The Old Quay, Old Town Bay, St Mary's


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of The Old Quay, Old Town Bay, St Mary's
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)
St. Mary's
National Grid Reference:
SV 91343 10175, SV 91361 10107

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.

Quays are structures designed to enhance the natural landforms of coastal or riverside locations by providing sheltered landing places with sufficient depth of water alongside to accommodate vessels over part of the tidal cycle. The features and complexity of quays vary enormously depending partly on their date but also on their situation and exposure, the nature of the underlying geology and alluvium, and the volume and types of trade they need to handle. By their nature, quays also tend to occur in proximity to centres of trade and administrative authority. Usually in locations already sheltered to some extent by natural features, basic elements of quays may include platforms built up and out along a part of the coast or riverside that is naturally deep or artificially dredged, or along an artificial cut forming a small dock on a riverside or coast. Such features occur among the earliest surviving quays in England known from larger Roman urban centres, notably London, where they form the basis for an almost continuous development of quays to the present day. At least 26 quays are recorded on the Isles of Scilly, twelve of which remain in use. Of the disused quays, only that in Old Town Bay, St Mary's, is known to be of medieval date; most of the islands' disused post-medieval quays are associated with specific aspects of the islands' development and history, including the kelp-burning industry and a quay serving the former quarantine station on St Helen's. Quays display a considerable diversity of form, setting and construction. They comprise valuable sources of information on patterns of earlier trade, authority and settlement, and their medieval and later development shows clearly the relationship between economic forces and technological innovation in adapting the natural landscape. All medieval quays that are disused and survive substantially intact as upstanding monuments are nationally important. Disused post-medieval examples surviving substantially intact and forming distinctive indicators of pre-19th century trades and activities are also considered likely to be of national importance. The Old Quay survives well, retaining clear evidence for its manner of construction and the later enlargement of the southern pier. The unintensive post-medieval use of the quay leaves it unusual as an early quay little encumbered by later and modern modifications. Along with the broadly contemporary castle and church at Old Town, it forms one of the three principal and surviving elements of the main secular settlement on Scilly during the medieval period. Of those, it is the only element which directly conveys the importance of maritime trade among that settlement's functions. Its siting adjacent to the medieval focus of settlement and authority on the islands, and its subsequent decline when that focus later shifted, shows clearly the stimuli which medieval quays required for their construction and maintenance. Its decline also demonstrates a major aspect of the impact which developing national defensive policies in the 16th century had on coastal settlement and society.


The monument includes the remains of a medieval quay, now disused but built originally to serve the adjacent settlement at Old Town, the seat of medieval secular authority on the Isles of Scilly, situated on the southern coast of the island of St Mary's. The monument is divided into two separate constraint areas. The quay survives with two piers forming a partial enclosure of the north east corner of Old Town Bay. Each pier survives as an unmortared structure of water-worn granite boulders. The much larger southern pier combines a landing platform and breakwater, extending into the bay from the north east shore and angled at its tip. The slighter northern pier forms a slender breakwater extending SSW from the bay's north shore, leaving a gap approximately 45m wide between the ends of the two piers. The southern pier extends 50m WSW from the bay's upper shore, tapering in width from 22m at its landward end to 15m at its seaward edge, where it turns to give an 18m long, slender, north westward projection. It has a core of densely packed boulders, faced along both sides and rising to 3m high by its seaward tip. Its original upper surface has been disrupted by wave action. An earlier facing wall is visible within the pier's core rubble, indicating at least two phases of construction. The outer part of the pier belongs to the earlier phase, built with a core of large boulders faced by courses of vertically-set slabs, each generally 0.5m-0.75m high. The early phase inner facing, now embedded within the pier, shows a former width of approximately 15m at the landward end. In the later phase, the pier was substantially thickened to its present width by adding a core of smaller boulders against the earlier inner facing. This later core is faced by roughly coursed boulders and some dressed slabs, generally under 0.5m across, with remnants of iron cramps securing them in place. The slighter northern pier extends 24m SSW from the shingle upper shore, with a packed boulder core faced along the ESE by roughly coursed slabs, mostly laid end-on to the face and rising to 0.75m high. The WNW side is more disrupted by wave action but traces of a lower course of facing slabs give a width of 4m on the north, tapering over the southern 10m to 1m wide at the tip. A relatively recent attempt to stabilise the ESE facing of this pier has left a thin mortar capping over parts of the facing's upper slabs. The construction and fortunes of this quay are intimately bound with the development of the settlement at Old Town which it served. By the mid-12th century, a parish church had been established to the west of Old Town Bay and c.AD 1150 the presence of the church and settlement attracted a Viking raid recorded in an Icelandic saga. By the mid-13th century, Ennor Castle had been built on a knoll close to the north east of the bay, a natural harbour then called `Porthenor'. The large quay in this scheduling provides the third surviving element of this settlement's former pre-eminence, reflecting the point of trade generated, controlled and protected by the neighbouring centre of authority. The quay is first specifically mentioned in 1554 but by then the pattern of defences on the islands was changing to serve national strategic considerations rather than local defence needs, culminating in the late 16th century in a total shift of defensive focus to the Hugh, the south western promontory on St Mary's, 1.5km to the west. The island's focus of settlement and trade followed the defensive shift, migrating to the isthmus linking the Hugh with the rest of St Mary's and provided with a new quay from 1601. This left Ennor Castle redundant and its settlement and harbour in decline. By 1652 the new settlement had acquired its present title and dominance as Hughtown, while Ennor had become `Old Town', its quay depicted on most maps and plans from 1655 onwards. The decline of Old Town was noted in 1756 by the antiquary Borlase, describing the neglect of the quay and its anchorage and failing to include it in his list of usable harbours on Scilly. Borlase described the quay as a `poor little pier' sheltering `several fishing boats', a function which it still performed when photographed in the 1880's; by then both piers of the quay appear in a similar state of deterioration as is visible today. The small beacon marking the tip of the southern pier is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included.

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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Arlott, J, Island Camera, (1983)
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)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 9110 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7549, (1988)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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