Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Post-medieval smugglers' cache at Tresco Abbey, Tresco

A Scheduled Monument in Tresco, Isles of Scilly

We don't have any photos of this monument yet. Why don't you be the first to send us one?

Upload Photo »

Approximate Location Map
Large Map »

If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.


Latitude: 49.9478 / 49°56'52"N

Longitude: -6.329 / 6°19'44"W

OS Eastings: 89557.78789

OS Northings: 14280.712829

OS Grid: SV895142

Mapcode National: GBR BXRT.HTY

Mapcode Global: VGYBY.7KZV

Entry Name: Post-medieval smugglers' cache at Tresco Abbey, Tresco

Scheduled Date: 25 September 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017769

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15509

County: Isles of Scilly

Civil Parish: Tresco

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Isles of Scilly

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The scheduling includes an 18th or early 19th century smugglers' cache, a
hidden store for contraband goods, situated beneath a later wall separating
the eastern garden of Tresco Abbey house from Abbey Road on southern Tresco in
the Isles of Scilly.
The smugglers' cache survives as a low chamber approximately 1.5m square in
plan and approximately 0.6m high, walled by large slabs laid flat in rough
courses that slope inwards to the roof; its floor is obscured by silts and
some scattered rubble. The cache lies entirely beneath the garden wall of
Tresco Abbey and adjacent rising ground to the south. Near the west end of its
north wall the chamber has a small rectangular opening that passes through the
base of the later garden wall and opens onto south side of Abbey Road. The
opening is 0.43m wide, 0.27m high and 0.3m long, framed by an upright jamb
stone to each side and by large sill and lintel slabs.
The cache is earlier than the garden wall which overrides it and whose
construction might have been expected to lead to the cache's destruction;
however when the wall was built in the 1830s-1840s for the islands' lessee,
Augustus Smith, he is reported to have spared the cache because he believed it
to have been a grave.

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.

Smugglers' caches are hidden stores where contraband goods were concealed from
the authorities, potential informants and rivals. Rising trade, demand and
taxation affecting imported commodities such as tobacco, spirits and tea
during 17th and 18th centuries, coupled with few effective controls on
maritime activity outside the major ports, encouraged an illicit trade by
smugglers profitting by avoiding payment of duty on goods run across from the
Continent or acquired at sea from trading vessels in the Channel. Trade in
contraband goods was especially rife along most of the south coast of England,
facing the Continent; some small ports and coastal villages in Kent, Sussex
and the south west achieved notoriety for their smuggling activity, involving
large numbers of vessels and men and forming a significant part of the economy
in some areas by the mid-18th century. Early counter-measures included a
network of Customs Stations whose collectors controlled Revenue Cutters,
sometimes supplemented by naval vessels. Despite some limited success, their
resources were too thinly stretched and could not match the local knowledge of
the coastline of the smugglers. Increasingly effective control only came with
the ending of the wars with France when, in 1816-17, the Customs was
considerably expanded to include the new Coastguard, with sufficient manpower
to operate as a widespread preventative force along the south coast. In
conjunction with stringent penalties, the trade in contraband goods had been
severely curtailed by the 1840s. Accounts of successful anti-smuggling
actions by Customs and the Coastguard forces reveal a variety of ingenious
methods adopted in the early 19th century to conceal smuggled goods after
their arrival and before or during their distribution, reflecting the
increased pressure on the smugglers' activities. In addition to securing the
contraband beneath the surface of the sea, fixed to weights on the sea-bed,
other favoured sites of temporary storage included hidden caches constructed
within, beneath and near dwellings or public houses used by the smugglers.
Until the establishment of the Coastguard, conditions in the south west of
England proved especially favourable for smuggling, with its deeply indented
coastline remote from the centres of authority and administration but
conveniently facing the Continent and adjacent to the trade routes entering
the Channel. The enhancement of these factors in regard to the Isles of Scilly
was used to advantage by many among its population, as is testified by the
repeated complaints of successive Customs collectors based there. The
importance of smuggling as a vital supplement to the islands' economy of the
18th and early 19th centuries is shown by a petition in 1819 to relieve the
islanders' poverty, citing the effectiveness of the new preventative force as
a main cause of their distress. Apart from historical references and
association with some surviving buildings on Scilly, this formerly important
activity leaves relatively few remains, chief among which are smugglers'
caches and a series of 19th century lookout points set up and used by the
Coastguard force. Three smugglers' caches are known to survive on Scilly,
one on St Mary's and two on Tresco. Each is visible as an underground chamber
in a hidden location separated from nearby contemporary dwellings and each is
of differing form. The number of smugglers' caches that survive nationally is
not known and by their intentionally-concealed nature, more are likely to
survive than have been recorded. Smugglers' caches provide one of the few
surviving remains of an activity which demonstrates the interplay of
developing trade and increasing efficiency of law enforcement during the post
medieval period.
The smugglers' cache at Tresco Abbey survives well, showing clearly its manner
of construction and demonstrating the well-concealed location sought for such
caches. It is unusual in having a clear terminal date for its construction and
use, provided by its situation beneath, and respect by, the later and datable
wall; that terminal date also confirms its presence during the early decades
of the 19th century, coinciding with the greatest pressures on smugglers to
conceal evidence of their activities.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Inglis-Jones, E, Augustus Smith of Scilly, (1969)
Inglis-Jones, E, Augustus Smith of Scilly, (1969)
Tangye, M, 'Cornwall Arch Soc Newsletter' in Scilly report, , Vol. 37, (1981), 3
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7326, (1988)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8914
Source Date: 1980

Source: Historic England

Other nearby scheduled monuments is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact for any queries related to any individual ancient or schedued monument, planning permission related to scheduled monuments or the scheduling process itself. is a Good Stuff website.