St. Ishmaels or ’Tish’ takes its name from the church dedicated to the 6th century Cornish saint, a disciple of St. David. The tidal pools and salt marshes of The Gann Estuary are small in area but very diverse.
KingfisherWildlife around St Ishmaels.
They are important for wading birds, 400-500 over-winter in most years. Little stint, curlew, sandpiper and red and greenshank may be found. The nationally scarce lax flowered sea lavender grows extensively on the marsh as does the rare grass Parapholis strigosa. Otters breed in the reed-beds and badgers in the conifer plantation above the estuary.
Kingfishers can be seen on the upper reaches of The Gann. In the shallow waters of the estuary lives the very rare gilthead bream. The seashore off Musselwick provides a habitat for the introduced Japanese seaweed Sargassum muticum and at Monkhaven the tentacles of snakelocks anemones are bright green because they house an algal symbiont. Nationally scarce red-billed choughs are often seen around the cliff-tops, flying acrobatically and feeding on the insects of the maritime heath.
The red soils of the area are derived from old red sandstones seen at Lindsway Bay and Sandy Haven (395 million years old). There are occasional exposures of older rocks (420 million years). Some of these near Slate Mill Bridge are sedimentary and contain fossils. The cliff tops are covered with glacial till made of unconsolidated material dumped by melting ice around 20,000 years ago.
The area has been inhabited since the Middle Stone Age (10,000 years ago). Worked flint has been found in various locations but mainly at coastal sites. The landscape was also populated in the Bronze Age. Of six recorded standing stones, two are visible today. There are two Iron Age promontory forts. The first, Great Castle Head was reused in the Dark Ages when a ‘vallum’ enclosure (defensive embankment) was constructed. The second is Little Castle Head.
Three medieval cist burials (stone-lined graves) were discovered in the cliff face after a rock fall in 2001. Additional graves were excavated in 2003 and dated 7th to 9th century. This graveyard may have served an original settlement at Great Castle Head but became redundant as the current church site was developed.
Mullock Bridge and Henry Tudor
Henry, born at Pembroke Castle had a claim to the English throne. He spent most of his early life safe in France. On August 1st 1485, he sailed from Harfleur with 2,000 French mercenaries to claim the throne. They landed on August 7th at Mill Bay near Dale. Rhys ap Thomas of Carew Castle had sworn allegiance to Richard III promising that only over my bellie would Henry Tudor get beyond his bit of Pembrokeshire. To keep his word Rhys lay under Mullock Bridge bellie up as Henry passed over. Rhys then joined Henry on the march to Bosworth. Legend has it that Henry stopped for a drink at St. Ishmaels from what was subsequently called ‘The King’s Well’. They reached Bosworth Field in Leicestershire and had defeated Richard III by August 22nd.
Most of the modern village developed from the medieval period. It is surrounded by long narrow medieval strip fields. These were enclosed between the 17th and 19th Centuries. Farmhouses appeared around the same time. Butter Hill is the oldest estate in the area. Other large farms include Sandy Haven, Trewarren, Bicton, Mullock, Skerryback and Great Hoaten.
The Grange was the Roch Family seat for 300 years until 1906; a prosperous agricultural settlement of over 300 acres. The last member of the family to live here, was Liberal Member of Parliament for Pembrokeshire. During the 20th century the Estate was divided and successive owners found the up keep prohibitive. After having been billets for airmen in WWII and then tourists the Grange became unoccupied in 1966. After forty years of decline and neglect the buildings are being restored.
Trades and Industry
In 1870 two leading lights were erected at Great Castle Head to guide ships into harbour. In the 1970s leading lights were installed at Little Castle Head. A number of lime kilns were built locally but only one survives on the road to Sandy Haven. It was restored in the 1980s together with the lime burners hut and weighbridge. The culm (anthracite coal dust) and limestone used in the kilns came from the Hook and Carew areas. Small vessels were unloaded on the shore close to the kilns. The burnt lime was used as a soil improver. Census records from 1851 to 1891 show that agriculture was the major employer in the area but also listed are trades such as, blacksmith, boat builder, butcher, dairymaid, mason, tailor and shoemaker showing the variety of rural occupations in the parish. St. Ishmaels Nurseries opened in the 1930s originally as part of the Dale Nurseries, later the Garden Centre was added.
Congregational Chapel, St. Ishmaels
Prior to the building of the chapel in 1829, services were held on this site under the shade of an old elm tree. The chapel flourished for more than a century but a diminishing congregation led to its closure. It is now a private house.
The Census of 1851 lists 67 scholars. It is believed that two sisters, named Glover, ran a ‘Dame School’. Following the 1870 Education Act, the St. Ishmaels National School opened on January 1st 1873. A new building was erected in 1914 and used until the 1960s. This building was extended in 1965 and 2006. In 1998 the school was ‘closed’ but reopened on September 1st as one base of Coastlands School. By 2008 the school had two bases at St. Ishmaels and Herbrandston serving an area mainly west of Milford Haven. Secondary age children usually attend school in Milford Haven.
From the coast you can clearly see many of the 19th century forts including Thorne Island, Dale Point and Stack Rock. During World War II Sandy Haven was used as a decoy, lit to resemble the whole of Milford Haven (which was blacked out). The idea was that German bombers would drop their deadly cargo harmlessly onto farmland. Small reinforced concrete shelters can be found around the haven where the men who operated the lights and manned the fire-simulating burners sought safety.
Between Monk Haven and Lindsway Bay at Watch House Point there are a number of WWII buildings including an observation post and 6 inch gun emplacements. East of Bicton Farm is the remains of an anti aircraft gun emplacement.
The Memorial Hall was built in the 1920s in memory of those who died in the First World War. Opened by Lord Kensington (St. Brides) it was funded by public subscription. The present Sports and Social Club was erected next to the playing fields in 1982. The football and cricket teams have achieved top County honours. Jubilee Gardens and play area are nearby. The annual Carnival began in the 1920s and is held in August with the procession ending on the sports field. For many years the village held an annual Flower Show and Rice Pudding Fair. The Brook Inn still serves the village as it has for well over 100 years.