Nineteenth century gig-shed north east of Porth Askin


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1009280

Date first listed: 07-Oct-1976

Date of most recent amendment: 04-Oct-1994


Ordnance survey map of Nineteenth century gig-shed north east of Porth Askin
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)

Parish: St. Agnes

National Grid Reference: SV 88229 07427


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

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' settlement. 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.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


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.

MAP EXTRACT 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.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 15341

Legacy System: RSM


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 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing