The Isle of Lundy

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Institute of Historical Research

Publication

Author

Daniel and Samuel Lysons

Year published

1822

Pages

580-581

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'The Isle of Lundy', Magna Britannia: volume 6: Devonshire (1822), pp. 580-581. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=50597 Date accessed: 26 October 2014.


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THE ISLE OF LUNDY.

This isle, which lies about 17 leagues N. W. of the Devonshire coast, is esteemed part of the county, and to be within the hundred of Braunton. It is about three miles and a half in length, and about one mile in breadth, and, including the little island called Rat island, is computed to contain about 1100 acres.

The first mention I find of the island of Lundy is in the year 1200, when it was granted by King John to the Knights Templars. (fn. 1) It belonged, nevertheless, in the year 1234, to Sir William de Marisco (fn. 2) , who is said to have built a castle here, of which the ruins remain to this day, bearing the name of Marisco castle. Sir William having been suspected as an accomplice in the attempt to assassinate King Henry III. at Woodstock, in 1238, escaped to his castle in Lundy, where, associating to himself a band of desperate men, he led, for some years, a piratical life, plundering all vessels which navigated the channel, and making predatory invasions on the Devonshire coast. Secure amidst his inaccessible rocks, he committed these depredations with impunity till the year 1242; but at length, having been taken by stratagem, he was carried to London and executed, with 16 of his associates. (fn. 3) The Isle of Lundy was committed to the custody of Henry de Tracey, Baron of Barnstaple (fn. 4) , and five years afterwards Robert de Walerand was made governor. (fn. 5) In the year 1280, the island was granted, by King Edward I., to William de Marisco (fn. 6) , grandson probably of its former owner, yet the Hundred Roll of the same reign speaks of Holwin as lord of the island. In 1321 it was granted to Hugh le Despenser, junior. (fn. 7) Sir Thomas de la More tells us that the unfortunate Edward II. had fixed on this island as a place of refuge; and that, in attempting to sail thither, he was driven on the Glamorganshire coast. Camden says that the Isle of Lundy was in the Luttrell family in the reign of Edward III. Risdon, on the contrary, says that Ralph Willington had the custody of the island, and that he was succeeded by Humphrey de Bohun. It certainly appears that Sir Henry de Willington died seised of it, in 1349. (23 Edw. III.) From this period I find little of its history till modern times. In the additions to the last edition of Camden, it is said that it was strongly fortified for King Charles I. by Lord Say and Sele. I have not found any mention in the Annals of the Civil War of its having been occupied by either party. Lord Say and Sele was an active parliamentarian. It is said also in the additions to Camden, that the Isle of Lundy was plundered by the French in the reign of William and Mary. The editors of the Magna Britannia of 1720 speak of the Isle of Lundy as having been then for some time in the Granville family, whose representatives continued to possess it in 1777. (fn. 8) It appears, nevertheless, that, in 1747, it was in the possession of Thomas Benson (fn. 9) , Esq., who placed deer upon it, some of which were remaining in 1777. (fn. 10) After this the island was the property of Sir John Borlase Warren, (now Admiral of the White, and G. C. B.,) who, about 1781, sold it to the late John Clevland, Esq. M. P. Sir Aubrey de Vere Hunt, Bart., purchased it for 700l., about 1815: it has recently been offered for sale by his heirs, but has not yet (April 1822) been purchased.

In 1794 there were seven houses on the island, and 23 inhabitants: there are now only two houses, besides a small dwelling for the residence of the keeper of a light-house, lately erected on the island, under the direction of the Trinity-house. There are the ruins of a chapel, dedicated to St. Helen, in which Divine service is said to have been performed in 1747, when the proprietor of the island visited it with a party of friends. The island abounds with rabbits, the shooting and catching of which forms the principal employment of the inhabitants: the rabbits are shot chiefly for their skins, and the birds, which are chiefly puffins, for their feathers: these commodities are taken to Ilfracombe. In 1816 379 lb. of feathers were picked by the women; 24 puffins yielding one pound of feathers. Nearly the whole of the island is composed of granite: a small part at the south extremity is of slate. The granite is stratified on part of the west coast, and presents steep cliffs almost on every side toward the water. Some singular caves have been formed by the action of the sea on the weaker portions of the granite. The island is nearly level: the highest part, on which are the remains of the chapel, is about 200 feet above the sea. (fn. 11) Several unsuccessful searches have been made in the island for copper ore.

Footnotes

1 Cart. Rot. 1 John, pt. 1. 22.
2 Pat. Rot. 19 Hen. III.
3 Matthew Paris.
4 Pat. Rot. 29 Hen. III.
5 Pat. Rot. 34 Hen. III.
6 Cart. Rot. 9 Edw. I. 21.
7 Cart. Rot. 15 Edw. II.
8 Chapple's Collections.
9 See p. 603.
10 Chapple's Collections.
11 Several of these particulars are taken from the notes of Mr. Greenough, who visited the island in 1817.