A History of Thornbury Castle

Tudors

Thornbury Castle is a magnificent retreat located in South Gloucestershire that is proudly proclaimed to be the only Tudor castle to presently operate as a hotel, a unique novelty that serves as a powerful selling point. As someone who recently stayed at the castle I can personally endorse Thornbury as an incredible place to visit and should be added to the bucket list of all who read this.

Thornbury Castle from the Tudor Gardens

Thornbury Castle from the Tudor Gardens

 

The History

In July 1510 Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, obtained a royal licence to undertake work at his manor of Thornbury, located on the edge of the Cotswolds. The manor had been in the Stafford family for generations and the ambitious duke sought to transform his pleasant retreat into a palatial home without rival anywhere else in the kingdom.

The proud and arrogant Buckingham was a descendant of the Plantagenet kings of England and had an impeccable bloodline through which he was not only well-connected, but also exceptionally wealthy. Nonetheless he had effectively been exiled from holding any power at court due to the pre-eminence of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and the king’s favourites such as Charles Brandon and William Compton. With an egotistical desire to attract attention and with money to burn, Buckingham set about a building campaign that would ensure his castle would be the grandest noble home in the kingdom.

The reasons for Buckingham’s desire to base himself at Thornbury, as opposed to one of his many other estates throughout England, are unclear but may be connected in part to his childhood. The duke’s father, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, had been an ally of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in 1483 and helped Gloucester claim the throne as Richard III. Within months the 2nd Duke turned against his king and launched a farcical rebellion to unseat Richard. After the collapse of his uprising the duke was captured and summarily executed in Salisbury.

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The young Edward Stafford’s uncertain future was somewhat secured when the seven-year-old’s wardship was given to Margaret Beaufort in 1486, the mother of the new king Henry VII and the esteemed matriarch of the Tudor Dynasty. It is a possibility Margaret placed the young boy at Thornbury Manor, a claim lent credence when taken into consideration the marriage of the duke’s mother Katherine Wydeville to Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford and uncle to the king. It is known that Jasper based himself at Thornbury and would die there on 21 December 1495. His ghost is stated to roam the property.

After a childhood spent in close companionship with the royal family, Edward Stafford emerged into adulthood as a strong-headed and ostentatious character fully aware of his noble grandeur. It was such a boastful disposition that would inspire Thornbury Castle which was designed to rival the king’s own Hampton Court Palace as the greatest home in the kingdom.

Attempting to upstage the king however was not a recommended tactic. Work was still ongoing in 1521, more than a decade after it had commenced, when the arrest of the duke suddenly caused tools to be downed and construction halted. The duke’s crime had been to rouse suspicion of treason in the mind of the increasingly paranoid king he had attempted to upstage – Henry VIII.

By 1521 the king was entering his 30’s and had yet to produce a legitimate male heir. Thoughts were slowly beginning to form about the event of a succession crisis and many were allegedly turning their heads towards the Duke of Buckingham, who it may be argued had a greater claim to the throne than Henry VIII. A foreign ambassador stated admiringly ‘my lord of Buckingham, a noble man and would be a royal ruler’.

The Thornbury Tower

The Thornbury Tower

Furthermore the duke possessed substantial wealth, evident from his transformation of Thornbury into a palatial home. The king’s finances meanwhile were in disarray and the treasury empty. The combination of these factors left Buckingham exposed to the king’s ruthless nature, which erupted in April 1521 when the duke was summoned to court and placed in the Tower of London. His downfall was swift; he was charged with intending to kill the king and executed on Tower Hill on 17 May. His wealth and property, including Thornbury Castle, was seized by the crown and became King Henry VIII’s.

After this period the castle was occasionally used by the king’s daughter Mary, who would regularly stay in Thornbury during her teenage years whilst she was a student of the Bishop of Exeter. It was during the summer of 1535 however that the castle received notoriety when Thornbury played host to King Henry VIII and his new queen Anne Boleyn for 10 days. The pair arrived on 14 August and departed to Acton Court on 22 August, the 50th anniversary of the Tudors accession to the throne at Bosworth Field. Whilst at Thornbury Henry was visited by a delegation from nearby Bristol who brought him 10 oxen and 40 sheep whilst Anne was presented with a gilt cup containing 100 marks of gold.

Thereafter the premises gradually fell out of favour, even after it was restored to the Stafford family who nonetheless never regained their former position. By the 19th century the ruined estate was in the hands of the Howard family, ironically kin to Anne Boleyn, and renovated as a home for a minor branch of the family. It was further restored in the 20th century by various owners and eventually reopened to the public as a hotel.

 

The Castle Today

The castle today still possesses many features which would have been recognisable to King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn during their progress in 1535. The main surviving wing of the castle is what would have been the southern range, which would have been the heart of Buckingham’s project.

The rooms that today constitute the Lounge, Library and Dining Rooms were a core part of the Duchess’ Bedchamber and Drawing Rooms. The Lounge possesses wonderfully wooden panelling and a giant fireplace which would have played a crucial role in warming the rooms. The intricate five-bay window in the middle of the room floods the room with light during the day and would have done the same five centuries ago. The octagonal dining room, replete with arrow slit windows and another fire place, would have been a bedchamber and occupy the ground floor of the castle’s great tower. These rooms as a whole would have hosted Anne Boleyn in August 1535, now utilised by the hotel as an atmospheric area to enjoy wining and dining.

The Lounge, formerly part of the Duchess' Apartments

The Lounge, formerly part of the Duchess’ Apartments

 

The Duke's Bedchamber

The Duke’s Bedchamber

 

The second floor of the great tower contains a room christened the Duke’s Bedchamber and it is within here Henry VIII slept during the same stay. The room is accessible via a spiral staircase and is also an octagonal chamber with fireplace and impressive views of the gardens. Elsewhere the castle is a myriad of corridors and doorways to wander through and explore, each room respectfully furnished in the Tudor style.

Outside the castle the Tudor gardens are stated to be the earliest extant example of 16th century gardens in the UK, and offer a great view of southern range’s rear. Particularly noticeable is the five-bay oriel window in its glory, the tower along with the ruined gallery which had previously connected the bedchambers to the nearby church, and the chimneys atop the range. These chimneys are a particularly noteworthy feature of Thornbury Castle, replicated only at Hampton Court.

Early Tudor Chimneys

Early Tudor Chimneys

Thornbury Castle is a truly a Tudor masterpiece that offers an unrivalled experience to the visitor. In total there are 26 luxurious chambers to stay in, many with four-poster beds, plus an award-winning chef and extensive wine cellar to enjoy. With its impressive array of heavy oak doors, breathtaking architecture and picturesque gardens, Thornbury and its captivating history is certainly worthy of a visit from any 16th century aficionado.

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A Review of Battle of Bosworth Heritage Centre

Tudors

Bosworth. A name that is firmly entrenched in the lexicon of England’s history as bridging point between the Medieval and Modern eras, a location where one King was slain and another was made. The wailing death throes of the Plantagenet dynasty was heard around these fields and equally so was the birth cries of their successor family, the Tudor’s. This fact alone makes the area a shrine for enthusiasts of both Royal houses. Bosworth and the battle that was pitched in these parts on a summer’s day in 1485 is rooted in the consciousness of the nation and certainly a place that deserves a visit every once in a while.

With such a prestigious history in its arsenal, a trip to this location is imperative if one wishes to transport themselves back to the beginning of the Tudor era and cast their own eyes over the very same landscape that would have greeted those involved 500 years earlier. The battle has always been known as “The Battle of Bosworth”, adapting the name of a near settlement in the traditional way that battles became known as, albeit two things need to be noted straight away. The Battle of Bosworth Heritage Visitor Centre is not located in Market Bosworth itself and after recent investigations it turns out it isn’t even the real battle location anyway. The Lottery-funded study a few years ago uncovered the most likely site a few miles in a south westerly direction towards Fenny Drayton but ultimately it is an irrelevant outcome to those of a non-archaeological background. The Visitor centre is built next to the previous battlesite candidate of Ambion Hill and is certainly set in one of the most rural and picturesque parts of England. The drive involves sweeping country lanes after leaving the Watling Street A5 with fields all around, many that would have been trampled across by hundreds of hooves and soldiers in 1485 on their way to and from the fighting. As you turn from the road and drive along the path you will notice to the right on the field an enormous flag blowing proudly in the wind, the banner being the very image of the one raised aloft at the head of Richard’s army on that fateful August morn.

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When you arrive at the Visitor Centre itself the first thing that will attract your gaze is the large Coat of Arms of King Richard III on the brick wall, his White Boar emblem distinctive and quickly giving you an idea as to who truly is the King and centre of attention at this centre. As you walk through the gates on your left is a gathering of medieval devices in a small arena termed “Ambion Village”, a reconstruction of sorts and a taster of life for the peasant class of the locality. As you turn into the courtyard of sorts immediately on your right is the glass entrance to the “Tithe Restaurant”, a typical café/restaurant type structure in which the main selling point is the authentic barn it has been constructed in, complete with atmospheric wooden beams along the roof. The Jacket Potatoes are certainly worth a try too! As you enter the courtyard proper you will notice on your right a pair of stocks for the perfect photo opportunity and around the corner the standard Gift Shop and two more reasonable photo opportunities. It is here that “Richard’s Stone” is kept, a large boulder that used to be located in the field where it was previously thought the last Plantagenet King was killed and also an empty stone coffin in which it is thought his remains were at one time kept. Going indoors you are met with the ticket desk and the beginning of the impressive exhibition, with an interactive screen introducing you to a myriad of characters whom educate you about their daily lives as you make your way through the maze of information in the exhibition itself. The Exhibition itself begins when you walk through a faux field tent into the first room which educates you with a simple explanation of the Wars of the Roses as well as 15th century home furniture and tools including a cutlery knife and a wooden barrel for storing ale.

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The next room gives you details about the preparation for battle and more information on Henry Tudor and where his claim and forces came from, complete with large portraits of both men. Moving onwards, the largest room in the display has one wall covered with the weaponry of the age including pikes, axes, swords and crossbows, giving an insight into the barbarity that existed during medieval warfare. To further enhance this mental image, there are two life size mannequins kitted out in the full armoury of a foot soldier, including chainmail and helmet. As well as heraldry practice for the children and the possibility to try on various pieces of armour in front of a mirror in the circle centrepiece of the exhibition is large screens playing a recurring video of the events of the battle complete with animated side panels offering further information. This room also offers you the opportunity to try a bow and arrow to see how far you can shoot this ancient weapon, myself of course scoring the highest of  240m and “losing an arrow” as I overshot the enemy! Whilst two large statues of the rival combatants look on, the atmospheric video room also has a side room entitled “The Surgeon” with a reconstructed skull displaying gruesome war injuries as well as a display case showing the horrendous tools available to an injured soldier, think of knifes, tweezers and hooks and you’re on the right lines.

In the room titled “Aftermath” we are given brief descriptions of how Henry Tudor quelled the wars itself by marrying Elizabeth of York albeit it does touch on the uprisings he suffered early in his reign. It also gives further information about the rest of the victorious dynasty including a statue of Henry VIII and details on Tudor artefacts and architecture. The final room is a recent inclusion and is dubbed the “BFI Lab”. It is here where the latest findings from extensive battle field investigations are stored, including a skeleton complete with war wounds and display cases with real finds including coins, horse pendants and belt buckles that would have fallen from the slain soldiers or fleeing Yorkists. Exiting through the gift shop you find yourself at the starting point of a roughly 2mile walk through around the battlefield path, the first section taking you up past the enormous Yorkist banner of Richard III to the remembrance sundial, two large wooden chairs representing each monarch. The path also takes you down to a well christened “Richard’s Well” and where he apparently took a drink before battle and which is now a popular spot for visitors. All in all, the walk is a pleasant stroll in the summer and the surrounding fields allow a perfect place to sit and enjoy a picnic. The Battle of Bosworth may no longer be accepted as being in this particular location but the centre is vital in not only providing detailed analysis and education to visitors it also allows the visitor to mentally revisit one of this country’s most infamous events with their own eyes. Set in an idyllic and rural part of Middle England, even without a passing interest in the topic should not stop you from visiting.

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Henry Tudor Statue Campaign at Pembroke Castle

Tudors

THE OFFICIAL WELSH GOVERNMENT PETITION HAS NOW BEEN SUBMITTED TO THE SENEDD AND HAS BEEN UNDER CONSIDERATION SINCE JANUARY 2013.

“We call on the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to fund a statue of Henry VII in Pembroke, town of his birth and birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty.

There is no statue or memorial in the town of this man. A statue could improve the economy of the town as a Tudor must-visit place.’

https://www.assemblywales.org/epetition-list-of-signatories.htm?pet_id=739

As you may or may not know I am a keen amateur Tudor historian and have recently completed the manuscript for my first Tudor book, ‘Tudor Wales; A Guide’, hopefully due for publication in 2014. As part of my interest I have visited many locations throughout England ranging from the major attractions like Hampton Court to minor areas such as various Wars of the Roses Battlefields in the Welsh Marches. I have visited Windsor Castle, Greenwich Palace, St James Palace, Westminster Abbey amongst others. As a proud Welshman from Carmarthenshire I have a great love for this picturesque area of West Wales and have spent many hours, days and even weeks scouting any historic areas with links to the Tudor Dynasty with the sole intention of visiting and photographing for posterity. I have great enjoyment in researching the history of the locations and documenting them in an attempt to bring greater awareness to these sites of Welsh heritage. After all, the Tudors were a Welsh family and the links are throughout our country, albeit one must lament in a less obvious way than the major palaces in London where they achieved their later fame as Kings and Queens of England.

If you are local to South Wales you may or may not be aware of Tudor links in this part of the world but my hunch is that unless one has a reasonably deep interest in the subject then they will be oblivious to the history right on their doorstep. If an area of historical interest isn’t publically advertised, then how is one supposed to learn about this local past? So where are these Tudor links first of all? There are the incredible ruins of Lamphey Bishop’s Palace just outside Pembroke where Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and father to the future Monarch regularly stayed when on state business in South Wales. This plush retreat was seemingly a location the Earl of Richmond found relaxing, for the site was and still is situated in the middle of sprawling forest and parkland which together with the fishponds and orchards ensured everything the Earl required was openly available. It was at Lamphey Palace that Edmund had honeymooned with his young bride Margaret Beaufort and seems very possible that it was here at his Pembrokeshire headquarters that his son was conceived.

Edmund died without ever having seen his new-born son and although initially buried in a monastery in Carmarthen, after his grandson Henry VIII’s infamous Dissolution of the Monasteries a century later his tomb was moved to St David’s Cathedral where it now rests impressively in front of the alter in the religious centre of Wales, as befitting his role as ancestor of the kings of the realm. Resting fittingly in the same region that Edmund had reached the zenith of his power shortly before his death, the epitaph that appears around his tomb declares: “under this marble stone here inclosed resteth the bones of that most noble lord Edmond Earl of Richmond father and brother to kings, the which departed out of this world in year of our lord God MCCCCLVI the third of the month of November: on whose soul Almighty Jesu have mercy”. Across the county lies Tenby, a favourite holiday resort of many and a town that has a deep Tudor connection. Henry’s uncle and Edmund’s brother Jasper Tudor was the Earl of Pembroke and as such made this region of South Wales his powerbase during the hazardous years of the Wars of the Roses. Jasper’s half-brother was King Henry VI whom was coming under attack from Yorkist forces and with defence in mind Jasper ensured the walls of Tenby were strengthened. The famous walls can still be seen today as well as the multi-storied Mayor’s House situated just in front of the harbour. On this building lies a blue plaque which proudly states “it is said that Henry Tudor (Later King Henry VII) escaped through a tunnel here, in 1471, when he fled to France”.

After living in exile in Brittany for 14 years to escape capture and probable execution at the hands of Yorkist King Edward IV, Henry found himself the new Lancastrian heir and eventually launched his invasion force to usurp the crown. Choosing his birth area and the Land of his Fathers for reasons of strategy and alliance, his forces landed at Mill Bay just outside the lovely village of Dale in 1485. His rag tag army of loyal soldiers and mercenaries landed here under both his and his uncle Jasper Tudor’s command and began the arduous task of marching through Wales to that fateful meeting with King Richard III at Bosworth in England. By the end of that day, Henry’s forces had vanquished Richard’s and the Welshman was acceded to the crown as King Henry VII.

The final and greatest connection to the Tudor dynasty in Pembrokshire is the impressive Pembroke Castle, a colossal monument that witnessed the birth of a king and thus can be considered the birthplace of the world’s most famous royal dynasty. It was in one of the outer wards to the west of the gatehouse on 28th January 1457 that the 13-year-old Margaret Beaufort brought her young son into the world. In addition to her young age the new mother was also very slender with a small frame not suited to the rigours of child birth and unsurprisingly by all accounts it was a difficult pregnancy. In fact it probably rendered her infertile for the remainder of her life as there were no other accounts of her baring child in spite of two further marriages. The child was sickly soon after his birth and good care by both his mother and the attendant nurses within Pembroke Castle seem to be the core reason for this young babe not becoming yet another statistic for the high infant mortality rates of the time.

Although the son was called Henry, a regal English name and possibly in tribute to the child’s half-uncle and incumbent sovereign Henry VI, a later Cymric tradition suggested the original name was in fact Owain. Although no contemporary evidence exists to corroborate this account, it is interesting to note nevertheless that the aforementioned Welsh prophecies suggested an Owain would come to lead the Welsh as their Mab Darogan, or Son of Prophecy which boldly asserted that a Welshman would be crowned King of all Britons in London. Perhaps the story has some truth, although the likelihood is that it was an apocryphal story from a Welsh bard looking to further the myth surrounding this Welsh-born child once he had become king. By blood Henry of Richmond, for he had inherited his father’s earldom upon birth as was his hereditary right, was one quarter French, one quarter Welsh and half English but with his birthplace and father’s nationality considered most valid under patrilineal descent, it is indisputable which nation would claim Harri Tudur as their own. The courageous Edmund Tudor had passed before he could live up to the hopes and dreams of the Welsh bards whom watched from a distance but fittingly he had left something pure and new in his place, a young son with an equally impeccable Welsh bloodline hailing back to the great South Welsh Princes like Rhodri Mawr and Hywel Dda.
With this in mind it is somewhat disappointing to note the lack of celebration towards the birth and subsequent life of Henry Tudor in West Wales. This isn’t merely a location with a tenuous link to the Tudors, it’s an integral part of the Tudor story as the birthplace of Henry VII. With the plethora of Tudor related places in the region as already mentioned it is very surprising and almost unacceptable to learn that this wonderful historical occurrence hasn’t been capitalised upon. There is a large and lucrative Tudor market in England which has proved to be provide a consistent income from tourism and it is galling that Pembrokeshire has yet to adopt such measures.

If people are willing to travel hundreds of miles, sometimes thousands, to visit Tudor locations throughout England then surely Pembroke and indeed Pembrokeshire should be marketing itself as the “Birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty”. It is difficult to overstate the financial benefits the Tudors bring to the UK touristy industry, hundreds perhaps thousands of Americans alone regularly visiting the many palaces and castles in England to place themselves in the very spot history happened. Hampton Court. Windsor. Kenilworth Castle. Ludlow Castle. Even Stratford Upon Avon with its Shakespeare links. York has built an entire tourism industry by capitalising on its, admittedly unique, heritage. The list is endless. It is understandable that funding is not forthcoming at the moment from Pembroke as a town and a council but this matter does need to be capitalised on by the area to market itself as a core Tudor attraction capable of rivalling other regionally significant areas like Stratford Upon Avon.

The castle itself, under the managerialship of Jon Williams, has certainly done all it can financially do to increase tourism although their ambitions are drastically reduced by the economical issues of running such an enterprise without any outside funding. Jon stated to me “we are gradually adding to and modernising our interpretation here and although we don’t lack ambition and ideas unfortunately it takes money to make things happen on a major scale“. Indeed Pembroke Castle itself is a small independent charitable trust “that needs to spend a lot of resources to simply maintain the castle as a visitor attraction“.

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I read with interest that in 2010 Mrs Melanie Phillips campaigned for a statue of Henry VII at Pembroke castle and I feel that this would be a fantastic addition to the premises, or at least in the town. It would give an overt and obvious indication of the importance of the castle to the Tudor story and could prove to be a lucrative marketing aspect for Tudor addicts. It is all very well having exhibitions inside, but the key is attracting people to the area in the first place, and a statue would certainly do that. As a comparison, the small North Welsh village of Corwen has a magnificent statue of Owain Glyndwr and as a result has been able to attract scores of Welshmen from all over to view it. Imagine tapping into only a mere percentage of the gigantic Tudor Tourism Industry and persuading them to come to Pembroke for a similar pilgrimage to the one they already make to many different locales throughout England. Jon Williams of Pembroke Castle agrees, stating “it would make perfect sense to have a statue although my opinion is that it would benefit Pembroke more if it were at the opposite end of the main street to the Castle. Firstly this would encourage Castle visitors to wander the town and secondly it would act as a good welcome to people arriving at East End Square“. It would certainly benefit Pembroke and it would benefit Wales. Pembrokeshire’s most famous son deserves more than a couple of mere plaques and in an age of austerity any attempt to bring in tourism to boost the stuttering economy must be seriously looked at. I understand on that occasion Mrs Phillips’ campaign was not successful but I would urge the council and tourist board to take another look at this matter. Pembroke is the home of the world famous Tudor Dynasty and deserves recognition that would certainly place it on the global scale alongside other famous Tudor locations in England.

UPDATE Feb 2013: After an initial flurry of press interest when the petition was first opened in May 2012, the official submission of the petition to the Welsh Government petitions committee occured on 8th January 2013 and with it has brought further attention and awareness to the campaign. The first few days after the submission has brought articles in the Western Mail, Western Telegraph, Milford Mercury, Pembroke Dock Observer and a spot on BBC Radio Cymru.

UPDATE Dec 2013: Positively the petition is still under consideration at the Welsh Government and the opinions of various public bodies have been courted by the petitions committee. The general consensus thus far has been that whilst in theory the idea is valid and supported there is simply not the finances to commit.  The committee wrote to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Welsh Government Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Housing and also Pembrokeshire County Council. The response from the Minister was disappointing stating they do not fund the creation of new memorials or commemorations. Pembrokeshire County Council stated they are fully supportive of any proposals which highlight the Tudor link to the county and any rebranding proposal which improves tourism if not to a statue itself. Pembs Coast National Park stated they do not believe a statue is worth public money but do believe that new intrepretation panels would be more effective.

On 16th April the committee considered the responses and stated whilst it is clear no money or funding is being put forward, I have gained a partial win in attaining support for dedicated intrepretation panels on the Tudors in Pembroke. They have agreed the campaign is still ongoing and will now consult with Pembroke Castle Trust, Pembroke Town Council and the new Heritage Minister for further consultation. The campaign is still ongoing as things presently stand, a promising sign after one year of deliberation.

PRESS

As part of this campaign, there will be occasions where it will receive press interest.

The Western Mail; (11th May 2012) http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2012/05/11/call-for-castle-to-make-most-of-its-role-in-tudor-dynasty-91466-30944610/

The Western Telegraph; (16th May 2012)

The Western Telegraph; (9th January 2013)http://www.westerntelegraph.co.uk/news/10150247.Petition_calling_for_a_Henry_VII_statue_in_Pembroke_is_handed_over/

The Western Mail; (10th January 2013) http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2013/01/10/let-s-celebrate-pembrokeshire-s-links-to-the-tudor-dynasty-campaign-91466-32576759/

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GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

Response from Welsh Government Business Minister Edwina Hart (22nd May 2012)

PETITION SUBMISSION TO WELSH GOVERNMENT

Official handover of the petition to Assembly Members on the Petitions Committee at Y Senedd (8th January 2013)

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Petition and supporting documents can be viewed – http://www.senedd.assemblywales.org/ieIssueDetails.aspx?IId=5324&Opt=3

RESPONSES FROM RELEVANT PARTIES

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