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Scilly Islands, Cornwall

Historical Description

Scilly Islands, a group of islands belonging to the county of Cornwall, and lying about 30 miles W of Land's End. Five of them-St Mary, St Martin, Trescoe, Bryher, and St Agnes -are inhabited; ten more-Sampson, St Helen, Annette, Team, Great Ganniley, Arthur, Ganniornic, Northwithial, Gweal, and Little Ganniley-have areas of from 80 to 5 acres; and about thirty-five more are rocks or skerries considerable enough to be called islets. The name Scilly is a corruption either of the Cornish word Silya, signifying " conger," or of the ancient British word Sulleh, signifying " rocks consecrated to the sun." The islands were known to the Greeks as Cassiterides, signifying " tin islands;" they were made by the Romans a place of occasional banishment; they became annexed, in the early part of the 10th century, to the English crown; they were given by Athelstan to some monks who settled on Trescoe, and were transferred by Henry I. to Tavistock Abbey; they passed before the time of Elizabeth, in some unrecorded manner, to a number of different proprietors; they were bought up for the Crown in the time of Elizabeth, and annexed to the Duchy of Cornwall; they were held under the duchy, from at least the time of James I. till 1830, by the family of Godolphin; they became a retreat of Prince Charles in 164:5-46, after the defeat of the Royal cause in the west; they were fortified in 1649 by Sir John Grenville, in the cause of Charles II., but were taken in 1651 by Blake and Ayscue; and they are now held in lease from the Duchy of Cornwall by Mr Augustus Smith.

Each of the principal islands, and their capital Hugh Town on St Mary, are separately noticed. Hugh Town has a post, money order, and telegraph office, of the name of Scilly, under Penzance. The islands have an area of about 3560 acres; population, 1911. For parliamentary purposes they are included in the St Ives division of the county. Under the Local Government Act a council was established in these islands in 1891, consisting of a chairman, 4 aldermen, and 20 councillors. The council is invested with the power of a rural district council, and empowered to borrow money for certain purposes. For parish council purposes the islands were divided into five parishes and electoral divisions. The islands are connected by telephone for coastguard purposes. There are telegraph and money order offices at Trescoe, St Martin, and St Ann. The inhabitants are chiefly engaged in cultivating early vegetables and flowers, which are sent in large quantities to London. The temperature is singularly equable, snow seldom falls, and ice is very rarely seen. The islands have an excellent harbour at Hugh Town, and a lighthouse with revolving light 138 feet high on St Agnes.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyCornwall 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Scilly Islands from the following:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Cornwall papers online:

Visitations Heraldic

We have a copy of The Visitations of Cornwall, by Lieut.-Col. J.L. Vivian online.