Artillery Fort. Fortress.
Star Castle was built under the orders of Elizabeth I in 1593. This order came following a threat of invasion by the Spanish, and the Crown gave the job to architect Robert Adams. The Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall at the time was Francis Godolphin, Captain of the Scilly Isles. The funds granted by the Crown were not quite enough, so Godolphin spent some of his own money in the construction of the fort. Stone was taken from the ruined Ennor Castle to be used in its construction.
Spain wanted England and saw the Queen as an easy target. They forgot that she was the daughter of Henry VIII and no easy push over!
“It is on record that Philip of Spain instructed his admiral Mendanez, as early as 1574, to seize the Isles of Scilly and establish a base there; but plague broke out in the fleet, the Admiral dying of it, and the scheme was abandoned” (Bowley 1984).
The fort was constructed in the shape of an eight pointed star and included the main central building, used as the Captains quarters, walls, batteries, ramparts, a guardhouse, barracks, magazine and prison. There was a passage to the ramparts from the central building, which was two storeys in height.
Upon completion, the first garrison is recorded as having consisted of three gunners and twenty six soldiers. During the winter months the number of soldiers was reduced to only ten.
Following are the Orders and Observations given by Godolphin,
Orders to be Observed and Obeyed by the Garrison and Islanders were given and hung as follows,
These demonstrate the seriousness of the threat of invasion. It also shows how small the Islands are that anyone coming onto any of them had to be brought before the Governor and ‘examined’. Such was the threat at the time and the steps taken in order to protect the mainland.
The defences at Star Castle included a rock cut ditch, c.5m wide and around 3m in depth, located on the outside of the rampart; and an earthen rampart, measuring 2.6m high, between 6-7m in width, which was faced with granite. There were 96 loopholes in the walls to accommodate muskets, and the rampart could hold eight pieces of artillery.
Four buildings occupied the main points. The one on the north east corner held the gunners store,
“The Gunners Bell…which is rung every three hours, from six o’clock in the morning till nine at night in summer, and upon which the gunners strike the hour, in the manner of a town clock, and the soldiers do the same upon another bell, hung over the entrance of the Garrison”. (Troutbeck 1796).
The north west corner held the flag platform, where the Standard was flown,
“….the Standard is erected, upon which the King’s Colours are hoisted, and appear conspicuous aloft every Sunday in fine weather, and for ships to observe and obey when they come into these harbours” (Troutbeck 1796).
The south west corner held the latrines and the south east corner the sentry box.
The main central building was of two storeys with its entrance located on the eastern side, and an additional service entrance located on its west. It also included domestic accommodation, an attic and a basement. The first floor gave entrance to a 2m wide passage leading to the ramparts. The use of the building changed over the years and also included a unique library,
“….Within are several semi-circular rooms, in one of which is a small but excellent library given by the associated of the late Rev. Dr. Bray, for the use of the clergy of the islands” (North & Courtney 1867).
The main entranceway to the fort was located on the north east of the site. There were guardhouses built into the rampart on either side of the entrance which was protected by a portcullis, including vertical bars and full working mechanisms. Service areas and stores were located off the passageways and also below the ramparts to the north west and south. A further tunnel was located beneath the rampart on the northern side leading to the sally port – a means of escape should the garrison and Captain need it when under siege. When fully garrisoned the site could hold 500 men.
The fort has had an interesting history especially during the English Civil War. The Islands held out for the King and many of his followers fled there as Parliament began to gain the majority across the country. In 1646 Prince Charles fled to the Islands with Sir Edward Hyde, Lady Fanshaw and around 300 Royalists. We have a great description from the Diary of Lady Fenshaw dating to 1646, as she describes their landing and accommodation on the Islands,
“The next day, after having been pillaged, and extremely sick and big with child, I was set on shore almost dead in the island of Scilly. When we had got to our quarters near the Castle, where the Prince lay, I went immediately to bed, which was so vile, that my footman ever lay in a better, and we had but three in the whole house, which consisted of four rooms, or rather partitions, two low rooms and two little lofts, with a ladder to go up: in one of these they kept dried fish, which was his trade, and in this my husband’s two clerks lay, one there was for my sister, and one for myself, and one amongst the rest of the servants. But, when I waked in the morning, I was so cold I knew not what to do, but the daylight discovered that my bed was near swimming with the sea, which the owner told us afterwards it never did so but at spring tide. With this, we were destitute of clothes, and meat, and fuel, for half the Court to serve them a month was not to be had in the whole island; and truly we begged our daily bread of God, for we thought every meal our last. The Council sent for provisions to France, which served us, but they were bad, and a little of them. Then, after three weeks and odd days, we set sail for the Isle of Jersey, where we safely arrived….” (Fanshaw 2018).
Being heavily pregnant and fleeing England, Lady Fanshaw really was a remarkable woman. Her description of the lodging house was one of the structures on the Garrison, the site which surrounds Star Castle. We will look at this history another time!
Star Castle was the last Royalist stronghold to fall to Parliament.
“In 1651 an expedition was fitted out under the command of Admiral Blake and Sir George Ayscue, to reduce the islands to submission. Tresco was first seized on the night of the 18th April, and soon after a landing was effected on St. Mary’s; the garrison in Star Castle were speedily brought to great straits, and Sir John Granville, with eight hundred men, surrendered themselves prisoners” (North & Courtney 1867).
Following the Civil War the site fell into a peaceful period, that is, in terms of warfare, However, it appears to have been a target for locals!
“In 1765 Captain Henry Graeme wrote to the Secretary of War that Star Castle ‘in its present condition is not only open to every insult from the enemy but equally exposed to the wanton sallies of the drunken and idle’. A considerable quantity of stones was protected by only ‘the shadow of a garrison’” (Page 1906).
The year 1765 appears to have been one of issues and scandal, for not only the Castle but also for the Island too. The following sad case has come to light,
Council House, at St. Mary’s, Scilly, September 10th, 1765.
MAY IT PLEASE YOUR LORDSHIP,
We beg leave to address ourselves to your Lordship for relief in a case, the like of which has not happened in these Islands during our being Members of this Court, established by Your Lordship.
Ann Batten, of Penzance, in the County of Cornwall, single woman, having acknowledged that she was delivered of a male bastard child, on Tuesday the 13th day of August last, at his Majesty’s Star Castle, the residence of Henry Graeme, Esq. Commandant and Magistrate of these said Islands, to whom she was a servant about three quarters of a year; that there was no person present at the birth of the child, but that the same was still born. The said child was found in a box of the said Ann Batten in her room, at the Star Castle aforesaid, dead, wrapped up in two sheets of paper tied at each end, and appeared to have a fracture on the forepart of the head; and such a notorious crime being necessary to be prosecuted in the person of the offender, we therefore humbly pray your Lordship to take this affair under your kind consideration, and afford us such relief as to your Lordship shall seem meet. If the inhabitants of these islands are obliged to prosecute Ann Batten aforesaid, we humbly crave your Lordship’s assistance to them in the premises, and to favour us with the opinion of your Lordship’s Councel [sic] on the case, which will very greatly oblige us, who are,
May please your Lordship,
Your Lordship’s most obedient
And most humble servants,
[signed by the council-men].
The above case appears really awful when first reading it, I was truly shocked, but further research has given more details on this case,
“Ann Batten, a St. Mary’s girl, born in 1745. She worked up at the Garrison back in the time when Captain Buston was the commandant. She was a pretty lass, always seen in a long dress and a blue cloak. But when she was 19, one night some evil fellow forced himself on her up on the Heugh and let her expecting a baby. …She gave birth to her baby alone in a small dark room in the servants’ quarters at Star Castle. She must have been terrified, in pain, and maybe injured.
Some people say the baby was still born. Others say he was sickly and could never have survived. Others say that she accidently dropped him onto the stone flags. But after seven days the poor little chap was found dead in a box wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string.
Ann was tried for manslaughter at Star Castle on 10 September 1756. But the twelve men of Scilly couln.t reach a verdict so she was sent to Cornwall for a retrial. There she was acquitted. Now that might have been the end of a rather sad story…
But after the trial no one knew what became of her. Some say that one stormy night Ann threw herself off the Garrison headland and was drowned. But not long after, watchers on the Garrison saw a young woman in a long dress and a blue cloak hurrying through the dusk. Again and again people have seen this figure on Garrison Hill, in Star Castle, in Garrison House….” (O’Connor 2020).
A sad tale indeed but once you look into it further there are still so many questions that need to be asked, and I for one would like to know more about this case! What did happen to Ann? Did she kill herself or did someone else do so, afraid she would give the name of the father away perhaps? If you do walk on the Garrison at night, watch out for her and let her know her story lives on!
In 1796 the Duke of Leeds was granted use of the site, and the following description gives a great insight as to the benefits and privileges enjoyed there.
“By the particular favour and bounty of the Duke of Leeds, the use of the castle, which is square, roomy, and handsome, and all its apartments, with the harbour dues of shipping, have been enjoyed by the Captain, or resident Commanding Officer of the Company, commanding in his Grace’s and the Lieutenant Governor’s absence, who never reside, being a considerable benefit. Besides the ships putting into Scilly from abroad, it sometimes happens that more than two hundred sail of coasting vessels are driven into these harbours, by the easterly wind; at which time, each ship or vessel pays, at an average, about two shillings and two-pence, for coming to an anchor, or laying upon the ground and hoisting the Kings Colours. All foreign ships pay double, or four shillings and four-pence, most of which comes to the Commanding Officer of the garrison, who is Commander-in-Chief and Chief Magistrate in the Islands of Scilly. He has also the manuring and improving of all the garrison land, upwards of a hundred acres, and grazing of it with cattle, and the cutting and disposal of all the turf and furze for firing; and has likewise the sole management of all the coals and candles allowed for the use of the garrison, as well as stones for the purpose of building houses and fences; and some Commanding Officers have allowed their friends to carry out of the Garrison large quantities of stones belonging to the Government, for the purpose of building elegant houses, as has been reported; but it is not my business, as an historian to find fault with such matters , not knowing how far they may be justifiable. The Commanding Officer has other conveniences, such as cellars, and out-apartments, belonging to the castle, with two spacious kitchen and flower gardens, defended by strong walls, at a little distance from the castle” (Troutbeck 1796).
This gives us an insight into some of the benefits of those in charge, and also of the daily activities that would have been happening throughout the history of the site. That the Captain or Commanding Officer were responsible for the collection of fees from shipping, including charging foreign vessels double, gives an insight into the economy of the time and activities that were happening on the island. The description of the castle, its accommodation and gardens also provides us with information about the food supplied to the garrison and those at the site.
One interesting insight is that some of the Commanding Officers allowed their friends to carry away stones for building homes. These building materials would have been very valuable, and in short supply on the island, and therefor very valuable indeed.
During the First World War Star Castle was used as an observation post and accommodated officers, with around 1,000 men lodging there and within the Garrison area surrounding the fort.
The Second World War saw the site was used as billets for soldiers, and the Head Quarters for some of the local troops.
Star Castle has also been used as a prison. We learn that,
“Prisoners from the mainland have been confined here from the time to time: Dr. Bastwick of Colchester in 1637, by order of the Star Chamber, for writing against the Church and Government: In 1655 John Biddle, the Unitarian, was sent to Scilly by Cromwell to keep him out of the way of his persecutors and allowed a pension of 10s. a week: and in 1681 seven ‘Popish Priests’ were removed thither from Newgate” (Mothersole 1910).
Being just off the mainland this was the perfect site to remove offenders from the reach of their supporters and others who may wish to get at them! Luckily its life as an off shore prison was short lived.
Here is a timeline for the site,
1588 Threat of a Spanish Invasion led to the plans for the Isles of Scilly to be better protected.
1593 Built under the orders of Elizabeth I by Architect Robert Adams and the Lord Lieutenant of the Scilly Isles Francis Godolphin.
C1600 The portcullis was added.
1609-1659 Gunpowder was provided to the Fort at a cost of £20 per year.
1630’s Used as a prison.
1637 Dr. John Bastwick, a controversial writer who wrote against Parliament and the Church was held prisoner at the fort as part of his life sentence.
1646 4 March-17 April: The 15 year Old Prince Charles fled to the Islands with 300 followers, Sir Edward Hyde and Lady Fanshaw following the Battle of Bodmin and their accommodation at Pendennis Castle. The Prince was accommodated at Star Castle while the followers lodged at cottages around the Garrison and in St. Mary’s.
1646 Late: Taken by Parliament under the command of Colonel Anthony Buller. Sir Francis Godolphin and Major Christopher Grosse were taken as hostages.
1648 The Parliamentary garrison turned coat in support of the King.
1650 The fort was besieged and taken for Parliament by Robert Blake.
1652 A survey showed there to be five above ground and four below ground store rooms on the site.
1662 Sir John Heaton was a prisoner at the fort.
1669 Cosmo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany visited the site.
1681 Popish Priests were kept in the prison.
c.1700 A guardhouse was added on the west side of the fort, and alterations were made to the main central building.
1715-1746 Repairs were undertaken by Christian Lily including the barracks, guardhouse, batteries, magazine store, portcullis, floors and the roofs. A dog-legged staircase was added to the upper floors.
1716 Was recorded as being in a fair state.
1757 Plan of the site was made by Master Gunner Abraham Tovey. Two chambers on the ground floor of the main building received fireplaces.
1765 Captain Henry Graeme was Captain of the Fort.
1795 Henry Bowen was Captain of the Fort.
1796 The Duke of Leeds was Governor of the Islands.
18th C Garrisoned. Alterations undertaken.
1812 Barracks altered.
1834 Up to: Used as a dairy.
1834 The fort was the home to the Steward of The Islands, Augustus Smith, who regularly held the Proprietors Steward and Tenants Dinners at the fort.
1846/7 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the Fort.
1863 The last garrison were disbanded and left the fort.
1914-1918 WWI: Observation post and officer’s accommodation. Around 1,000 men were billeted around the site.
1933 Converted into an hotel.
1939-1945 WWII: Soldiers were billeted at the site.
1944 The fort was decommissioned.
1970-1972 Moat partially excavated.
1993 Watching Brief. Surveyed.
1994 Watching Brief.
2004 Watching Brief.
2006 Surveyed. Watching Brief.
21st C Hotel.
Although this is a small fort it has had an amazing and colourful history. The Isles of Scilly truly are a gem and well worth a visit.
References & Bibliography.
Adams. G. 2020. Isles of Scilly. Imray, Laurie, Norie and Wilson Limited.
Bisset. A. 1867. History of the Commonwealth of England from the Death of Charles I. to the Expulsion of the Long Parliament by Cromwell Being Omitted Chapters of the History of England · Volume 2. Murray.
Borlase. W. 1756. Observations on the Ancient and Present State of the Islands of Scilly And Their Importance to the Trade of Great-Britain. W. Jackson.
Bowden. M., & Brodie. A.2015. Defending Scilly. Historic England.
Bowley. R. L. 1996. The Fortunate Islands: The Story of the Isles of Scilly. Bowley Publications.
Cressy. D. 2020. England’s Islands in a Sea of Troubles. Oxford University Press.
Daniell. J. J. 1854. A Geography of Cornwall: Historical, Ecclesiastical, Civil, Natural, and Parochial. Longmann & Co.
Harper. C. G. 2020. The Cornish Coast (South) and the Isles of Scilly. Outlook Verlag.
Historic England. 2021. The Star Castle, St Mary’s. Available online at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1015671.
Johns. C., & Fletcher. M. 2010. The Garrison, St Mary’s Isles of Scilly Conservation Plan. English Heritage. Available online at https://www.scilly.gov.uk/sites/default/files/planning-apps/Garrison%20Conservation%20Plan%20-%20FINAL.pdf.
Lady Fanshaw. 2018. The Memories of Lady Fanshaw. Franklin Classics.
Manganiello. S. C. 2004. The Concise Encyclopedia of the Revolutions and Wars of England, Scotland, and Ireland, 1639-1660. Scarecrow Press.
Mothersole. J. 2020. The Isles of Scilly: Their Story their Folk & their Flowers. Library of Alexandria.
Mumford. C. 1968. Portrait of the Isles of Scilly. Hale.
Stephenson. C. 2008. ‘Servant to The King for His Fortifications:’ Paul Ive and The Practise of Fortification. Military Publishers.
North. I. W., & Courtney. Baron L. H. 1867. A Week in the Isles of Scilly. E. Rowe.
O’Connor. M. 2020. Isles of Scilly Folk Tales. History Press.
The Earliest “Establishment” — 1661 — Of the British Standing Army (Continued). (1930). Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, 9(38), 214–242. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44220086.
Troutbeck. J. 1796. A Survey of the Ancient and Present State of the Scilly Islands. Goadby and Lerpiniere.