Lundy Island

Lundy is an English island in the Bristol Channel which forms part of the district of Torridge in the county of Devon. It is about three miles (five km) long and five-eighths of a mile (one km) wide, it has had a long and turbulent history, with a frequently changing of hands between the British crown and various usurpers. In the 1920s one self-proclaimed ‘king’, Martin Harman, tried to issue his own coinage and was fined by the House of Lords. In 1941, two German Heinkel He 111 bombers crash landed on the island, and their crews were captured. But then in 1969 Lundy was purchased by British millionaire Jack Hayward who donated it to the National Trust. The island is now managed by the Landmark Trust, a conservation charity that derives its income from day trips and holiday lettings, with most visitors arriving by boat from Bideford or Ilfracombe. A local tourist curiosity is the special ‘Puffin’ postage stamp, a category known by philatelists as ‘local carriage labels’, a collectors’ item. As a steep, rocky island often shrouded by fog, Lundy has been the scene of many shipwrecks, and the remains of its old lighthouse installations are of both historic and scientific interest. Its present-day lighthouses are fully automated, one of which is solar-powered. Lundy has a rich bird life, as it lies on major migration routes, and attracts many vagrant as well as indigenous species. It also boasts a variety of marine habitats, with rare seaweeds, sponges and corals. In 2010, the island became Britain’s first Marine Conservation Zone.

Lundy’s jetty and harbour.

Lundy is the largest island in the Bristol Channel and it lies ten nautical miles (19km) off the coast of Devon, about a third of the distance across the channel from Devon to Pembrokeshire in Wales. Lundy gives its name to a British sea area and is included in the district of Torridge with a resident population of 28 people in 2007. These include a warden, a ranger, an island manager, a farmer, bar and house-keeping staff, and volunteers. Most live in and around the village at the south of the island and almost all of the visitors are day-trippers, although it does boast twenty-three holiday properties and a camp site for over-night visitors, most at the south of the island. In a 2005 opinion poll of Radio Times readers, Lundy was named as Britain’s tenth greatest natural wonder. The island has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and it was England’s first statutory Marine Nature reserve. It was also the first Marine Conservation Zone, because of its unique flora and fauna.

Map of Lundy by Henry Mangles Denham (1832).

The place-name ‘Lundy’ is first attested in 1189 in the ‘Records of the Templars in England’, where it appears as (Insula de) ‘Lundeia’. It appears in the Charter Rolls (administrative records) as ‘Lundeia’ again in 1199, and as ‘Lunday’ in 1281. The name means ‘puffin island’, from the Old Norse ‘lundi’, meaning ‘puffin’. The name is Scandinavian, and it appears in the 12th-century Orkneyinga saga as ‘Lundey’. The name is known in Welsh as ‘Ynys Wair’, or Gwair’s Island, in reference to an alternative name for the wizard Gwydion. Lundy has evidence of visitation or occupation right from the Mesolithic period onward, with Neolithic flintwork, Bronze Age burial mounds, four inscribed gravestones from the early medieval period and an early medieval monastery possibly dedicated to St Elen or St Helen.

Four Celtic inscribed stones in Beacon Hill Cemetery.

Lundy was granted to the Knights Templar by King Henry II in 1160. The Templars were a major international maritime force at this time, with interests in North Devon, and almost certainly an important port at Bideford or on the River Taw in Barnstaple. This was probably because of the increasing threat posed by the Norse sea raiders, however it is unclear as to whether they ever took possession of the island. Ownership was disputed by the Marisco family who may have already been on the island during King Stephen’s reign. The Mariscos were fined, and the island was cut off from necessary supplies. Evidence of the Templars’ weak hold on the island came when King John, on his accession in 1199, confirmed the earlier grant.

Marisco Castle, Lundy.

In 1235 William de Marisco was implicated in the murder of Henry Clement, a messenger of King Henry III. Three years later, an attempt was made to kill the King by a man who later confessed to being an agent of the Marisco family. William de Marisco fled to Lundy where he lived as a virtual king. He built a stronghold in the area now known as Bulls’ Paradise with 9-foot (3-metre) thick walls. In 1242, King Henry III sent troops to the island. They scaled the island’s cliff and captured William de Marisco and sixteen of his ‘subjects’. Marisco Castle was built by King Henry III in about 1250 high up on the south-east point of Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel and this was in an attempt to establish the rule of law on the island with its surrounding waters. In 1275 the island is recorded as being in the Lordship of King Edward I, but by 1322 it was in the possession of Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster and was among the large number of lands seized by King Edward II following Lancaster’s execution for rebelling against the King. At some point in the thirteenth century the monks of the Cistercian order at Cleeve Abbey held the rectory of the island. By 1787 cottages had been built round the small courtyard inside the Keep. (In recent times these have been rebuilt by the Landmark Trust for holiday rental.) Over the next few centuries, the island was hard to govern. Trouble followed as both English and foreign pirates as well as privateers, including other members of the Marisco family, took control of the island for short periods. Ships were also forced to navigate close to Lundy island because of the dangerous shingle banks in the fast flowing River Severn and Bristol Channel, with its tidal range of 27 feet (8.2 metres), one of the greatest in the world. This made the island a profitable location from which to prey on passing Bristol-bound merchant ships bringing back valuable goods from overseas. In 1627 a group known as the ‘Salé Rovers’, from the Republic of Salé (now Salé) in Morocco occupied Lundy for five years. These Barbary Pirates, under the command of a Dutch renegade named Jan Janszoon, flew an Ottoman flag over the island. Slaving raids were made, embarking from Lundy by these Barbary Pirates, and captured Europeans were held on Lundy before being sent to Algiers to be sold as slaves. From 1628 to 1634, in addition to the Barbary Pirates, the island was plagued by privateers of French, Basque, English and Spanish origin targeting the lucrative shipping routes passing through the Bristol Channel. These incursions were eventually ended by Sir John Penington, an English admiral who served under King Charles I, although in the 1660s and as late as the 1700s the island still fell prey to French privateers. In the English Civil War (1642 to 1651), Thomas Bushell held Lundy for King Charles I, rebuilding Marisco Castle and garrisoning the island at his own expense. He was a friend of Francis Bacon, a strong supporter of the Royalist cause and an expert on mining and coining. It was the last Royalist territory held between the first and second civil wars. After receiving permission from King Charles I, Bushell surrendered the island on 24 February 1647 to Richard Fiennes, representing General Fairfax. Then in 1656, the island was acquired by Lord Saye and Sele.

Exterior of St. Helen’s Church, taken prior to the 2018 renovations.

The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were years of lawlessness on Lundy, particularly during the ownership of Thomas Benson, a Member of Parliament for Barnstaple in 1747 and also Sheriff of Devon, who notoriously used the island for housing convicts whom he was supposed to be deporting. Benson leased Lundy from its owner, John Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Gower (1694–1754), who was an heir of the Grenville family of Bideford and of Stowe, Kilkhampton, at a rent of £60 per annum and contracted with the Government to transport a shipload of convicts to Virginia, but diverted the ship to Lundy to use the convicts as his personal slaves. Later Benson was involved in an insurance swindle. He purchased and insured the ship ‘Nightingale’ and loaded it with a valuable cargo of pewter and linen. Having cleared the port on the mainland, the ship put into Lundy, where the cargo was removed and stored in a cave built by the convicts, before setting sail again. Some days afterwards, when a homeward-bound vessel was sighted, the ‘Nightingale’ was set on fire and scuttled. The crew were taken off the stricken ship by the other ship, which landed them safely at Clovelly. Sir Vere Hunt, 1st Baronet of Curragh, a rather eccentric Irish politician and landowner, and unsuccessful man of business, purchased the island from John Cleveland in 1802 for £5,270 (£500,600 today). Sir Vere Hunt planted in the island a small, self-contained Irish colony with its own constitution and divorce laws, coinage and stamps. The tenants came from Sir Vere Hunt’s Irish estate and they experienced agricultural difficulties whilst on the island. This led Sir Vere Hunt to seek someone who would take the island off his hands, failing in his attempt to sell the island to the British Government as a base for troops. After the 1st Baronet’s death his son, Sir Aubrey (Hunt de Vere, 2nd Baronet, also had great difficulty in securing any profit from the property. In the 1820s John Benison agreed to purchase the island for £4,500 but then refused to complete the sale as he felt that the 2nd Baronet could not make out a good title in respect of the sale terms, namely that the island was free from tithes and taxes. William Hudson Heaven purchased Lundy in 1834, as a summer retreat and for hunting, at a cost of 9,400 guineas (£9,870, or £1,009,200 today). He claimed it to be a “free island”, and successfully resisted the jurisdiction of the mainland magistrates. Lundy was in consequence sometimes referred to as ‘the kingdom of Heaven’. It belongs in fact to the county of Devon, and has always been part of the hundred. Many of the buildings on the island today, including St. Helen’s Church, designed by the architect John Norton, and Millcombe House (originally known simply as the Villa), date from the ‘Heaven’ period. The Georgian-style villa was built in 1836, however, the expense of building the road from the beach, with no financial assistance being provided by Trinity House, despite their regular use of the road following the construction of the lighthouses, the villa and the general cost of running the island had a ruinous effect on the family’s finances, which had been damaged by reduced profits from their sugar plantations in Jamaica. In fact, in 1957 a message in a bottle from one of the seamen of HMS Caledonia was washed ashore on a Devon beach. The letter, dated 15 August 1843 read: “Dear Brother, Please e God I be with y against Michaelmas. Prepare y search Lundy for y Jenny ivories. Adiue William, Odessa”. The bottle and letter are on display at the Portledge Hotel at Fairy Cross, in Devon, England. ‘Jenny’, reputed to be carrying ivory and gold dust that was wrecked on Lundy on 20 February 1797 at a place thereafter called Jenny’s Cove. Some ivory was apparently recovered some years later but the leather bags supposed to contain gold dust were never found. William Heaven was succeeded by his son the Reverend Hudson Grosset Heaven who, thanks to a legacy from Sarah Langworthy (née Heaven), was able to fulfil his life’s ambition of building a stone church on the island. St Helen’s was completed in 1896, and stands today as a lasting memorial to the Heaven period. It has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade II listed building. Revd Heaven is said to have been able to afford either a church or a new harbour but his choice of the church was not however in the best financial interests of the island. The unavailability of the money for re-establishing the family’s financial soundness, coupled with disastrous investment and speculation in the early twentieth century, caused severe financial hardship.

A Puffin coin of 1929, bearing the portrait of Martin Coles Harman.

Hudson Heaven died in 1916, and was succeeded by his nephew, Walter Charles Hudson Heaven. With the outbreak of the First World War, matters deteriorated seriously and in 1918 the family sold Lundy to Augustus Langham Christie. In 1924, the Christie family sold the island along with the mail contract and a merchant vessel named ‘Lerina’ to Martin Coles Harman, who proclaimed himself a king. Harman issued two coins of Half Puffin and One Puffin denominations in 1929, nominally equivalent to the British halfpenny and penny, resulting in his prosecution under the United Kingdom’s Coinage Act of 1870. The House of Lords found him guilty in 1931, and he was fined £5 with fifteen guineas (£5 + £15.75) expenses. The coins were withdrawn and became collectors’ items. In 1965 a ‘fantasy’ re-strike four-coin set, a few in gold, was issued to commemorate forty years since Harman purchased the island. Martin Coles Harman died in 1954 and his son, John Pennington Harman was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross during the Battle of Kohima, India in 1944. There is a memorial to him at the VC Quarry on Lundy. Residents did not pay taxes to the United Kingdom and had to pass through customs when they travelled to and from Lundy Island. Although the island was ruled as a virtual fiefdom, its owner never claimed to be independent of the United Kingdom, in contrast to later territorial “micronations“. Following the death of Harman’s son Albion in 1968, Lundy was put up for sale in 1969. Jack Hayward, a British millionaire, purchased the island for £150,000 (£2,627,000 today) and gave it to the National Trust, who leased it to the Landmark Trust. The Landmark Trust has managed the island since then, deriving its income from arranging day trips, letting out holiday cottages and from donations. In May 2015 a sculpture by Antony Gormley was erected on Lundy. It is one of five life-sized sculptures, ‘Land’, placed near the centre and at four compass points of the UK in a commission by the Landmark Trust, to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. (The others are at Lowsonford in Warwickshire, Saddell Bay in Scotland, the Martello Tower at Aldeburgh, Suffolk and Clavell Tower, Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset.)

As you might expect, over the years there have been a few wrecked ships and some aircraft. For example, near the end of a voyage from Africa to Bristol the British merchant ship ‘Jenny’ was wrecked on the coast of Lundy in January 1797. Only her first mate survived. On 27 January 1797, Lloyd’s List confirmed that Jenny had been lost on Lundy Island as she was returning to Bristol from Africa and the only survivor was the first mate. The underwriters attempted to salvage what they could and the place where Jenny was lost is now known as Jenny’s Cove at 51°10.87′N 4°40.48′W. Whilst steaming in heavy fog, the Royal Navy battleship HMS Montagu ran hard aground near Shutter Rock on Lundy’s southwest corner at about 2:00a.m. on 30 May 1906. Thinking they were aground at Hartland Point on the English mainland, a landing party went ashore for help, only finding out where they were after encountering the lighthouse keeper at the island’s north light.

HMS Montagu during the failed salvage attempts of the summer of 1906.

Strenuous efforts by the Royal Navy to salvage the badly damaged battleship during the summer of 1906 failed, and in 1907 it was decided to give up and sell her for scrap. Montagu was scrapped at the scene over the next fifteen years. Diving clubs still visit the site, where armour plate and live 12-inch (305-millimetre) shells remain on the seabed. Years later, during the Second World War two German Heinkel He 111 bombers crash landed on the island in 1941. The first was on 3 March, when all the crew survived and were taken prisoner. The second was on 1 April when the pilot was killed and the other crew members were taken prisoner. This aircraft had bombed a British ship and one engine was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, forcing it to crash land. Most of the metal was salvaged, although a few remains can be found at the crash site to date. Reportedly, to avoid reprisals, the crew concocted the story that they were on a reconnaissance mission. There is more that can be written about this island, for example the vegetation on the plateau is mainly dry heath, with an area of lichens towards the northern end of the island. There is one endemic plant species, the Lundy cabbage, a species of primitive brassica. By the 1980s the eastern side of the island had become overgrown by rhododendrons which had spread from a few specimens planted in the garden of Millcombe House in Victorian times, but in recent years significant efforts have been made to eradicate this non-native plant. Also two invertebrates are endemic to Lundy, with both feeding on the endemic Lundy cabbage. These are the Lundy cabbage flea beetle and the Lundy cabbage weevil Another resident invertebrate of note is the only British species of purseweb spider. Meanwhile the population of puffins on the island declined in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries as a consequence of depredations by both brown and black rats and possibly also as a result of commercial fishing for sand eels, the puffins’ principal prey. Since the elimination of rats in 2006, seabird numbers have increased and by 2019 the number of puffins had risen to 375 and the number of Manx shearwaters to 5,504 pairs. As an isolated island on major migration routes, Lundy has a rich bird life and is a popular site for birdwatching. Large numbers of black-legged kittiwake nest on the cliffs, as do razorbill, common guillemot, herring gull, lesser black-backed gull, fulmar, shag, oystercatcher, skylark, meadow pipit, blackbird, robin and linnet. There are also smaller populations of peregrine falcon and raven. Lundy has also attracted many vagrant birds, in particular species from North America. As of 2007, the island’s bird list totals 317 species. Lundy is home to an unusual range of introduced mammals, including a distinct breed of wild pony, the Lundy pony, as well as Soay sheep, sika deer and feral goats. Other mammals which have made the island their home include the grey seal and the pygmy shrew. In 1971 a proposal was made by the Lundy Field Society to establish a marine reserve, and the survey was led by Dr Keith Hiscock, supported by a team of students from Bangor University. Provision for the establishment of statutory Marine Nature Reserves was included in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and on 21 November 1986 the Secretary of State for the Environment announced the designation of a statutory reserve at Lundy. There is an outstanding variety of marine habitats and wildlife, and according to my research there are a large number of rare and unusual species in the waters around Lundy, including some species of seaweed, branching sponges, sea fans and cup corals. In 2003 the first statutory ‘No Take Zone’ (NTZ) for marine nature conservation in the UK was set up in the waters to the east of Lundy island. In 2008 this was declared as having been successful in several ways, including the increasing size and number of lobsters within the reserve, and potential benefits for other marine wildlife. However, this NTZ has received a mixed reaction from local fishermen. On 12 January 2010 the island became Britain’s first Marine Conservation Zone designated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, designed to help to preserve important habitats and species.

The Harbour porpoise is probably the most common cetacean in the waters around Lundy.

Three species of cetacean are regularly seen from the island; these being the bottlenose dolphin, the common dolphin, and the harbour porpoise. There are a few others, but these are seen rarely around Lundy, most especially off the more sheltered eastern coast and only during the warmer months.

The Lundy ferry ‘Oldenburg’ sailing into Ilfracombe harbour, past inflatable ThunderCat powerboats waiting to begin an offshore race.

In terms of transport, there are two ways to get to Lundy, depending on the time of year. In the summer months (April to October) visitors are carried on the Landmark Trust’s own vessel, MS Oldenburg, which sails from both Bideford and Ilfracombe. Sailings are usually three days a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with additional sailings on Wednesdays during July and August. The voyage takes on average two hours, depending on ports, tides and weather. The Oldenburg was first registered in Bremen, Germany, in 1958 and has been sailing to Lundy since being bought by the Lundy Company Ltd in 1985. But in the early 1960’s I happen to know that a paddle steamer named the ‘Bristol Queen’ used to have trips from (as I recall) Bideford to Lundy and back. Sadly she hit Penarth pier on 20 August 1966, damaging the pier head. Then she damaged her paddle wheel on 26 August 1967 and was scrapped the following year. In the winter months (November to March) Lundy island is served by a scheduled helicopter service from Hartland Point. The helicopter operates on Mondays and Fridays, with flights between 12noon and 2pm. The heliport is a field at the top of Hartland Point, not far from the Beacon. A grass runway of 435 by 30 yards (398 by 27 m) is available, allowing access to small STOL (Short Take-off and Landing) aircraft. Alternatively, properly equipped and experienced canoeists can kayak to the island from Hartland Point or Lee Bay. This takes four to six hours, depending on wind and tides. Entrance to Lundy is free for anyone arriving by scheduled transport, but visitors arriving by non-scheduled transport are charged an entrance fee, as at May 2016 this was £6.00, and there is an additional charge payable by those using light aircraft. Anyone arriving on Lundy by non-scheduled transport is also charged an additional fee for transporting luggage to the top of the island. In 2007, Derek Green, Lundy’s general manager, launched an appeal to raise £250,000 to save the 1-mile-long (1.5-kilometre) Beach Road, which had been damaged by heavy rain and high seas. The road was built in the first half of the nineteenth century to provide people and goods with safe access to the top of the island, some 394 feet (120m) above the only jetty. The fund-raising was completed on 10 March 2009. As for staying on the island, Lundy has 23 holiday properties, sleeping between one and 14 people. These include a lighthouse, a castle and a Victorian mansion. Many of the buildings are constructed from the island’s granite. The island also has a campsite, at the south of the island in the field next to the shop. It has hot and cold running water, with showers and toilets, in an adjacent building. The island is popular with rock climbers, having the UK’s longest continuous slab climb, “The Devil’s Slide”. Lundy has been designated by Natural England as a ‘national character area’, one of England’s [natural regions. I have also learned that owing to a decline in population and lack of interest in the mail contract, the GPO (General Post Office) ended its presence on Lundy at the end of 1927. For the next two years Harman handled the mail to and from the island without charge.On 1 November 1929, he decided to offset the expense by issuing two postage stamps (1⁄2 puffin in pink and 1 puffin in blue). One puffin is equivalent to one English penny. The printing of Puffin stamps continues to this day and they are available at face value from the Lundy Post Office. One used to have to stick Lundy stamps on the back of the envelope; but Royal Mail now allows their use on the front of the envelope, but placed on the left side, with the right side reserved for the Royal Mail postage stamp or stamps. Lundy stamps are cancelled by a circular Lundy hand stamp. The face value of the Lundy Island stamps covers the cost of postage of letters and postcards from the island to the Bideford Post Office on the mainland for onward delivery to their final destination anywhere in the world. The Lundy Post Office gets a bulk rate discount for mailing letters and postcards from Bideford.

A final link to Lundy that I have always liked. One of the BBC Radio 4 shipping forecast weather areas is mentioned between ‘Sole’ and ‘Fastnet’ in the forecast is named after Lundy.

This week…
A great deal has been joked about marriage. One is “Marriage is like a deck of cards. At the beginning, all you need are two hearts and a diamond. But there may be later times when you wish you had a club and a spade”…

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