Gig shed on the north coast of Great Porth, Bryher


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


Ordnance survey map of Gig shed on the north coast of Great Porth, Bryher
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SV 87548 14706

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 coast of Great Porth survives reasonably well; despite the loss of its roof, substantial parts of its walling will survive beneath the wind blown deposits within and around it. The gig shed shows clearly its form, manner of construction, and those aspects of its siting and orientation essential for its function. Its visible features are complemented by the known identity of the gig it housed and by the detailed historical records of several actions undertaken by that and other gigs working out of Great Porth. Its proximity to the `Golden Eagle' gig shed and to the surviving pilot lookout on Timmy's Hill produces a rare grouping of the surviving elements from this former key activity both in the islands' economy and the nation's maritime trade.


The scheduling includes remains of a 19th century gig shed, the former store for a pilot boat called a gig, situated on the bank behind the northern shore of Great Porth, a bay on the west coast of Bryher in the Isles of Scilly. The gig shed survives with its unroofed and partly overgrown walling defining a rectangular internal area measuring 10.1m NE-SW by 3m wide. The gig shed was originally open to the south west, facing Great Porth, but that end is now blocked by a shingle bank along the head of the upper shore. The walls are approximately 0.7m wide, faced on each side by roughly coursed granite rubble, including many beach cobbles. The walling is visible to approximately 0.8m high but its full surviving height is partly masked by recent sand and other deposits in the gig shed interior. This is one of two surviving gig sheds at the hamlet of Pool on the northern shore of Great Porth where the gigs `Albion', `Golden Eagle' and `Czar' were based; the gig shed in this scheduling housed the `Czar', built in 1879 and still surviving though now housed elsewhere, while the gig shed 50m to the south east formerly housed the `Golden Eagle', built in 1870. Late 19th century Ordnance Survey maps show these gig sheds linked by a path running directly to an old pilot lookout on the western crest of Timmy's Hill to the north east. Both gig sheds were depicted on a late 1940s sketch as retaining their reed thatch roofs, lashed down to the wall edges. The reed thatch roof still survived on the gig shed in this scheduling in 1966, but by 1976 its roof had been stripped away. This gig shed and the other nearby occupy a relatively sheltered location with good access to the waters west of the Isles of Scilly, giving some advantage in making early contact with ships entering the Western Approaches and likely to require the services of the island's pilots. Closer inshore, Great Porth opens towards the notoriously treacherous Norrard Rocks, the scene of numerous shipwrecks and many recorded life-saving and salvage actions by pilot gig crews, including those of the `Czar' and the `Golden Eagle'.

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.

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Legacy System:


Books and journals
Grigson, G, The Scilly Isles, (1977)
Jenkins, A J, The Scillonian And His Boat, (1982)
Jenkins, A J, Gigs and Cutters of the Isles of Scilly, (1975)
In conversation to MPPA on 2/4/1997, Info from Richard Pearce, occupier of the Golden Eagle gig shed, (1997)
Information from local people & from plaque on Golden Eagle shed, (1995)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7398.01, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7398.02, (1988)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; Cornwall sheet LXXXII: 13 Source Date: 1888 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Both 1888 and 1908 editions
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8714 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

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