Exploring the History of St David’s Church: A Community Project



In July 2023, Dyfed Archaeological Trust collaborated with CUPHAT, engaging enthusiastic volunteers in a community project. Over a week, the focus was on uncovering the history of St David’s Church, situated above Llanchaer in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire.

During this week, volunteers played an integral role in recording the site by digitally documenting the church, conducting a geophysical survey outside the churchyard, clearing overgrown vegetation, and recording the revealed gravestones.


Historically, St David’s Church was the location of a medieval church. However, it experienced a full reconstruction in the 19th century. Today, the church is situated within a quadrilateral churchyard. Yet, historical documentation suggests the existence of a previously larger, circular precinct encompassing the churchyard. This was visible in some aerial images, which indicate a span of 95 meters for the precinct. Unfortunately, the specific aerial image referenced was not located during our research. The medieval church’s original architectural details are unknown due to its comprehensive reconstruction in 1860. The only remnants of its past are four early Christian carved stone crosses, with two relocated to the churchyard’s entrance.

Nearby, to the church’s northeast, lies Llanllawer Holy Well, a grade II listed landmark. Though it was dry during our study, local stories indicate that it usually fills during winters and rainy periods.

Leaflet Map with Controls

St David’s Church, Llanchaer, Pembrokeshire.


Regrettably, in recent times, the churchyard has succumbed to overgrowth, resulting in the loss of numerous grave markers. Consequently, in order to document these markers, the assistance of volunteers was enlisted to undertake the challenging task of clearing the vegetation. Dedicated volunteers employed small hand tools to unveil obscured graves. This effort demanded meticulous attention as they systematically revealed grave markers hidden beneath the overgrown vegetation. With each removal of weeds and brambles, more grave stones emerged into view.

While significant progress has been made in the southern section, the northern half of the graveyard remains shrouded in untamed vegetation. Although intriguing glimpses of numerous graves peek out from beneath the verdant cover, accessibility remains a challenge. We remain steadfastly optimistic that, in due course, our efforts will extend to this untouched northern half of the graveyard.


St David’s church before the volunteers began clearing the overgrown churchyard.

After the volunteers hard work clearing the churchyard.

After a significant effort in clearing vegetation from our volunteers in the southern area of the graveyard, our attention turned to the meticulous recording of the exposed graves. This process held dual significance, encompassing both historical importance and sentimental value. Each inscription and worn epitaph contributed to a larger narrative, recounting the stories of those interred at St David’s Church. The volunteers carefully documented every detail to ensure that these stories would not vanish into obscurity but would be preserved for future generations.

The unwavering dedication of our volunteers yielded remarkable outcomes and facilitated the creation of a comprehensive site plan, which you can explore further below.

Clickable Map Clickable Map Grave Marker 1 Grave Marker 3 Grave Marker 4 Grave Marker 5 Grave Marker 6 Grave Marker 7-10 Grave Marker 14 Grave Marker 15 Grave Marker 16 Grave Marker 17 Grave Marker 18 Grave Marker 19 Grave Marker 20 Grave Marker 21 Grave Marker 22 Grave Marker 23 Grave Marker 24 Grave Marker 25 Grave Marker 26 Grave Marker 27 - 29 Grave Marker 31 Grave Marker 32 Grave Marker 33 Grave Marker 34 Grave Marker 38 Grave Marker 39 Grave Marker 40 - 48
This interactive site plan offers you a chance to engage with the history of the churchyard firsthand. Explore the history of the churchyard by clicking on different grave markers around the site. Once you click on a marker, a pop-up window will appear. The window provides historical details related to that specific resting place.



Using an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), often referred to as a drone, with a gimbal mounted camera and a handheld digital SLR camera, we captured many photographs of St David’s Church and the Holy Well.

Specialised software was then used to meticulously piece together these images to construct a precise 3D model of the sites. Furthermore, this process enabled us to generate a high-quality map image, known as an Orthomosaic. This digital preservation introduced an additional dimension to the project, providing individuals from around the world with the opportunity to virtually explore and engage with the site.




During the process of vegetation clearance in the graveyard, a simultaneous effort involved a geophysical survey in the vicinity of the church. Geophysical surveys provide a means to explore beneath the earth’s surface without resorting to excavation, often revealing concealed archaeological features. For our surveys, we employed a specialised instrument known as a gradiometer, an instrument sensitive to subtle fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field. As it traversed the ground, the gradiometer recorded these magnetic variations, which were then processed to create a visual representation of the surveyed area. This process allows us to identify interesting features, such as old walls, structures, ditches, or pits. This process aids archaeologists in comprehending a site’s characteristics more comprehensively, all while circumventing the need for actual excavation.

The survey revealed an intriguing enclosed area, defined by rectilinear boundaries marked by a ditch. This enclosure appears to seamlessly extend from the edges of the current churchyard, suggesting a historical connection. While we’ve focused on just a part of this area, our initial observations show a prevailing orientation running roughly from northeast to southwest, spanning around 32 meters in width. An interesting detail is that the ditch’s continuity is interrupted along its southern edge, hinting at a possible entrance.

One intriguing hypothesis is that this enclosure might have marked the original extent of the churchyard, which could have been later reduced to its current boundaries, which we know have been established since at least 1843 as depicted on the Parish tithe map. However, while the geophysical survey provides significant insights, it doesn’t conclusively determine whether burials extend from the existing graveyard into the earlier enclosure. Alternatively, this enclosure might even predate the church itself and potentially played a pivotal role in its development.

Unfortunately, within our survey area, we did not discover evidence of the larger precinct that historical records alluded to encompassing the church. This absence, however, does not necessarily negate its existence. It’s plausible that the survey limits missed this larger feature. The possibility remains that a more expansive narrative is waiting to be uncovered beyond our current findings.

Geophysical survey results (Click to enlarge)



Throughout the project week, our dedicated volunteers have achieved remarkable progress, successfully clearing a substantial portion of the southern graveyard from its  overgrown state. This accomplishment led to the recording of 39 grave markers, shedding light on the final resting places of those interred here. While our achievements in the southern sector are commendable, it’s important to acknowledge that challenges persist in accessing the overgrown northern area of the graveyard.

In addition to the vegetation clearance and grave recording efforts, we extended our exploration to the digital realm. Both the church itself and the holy well have been recorded digitally, resulting in the creation of precise 3D models. These digital representations provide an immersive experience for virtual exploration, allowing individuals from all corners of the world to engage with the sites.

Our investigation extended beyond the surface as well, employing geophysical survey methods to uncover hidden narratives beneath the earth. The gradiometer survey unveiled a substantial enclosed area, characterised by rectilinear boundaries defined by a ditch. This enclosure intriguingly flows seamlessly from the edges of the present churchyard, suggesting a close historical relationship. It raises the possibility that this enclosure marked the original extent of the churchyard, or perhaps an enclosure that predates St David’s church entirely but played a pivotal role in its development.

In conclusion, our project has not only recorded grave markers but also brought to light the discovery of an enclosure with potential historical significance. Our volunteers’ dedication and collaborative efforts have unveiled previously hidden aspects of St David’s Church and its surroundings. We are committed to further investigation, continuously seeking to unveil more about the history and heritage that lies within these grounds.

Heneb - The Trust for Welsh Archaeology