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LUNDY ISLAND

From

A Handbook for Travellers in Devonshire (9th ed.),

London, J. Murray. (1879)

Clovelly is the nearest port to Lundy Island (Pop. 144) (lundi, Icelandic - a puffin; this seems to be the etymology, but is not certain) is about 18 m., so that those who have a relish for exploring places seldom visited can here embark on a trip to Lundy. (During the summer small steamers occasionally run from Bideford to Lundy, and generally call at Clovelly. The days of their starting are announced some time beforehand. This of course is the most convenient way of visiting Lundy.)

The island is about 3½ m. long, and very irregular in breadth, averaging about ½ m. It contains nearly 3000 acres. The surface is undulating table-land, rising to about 500 ft. at the lighthouse. There is only one safe landing-place, at the S.E. end, where there is a little bay with good anchorage. Until steamers came into play, "the difficulty of getting to Lundy was only exceeded by the difficulty of getting away. A sudden shift of wind has often kept visitors for weeks; and one amusing instance is on record of a party composed of the incumbents of 5 or 6 parishes on the adjoining coast, who had combined for a day's excursion and investigation of the wonders of Lundy, being detained there over two Sundays, to the dismay of their respective congregations." * Lundy seems to have had a "primaeval" population: since flint flakes and pottery have been found in and near the many small tumuli which dot the surface. A sepulchral kistvaen - a block of granite, raised on two upright slabs - was found, a little below the surface, in 1851. A fragment of pottery remained below, but there were no traces of bone. The earliest recorded lord of Lundy is Sir Jordan de Marisco (Marsh), early in the reign of Hen. II. He belonged to a turbulent race, and his island stronghold was declared forfeit by Henry, and given to the Knights Templars. But they were unable to obtain possession, in spite of an hidalgo levied on the counties of Devon and Cornwall for the siege of the island - "ad obsidendum insulam W. de Marisco." The Mariscos held it, leading a piratical life there, grievously troubling the neighbouring coast, until, in 1242, William de Marisco was surprised with his accomplices, and hanged in London (Matt. Par., p. 518. An attempt, at his instigation, had been made on the life of Hen. III. at Woodstock, in 1238, M. Par., p.401). The island was then seized by the King, and although the Mariscos were afterwards received into favour, they do not appear to have recovered Lundy. Edward II., according to Thomas De la Moor, proposed to take refuge in Lundy, with the younger Spencer and Baldock, from his wife and the insurgent barons. Lundy was a favourite sheltering place for the pirates who haunted the bay in the reign of Jas. I. In 1625 the Mayor of Bristol reports to the Council, that 3 Turkish pirates had surprised and taken the island. A Spanish man-of-war also "took it in 1633, - rifled the houses, and carried of all the provisions. A Frenchman, named Pronoville, fixed himself there, a lawless and desperate pirate, in 1634. Charles I. then appointed a governor, - Thomas Bushel, who had worked the silver-mines at Combe Martin; but Lord Say and Sele set up a claim to Lundy; and the King, in 1646, allowed Bushel to resign it to him. Echard the historian asserts that Lord Say and Sele, after his projects had been defeated by the supremacy of Cromwell, retreated to Lundy; and there is a local tradition that he died there, and was buried under the W. window of St. Helen's Chapel. French privateers afterwards much troubled Lundy; and it is said (although a similar story is told of the capture of Sark so it becomes somewhat legendary) that it was captured in the following manner in the reign of William and Mary. A ship of war, under Dutch colours, anchored in the roadstead, and sent ashore for some milk, pretending that the captain was sick. The islanders supplied the milk for several days when at length the crew informed them that their captain was dead, and asked permission to bury him in consecrated ground. This was immediately granted, and the inhabitants assisted in carrying the coffin to the grave. It appeared to them rather heavy, but they never for a moment suspected the nature of its contents. The Frenchmen then requested the islanders to leave the ch., as it was the custom of their country that foreigners should absent themselves during a part of the ceremony, but informed them they should be admitted to see the body interred. They were not, however, detained long in suspense; the doors were suddenly flung open, and the Frenchmen, armed from the pretended receptacle of the dead, rushed with triumphant shouts upon the astonished inhabitants and made them prisoners. They then quickly proceeded to desolate the island. They hamstrung the horses and bullocks, threw the sheep and goats into the sea, tossed the guns over the cliffs, and stripped the inhabitants even of their clothes. When satisfied with plunder and mischief, they left the poor islanders in a condition most truly disconsolate. In 1748, a certain Thomas Benson obtained a lease of the island from Lord Gower. He was a wealthy merchant, and M.P. for Barnstaple; and, having entered into a contract with Government to transport convicts to Virginia or Maryland (as was then usual), he contented himself with taking them to Lundy, where he set them to build and to dig. Benson was a smuggler and a "pirate"; and was at last obliged to take flight; having defrauded the insurance offices by landing a vessel with pewter, linen, and salt, - heavily insuring it, - re-landing the cargo on Lundy, and then, having put again to sea, burning and scuttling the ship. The island was then sold to Sir J.B. Warren; and has passed, by successive sale, to various owners, until it was bought by the present owner, W. Heaven, Esq., who makes it his place of residence, and has hitherto successfully resisted all attempts to bring his "free island" under the jurisdiction of the Devonshire magistrates.

The parish ch. of Lundy, used until about 1747, was ded. to St. Helena. Its site is traceable on the highest part of the island.

For the geologist, Lundy possesses considerable interest, as affording sections at the junction of the granite and the slate; the former rock predominating, the latter appearing at the S. end of the island. The cliff scenery is grand and wild, and will well repay the difficulties of a visit. The western coast, facing the Atlantic, is bolder and more abrupt than the eastern. The landing-place is a good subject for the artist. Starting from it, and passing the Sugar Loaf Rock, the watering-place, and the abandoned granite works, the chief points of interest are - the Templar Rock, a mass of granite curiously resembling (when seen in relief) a human face; near it a fort was erected temp. Charles I. - named Brazen Ward, from the brass guns with which it was furnished; passing blocks of granite known as the Mousetrap, and the Mousehole, a combe is reached, at the opening of which the Gannett Rock is visible. ½ m. beyond, we come to the N.E. corner of the island. Here the rocks are piled in wild confusion; and one, called the "Constable," is according to the local story a Cornish giant turned into stone. Another is the Seal's Rock. The cliff on the E. side, so far, is surmounted by a broad steep slope, covered with fern, and locally called the "Siding." This now ceases, and the land ends in an inclined plane, extending half a mile down to the sea. "All around here is the chief resort of the wilder variety of the sea-birds, the loose soil being honeycombed with their nests, the hillocks crowded with them, and the shelves of rock white with accumulated deposits of guano." Passing to the N.W. point, we come upon a bold broken promontory, with masses of granite piled in grand confusion, and fringed with great insular rocks, - a scene of wonderful and almost savage grandeur. One projecting promontory is pierced by a natural tunnel, 60 ft. high and 800 ft. long, through which a boat can sail. A spring of fresh water is said to rise in its centre, bubbling up through the sea-water. Precipitous cliffs of granite extend hence along the western side, with grand splintered and rounded pinnacles, - the latter locally known as "Cheeses." The granite shows frequent dislocations; besides a remarkable chasm, or series of chasms, running for a considerable distance parallel with the cliff. These are said, locally, to have been produced by the great earthquake of 1755, which destroyed Lisbon; but they seem rather due to some great convulsion of a remote geological period, although fragments may have been severed from the sides of the chasms by the Lisbon earthquake, which was certainly felt in Devonshire.

Toward the S.W. corner, the line of coast is very sinuous and contorted, and many singular caves exist at the base of the granite cliffs. Benson's Cave is said to have been used for the landing of his contraband cargoes; and the Seal Cave (to be approached by a boat in calm weather, but from the land only, with great difficulty) is a vault with a narrow passage suddenly opening to a spacious chamber, the resort of great numbers of seals. At the extreme S.W. is a cavity called the Devils Limekiln, - a chasm in the midst of the heath-covered slope, square at the top, where it is about 250 ft. wide, with nearly perpendicular sides, gradually approaching each other at the bottom, -which is strewn with large blocks of porphyry, some of them 20 ft. high. At one side is a narrow opening, leading by a natural tunnel to the beach at the foot of the cliff. A vast cone of granite, almost insulated from the shore, is called the Shutter Rock, and the fishermen say that it would exactly fit the mouth of the abyss. The chasm is to be entered from below, only by means of a boat, and in calm weather. **

The granite ends here, in a bay called the Rattles, and the slate or clay-shale begins. The line of junction is visible along the cliffs; and "that these slates existed before the intrusion of the granite is shown by the very marked manner in which they are abruptly cut off by the latter rock, contrary to their line of strike, instead of being folded or contorted round its base." - T.M. Hall. The granite seems to be of the same age and character as that of Dartmoor and of Cornwall. On this corner are the ruins of Marisco Castle, standing on the brow of the cliff; and in the rock below is a large excavated chamber, called (like the cavern already mentioned) Benson's Cave, but perhaps of great antiquity. The peninsula of Lametry, S.E. of the castle, is precipitous on every side, and beyond it is the little Rat Island, one of the few remaining citadels of the Mus rattus, or aboriginal black rat, once lord and master of its race throughout Europe. (The Mus decumanus crossed the Volga in 1727, and in 1730 crossed the Channel. They have nearly exterminated their predecessors). Here we regain the little bay in which is the landing-place from which we started.

Of the Antiquities to be noticed on Lundy, the most remarkable is Marisco Castle, which was certainly in existence in the 12th century. The keep alone remains, and is converted into cottages. Beyond it were massive outer walls, running along the verge of the cliffs. The keep is square; with a turret at each angle, now serving as a chimney. The whole was refortified, and no doubt remodelled, during the civil wars. The foundations of many round houses or towers exist in different places, the most perfect being about the middle of the N. part of the, island, W. of Tippett's Hill. The inner diam. is 15 ft. Some of these are described as having been built without any cement, and they may have been very ancient. Little now remains to guide the antiquary. Of St. Helen's Chapel, with an attached Oratory of St. Anne, only the foundations remain. A small square building called John o' Groat's house, at the N. end of the island, was perhaps a watch-house.

The climate of Lundy is bleak and inclement. The westerly winds sweep in so fiercely, that there are frequent instances of cattle and stock being blown over the cliff. Much fog prevails. A wall across the island was begun by Benson in 1752, and divides the improved from the unimproved parts. There are no trees; except the few pines and sycamores planted by Mr. Heaven, near his house, which commands a grand view of the opposite coast. Oats, barley, and potatoes are grown, and there is a considerable number of cattle and sheep. Where not under the plough the ground teems with wild flowers, - as various kinds of sedum, pennywort, and foxgloves, and particularly a dwarf-rose, not above 6 in. high, which blossoms profusely. The staple produce and chief source of revenue have always been the rabbits, with which the island abounds, - and the skins, eggs, and feathers of the sea-fowl. These breed in myriads, chiefly on the W. coast; and the collecting of their eggs is a work of no little danger. Lobsters abound along the E. coast; and what appears to be the real white bait is sometimes taken in great quantities. Granite works were begun near the landing-place a few years since, but have now (1872) been altogether abandoned. The Lighthouse, in the centre, and on the highest point of the island, was erected by the Trinity Board about 1819. There are two lights: one fixed and westerly, seen by vessels coming up channel; the other a revolving light. The tower should be ascended for the sake of the magnificent view. The whole of the island is seen at once, with the distant coasts of Wales and of Devon.

In the late autumn, woodcocks arrive on Lundy in great flights. Of the sea-birds the greater proportion consists of the razor-billed auk, the puffin, or "Lundy parrot," the guillemot, and several varieties of gulls. The name Murr is locally applied to both the razor-billed auk and the guillemot; and it is used in the same manner on the Welsh coast. Lundy is very rich in Coleoptera, - which are for the most part identical with the species found in Wales, and not with those common in Devonshire, - a curious fact, which would seem to indicate an ancient geological connection with the Welsh coast, rather than with that of Devon. The great and especial charm of Lundy is "the perfect purity and freshness of colour which surrounds one on every side. In few other places does one see such delicate purples and creamy whites as the fragrant Lundy heather exhibits; such pure greens, and yellows, and orange tints as those of the Lundy furze- brakes; and such vivid sparkling whiteness as that of the granite peaks which crop out continually among the varying undulations of richest verdure."- G.T. The Actinia Aurora has one of its N. Devon habitats here, the other being on the Morte Stone (see the present Route, ante). It flourishes here in vast colonies among the slates of the southern coast, double and treble the size of the Morte specimens, and of every colour and variety. Other anemones also are frequent.

* J.R. Chanter, whose 'History of Lundy' (to which we are mainly indebted for the following account), printed in the 'Transac. of the Devonshire Association,' vol. iv., is very complete monograph."
** This is the scene of the wreck of the Spanish Admiral's ship, in Canon Kingsley's 'Westward Ho.' She is made to strike on the Shutter Rock, - and Amyas Leigh, when stricken blind, is carried to Marisco Castle.

Transcribed - Brian Randell, 18 Jul 1999

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