Post-medieval watch house and Coastguard lookout on Watch Hill, Bryher
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1016171
Date first listed: 25-Sep-1997
The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1016171 .pdf
The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.
This copy shows the entry on 12-Dec-2018 at 02:57:03.
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: SV 88006 15233
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'
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.
Watch houses are structures erected usually in elevated positions whose wide field of view enabled early warning to be given of approaching enemy forces. The structures, usually small buildings with viewing openings, provided shelter and sometimes an element of camouflage for those assigned to watch duties. In this role they formed a integral part of many defensive systems developed during the earlier part of the post-medieval period (approximately AD 1540-1815), working in conjunction with a variety of signalling systems, including beacons, flags and, later, semaphore stations. Watch houses provided the forerunner to the enormous diversity of early warning and enemy detection systems developed during the 19th and 20th centuries. Remains of at least four watch houses of early 18th century or earlier date survive on the Isles of Scilly, one each on Bryher, St Martin's, St Mary's and Tresco. Locations advantageous for watch houses sometimes proved of similar benefit for siting the lookouts established during the 19th century by the Coastguard to assist in their role against smuggling, and by civilians for other purposes, notably on Scilly to observe approaching shipping which would require the services of a local pilot. Rising trade, demand and taxation affecting imported commodities such as tobacco, spirits, and tea during the 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. Effective control only came with the ending of the wars with France when, in 1816-17, the Customs was considerably expanded to form the new Coastguard, with sufficient manpower to operate as a widespread preventative force along the south coast. The establishment of a network of coastal lookouts proved an important measure in the Coastguard gaining control over maritime activity. Prior to this, 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 made smuggling a vital supplement to the islands' economy in the early 19th century, as 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 economic activity and the counter-measures which effectively stopped it leave few remains, chief among which are a small number of smugglers' caches and surviving traces of at least three 19th century lookouts set up by the Coastguard force. The Coastguard lookout on Watch Hill survives well as the most complete example remaining on Scilly, showing clearly its manner of construction and the siting which proved so valuable in establishing the effectiveness of the Coastguard service. The role of such key viewpoints in earlier post-medieval defences is demonstrated by the remains of the watch house surviving around the later lookout and whose identification is confirmed by 18th century ducumentary sources. Although robbed of parts of its wall fabric, much of its ground plan survives as an important and integral part of the early post-medieval defensive system that survives extensively on the Isles of Scilly.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The scheduling includes a 19th century Coastguard lookout overlying remains of
an earlier post-medieval watch house and situated near the summit of Watch
Hill, a prominent hill on Bryher in the Isles of Scilly.
The Coastguard lookout is visible as a small boat-shaped enclosure measuring
4.6m long, east-west, by up to 1.6m wide internally. The west end is 1m wide
and the east end tapers to a blunt point. The enclosure is defined by a
drystone wall rising generally 1m high, approximately 0.9m wide at its base
and tapering to an uneven and partly stone-robbed top. On each side, the
wall's lower course incorporates some large edge-set slabs, up to 1.9m long;
above these and elsewhere, smaller rubble is laid on edge giving thinner
courses. A 0.8m wide entrance gap is situated at the west end of the
enclosure's south side, the wall rubble to each side capped by flat slabs.
The Coastguard lookout partly overlies remains of an earlier watch house which
was recorded on the summit of Watch Hill by the antiquary Troutbeck in 1796
and which gave the hill its present name. Its remains include a levelled
platform on whose northern half the later Coastguard lookout was built but
whose north east and southern edges contain traces of earlier wall
foundations; more substantial walling of a subrectangular structure extends
west from the platform and later lookout. The levelled platform measures
approximately 11m north-south by 7m east-west, rising approximately 0.7m above
the surrounding ground level along its curving northern edge but merging with
the hill's summit surface on the south. The platform surface extends 1m beyond
the Coastguard lookout on the north and has traces of rubble along its north
eastern edge. On the south of the platform, on a course 6.5m beyond the south
wall of the Coastguard lookout, a low line of rubble marks a southern wall
foundation, 0.5m wide, 0.1m high and 6.5m long east-west and angled to the
north at its eastern end. The subrectangular structure extending west from the
platform and later lookout is open on the west but defined on the north and
south by walls approximately 4m long and approximately 5m apart, built
largely of edge-set boulders, and on the east by a drystone wall partly re-
used for the west end-wall of the Coastguard lookout but extending further
north as a stub of drystone walling. The boulder walls on the north and south
appear as remains of a former drystone wall from which the smaller rubble has
been removed, a process partly accounted for by the later construction of the
adjacent Coastguard lookout.
The site of this watch house occupies one of the most elevated situations on
Bryher, with uninterrupted fields of view across most of the waters to the
east and west of Bryher, including the deep water channel of New Grimsby
Harbour between Bryher and Tresco to the north east. The watch house on this
position complemented other watch houses on St Mary's and St Martin's, forming
part of the extensively surviving system of 17th and 18th century defences on
Scilly by giving advanced warning of approaching danger to allow preparation
and manning of the defences. Its advantages as an excellent viewpoint also
served the Coastguard Force as the site for one of the several lookouts
established on Scilly from the 1830s onwards.
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: 15492
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Gill, C, The Isles of Scilly, (1975)
CAU, Scilly SMR entry PRN 7399, (1991)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7370, (1988)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; Cornwall sheet LXXXII: 14 Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor: 1888 and 1908 Editions
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8815 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
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