Ministry signs on St Mary’s

Porth Hellick Down © Patrick Taylor

The ancient monuments on St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly received Ministry signs. The chambered tomb on Porth Hellick Down is described as ‘the best preserved tomb of all those in the islands’, echoing O’Neil’s guidebook, ‘perhaps the best preserved of all those in the islands’. Again, ‘a few potsherds have been found in the chamber’, follows, ‘a few potsherds have been found in this tomb’.

Innisidgen © Patrick Taylor

At Innisidgen the sign starts with the same description as Porth Hellick. The description in the guidebook, ‘Nothing is known to have been found in the chamber’, follows the sign, ‘the chamber has long since been rifled of its contents’.

Lower Innisidgen © Patrick Taylor

The sign at Lower Innisidgen echoes the others.

Bants Carn © Patrick Taylor

The sign notes, ‘Cremated bones and pieces of pottery were found in the chamber many years ago’, whereas the guidebook states, ‘Four piles of cremated bones were found at the inner end of the chamber many years ago, as well as some pieces of pottery in the passage just outside the entrance to the chamber’.

Bants Carn Ancient Village © Patrick Taylor

Near to Bants Carn Burial Chamber is a village. The sign and guidebook place it to the 2nd–3rd centuries AD, describing it as ‘Roman period’ or even ‘Romano-British’. The sign and guidebook talks of ’round or oval huts … built of large, well-laid granite blocks’. The guidebook continues ‘Paths and garden plots or small fields may also be detected’.

Harry’s Walls © Patrick Taylor

A later monument is the artillery fort known as Harry’s Walls.

We are grateful to Patrick Taylor for digitising the images.

Isles of Scilly: guidebook

1949 (repr. 1952)

Bryan H. St. John O’Neil prepared the original guidebook for the Isles of Scilly in 1949. A (posthumous) second edition appeared in 1961, and it continued in print until at least 1971 (5th impression with amendments).

The guide was divided into sections: The Stone Age and Before; The Bronze Age; The Early Iron Age; The Roman Period; The Dark Ages; The Middle Ages; the Sixteenth Century; The Civil War; Later History. There is specific discussion of three burial chambers: Bants Carn; Innisodgen; and Porth Hellick Down.

1961 (2nd ed.; 1971, 5th impress. with amendments)

The second edition is expanded to cover eight (rather than seven) monuments in State Guardianship. There are more plans and illustrations, including one’s for King Charles’s Castle and Cromwell’s Castle.


English Heritage has now published a volume Defending Scilly by Mark Bowden and Allan Brodie (2011). This has three main sections: Introduction; Scilly’s military heritage; Scilly and the sea. There are generous colour illustrations that cover a range of defences, not all in state care.

Bryan H. St.J. O’Neil and his contribution to guidebooks

Caerlaverock Castle © David Gill
Caerlaverock Castle © David Gill

Bryan H. St. John O’Neil (1905-54) held the position of Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Wales and then Chief Inspector. He steered the Ministry through the difficult post-war years. He prepared a number of key guidebooks for sites in Wales, England and Scotland.

1951 (repr. 1954)
1951 (repr. 1954)
1943 (repr. 1963)
1943 (repr. 1963)

His early guidebooks cover Peveril Castle (1934) in Derbyshire, a site that came into state guardianship in 1932. In the same year he published a guide to Dartmouth Castle (1934) in Devon [e-copy], though this was followed by a shorter paper guide in 1951. A more detailed study of the defences of the Dart was published in the Society of Antiquaries in 1936 (Dartmouth Castle and Other Defences of Dartmouth Haven). The third in his guides of English castles was on Clifford’s Tower (1936) in York.

In 1936 O’Neil succeeded C.A. Ralegh Radford as Inspector in Wales. However his first guidebook for a site in Wales was Criccieth Castle (1934). The monument had been placed in state guardianship in 1933. In the same year Talley Abbey was placed in the care of the Office of Works, and O’Neil, now Inspector for Wales, wrote the guidebook (1938). A further Welsh castle studied by O’Neil was at Newcastle, Bridgend (1949). This had passed into state guardianship in 1932.

1949 (repr. 1952)
1949 (repr. 1952)

In 1945 O’Neil had become Chief Inspector. After the Second World War he excavated on the Isles of Scilly and published a collective guidebook on Ancient Monuments of the Isles of Scilly (1949). This included three prehistoric sites and three Civil War defensive structures.

(repr. 1975)
(repr. 1975)

He then prepared guides to two of the castles of the Cinque Ports, Deal (1953) and Walmer (1949).

Audley End
Audley End (1955)

The house at Audley End (1950) in Essex was purchased for the nation in 1948 and O’Neil prepared the guide. (There had been a possibility that Audley End would be placed with the National Trust.)

1975 (8th impression)
1975 (8th impression)

O’Neil’s responsibilities also include Ancient Monuments in Scotland. He prepared the guide for Scalloway Castle (1950) in Shetland, and Caerlaverock Castle (1952).

1954 (5th impr. 1960)
1954 (5th impr. 1960)

O’Neil’s main interest was in castles. He prepared An Introduction to the Castles of England and Wales (1954) that formed a companion to the six Regional Guides to Ancient Monuments (I: Northern England; II: Southern England; III: East Anglia and Midlands; IV: South Wales; V: North Wales; VI: Scotland). This guide to castles continued as the revised Department of the Environment Guide.

Castles (1973)
Castles (1973)

I have not included a discussion of the other guidebooks O’Neil prepared for the Channel Islands (Castle Cornet, Guernsey [1952]), the Isle of Man (Castle Rushen [1951]) and Ghana (Report on Forts and Castles of Ghana [1951].

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