Lundy is a small island which must have seemed inhospitable at times. Despite this there is abundant evidence of human activity, often better preserved than in areas that have seen lots of subsequent development.

The first inhabitants

A collection of flints from a test pit Brick Field © A. J. SchofieldThe earliest evidence of human occupation on Lundy is from the early Mesolithic (middle stone age) period when people following a hunter-gatherer lifestyle returned to northern Europe following the end of the last ice age. Recent research suggests that during the lower sea levels of the ice age Lundy would have been well-inland and that, as the ice melted and sea levels rose, it would have formed the end of a promontory reaching out into the Atlantic.

The only evidence we have of these people on Lundy are scatters of flint flakes. Some of these are tools but the vast majority are waste flakes from tool manufacture. They are found mostly on the cliff tops on the eastern side of the island and it would appear that they were discarded by hunters watching for prey on the land below. There is no evidence of where these people lived, and they may have constructed their temporary settlements on the lower land now covered by the sea. By about 9000 BC, Lundy would have been a large island and it would have reached its present size by about 7500 BC.

The farmers

From the middle of the 4th millennium BC a new way of life arrived in Britain with the introduction of farming. This brought with it other changes, for example, the use of pottery and also profound social changes, as growing crops requires the concept of land ownership. These Neolithic (new stone age) farmers lived in more settled communities.

Very little remains of the houses and farms of these people in southern Britain - they are best known for the construction of large ceremonial monuments, such as long barrows, cursus and henges. It is not therefore surprising that almost nothing has been found on Lundy although early Neolithic pottery was found eroding out of the ground at the North End and a few Neolithic flints have been recorded. A site on the western cliff tops, known as the "Blackhouse" was thought by the excavator, Keith Gardner, to be Neolithic but this date is now believed to be less likely. There is also a site at the South End known as the Kistvaen which was suggested to be a chambered tomb when described in the 1850s. The site has since been robbed of stone and its interpretation is not clear.

The Bronze Age

Remains of Bronze Age burial cairn © C J WebsterThe arrival of metal technology in Britain again saw a significant social shift, away from communal burial and other activities towards a more ranked social system. This is reflected in the adoption of single burial, the laying out of fields and greater evidence of warfare. Certain areas appear to have been used for burial, with characteristic round barrows (earth burial mounds) and cairns (piled stone burial mounds) placed along skylines and in groups. These are common today on uplands, such as Exmoor, but aerial survey has shown in recent years that this is a view biased by survival, lowland barrows having been ploughed flat by millennia of cultivation. On Lundy, there are several barrows known from Middle Park, including on Tibbetts Hill.

Over the northern parts of Lundy, the remains of small, circular, stone houses are visible, and pottery from some at the North End dates them to the Middle Bronze Age (from between the 18th and 11th centuries BC). There is also Late Bronze Age pottery (the early 1st millennium BC) from the North End, Middle Park and Beacon Hill. Some of this pottery appears to have been used for salt production.

The Iron Age

There is almost no evidence for activity in the Iron Age apart from a single sherd of pottery from the North End which probably dates to this period.

The Roman Period

There is again little evidence of Roman-period activity on Lundy. Pottery dating to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD was found in the excavations on Beacon Hill and a single sherd of earlier pottery was recovered from just south of Quarter Wall. The pottery, most of which was made in Dorset or South Devon, compares well with assemblages from North Devon suggesting that Lundy fitted in to the local economy.

Early Medieval

Early Christian Stone © C J WebsterThe period following the loss of Roman control in the early 5th century is one of the most difficult to study for both archaeologists and historians due to the lack of primary data. Lundy is lucky to possess four gravestones from this period, all found in the graveyard on Beacon Hill. Three of these have single names suggesting that they belonged to Christian monks or nuns who had renounced their earthly families. Excavations in the cemetery recorded numerous stone-lined graves clustering around a burial in a stone setting. This reinforces the suggestion of a monastic community with the dead hoping to gain from close proximity to the founding 'saint'. Charles Thomas suggested that this founder was Brychan, ruler of the early kingdom of Brecon in south Wales, whose grave is recorded being on an unnamed island. Thomas suggested that Brychan abdicated to pursue a religious life on Lundy and died there. No bones survived the acidic soils but the founder's grave appeared to have been disturbed, probably to translate the relics to a monastery on the mainland, perhaps at Hartland.

Later Medieval

Settlement in the medieval period seems to have been concentrated on the northern part of the current village where large quantities of pottery have been excavated from Bulls Paradise and Pigs Paradise fields. Some of this was associated with ruined walls and human burials suggesting a complex sequence of activity in the area. A legal agreement of 1204 provides the earliest description of Lundy and indicates that there were two other farms on the island together with areas of common grazing. One of these farms is probably Widows Tenement where the ruins of a medieval farmhouse survive surrounded by small fields.

In 1242 it is recorded that king Henry III had to recover Lundy from William de Marisco who had fled there after being accused of murder and treason. The king then ordered a tower to be constructed to control the island and prevent its use by rebels in the future. The location of this tower is not known but it is assumed to have formed the origins of the current castle at the South End. The remains in Bulls Paradise were assumed by the excavator to have been the stronghold used by de Marisco but the dating of the site is not as certain as was believed in the 1960s.


The 17th-century defences at the castle © C J WebsterMost of the castle at the South End appears to date to the Civil War when the island was held for the king by Thomas Bushell who owned mines in west Wales and supplied Charles with coinage. He may have dug the so-called Benson's Cave below the castle in an attempt to find silver on Lundy. The curtain wall of the castle shows the distinctive 17th century bastions of the period and Bushell claimed that he had built all of it, though as he was trying to claim compensation he may have exaggerated.

There are numerous remains from later periods, particularly the 19th century, when the Old Light and the fog battery were constructed. There are extensive remains of the granite quarries on the east side and numerous other pits that were dug to test the stone quality in other areas.

Text by Chris Webster

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