A taste of Scilly History
Here on Scilly the past is a part of the present. In many places, the view will not have changed in hundreds of years, and because of the unchanging landscape, the past is almost palpable; as one visitor said, ''I feel if I just reach out my hand, I will touch it''.
The Lost Land of Lyonesse
Legend has it that between Scilly and Lands End was a land of 'handsome maids and strong men; of rich pastures and fertile meadows' which was engulfed by the sea. Ruled over by King Arthur from his castle at Tintagel, Lyonesse contained the beautiful city of Lions and a turreted castle stood on what is now the Sevenstones Reef. In addition there were 140 villages, each with its own church. It is said that on a calm day you can just hear the mournful tolling of the bells in their steeples. It is certainly true that the main islands with the exception of St. Agnes formed one land mass and evidence of submerged fields and houses can be seen at low tide.
There is evidence of occupation on Scilly dating back over 3,000 years. Bant's Carn, an entrance grave (one of 80 recorded on Scilly) contained shards of neolithic pottery (4000 BC- 2500 BC). Halangy Down Ancient Village, situated just below Bant’s Carn, is an excavated example of an Iron Age settlement of round houses. 140 round houses have been identified on Scilly and many can be dated to the Bronze Age (2500 BC - 700 BC). There are also 8 surviving menhirs, or standing stones, which are considered late neolithic or early Bronze Age.
On the uninhabited island of St. Helen's are the remains of St. Elidius' Hermitage which contains an 8th century Christian chapel. Alongside is the old Pest House, built in 1764 to house sailors returning to England with unacceptable diseases.
Old Town was the main settlement of mediaeval Scilly, dominated by Ennor Castle, of which little remains, but the mediaeval quay can be seen at low tide in Old Town Bay.
Star Castle was begun in 1593 and was strengthened during the Civil War (1642-46) when the batteries and breastwork were constructed. This was rebuilt and extended during the first half of the 18th century and became known as The Garrison. Further construction and development took place in 1896 and during both World Wars. For many years a hotel, Star Castle is still being extended and developed - subject to conservation regulations, of course!
Augustus Smith took over the lease of Scilly in 1834. His manifesto was 'education, education, education', and parents were charged 1 penny a day for each child to attend school - and 2 pence a day if they didn't! He provided much employment, reallotted land to create viable farms and introduced the law of primogeniture - the succession of the eldest son. Younger sons were drafted into the navy, surplus daughters were sent to the mainland as domestics and shop assistants. He built roads, a new church, schools, and extended the quay on St. Mary's, as well as building the Abbey on Tresco and founding the famous Gardens there. His rule was probably the saving of Scilly but he was undoubtedly very unpopular at times.