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Civil War battery on Helvear Hill, St Mary's

A Scheduled Monument in St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly

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Latitude: 49.9324 / 49°55'56"N

Longitude: -6.2889 / 6°17'19"W

OS Eastings: 92334.975105

OS Northings: 12401.548629

OS Grid: SV923124

Mapcode National: GBR BXVV.Q7N

Mapcode Global: VGYBY.YY6P

Entry Name: Civil War battery on Helvear Hill, St Mary's

Scheduled Date: 14 February 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1010169

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15378

County: Isles of Scilly

Civil Parish: St. Mary's

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Isles of Scilly

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a gun battery dating to the English Civil War, situated
on the north east end of the ridge forming Helvear Hill, overlooking the steep
scarp to the north eastern coast of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly.

The battery survives with a defensive earth and rubble bank and outer ditch
along its northern side, fronting the crest of the hill's ridge and creating a
right angled line facing the main fields of fire to the NNW and north east.
The bank is up to 3m wide, 0.5m high on the inner side and 1.5m high on its
outer side. Laid slabs from a stone facing are visible on part of the inner
side of the bank. The bank extends for 14m along each of the principal NNW and
north east flanks of the battery. Beyond these main flanks, at the western end
of the battery, the bank curves south, then west, over a further 17m, while at
the eastern end it curves east for a further 5m. The outer ditch measures up
to 4m wide and 0.5m deep and extends around the outer edge of the bank on all
sides except the short east-west length at the western end. The interior of
the battery, enclosed by the bank, shows no evidence for artificial levelling
of the slight slope at the top of the hill.

This battery forms part of an integrated system of Civil War coastal defences
which survive extensively around St Mary's. These defences include breastworks
bordering potential landing places and near important settlements and
installations, coupled with a system of batteries commanding complementary
fields of fire over the waters around much of the island's coast. The battery
in this monument has a field of fire over the entrance to the important strait
of Crow Sound, the main route of entry for shipping into the Scilly
archipelago from the east. The battery was recorded, and its strategic
position recognised, by the antiquary and historian, Revd. John Troutbeck, in
1796. This battery complements the fields of fire of other batteries in
analogous locations on the successive headlands along the east and north east
coast of St Mary's from Normandy Down to Bar Point, while most of the coast
bordering Crow Sound is also defended by a breastwork, from 60m north east of
this monument.

The modern riding trail marker post is excluded from the scheduling but the
ground beneath is included.

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.
Civil War fieldworks are earthworks which were raised during military
operations between 1642 and 1651 to provide temporary protection for infantry
or to act as gun emplacements. The earthworks, which may have been reinforced
with revetting or palisades, consist of earth and rubble platforms or banks
and ditches.
The Civil War fieldworks of the Isles of Scilly form a major part of the 150
surviving examples of fieldworks recorded nationally. They present an
unusually complete system of fortifications from this period, both in the
surviving range of fieldwork types represented and in the surviving pattern of
their strategic disposition.
Three main types of Civil War fieldwork have been recognised on the Isles of
Scilly: breastworks, batteries and platforms; these could be deployed
separately or in combination to form a defensive complex.
Breastworks, which on the Isles of Scilly run beside the coastal cliff edge,
consist of an earth and rubble bank, up to 4m wide and nearly 2m high but
generally much smaller, usually accompanied by a ditch on the landward side.
Sixteen surviving examples are recorded on the island.
Batteries are levelled areas or platforms, generally up to 20m across,
situated on a hilltop or terraced into a slope to serve as gun emplacements.
They vary considerably in size and shape and are usually partially or wholly
enclosed by a bank, occasionally incorporating one or two outer ditches.
Twenty batteries survive on the Isles of Scilly, several connected by
breastworks. Adjacent to some batteries are examples of the third fieldwork
type, platforms. These are partly terraced into, and partly out from, sloping
ground and represent sites of lookouts and temporary buildings. Eight such
platforms, measuring up to 12m by 8m in size, are known to survive on the
islands. These fieldworks and fieldwork complexes were occasionally associated
with other classes of defensive monument on the islands, including earthen
artillery forts and blockhouses.
The fieldworks were designed to defend the deep water approaches to the
islands, especially St Mary's where most examples are found. Fieldworks are
also known from Tresco, Bryher, Samson, St Agnes and Gugh. The circumstances
of their construction are recorded in contemporary historical documents which
indicate most were built by the Royalist forces which controlled the islands
for the entire Civil War period except during 1646-8.

The Civil War battery in this monument has survived well. Its situation, and
the survival of extensive historical documentation giving the context in which
it was built, demonstrate clearly the strategic methods employed by the Civil
War military forces and the functions of batteries within them. These methods
are also well illustrated by the complementary relationship of this monument
to the other surviving breastworks and batteries along the north east coast of
St Mary's.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
O'Neil, BH St J, Ancient Monuments of the Isles of Scilly, (1949)
consulted 1994, Parkes, C., AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7457, (1988)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 9212
Source Date: 1980

Source: Historic England

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