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Living on Lundy, you cannot help but be engaged with the beauty and natural life of the place. However, Lundy has an intriguing history and had a great deal of impact on the culture of peoples in Wales and England. It was this that fascinated me above all else, and I undertook regular history walks for Day visitors and Stayers alike. These proved highly popular, lasting some 2 to 3 hours, for around two dozen guests at a time. These talks formed the basis for this page, and the mythology page elsewhere on this site.

The name Lundy was believed to come from the old Norse word for "puffin island"  lundi being held to be the Old Norse word for a puffin and ey, an island, although I favour an alternative explanation. Primarily, the Old Norse word Lund means a copse, or small wooded area, or it can mean seabird, but it is not specific to Puffins. (The territory the Vikings travelled is pretty much the same as the Puffins area of operation: strange that they waited until they got to Lundy before they noticed them, despite the bird being a common site in their home territories, and much rarer as far south as Lundy).  However, the Vikings raided along the Bristol Channel, as is recorded in the writings of the time, and I dont believe its a stretch of imagination that they would have seen the Island as the first safe refuge to make repairs to their ships before returning on the long voyage home. Its known that the Island was wooded at that point, and there is evidence of Viking activity, including Burial cysts. What I would say, is that the Puffin link was never mentioned in any writings or texts until the arrival of Martin Coles Harman, who sought to market the Island as a destination.

 

 

There is evidence of occupation from Neolithic times with Bronze Age burial mounds, four inscribed gravestones from the early Christian times period, and an early medieval monastery.

Beacon Hill Cemetery can be reached to the south of the Old Light, and was extensively excavated by Charles Thomas in 1969. The cemetery contains four inscribed stones, dated to the 5th or 6th century AD. The site was originally enclosed by a bank and ditch, which is still visible in the south west corner. However, the other walls were moved when the Old Light was constructed in 1819. Celtic Christian enclosures of this type were common in Western Britain. (note: the term Celtic refers to the predominant culture of the times: the Britons were indigenous to the country (and Lundy!), rather than ethnically Celt.)

Thomas proposed a five-stage sequence of site usage:

 (1) An area of round huts and fields. These huts may have fallen into disuse before the construction of the cemetery.

(2) The construction of the focal grave, an 11 by 8 ft rectangular stone enclosure containing a single cist grave. The interior of the enclosure was filled with small granite pieces. Two more cist graves located to the west of the enclosure may also date from this time.

3) Perhaps 100 years later, the focal grave was opened, and the infill removed. The body may have been moved to a church at this time.

(4) & (5) Two further stages of cist grave construction around the focal grave.

23 cist graves were found during this excavation. Considering that the excavation only uncovered a small area of the cemetery, there may be as many as 100 graves!

It is believed that the focal grave contained the remains of St Nectan, a Saint of the Celtic Church. He died around 550 AD. After some time, Lundy soil being acidic and not kind to human remains, he was disinterred and reburied at Hartland Abbey

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Inscribed stones

 Inscribed stones

Four Celtic inscribed stones have been found in Beacon Hill Cemetery, but its not considered likely that was their original position: they look as if they have been placed there awaiting transporting to whatever point they were intended for: its certain that they were transported from the mainland at some point:

1400 OPTIMI, or TIMI; the name Optimus is Latin and male. Discovered in 1962 by D. B. Hague. 1401 RESTEVTAE, or RESGEVT[A], Latin, female i.e. Resteuta or Resgeuta. Discovered in 1962 by D. B. Hague.1402 POTIT[I], or [PO]TIT, Latin, male. Discovered in 1961 by K. S. Gardener and A. Langham.1403 --]IGERNI [FIL]I TIGERNI, or—I]GERNI [FILI] [T]I[G]ERNI, Brittonic, male i.e. Tigernus son of Tigernus. Discovered in 1905.

 

Knights Templar

Lundy was granted to the Knights Templar by Henry II in 1160. The Templars were a major international maritime force at this time, with interests in North Devon, and almost certainly an important port at Bideford or on the River Taw in Barnstaple. This was probably because of the increasing threat posed by the Norse sea raiders; however, it is unclear whether theTemplars actually ever took possession of the island. Ownership was disputed by the Marisco family who were already on the island during King Stephen's reign. The Mariscos were fined, and the island was cut off from necessary supplies. Evidence of the Templars' weak hold on the island came when King John, on his accession in 1199, confirmed the earlier grant.

 

Marisco family

NOT the Marisco Castle!

In 1235 William de Marisco was implicated in the murder of Henry Clement, a messenger of Henry III. Three years later, an attempt was made to kill Henry III by a man who later confessed to being an agent of the Marisco family. William de Marisco fled to Lundy where he lived as a virtual king. He built a stronghold in the area now known as Bulls' Paradise with 9 feet thick walls.

 

In 1242, Henry III sent troops to the island. They scaled the island's cliff and captured William de Marisco and 16 of his retainers. Henry III built the  still standing castle (erroneously referred to as the Marisco Castle) in an attempt to establish the rule of law on the island and its surrounding waters. The earthworks and remains of the Marisco stronghold are clearly visible in Bulls Paradise.  At some point in the 13th century the monks of the Cistercian order at Cleeve Abbey held the rectory of the island.

 

Piracy

Over the next few centuries, the island was hard to govern. Trouble followed as both English and foreign pirates and privateers – including other members of the Marisco family – took control of the island for short periods. Ships were forced to navigate close to Lundy because of the dangerous shingle banks in the fast flowing River Severn and Bristol Channel, with its tidal range of 27 feet (8.2 m), one of the greatest in the world. This made the island a profitable location from which to prey on passing Bristol-bound merchant ships bringing back valuable goods from overseas.

 

It has been claimed that in 1627 Barbary Pirates from the Republic of Salé occupied Lundy for five years. The North African invaders, under the command of Dutch renegade Jan Janszoon, allegedly flew an Ottoman flag over the island. Some captured Europeans may have been held on Lundy before being sent to Algiers as slaves. From 1628 to 1634 the island was plagued by pirate ships of French, Basque, English and Spanish origin. These incursions were eventually ended by Sir John Penington, but in the 1660s and as late as the 1700s the island still fell prey to French privateers.

 

Civil war

In the English Civil War, Thomas Bushell held Lundy for King Charles I, rebuilding Marisco Castle and garrisoning the island at his own expense. He was a friend of Francis Bacon, a strong supporter of the Royalist cause and an expert on mining and coining. It was the last Royalist territory held between the first and second civil wars. It is very likely that he located the Royal Mint at Lundy, or at least planned to: unfortunately there is no evidence confirming this.After receiving permission from Charles I, Bushell surrendered the island on 24 February 1647 to Richard Fiennes, representing General Fairfax. In 1656, the island was acquired by Lord Saye and Sele.

 

18th and 19th centuries

The late 18th and early 19th centuries were years of lawlessness on Lundy, particularly during the ownership of Thomas Benson (1708-1772), a Member of Parliament for Barnstaple in 1747 and Sheriff of Devon, who notoriously used the island for housing convicts whom he was supposed to be deporting to America. Benson leased Lundy from its owner, John Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Gower (1694–1754) (who was an heir of the Grenville family of Bideford and of Stowe, Kilkhampton in Cornwall), at a rent of £60 per annum and contracted with the Government to transport a shipload of convicts to Virginia, but diverted the ship to Lundy to use the convicts as his personal slaves. Later Benson was involved in an insurance swindle. He purchased and insured the ship Nightingale and loaded it with a valuable cargo of pewter and linen. Having cleared the port on the mainland, the ship put into Lundy, where the cargo was removed and stored in a cave built by the convicts, before setting sail again. The Cave remains, and indeed has carved inscriptions madfe by the convicts who were held t here.Some days afterwards, when a homeward-bound vessel was sighted, the Nightingale was set on fire and scuttled. The crew were taken off the stricken ship by the other ship, which landed them safely at Clovelly.

 

Sir Vere Hunt, 1st Baronet of Curragh, a rather eccentric Irish politician and landowner, and unsuccessful man of business, purchased the island from John Cleveland in 1802 for £5,270 (£431,800 today). Sir Vere Hunt planted in the island a small, self-contained Irish colony with its own constitution and divorce laws, coinage and stamps. The tenants came from Sir Vere Hunt's Irish estate and they experienced agricultural difficulties while on the island. This led Sir Vere Hunt to seek someone who would take the island off his hands, failing in his attempt to sell the island to the British Government as a base for troops. After the 1st Baronet's death his son, Sir Aubrey de Vere, 2nd Baronet, also had great difficulty in securing any profit from the property. In the 1820s John Benison agreed to purchase the island for £4,500 but then refused to complete sale as he felt that the 2nd Baronet could not make out a good title in respect of the sale terms, namely that the island was free from tithes and taxes.

William Hudson Heaven purchased Lundy in 1834, as a summer retreat and for the shooting, at a cost of 9,400 guineas (£9,870, or £870,600 today). He claimed it to be a "free island", and successfully resisted the jurisdiction of the mainland magistrates. Lundy was in consequence sometimes referred to as "the kingdom of Heaven". It belongs in fact to the county of Devon, and has always been part of the hundred of Braunton. Many of the buildings on the island today, including St. Helen's Church, designed by the architect John Norton, and Millcombe House (originally known simply as the Villa), date from the Heaven period. The Georgian-style villa was built in 1836. However, the expense of building the road from the beach (no financial assistance being provided by Trinity House, despite their regular use of the road following the construction of the lighthouses), the villa and the general cost of running the island had a ruinous effect on the family's finances, which had been damaged by reduced profits from their sugar plantations in Jamaica.

In 1957 a message in a bottle from one of the seamen of the HMS Caledonia was washed ashore between Babbacombe and Peppercombe in Devon. The letter, dated 15 August 1843 read: "Dear Brother, Please e God i be with y against Michaelmas. Prepare y search Lundy for y Jenny ivories. Adiue William, Odessa". The bottle and letter are on display at the Portledge Hotel at Fairy Cross, in Devon, England. The Jenny was a three-masted schooner reputed to be carrying ivory and gold dust that was wrecked on Lundy (at a place thereafter called Jenny's Cove) on 20 February 1797. The ivory was apparently recovered some years later but the leather bags supposed to contain gold dust were never found.

 

20th and 21st centuries

William Heaven was succeeded by his son the Reverend Hudson Grosset Heaven who, thanks to a legacy from Sarah Langworthy (née Heaven), was able to fulfill his life's ambition of building a stone church on the island. St Helen's was completed in 1896, and stands today as a lasting memorial to the Heaven period. It has been designated by English Heritage a Grade II listed building. He is said to have been able to afford either a church or a new harbour. His choice of the church was not however in the best financial interests of the island. The unavailability of the money for re-establishing the family's financial soundness, coupled with disastrous investment and speculation in the early 20th century, caused severe financial hardship.

Hudson Heaven died in 1916, and was succeeded by his nephew, Walter Charles Hudson Heaven. With the outbreak of the First World War, matters deteriorated seriously, and in 1918 the family sold Lundy to Augustus Langham Christie. In 1924, the Christie family sold the island along with the mail contract and the MV Lerina to Martin Coles Harman, who proclaimed himself a king. Harman issued two coins of Half Puffin and One Puffin denominations in 1929, nominally equivalent to the British halfpenny and penny, resulting in his prosecution under the United Kingdom's Coinage Act of 1870. The House of Lords found him guilty in 1931, and he was fined £5 with fifteen guineas (£5 + £15.75) expenses. The coins were withdrawn and became collectors' items. In 1965 a "fantasy" restrike four-coin set, a few in gold, was issued to commemorate 40 years since Harman purchased the island. Harman's son, John Pennington Harman was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross during the Battle of Kohima,India in 1944. There is a memorial to him at the VC Quarry on Lundy. Martin Coles Harman died in 1954.

Residents did not pay taxes to the United Kingdom and had to pass through customs when they travelled to and from Lundy Island. Although the island was ruled as a virtual fiefdom, its owner never claimed to be independent of the United Kingdom, in contrast to later territorial "micronations".

Following the death of Harman's son Albion in 1968, Lundy was put up for sale in 1969. Jack Hayward, a British millionaire, purchased the island for £150,000 (£2,266,000 today) and gave it to the National Trust, who leased it to the Landmark Trust. The Landmark Trust has managed the island since then, deriving its income from arranging day trips, letting out holiday cottages and from donations. In May 2015 a sculpture by Antony Gormley was erected on Lundy. It is one of five life-sized sculptures, Land, placed near the centre and at four compass points of the UK in a commission by the Landmark Trust, to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

 

The island is visited by over 20,000 day-trippers a year, but during September 2007 had to be closed for several weeks owing to an outbreak of Norovirus

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Wreck of Battleship Montagu

 

A naval footnote in the history of Lundy was the wreck of the Royal Navy battleship HMS Montagu. Steaming in heavy fog, she ran hard aground near Shutter Rock on the island's southwest corner at about 2:00 a.m. on 30 May 1906. Thinking they were aground at Hartland Point on the English mainland, a landing party went ashore for help, only finding out where they were after encountering the lighthouse keeper at the island's north light.

Strenuous efforts by the Royal Navy to salvage the badly damaged battleship during the summer of 1906 failed, and in 1907 it was decided to give up and sell her for scrap. Montagu was scrapped at the scene over the next fifteen years. Diving clubs still visit the site, where armour plate and live 12-inch (305-millimetre) shells remain on the seabed.

 

Remains of a German Heinkel 111H bomber

During the Second World War two German Heinkel He 111 bombers crash landed on the island in 1941. The first was on 3 March, when all the crew survived and were taken prisoner.

The second was on 1 April when the pilot was killed and the other crew members were taken prisoner. This plane had bombed a British ship and one engine was damaged by anti aircraft fire, forcing it to crash land. A few remains can be found on the crash site. Reportedly to avoid reprisals the crew concocted a story that they were on a reconnaissance mission.

 

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