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Nineteenth century gig-shed north east of Porth Askin

A Scheduled Monument in St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly

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Latitude: 49.8857 / 49°53'8"N

Longitude: -6.3419 / 6°20'30"W

OS Eastings: 88229.492758

OS Northings: 7427.120239

OS Grid: SV882074

Mapcode National: GBR BXQZ.PXL

Mapcode Global: VGYCB.144G

Entry Name: Nineteenth century gig-shed north east of Porth Askin

Scheduled Date: 7 October 1976

Last Amended: 4 October 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009280

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15341

County: Isles of Scilly

Civil Parish: St. Agnes

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Isles of Scilly

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a 19th century gig-shed, named after the pilot-boats or
`gigs' which they housed.
The gig-shed is situated on the coastal slope bordering the north east side of
Porth Askin, near the southern tip of St Agnes in the Isles of Scilly.
The gig shed is visible as the unroofed walling of an elongated rectangular
building measuring 10m north east to south west by 4m wide externally, its
long axis orientated across the coastal slope. The lower, south west, end is
open and fronts directly onto a slight cliff bordering the upper shore of
Porth Askin. The walls of the gig-shed are 0.75m-1m wide and survive up to 1m
high, constructed of undressed granite slabs on each face with a rubble core.
The lowermost walling and the floor of the gig-shed are covered by a thick
deposit of wind-blown sand.
In addition to its surviving physical remains, this gig-shed was marked on the
1889 edition 6 inch:1 mile Ordnance Survey map as one of three such boathouses
on the north east side of Porth Askin. This gig-shed had passed out of use by
the time the 1908 edition 25 inch:1 mile map was compiled, which depicts it as
a roofless structure.
The sand-covered walling of two other gig-sheds are located 25m to the
south east, facing onto the eastern shore of Porth Askin.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west
England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains
from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the
islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English
Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many
unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social
development of early communities.
Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the
islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its
exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change
against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of
archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands'
The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually
expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post-
medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic
location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works
reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the
mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post-
medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard
for the nation's shipping in the western approaches.
The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has
long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of
documentation, including several recent surveys.
Gig sheds are a distinctive form of boat house used to house the pilot boats,
or `gigs', which carried pilots of the Isles of Scilly and western Cornwall to
the shipping which required their skills in navigating the dangerous waters of
the western approaches. Pilotage rose in importance during the 18th and 19th
centuries due to the combination of increasing trade and poor marine charts,
and it formed a major part of the economy of the Isles of Scilly between
c.1720 and c.1870. As the first pilot to reach the waiting ship received the
work, competition between pilots had, by the 19th century, led to the
development of a long and slender rowing boat, the gig. This was c.9m long,
accommodated six or eight oarsmen and was capable of high speed and stability,
even in the rough seas at the western extremity of the south west peninsula.
The design of the gigs in turn determined the form of the gig sheds that
housed them, resulting in narrow, elongated rectangular buildings, measuring
c.10m long, c.2m high and 1.75m to 3m wide internally, built of stone-faced
rubble walling with a rubble and mortar fill. One end, facing the sea, was
left open for launching the gig. Nineteenth century photographs and some
accounts indicate a thatched roof, lashed down with ropes, though some later
examples were roofed with pantiles. Situated close to the shore, gig sheds may
occur singly or in groups of two or more.
All inhabited islands in Scilly formerly had pilots, as did the main ports and
fishing villages of western Cornwall. However during the 19th century,
pilotage became restricted on the Scillies to fewer individuals, mostly from
St Martin's and St Agnes, eventually to be dominated by the St Agnes pilots
who benefitted from their south westerly location in the islands. In 1850, 15
pilot boats were recorded on Scilly.
During the 20th century, some gig sheds in Scilly have been refurbished with
modern materials for other purposes or to house other types of craft. The
later 20th century growth of gig racing as an international sport has also
produced some new gig sheds, using modern materials such as concrete blocks.
The national distribution of gig sheds from the era of pilotage is restricted
to western Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, for whose maritime conditions the
gigs were specifically developed. Under a dozen pre-20th century gig sheds on
the Isles of Scilly survive without major refurbishment, forming a major part
of the surviving remains from the pilotage that was such an important activity
for the islands' economy. On a wider level, the pilotage represented by the
gig sheds on the Isles of Scilly reflects the islands' strategic position in
the nation's main shipping routes and represents a relatively short lived but
essential navigational aid during the rise of the nation's trade. Consequently
those gig sheds which help to illustrate the original form, construction and
distribution of this class of boat house during the period of pilotage may be
considered worthy of preservation.

This gig-shed on the north east edge of Porth Askin preserves intact its
ground plan and wall construction. Its walling stands to a substantial height,
part of it masked by a deep wind-blown sand deposit. The location of this gig-
shed typifies the setting of this monument class, and the later 19th century
map evidence indicates its functional state at the time when St Agnes had come
to dominate pilotage. The proximity of this gig-shed to the other broadly
contemporary examples nearby to the south east demonstrates the layout of gig-
sheds along the shoreline. Despite the importance of this island in later
pilotage, this monument and those nearby gig-sheds provide the only visible
evidence for that activity on this part of St Agnes.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Ratcliffe, J, Lighting up the Past in Scilly, (1986)
Ratcliffe, J, Scilly's Archaeological Heritage, (1992)
consulted 1993, Waters, A., AM 107 for Cornwall SMR entry PRN 7603, (1988)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8807
Source Date: 1980

Source: Historic England

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