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Prehistoric field system and cairn, early and later medieval religious complex, post-medieval lookout and quarantine station on St Helen's

List Entry Summary

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 Culture, Media and Sport.

Name: Prehistoric field system and cairn, early and later medieval religious complex, post-medieval lookout and quarantine station on St Helen's

List entry Number: 1016177

Location

The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County:

District: Isles of Scilly

District Type: Unitary Authority

Parish: Tresco

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 25-Sep-1997

Date of most recent amendment: Not applicable to this List entry.

Legacy System Information

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

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 15498

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

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.

Each phase of prehistoric, medieval and post-medieval activity on southern St Helen's has produced remains which survive well, presenting a highly unusual succession of land uses. The prehistoric field system shows clearly its varied manner of construction and layout, containing evidence for multi-phase development and demonstrating the strong influence of the nature and aspect of the underlying landforms. The importance of the local topography is also illustrated by the siting of the summit cairn, which survives substantially intact despite some evident disturbance for the construction of the post medieval lookout and OS trig point. These prehistoric features are important for understanding the nature of early land use in the north of Scilly and can be set in their wider pre-submergence context by the survival of broadly contemporary settlement and funerary features on nearby islands. The early Christian complex in this scheduling is a very rare survival, in barely modified form, of an early medieval religious enclosure complete with its cemetery, chapel and living cell. It is extremely valuable for studies of the early development of Christianity in western Britain, similar to early enclosures called `lanns' identified as the original forms that developed into many present parish churchyard sites in south west England and resembling a small number which survive intact in Ireland. The St Helen's complex is of particular value as one of at least three early medieval Christian foci to survive on Scilly, each containing a chapel but with differing accompanying features: a rare grouping in a small area which illustrates the diversity of religious sites in this period, their relationships to each other and to the wider settlement regime containing them. The later modifications give a good example of a developing site of pilgrimage during the medieval period, and the evolving plan of a small church. The quarantine station on the south of St Helen's had a national role as an attempt to safeguard the country from shipborne infectious diseases arriving via the Western Approaches; it is a well preserved and unusual illustration of the mid-18th century measures to control and improve public health.

History

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

Details

The scheduling includes a prehistoric field system on the southern flanks and summit of St Helen's, a small island in the north of the Isles of Scilly. It also includes a prehistoric funerary cairn with remains of a chamber and post medieval lookout on the summit of the island's hill, and, on the south slope, an early and later medieval religious complex. Behind the south coast, the monument contains a mid-18th century quarantine station. The prehistoric field system encompasses much of the island's southern flanks to roughly the 15m contour level but rising close to the island's summit on the east. It varies greatly in boundary form and layout. On the west it is defined by low banks with spaced edge-set slabs called orthostats, approximately 0.5m high. Some banks along the contour are backed by accumulated deposits, called lynchets, due to early cultivation on the slope. Much of the western flank is divided into a rectilinear grid of small plots by north east-south west downslope banks approximately 15m-20m apart, crossed by north west-south east banks at approximately 20m-25m intervals. To the south, the grid pattern meets a block of small rounded plots, approximately 10m-20m across, reflecting a differing phase of layout. The field system also extends east over the island's south and south east slopes as a series of lynchetted banks approximately 0.5m-1.5m high along the slope. The south slope lynchets again extend to roughly the 15m contour. Those on the south east slope are slighter, with some downslope banks immediately behind the coast, but they also extend onto the gentler upper slope where the lynchets revert to banks with spaced orthostats, similar to the west flank boundaries: one bank ascends the slope's northern upper ridge to join a rectangular plot that crosses the head of the slope to end near the summit. A further bank to the north west extends along part of the slope crest above the island's north east coast. On the summit is a prehistoric cairn with an ovoid mound, to 17m across, and a shallow-domed surface up to 1.5m high. West of centre, its funerary chamber survives as a slab-lined rectangular hollow, 0.8m north east-south west by 0.7m wide, open to the north east and partly covered by a slab 1.2m long. On the mound's east side is the lower walling of a post medieval lookout, rectangular in plan and 3m wide north east-south west by at least 3.2m long internally, open to the north west, with an Ordnance Survey triangulation point overlying its south west wall. The early Christian complex on the island's lower southern slope was, by early tradition, founded by St Elidius. Its initial phase, datable to the 8th century AD, includes a sub-rectangular embanked enclosure, approximately 46m ENE-WSW by approximately 35m NNW-SSE internally, containing three early features: a chapel at the north east, a living cell on the west and a cemetery. The chapel is 3.5m east-west by 2.5m wide internally, with walling to 1.6m high and an entrance at the centre of the south wall. A step defines the eastern sanctuary with a small rubble altar block, 0.7m high, with end-set slabs at each side and a niche for holy relics at the south. A rubble seat links the altar with the north wall. A low slab-edged bench, probably added later, runs within the chapel wall beyond the sanctuary. The round living cell is 3.75m across internally, defined by a rubble wall to 1.5m high; the original entrance is on the WSW with a later entrance on the ENE. By the ENE entrance is an oval hearth slab edged by low slabs. Excavation revealed five graves of an early cemetery east of the living cell. In the early 11th century a small church, 7.9m east-west by 4.25m wide, was built north east of the living cell. Around 1120, Tavistock Abbey was granted the church and increased exploitation as a place of pilgrimage to the saint's shrine led to extensive remodelling, extending the church eastward to give a new sanctuary; a north aisle with a paved sanctuary was also added. The nave and aisle walls survive approximately 1m-1.5m high with remains of rubble benches inside. On a sketch of 1752, an arcade of two round arches on squat pillars linked the north aisle with the nave. Excavations found decorated ridge-tiles and part of a 12th century Purbeck marble shrine to house the saint's relics. The church was in disrepair by the mid-15th century and probably in ruins by the dissolution of Tavistock Abbey in 1539 but memory of reverence of the saint's shrine survived to be recorded by the antiquary Leland in 1542. The remodelling also reduced the enclosure area almost by half by a wall from its north bank to shortly beyond the living cell, where it meets an approach passage and turns east to join the east bank. The living cell entrance was altered to face ENE into the reduced enclosure. Three small rectangular living cells are later additions on the south and east of the enclosure. A quarantine station was established on St Helen's in 1764 after an Act ten years earlier required any plague-ridden ship north of Cape Finisterre and heading for England to anchor in St Helen's Pool, south of the island. The station includes an isolation hospital, well, slipway and field system. The isolation hospital, known as the `Pest House', is at the foot of the island's southern rocky spur and is a roofless single storey building with rubble walls faced externally by neat coursed slabs called ashlar; traces of plaster survive inside. It has a main room, 4.9m square internally, and an extension with a lean-to roof on the south east, later subdivided into two rooms. On a late-19th century photograph the main room has a pyramidal roof and the extension a sloping roof with a door and two-light window in its north east room. The water supply came from a well 50m to the west. Landing on St Helen's was facilitated by a slipway south west of the Pest House, visible as a straight NNW-SSE sandy channel approximately 10m wide, cleared across the boulder shore. On each side is a breakwater of contiguous slabs, some coursed, extending at least 41m along the west side and 20m along the east. A small field system associated with the quarantine station lies immediately behind the south coast, walled by rubble-faced banks. Three fields adjoin in a north east-south west line; the largest, at the south west, is subdivided into at least four smaller plots. A burial found eroding from a coastal dune over the field system's south corner contained the skeleton of a negroid or oriental male, considered to be a late 18th-early 19th century burial of a shipwreck victim. All modern notices and signs are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them 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.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Arlott, J, Island Camera, (1983)
Grigson, G, The Scilly Isles, (1977)
IoS Council members, , One Hundred Years of the Council of the Isles of Scilly, (1991)
Ratcliffe, J, Fieldwork in Scilly July 1993, (1994), 23-49
Ratcliffe, J, Fieldwork in Scilly July 1993, (1994), 23-49
Ratcliffe, J, Scilly's Archaeological Heritage, (1992)
Ratcliffe, J, Fieldwork in Scilly July 1993, (1994), 23-49
Ratcliffe, J, Fieldwork in Scilly 1991 and 1992, (1993), 27-31
Ratcliffe, J, Fieldwork in Scilly July 1993, (1994)
Ratcliffe, J, Sharpe, A CAU, Fieldwork in Scilly Autumn 1990, (1991)
Tangye, M, A Guide to The Old Church of St Mary The Virgin, Isles of Scilly, (1995)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Thomas, C, Exploration of a Drowned Landscape, (1986)
Bluett, A, 'The Cornish Magazine' in Around the Manacles, , Vol. I, (1898), 403-416
O'Neil, H E, 'Archaeological Journal' in Excavation of a Celtic Hermitage on St Helen's, Scilly, 1956-58, (1964)
O'Neil, H E, 'Archaeological Journal' in Excavation of a Celtic Hermitage on St Helen's, Scilly, 1956-58, (1964), 40-69
Other
Hooley, AD, Note on discovery & removal of burial on St Helen's, 5-6/4/1995, 1995, Unpubl report for EH and CAU records
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7114.01, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7114.02, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7115 & 7115.03, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7268.02, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7268.03, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7112 & 7113, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7115 & 7115.04-.05, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7268.01-.03, (1988)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Maps: SV 81 NE & SV 91 NW Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; Cornwall sheet LXXXII: 10 Source Date: 1906 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; Cornwall sheet LXXXII: 16 Source Date: 1889 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; Cornwall sheet LXXXII: 16 Source Date: 1889 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey Record & Illustration Cards for SV 91 NW 55 Source Date: 1978 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Unpubl report for EH and CAU records, Hooley, A D, Archaeological note on burial at SV 90121682 on SE St Helen's, (1995)

National Grid Reference: SV 90034 16844

Map

Map
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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This copy shows the entry on 20-Jun-2018 at 11:49:32.

End of official listing