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St Agnes lighthouse

A Scheduled Monument in St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly

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Latitude: 49.8925 / 49°53'33"N

Longitude: -6.3454 / 6°20'43"W

OS Eastings: 88019.078535

OS Northings: 8202.380562

OS Grid: SV880082

Mapcode National: GBR BXQZ.28Z

Mapcode Global: VGYC3.YYSR

Entry Name: St Agnes lighthouse

Scheduled Date: 18 June 1965

Last Amended: 27 August 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014999

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15451

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 former Trinity House lighthouse built in 1680 at
Middle Town, on one of the highest points of St Agnes, the south western
inhabited island in the Isles of Scilly. It operated as a lighthouse until
1911, since when it has continued to serve as a daymark. This monument is also
a Listed Building Grade II*.
The lighthouse survives as a relatively squat circular tower of rendered
granite rubble masonry rising 14.8m high from its base to a stone vault
forming the floor of the lantern. The cylindrical lantern rises a further
3.3m, capped by a sheet metal dome and supported by cast iron ribs descending
from the dome to an outer walkway. The dome carries a further smaller domed
projection supporting a weathervane.
The tower tapers from 9.7m to 7.2m in external diameter from base to vault.
Its fabric is almost entirely original apart from the uppermost c.1m which
dates to 1806 when the vault and lantern were rebuilt. Above a slight
projecting plinth, the outer face is painted white and subdivided into three
horizontal bands by two moulded ribs. Above the ground floor, the south east
quadrant of the tower is pierced by five small casement windows, four lighting
the internal floors plus a small window lighting the lower staircase. The
tower is also pierced by four small gun ports at first floor level above the
lower external rib; these are now closed by windows inserted at the junction
of their inner and outer splays.
The ground floor entrance to the tower is on the east, its doorway containing
a relatively recent wooden door with upper glass panelling. Above the doorway
is an original lintel plaque bearing the incised inscription `Erected by Capt.
Hugh Till and Capt. Symon Bayly 1680'. The tower entrance is now approached
via a lean-to porch erected c.1840 against the north east curve of the tower's
ground floor. A door at each end of the porch opens to a narrow yard defined
by a low mortared rubble wall around the base of the tower. A doorway in the
outer wall of the porch opens to a corridor, beyond the monument, linking the
lighthouse to a large house to the north east, also built c.1840, to house the
lighthouse and coastguard staff but now a private dwelling.
Internally the tower rises through four storeys below the lantern, each 4.7m
in diameter. Access from ground to first floor is by a flight of stone stairs
within the wall thickness. A timber spiral staircase against the inner wall
links the first and second and the second and third floors. From the third
floor, a wooden staircase with plain wooden newels, balusters and handrail
rises, clear of the walls, to a curved hatchway in the north west side of the
tower's stone vault, giving access to the lantern above.
The outer edges of the tower's vault, deriving from the 1806 alterations,
project slightly from the wall-face as a moulded cornice supporting the metal
railing parapet of an open walkway around the lantern. The lantern itself
consists of a cylindrical structure, 4.3m in diameter and 3.2m high, with a
low wall supporting a fine iron lattice framework containing almost-square
glass panes. A doorway is inserted in the north side. The vertical members of
the iron lattice extend upwards to form the supporting ribs of the lantern's
sheet metal dome, painted white externally and black internally. The lantern
dome is further supported by six curved iron stanchions rising to its edge
from the outer walkway. Crowning the dome is a further smaller domed cylinder
from which a slender spike rises to form the pivot for a weathervane and a
lightning conductor.
An abundance of historical documentation relates to this monument, recording
major developments given below, together with a wealth of detail about its
operation and manning.
Private individuals and companies had unsuccessfully applied for patents to
establish a light on St Agnes in 1665 and 1679, attempting to counter losses
to shipping and trade caused by wrecks on the notorious submerged reefs and
rocky coasts of the Isles of Scilly, and especially their south western
approach. Letters Patent for the erection of the lighthouse were eventually
granted on 24 May 1680 to the Brotherhood of Trinity House, producing only the
second lighthouse to be built by Trinity House, on a site and to a design
selected by Captains Till and Bayly, builders of the first Trinity House
lighthouse at Lowestoft in 1676.
The original light source was by a coal-burning iron brazier within a glass
lantern; it was first kindled on 30 October 1680. In his detailed description
of the lighthouse in 1752, the antiquary William Borlase noted that the
lantern rose from a brick platform and comprised a timber and glass structure
containing 16 vertical sash lights. The roof of the lantern had a central
chimney with subsidiary chimneys around it and the brazier was assisted by a
set of bellows. The original external appearance of the lighthouse is shown on
a 1721 sketch by George Vertue, and even more clearly in an illustration
accompanying Borlase's text, depicting a hollow buttress, since removed,
against the SSE side of the tower for discharging the brazier's ashes. One of
the lighthouse's circular iron braziers still survives, beyond this monument,
in the Tresco Abbey Gardens in the north of the Isles of Scilly; standing 1m
high, it has a stokehole near the base and tapers upwards to the base of a
flared grille with vertical slots.
In 1790, the light was converted to employ 21 Argand oil lamps, a much
brighter, smokeless light source invented less than a decade earlier. The
lamps were mounted with reflectors on a revolving triangular frame, producing
three flashes per minute and enabling the St Agnes light to be distinguished
from the other lights along the Channel approach.
In 1806, the lantern, its platform and the light source were replaced,
producing the structural alterations to the top of the tower noted above. The
light still employed Argand lamps, increased in number to 30 and fitted with
parabolic reflectors, on a frame revolving to give a peak of light intensity
once every half-minute. By 1856 this had been altered to once every minute,
but by 1891 had once again reverted to once every half-minute.
Despite these improvements, the light's visibility was still seriously
diminished in fog, a problem aggravated by its inland situation. This was
eased to some degree when its light was supplemented by that of the Bishop
Rock lighthouse from 1858. In 1910, Trinity House decided to replace the St
Agnes lighthouse with a new lighthouse built on Peninnis Head, the
southernmost point of St Mary's. When this replacement was erected in 1911,
the light at St Agnes lighthouse was discontinued, but since then its
white-painted exterior has been maintained as a formal daymark, serving as a
highly-visible known location to guide mariners during the hours of daylight.
Beyond this monument, the Isles of Scilly also contain a prominent daymark
tower privately erected in 1683 or 1687 on Chapel Down, St Martin's, in the
north east of the archipelago, visible on the approach to the islands from the

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.

Lighthouses have been used to aid shipping around Britain since Roman times,
although only two of that date have been recognised. In the late Middle Ages
(AD 1066-1540), lights were simple structures, usually a fire in an iron
basket, or in a stone bowl called a cresset, placed on church towers. True
lighthouses in purpose-built towers began to be built by the early 17th
century. They were first fuelled by coal or wood, but oil lamps were in use
from the 1780s, to be replaced later by gas or electric lamps. Other
technological improvements were made during the 19th century, including the
introduction of light reflectors, flashing lights, identification patterns and
sound signals for fog. Over the same period, tower design was improved,
including the provision of staff accommodation.
Lighthouses are found around the whole coast of Britain and, since 1698, on
offshore rocks and reefs. Numbers varied over time, and many were short-lived
or frequently replaced. Lighthouses were relatively rare until the 17th
century, relying on local or private initiatives. Few medieval examples
survive in recognisable form. From 1676, Trinity House, which had been first
established with limited duties in 1514, began to build lighthouses itself
rather than merely licensing their use by others. In c.1875, around 100 major
lighthouses existed, supported by many minor lights and lightships. By the
1970s Trinity House still maintained 90 major lights, with 30 manned light-
vessels and c.700 light-buoys. A number of private lights also existed. All
surviving Roman and medieval lighthouses and lights are nationally important.
Post-medieval examples retaining early fabric or fittings to a significant
extent are also considered likely to be of national importance.
The St Agnes lighthouse survives well, its tower providing a little modified
and rare example of the early post-medieval coal-burning lighthouse towers,
the incorporation of gun ports in its design being a particularly unusual
feature. Although the lantern has been replaced, the form of the original
lantern and light-source is known in detail from the rare survival nearby of
one of the braziers used in this monument, together with the good 18th century
illustrations of the lighthouse. This monument's survival together with the
daymark on St Martin's demonstrates well the nature of coastal warning
structures prevalent in the later 17th century. The existing lantern, though
later, is also an unusual survival of an earlier 19th century form largely
superseded at lighthouses that have remained in use. As one of the first
Trinity House lighthouses this monument occupies an important place in national
maritime studies, a role considerably enhanced by the wealth of surviving
historical documentation pertaining to its development since its original

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Borlase, W, Observations on Ancient and Present State of the Isles of Scilly, (1756)
Bowley, R L, The Fortunate Islands: A History of the Isles of Scilly, (1968)
Heath, R, A Natural and Historical Account of the Isles of Scilly, (1750)
Laws, P, The Buildings of Scilly, (1980)
Mudd, D, Cornish Sea Lights, (1978)
Noall, C, Cornish Lights and Shipwrecks, (1968)
Noall, C, Cornish Lights and Shipwrecks, (1968)
Noall, C, Cornish Lights and Shipwrecks, (1968)
Noall, C, Cornish Lights and Shipwrecks, (1968)
Noall, C, Cornish Lights and Shipwrecks, (1968)
Noall, C, Cornish Lights and Shipwrecks, (1968)
Ratcliffe, J, Scilly's Archaeological Heritage, (1992)
Tarrant, M, Cornwall's Lighthouse Heritage, (1993)
Tarrant, M, Cornwall's Lighthouse Heritage, (1993)
Thomas, C, 'Cornish Studies' in Three Early Accounts of the Isles of Scilly, , Vol. 4/5, (1977), 28-40
p6;SV80NE;1358-0/6/10; The Lighthouse, DNH, List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, (1992)
Saunders, A D, AM7 scheduling documentation for CO 629, 1964,
Spoken during MPP visit on 23/10/1993, Information from tenant Mr Francis Hicks told to MPPA & MPP IAM, (1993)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8808
Source Date: 1980

Source: Historic England

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