St Mary's
St Mary's

History of St Mary's Isles of Scilly

Observations on the ancient and present state of the Islands of Scilly, and their importance to the trade of Great-Britain William Borlase 1756

The largest Island, and most cultivated, containing more inhabitants, and of much more value to the Lord Proprietor than all the rest, is called St. Mary's.

About half a century ago, it was reckoned to contain two thirds of the inhabitants residing upon these Islands, but the families of the Off-Islands are much encreased since that time. It contains at present six hundred inhabitants. Its Rents amount to about three hundred pounds per annum. It is three miles long and two wide.

* Pl II. Fig. i No 6. Old-Town * lies in the Eastern corner of a small Cove, or Creek, fronting the South, and was formerly the principal place of dwelling in all this Island, but the houses are now poor cots with rope-thatch coverings. Behind them stands an eminence, call'd the Old-Town-Castle, and part of the walls still remains. Leland [g] calls it a moderately strong pile, but 'tis now dismantled. Here are several fishing-boats kept in a poor little Pier, but the Pool is round, and the rocks and loose stones which now incumber it, might easily be removed, and make a jetty-head on each side the entrance, which would be of great use to the pilots in strong Easterly winds, when they cannot so easily get out to ships from the other parts of this Island.

From Old-Town, we pass over a green ridge edged with sand, within which on the right hand lies a low marshy piece of ground reaching from the South to the North sea, about half a mile in length, and as much in breadth. It is of great importance to this Island to keep the sea from over-running this valley, but in the great storm, A. D. 1744 , it was laid under water, and the principal drain being necessarily made through miry ground, and sand banks, and nothing but continual attention and frequent repairs able to keep it open, this moist piece of ground, though capable of making fine meadows, recovers its verdure and fences but very slowly. At the Western end of this Cove stands the Chaplain's house, lately rebuilt entirely by the present Lord Godolphin, but placed somewhat too near the sea, which is oftentimes a very troublesome neighbour.

The Church is just by, built in the form of a cross, but not so old as the Reformation. The Soldiers of the Garrison have a gallery allotted them in this Church facing the Commanding Officer, who has a handsome seat below in the Chancel. In this gallery are set aside the disjointed parts of a Monument to the memory of Francys wife of Joseph Hunkin of Gatherly in Lyfton parish, Devon, Governor of Scilly in the year 1657, and daughter of Robert Lovyes, of Beardon, in Boyton Parish, Cornwall, Esq; there are two Coats-armour, one for each family. First Or, a Chevron Gul. between three Sea-pies (or some other birds which I could not recollect) Sab. Second Arg. a Fess between two Chevronels (the under-one inverted) Sab. I was desired to enquire after the families in order to have this Monument re-erected, but I find them both extinct, and the lands passed into other names. The Church is decent, has no tower, but two cover'd niches rising on the Western end for two bells. Divine service is here performed, once on Holidays, and twice on Sundays.

The Chaplain keeps a Register of Births, Marriages and Burials. Hither they they bring their children to be baptis'd, and come here to be married, but the dead are buried where they fall, and by Laymen in the Off-islands, each of which has its Clerk who reads prayers and sermons to the inhabitants on Sunday in their little Church.

Before this Cove of Old Town stands a small green Island on the sharp top of which shoots up a crag of flat stones plac'd close side by side, from which it is call'd Karn-leh ; i. e. a groupe of flat rocks, in the Cornish language : the hill is taper, has a pretty effect in prospect, and throws shelter into the Cove. I have observ'd several other Karns in these Islands, whose top-rocks look like so many rude thin pillars, projecting in the same friendly manner. How far such remarkable Karns may have con tributed to give name to these Islands we will en quire by and by. The Cove at Old Town being little, rocky, and expos'd to the Southern seas, the inhabitants were prompted ..... - more information being added soon

[ f ]The Cornish call a Place where Boats and small Craft may get out and in a Cove. g Itin. Vol. III. pag. 8.



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