Old Town Churchyard

5 Sep 08 2 Comments

The following morning, we left our hotel to do some exploring. Our hotel was in Hugh Town, known locally as just the Town.

‘The Town’ has a feeling unlike any other part of Scilly – built-up and almost urbanised. But there is usually a friendly feel to the place with people stopping in the street (and the road!) to stop and talk…. Whilst off-islanders hate to admit it, Hugh Town is the centre of society on Scilly!

From North-East Sole, or Thereabouts, Island Life on Scilly by Jonathan Smith and Jinny Stevens.

With a population just over one thousand, it was a bit too hectic for us. We walked from Hugh Town to Old Town, which is not the same as the Town, lest you be getting confused. Old Town was the principle seat of population in the Middle Ages and the location of Castle Ennor. It currently has a population of just over 300.

The Old Town Church, with 800 years of history, is home to the beautiful Old Town Churchyard, the resting place of Sir Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister in the 1960s and 70s.

Against the wall is the grave of the naval surgeon Abraham Leggatt who, at his own instructions, was buried upright in 1809 in a strong granite coffin that doubles as his headstone…. Curiously (or perhaps carelessly) the mason has inscribed one word twice.

From The Scilly Guidebook

This obelisk, perched on the highest point of the Old Church graveyard on St Mary’s, was raised in memory of Louise Holzmeister by her husband. The monument serves as a testament to his grief but also as a reminder of the terrible shipwreck of the Schiller.

It was the 7th of May 1875. The Schiller was an iron screw steamer sailing from New York with passengers and freight destined for Plymouth, Cherbourg and Hamburg. There were around 372 people on board

They were running ahead of schedule but, as they passed the Isles of Scilly, they ran into thick fog. The crew immediately took in the sails, reduced speed and kept a good look out. However, they missed the lighthouse at Bishop’s Rock and ended up to the east of it, within the dangerous waters of the archipelago.

They struck the rocks and between the heavy sea and the angle of the ship, they were unable to launch all the life boats. In the end they launched three of the eight available. The bulk of the survivors remained on the sinking ship and hoped for rescue. They shot their signal gun half a dozen times and then sent rockets up but the thick fog blanketed out the results. Only one shot was heard on St. Mary’s and that was misinterpreted as meaning that the Schiller had passed Bishop’s Rock and was clear of the Isles of Scilly.

At daybreak, ships from St. Agnes went to try to help but they were not able to get near the Schiller, owing to the weather. Seven men who were swimming in the water were rescued but the rest were trapped on the wreck. By the time the lifeboat from St Mary’s made it to the location, the ship had sunk and there was nothing left to do but collect the bodies.

One of the three lifeboats capsized. The other two made it to Tresco with 27 survivors.

Louise Holzmeister was a passenger on the Schiller. She was 23 years old and travelling to Germany to join her husband. Her body was never recovered.

(References: Ships, Shipwrecks and Maritime Incidents around the Isles of Scilly and The Scilly Guidebook)

From that sobering story, we wandered out of the graveyard to Nowhere. I can’t help but consider the local naming conventions.

The name Scilly (or Sully) is ancient and of unknown origin. The first recorded reference is in the first century AD with the c being added in the 16th.

St Mary’s was fairly obviously named after the Virgin Mary and thus must stem from a later date.

Hugh Town comes from the Hew Hill which probably comes from Old English “spur of land”

I can’t be bothered to research how Old Town got its name. I can guess.

I don’t know why there’s a part of Old Town called Nowhere. And I’m not sure how to find out. It’s not like I can google it. Go on, try!

But I do know that if you are a parent driver, that’s where you should park.

Category: British Islands,

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