Lundy is the largest island in the Bristol Channel. It lies 12 miles (19 kilometers) off the coast of Devon, England, in the district of Torridge, about a third of the distance across the channel from Devon, England to South Wales. The island of Lundy is 3 miles (5 km) long from north to south by a little over 0.6 miles (1 km) wide, with an area of 1,100 acres (450 ha). The highest point on Lundy is Beacon Hill, 469 feet (143 m) above sea level,. A few yards off the northeastern coast is Seal’s Rock which is so called after the seals which rest on and inhabit the islet. It is less than 55 yards (50 m) wide. Near the jetty is a small pocket beach. Lundy has been designated by Natural England as National Character Area 159, one of England’s natural regions. In a 2005 opinion poll of Radio Times readers, Lundy was named as Britain’s tenth greatest natural wonder. The entire island has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and it was England’s first statutory Marine Nature reserve, and the first Marine Conservation Zone, because of its unique flora and fauna. It is managed by the Landmark Trust on behalf of the National Trust.
In 2007, Lundy had a resident population of 28 people, including volunteers. These include a warden, ranger, island manager and farmer, as well as bar and house-keeping staff. Most live in and around the village at the south of the island. Most visitors are day-trippers, although there are 23 holiday properties and a camp site for staying visitors, mostly also around the south of the island. In the past, the island issued its own coinage and has issued local post stamps since 1929 making it the world’s longest-running private post.
The name Lundy is believed to come from the old Norse word for “puffin island” (Lundey), lundi being the Old Norse word for a puffin and ey, an island, although an alternative explanation has been suggested with Lund referring to a copse, or wooded area.
Lundy has evidence of visitation or occupation from the Neolithic period onward, with Mesolithic flintwork, Bronze Age burial mounds, four inscribed gravestones from the early medieval period, and an early medieval monastery (possibly dedicated to St Elen or St Helen).
Beacon Hill Cemetery was excavated by Charles Thomas in 1969. The cemetery contains four inscribed stones, dated to the fifth or sixth century AD. The site was originally enclosed by a curvilinear 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 and are known as Llans in Welsh and Lanns in Cornish. There are surviving examples in Luxulyan, in Cornwall; Mathry, Meidrim and Clydau in Wales; and Stowford, Jacobstowe, Lydford and Instow, in Devon.
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 feet (3.4 by 2.4 m) 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. Twenty-three 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.
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 they ever took possession of the island. Ownership was disputed by the Marisco family who may have already been 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.
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 (3 m) 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 “subjects”. Henry III built the castle (sometimes referred to as the Marisco Castle) in an attempt to establish the rule of law on the island and its surrounding waters. At some point in the thirteenth century the monks of the Cistercian order at Cleeve Abbey held the rectory of the island.
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.
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, flew an Ottoman flag over the island. Some captured Europeans were 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.
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. After receiving permission from Charles I, Bushell surrendered the island on February 24, 1647, to Richard Fiennes, representing General Fairfax. In 1656, the island was acquired by Lord Saye and Sele.
The late eighteenth and early ninteenth 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. 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. 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 (£424,400 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 (Hunt) 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.
Foundations for a lighthouse on Lundy were laid in 1787, but the first lighthouse (now known as the Old Light) was not built until Trinity House obtained a 999-year lease in 1819. The 97-foot (30 m) granite tower, on the summit of Chapel Hill, was designed by Daniel Asher Alexander, and built by Joseph Nelson at a cost of £36,000. Because the site, Beacon Hill, is 469 feet (143 m) above sea level, the highest base for a lighthouse in Britain, the light was often obscured by fog. To counter this problem, the Fog Signal Battery was built about 1861.
The lighthouse had two lights; the lower a fixed white light and the upper a quick flashing white light, showing every 60 seconds. However, this quick revolution gave the impression it was a fixed light with no flashes detectable. This may have contributed to the grounding, at Cefn Sidan, of the La Jeune Emma, bound from Martinique to Cherbourg in 1828. Thirteen of the 19 on board drowned, including Adeline Coquelin, the 12-year-old niece of Napoleon Bonaparte’s divorced wife Joséphine de Beauharnais. Owing to the ongoing complaints about the difficulty of sighting the light in fog, the lighthouse was abandoned in 1897 when the North and South Lundy lighthouses were built. The Old Light and the associated keepers’ houses are kept open by the Landmark Trust.
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 £855,500 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. Helena’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 August 15, 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 February 20, 1797. The ivory was apparently recovered some years later but the leather bags supposed to contain gold dust were never found.
The earliest recorded date for any kind of postal service based on Lundy is March 3, 1887. The opening of a sub post office likely occurred in 1892 during which the General Post Office laid a marine cable from Croyde in North Devon to Lundy. This was in a small hut built against the east wall of the keep of Marisco Castle. In addition to a table and counter, there were pigeonholes for sorting and keeping stationery. Two bunks and a cooking stove were provided for accommodation of linesmen sent to service the telephone wires which connected the North and South lighthouses once they were completed in 1897. The first sub postmaster was an ex-Royal Navy pensioner, F. Allday, who served until he left Lundy in 1926. He, and succeeding subpostmasters hired a donkey to carry the mails from the Landing Beach to the post office and down again. The British Post Office closed the Lundy Island sub post office and ceased mail delivery from January 1, 1928.
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 harbor. 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 twentieth century, caused severe financial hardship.
The current North Lundy and South Lundy lighthouses were built in 1897 at the extremities of the island to replace the old lighthouse. Both lighthouses are painted white and are run and maintained by Trinity House. The North lighthouse is 56 feet (17 m) tall, slightly taller than the south one, and has a focal plane of 157 ft (48 m). It produces a quick white flash every 15 seconds, and was originally lit by a 75 mm (3 in) petroleum vapor burner. Oil was lifted up from a small quay using a sled and winch, and then transported using a small railway (again winch-powered). The remains of this can be still seen, but it was abandoned in 1971 and the lighthouse now uses a discharge bulb fed from the island’s main supply. The northern light was modernized in 1991 and converted to solar power, since when the light has been mounted on top of the old fog horn building rather than in the tower. The South lighthouse has a focal length of 174 feet (53 m) and a quick white flash every 5 seconds. It can be seen as a small white dot from Hartland Point, 11 miles to the south east. It was automated and converted to solar power in 1994. The old fresnel lens has been in use since 2001 in Dungeness Lighthouse.
The Royal Navy battleship HMS Montagu, steaming in heavy fog, ran hard aground near Shutter Rock on the island’s southwest corner at about 2:00 a.m. on May 30, 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 armor plate and live 12-inch (305-millimeter) shells remain on the seabed.
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.
The General Post Office had concluded its interests on Lundy and closed their sub-post office on the island on January 1, 1928. Martin Coles Harman — whose family were the last private family to own the island — initially carried the mail free of charge, including mail for the crews of the two lighthouses as a matter of courtesy. The lighthouse keepers, who were relieved every six weeks, weren’t considered real islanders.
The cable from Croyde to Lundy broke on two occasions in 1928. The Post Office repaired the break the first time but due to the expense required to fix marine cables and the insignificant amount of business to Lundy, the cable remained unrepaired after the second break. Harman entered into an agreement to install a shortwave radio telephone on the island in order to remain in communication in regards to shipping and to transmit telegrams.
During the summer of 1929, Harman decided that to defray the increasing costs for the various services he performed and to increase revenue for the island, he would print special stamps to be affixed to all postal packets in addition to British postage stamps,
Harman chose the “puffin” as his unit of currency due to the previous trade in the feathers of seabirds on Lundy. Twelve birds, particularly puffins, one pound of feathers and a system of barter grew up between the island and the mainland.
The first Lundy Island stamps were issued on November 1, 1929. These were a ½-puffin, colored pink, showing the head of a puffin and a one-puffin value in blue portraying a full-length puffin. Printed in sheets of 120, 500,000 of each denomination were printed by Bradbury Wilkinson & Company. As private stamps, they could not be affixed to postal items on the address side therefore they were subsequently affixed to the reverse. In 1962, consent was given for Lundy stamps to be affixed to the address side of postcards as long as they were set away from the UK stamp. In 1992, this consent was given to all mail. At first, the Lundy stamp charge, or puffinage, only covered the carriage of mail between the island and the mainland. Since 1974, the Lundy puffinage has incorporated the U.K. charge and a separate U.K. stamp is no longer required.
The “puffinage” rates were:
- Not exceeding 2 ounces…….½ puffin
- From 2 oz. to 4 oz. …………….1 puffin
- From 4 oz. to 8 oz. …………….2 puffin
- From 8 oz. to 1 pound………..3 puffin
- From 1 lb. to 2 lbs. …………….4 puffin
- From 2 lbs. to 5 lbs. …………..6 puffin
- From 5 lbs. to 9 lbs. …………..9 puffin
- From 9 lbs. to 14 lbs………….12 puffin
The absence of any values higher than 1 puffin made the stamping of parcels not only laborious but sometimes it was difficult to find room to affix so many stamps. To remedy this, three additional values were issued on July 11, 1930 — 6-puffin (mauve), 9-puffin (brown) and 12-puffin (green). These stamps were also designed and printed by Bradbury Wilkinson & Company, the number of puffins portrayed on each stamp being equivalent to the denomination.
During the Second World War, two German Heinkel He 111 bombers crash landed on the island in 1941. The first was on March 3, when all the crew survived and were taken prisoner. The second was on April 1 when the pilot was killed and the other crew members were taken prisoner. The second 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.
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 traveled 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 (£2,227,000 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.
The number of puffins (Fratercula arctica), which may have given the island its name, declined in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, with the 2005 breeding population estimated to be only two or three pairs, as a consequence of depredations by brown and black rats (Rattus rattus) (which have now been eliminated) and possibly also as a result of commercial fishing for sand eels, the puffins’ principal prey. Since 2005, the breeding numbers have been slowly increasing. Adults were seen taking fish into four burrows in 2007, and six burrows in 2008.
On January 12, 2010, the island became Britain’s first Marine Conservation Zone designated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, designed to help to preserve important habitats and species.
In May 2015, a sculpture by Antony Gormley was erected on Lundy. It is one of five life-sized sculptures, Land, placed near the center and at four compass points of the UK in a commission by the Landmark Trust, to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The others are at Lowsonford (Warwickshire), Saddell Bay (Scotland), the Martello Tower (Aldeburgh, Suffolk), and Clavell Tower (Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset).
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.
There are two ways to get to Lundy, depending on the time of year. In the summer months (April to October) visitors are carried on the Landmark Trust’s own vessel, MS Oldenburg, which sails from both Bideford and Ilfracombe. Sailings are usually three days a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with additional sailings on Wednesdays during July and August. The voyage takes on average two hours, depending on ports, tides and weather. The Oldenburg was first registered in Bremen, Germany in 1958 and has been sailing to Lundy since her engine was replaced in 1985.
In the winter months (November to March), the Oldenburg is out of service, and the island is served by a scheduled helicopter service from Hartland Point. The helicopter operates on Mondays and Fridays, with flights between 12 noon and 2 pm. The heliport is a field at the top of Hartland Point, not far from the Beacon.
A grass runway of 435 by 30 yards (398 by 27 m) is available, allowing access to small STOL aircraft skilfully piloted.
Properly equipped and experienced canoeists can kayak to the island from Hartland Point or Lee Bay. This takes four to six hours depending on wind and tides.
Entrance to Lundy is free for anyone arriving by scheduled transport. Visitors arriving by non-scheduled transport are charged an entrance fee, currently (March 2017) £6.00, and there is an additional charge payable by those using light aircraft. Anyone arriving on Lundy by non-scheduled transport is also charged an additional fee for transporting luggage to the top of the island.
The printing of Lundy Island local post stamps continues to this day and they are available at face value from the Lundy Post Office. The first catalogs of these stamps included Gerald Rosen’s 1970 Catalogue of British Local Stamps. Later specialist catalogs include Stamps of Lundy Island by Stanley Newman, first published in 1984, Phillips Modern British Locals CD Catalogue, published since 2003, and Labbe’s Specialised Guide to Lundy Island Stamps, published since 2005, which is considered the gold standard of Lundy catalogs owing to its extensive approach to varieties, errors, specialized items and “fantasy” issues. There is a comprehensive collection of Lundy Island stamps in the Chinchen Collection, donated by Barry Chinchen to the British Library Philatelic Collections in 1977 and now held by the British Library. This is also the home of the Landmark Trust Lundy Island Philatelic Archive which includes artwork, texts and essays as well as postmarking devices and issued stamps.
On March 7, 1955, two sets of six triangular and one diamond-shaped stamp each were released to mark the 1000th anniversary of the death of Eric Haraldsson, nicknamed Eric Bloodaxe. a tenth-century Norwegian ruler. The “surface mail” stamps (Labbe’s #112-118) featured horses on the triangular stamps while the “air mail” issues (Labbe’s #119-125) portrayed birds. The 3-puffin value in each set pictured Eric Bloodaxe along with a puffin. The stamps were printed by Harrison & Sons Ltd. in sheets of 50, perforated 12¼ , and designed by a Mr. Illett of London. Labbe’s #122 was printed in red and black in a quantity of 700,000 on glazed paper. Varieties include stamps on unglazed paper, in the issued color imperforate both watermarked and unwatermarked, imperforate with the color of the frame and insert reversed, and imperforate black on white.
Eric’s soubriquet blóðøx, ‘Bloodaxe’ or ‘Bloody-axe’, is of uncertain origin and context. The sagas usually explain it as referring to Eric’s slaying of his half-brothers in a ruthless struggle to monopolize his rule over Norway; Theodoricus gives the similar nickname fratrum interfector (killer of brothers). Fagrskinna, on the other hand, ascribes it to Eric’s violent reputation as a Viking raider. Eric was born around 885. He is thought to have had short-lived terms as King of Norway and twice as King of Northumbria (c. 947–948 and 952–954).