Pre-First World War Battleship HMS Montagu and Rare ‘Montagu Steps’ Granted Protection
The wreck of the pre-First World War battleship HMS Montagu and a series of steps that were cut into the cliff face on Lundy Island have been granted protection.
Historic England recommended to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that HMS Montagu and the ‘Montagu Steps’ be scheduled. This means they will be added to the National Heritage List for England. The steps were built to help with the salvage operation of the stricken ship in the Bristol Channel.
A vital time in warship development
HMS Montagu was launched in March 1901. It was built in response to an increase in French, Russian and German ship-building prior to the First World War.
It's an example of the transition of warship development. HMS Montagu was one of the last 19th century ‘Ironclads’ to be built. 1906, the year HMS Montagu ran aground, was the year that the revolutionary turbine-powered big gun British ‘Dreadnought’ warships launched.
HMS Montagu is rare as the only surviving ‘Duncan’ class battleship anywhere in north European or English waters.
Grounded on rocks around the Isle of Lundy
On 30 May 1906 HMS Montagu grounded on rocks around the Isle of Lundy at Shutter Point in thick fog, due to a navigational error during secret radio communication trials. It could not be saved and had to be broken up and salvaged where it lay.
HMS Montagu and the Montagu Steps are all part of our nation's fascinating naval history. Sites like these must be protected for future generations and together with Historic England and Help For Heroes, we have now done exactly that.
HMS Montagu was initially salvaged by the Liverpool Salvage Company for the British navy. In June 1907 the wreck was sold to the Cornish Salvage Company. An aerial walkway, suspended from the island cliffs to the wreck, was constructed and a series of steps were cut into the cliff face to help with the salvage operation.
The steps were built in 1907 and are now known as the ‘Montagu Steps’. They are recorded on Ordnance Survey mapping and survive to the present day as a reminder of the salvage operation on the stranded battleship. They are cut into the granite of Lundy Island and were reinforced with iron plates in places. These are likely to be parts of HMS Montagu’s hull salvaged from the wreck.
A reinforced suspension bridge comprised of over 10 tons of material was built from HMS Montagu to the cliff steps. This ensured the passage to the stricken vessel was possible in any weather and at any state of the tide. Remarkably, the bridge was completed in just 32 hours.
Not only is the wreck of HMS Montagu important for what it can tell us about pre-First World War naval shipbuilding, but it is forever linked to the landscape of Lundy Island by the distinctive flight of rock-cut steps. Combined, the wreck and the steps provide a rare group of maritime monuments.
Underwater survey work helped by wounded veterans
Last summer, wounded veterans carried out a series of dives on the wreck of HMS Montagu to determine what remains of the wreck. This project was funded by Historic England, the charity Help for Heroes, which helps British service personnel and veterans wounded in the line of duty and their families, and Wessex Archaeology. The archaeological and historical data gathered from last summer’s underwater survey work contributed towards the decision to protect this important site in the Bristol Channel.
We’re delighted that our archaeological work last year, carried out on behalf of Historic England, has led to HMS Montagu being granted heritage protection. It’s a rare example of a pre-Dreadnought battleship, marking a fascinating period of expansion and innovation in the UK’s naval forces and, since its foundering in 1906, has remained an intrinsic part of the Lundy community’s cultural identity, enjoyed by locals, tourists and the diving community alike.