its ancient walls, but in the month of March 1644 the situation was very different! The town and its harbour was the stronghold of Royalist forces of the King (Cavaliers), who were under siege by Parliamentarian land and sea forces (Roundheads) .The harbour was being blockaded by three ships from Admiral Swanley’s Squadron which was operating in the area.
The ships, the ‘Prosperous’, the ‘Swallow’ and the ‘Crescent’ had arrived from Milford Haven, and in the words of John Vaughan from Trawscoed “Summoned them to yield the town”. Having met with a refusal, the ships commenced a bombardment of the town, by ‘‘Storming it violently from the sea with their ordnance”, the largest vessel was the ‘Swallow’ of 40 guns commanded by Captain William Smith.
A desperate attempt was made to break this Parliamentarian stranglehold by the despatch of a Royalist ammunition ship from Bristol. Unfortunately for Tenby, the ‘gun-runner’ was sighted by a lookout on board one of Swanley’s ships and intercepted by one of the blockading vessels, probably the ‘Crescent’, as she was the smallest and lightest of the three ships. And so a sea chase began which put Llanelli into the history books! The ‘gun-runner’ finally managed to escape by putting in to Llanelli, which was probably still loyal to the Crown.
It seems that the failure of the supply ship to get through was crucial to Tenby, which fell on the 9th of March. According to John Vaughan who wrote on the 12th of March 1644, “A ship with some ammunition arrived from Bristol and ventured to relieve the town , was chased by a frigate of Swanley's and hardly escaped by putting into a creek at Llanelly, and is safe . Had Tenby been saved the country had been easily commanded with horse”.
Why did the gunrunner seek refuge at Llanelli? The prevailing winds generally blow in that direction, but more important, the ship was from Bristol and its master would have been more familiar with the treacherous sandbanks of the Burry estuary than the master of the ‘Crescent’. The creek mentioned by John Vaughan in his letter, was most likely the river Lliedi which once entered the sea at Sandy, quite near the site of the new water park bearing the same name, but in 1644 it was the safe haven of a Royalist gun-runner.
Maritime research by Dr David Davies
Sketch by Neville Tonge