Tresco, Isles of Scilly

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Tresco - aerial photo6.jpg
Aerial view of Tresco
Tresco is located in Isles of Scilly
Location within Isles of Scilly
Population175 (2011)
OS grid referenceSV893421
Civil parish
  • Tresco
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtTR24
Dialling code01720
PoliceDevon and Cornwall
FireIsles of Scilly
AmbulanceSouth Western
UK Parliament
List of places
49°57′15″N 06°19′57″W / 49.95417°N 6.33250°W / 49.95417; -6.33250Coordinates: 49°57′15″N 06°19′57″W / 49.95417°N 6.33250°W / 49.95417; -6.33250

Tresco (Cornish: Enys Skaw,[1] meaning "island of elder-trees") is the second-biggest island of the Isles of Scilly in Cornwall, England. It is 297 ha (1.15 sq mi) in size, measuring about 3.5 km (2.2 mi) by 1.75 km (1.09 mi).


In early times one group of islands was in the possession of a confederacy of hermits. King Henry I gave it to Tavistock Abbey which established a priory on Tresco; it was abolished during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The priory was given the care of souls in the secular islands by the lord of the fief.[2] In 1233, a prior here, known as Alan of Cornwall, was made Abbot of Tavistock.[3]

The original name for the island (including Bryher) was the Cornish: Ryn Tewyn, meaning "promontory of sand-dunes". In 1193, when the island was granted to the Abbot of Tavistock by Pope Celestine III, the island was known as St. Nicholas's island, and by 1305 it is called Trescau (farm of elder-trees). By 1540 this has changed to Iniscaw (island of elder-trees).[4] The island was named as Trescaw in an 1814 publication.[5]

The island is administered for the Crown by the Duchy of Cornwall[6] and is leased to the Dorrien-Smith estate,[7] which runs it as a timeshare business. The Dorrien-Smith family (descended from Augustus Smith) held the position of Lord Proprietors of the Scilly Islands between 1834 and 1920.

From 2001 until 2009, the island hosted a marathon run organised to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, consisting of 7½ laps around the island. The event was always held on the same day as the London Marathon.[8] Past winners include Dara O'Kearney and Bob Brown. It was replaced by a sprint triathlon.[9]

In 2007 a rebuild of the Abbey Farm/Shed area was completed; this area served as RNAS Tresco, a seaplane base during the First World War.[10] The development included rental cottages, a swimming pool and spa and the Flying Boat Bar & Bistro.

In 2012 the Island Hotel was closed. Parts of the complex were converted into luxury holiday cottages; other parts of the hotel were demolished with new cottages built in its place. The Sea Garden Cottages now offer flexible accommodation with an on-site spa and tennis court.


Tresco seen from Bryher.

A variety of scenery is found on the island, including rugged granite outcrops, heathland of the exposed north coast and mainly shell beaches in the east and south. The variety of its scenery and geomorphology is partly a result of the last ice age, when the Devensian ice sheet clipped the north side of the island, leaving deformation till deposits.[11][12]

The main settlements are New Grimsby and Old Grimsby in the central part of the island. Combined, their facilities include a convenience store (with a post office sub-branch), an art gallery, a pub, and two café/restaurants, all of which are owned and run by the Tresco Estate. At the south of the island are the sub-tropical Tresco Abbey Gardens, including the Valhalla Figurehead Collection, and Tresco Heliport. To the north of New Grimsby are King Charles's Castle and Cromwell's Castle.

Civil parish and ward[edit]

The Isles of Scilly comprising the civil parish and ward of Tresco, shown in red.

Tresco is one of the five civil parishes of the Isles of Scilly, which are also wards. The civil parish and ward covers much more than the island of Tresco: it includes uninhabited islands such as Samson (inhabited until 1855), Teän, St Helen's, Northwethel and Round Island.[13] Tresco elects one councillor to the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the same as the other "off-island" wards. The civil parish is not functional, however, and there is no council or meeting.


These figures include permanent residents only. A large number of seasonal staff also reside on the island during the summer.

  • 1841 – 430
  • 1861 – 399
  • 1871 – 266
  • 1891 – 315
  • 1901 – 331
  • 1911 – 315
  • 1921 – 217
  • 1931 – 248
  • 1951 – 243
  • 1961 – 283
  • 1971 – 246
  • 1991 – 170
  • 2001 – 180
  • 2011 – 175


Unlike the other Scilly islands, Tresco is primarily run as a holiday resort,[14] and virtually all activity and employment is tourist-related. On the other islands tourism is important, but does not dominate to the same extent.


The Old Blockhouse, Tresco
The arch from the wall of the mediaeval monastery in Tresco Abbey Gardens
Tresco Abbey
Helicopter leaving Tresco at Tresco Heliport
High-tide landing pier at New Grimsby
English Civil War
  • King Charles's Castle[15] dates from 1550–54, and was occupied by the Royalists during the English Civil War. It was later partially demolished to provide the building materials for Cromwell's Castle.
  • A coastal tower known as Cromwell's Castle was built 1651–52 with a gun platform added around 1740 by Abraham Tovey, Master Gunner.[16]
  • The Old Blockhouse gun tower protecting Old Grimsby harbour, vigorously defended during the Civil War, was probably built between 1548 and 1552.[17]
  • Oliver's Battery, in the south of the island, by the Carn Near quay, was erected shortly after the capture of Tresco by Parliamentary forces in the English Civil War. It was built by Admiral Robert Blake.
Other landmarks


Tresco & Bryher Base

Five Islands Academy (previously Five Islands School) has its Tresco and Bryher Base, a primary campus in Tresco. Secondary pupils board at the St Mary's main campus,[22] staying there on weekdays and coming back and forth to their home islands on weekends.[23]

Students at the sixth-form college level reside and board elsewhere,[24] in mainland Great Britain. Previously the Learning and Skills Council paid for costs of accommodation for sixth-formers.[25]


Tresco is a car-free island. Electric vehicles are used to transport overnight visitors to and from Tresco Heliport and from the various quays, and a few golf carts are available for disabled visitors.

From Tresco Heliport, a year-round helicopter service connects Tresco to Penzance Heliport on the Cornish mainland. From 1983 to cessation in 2012, the service was operated by British International Helicopters. In 2020, helicopter service was resumed from a new Penzance Heliport to Tresco and St Mary's, operated by Penzance Helicopters.[26][27]

Tresco Boat Services run passenger boat services to and from the other inhabited islands, as well as occasional circular sightseeing tours.

Wildlife and ecology[edit]

Tresco is unique amongst the off islands in that its habitat ranges from a windswept northern plateau with waved heath to sheltered bulb fields, wetland and lakes, to beautiful beaches backed by a sand dune system on the south coast.[28] The forerunner of Natural England designated three Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1971 and 1976. They are the Castle Down (Tresco) SSSI, Great Pool (Tresco) SSSI and Pentle Bay, Merrick and Round Islands SSSI. Castle Down is a SSSI for its waved maritime heath, its lichen flora, a breeding colony of Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) and for its geology. Great Pool is an SSSI because it is the largest area of fresh water in the islands and important for its breeding birds, and as a sheltering and feeding area for migrants. Pentle Bay is designated for the transition from a flora-rich sand dune system to lichen-rich heath.[29] [30] [31]

In October 2012, four male and one female Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), on permanent loan from the British Wildlife Centre, were transported to Tresco by helicopter. Only two survived, but in September 2013 a further twenty were transported to Tresco and released in Abbey Woods, near the Abbey Gardens. Tresco is considered to be a ″safe haven″ for the endangered mammal as it is free from predators such as foxes, and from grey squirrels and the squirrel pox they carry.[32][33] In June 2014, an unknown number of baby squirrels have been pictured in the Abbey Gardens, proving the squirrels are successfully breeding.

Vagrant birds[edit]

Among the many vagrant birds which have been found here, the following were firsts for Britain:

The island also briefly hosted the second British record of Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) in April and May 2015, which also visited both Bryher and St Mary's during its 23-day stay.

Cultural references[edit]

Because of its geography and history, Tresco has often featured in fiction, most notably in the books of author Sam Llewellyn, a direct descendant of Augustus Smith who, after his appointment as Lord Proprietor of the Scillies in 1834 and living on the island, began to create the Abbey Gardens on land which surrounded the old Priory.

  • Flora Castledine, lead character of the Georgie Gale novel Tread Softly, was born and brought up on the Isles of Scilly. Tresco is mentioned several times.
  • Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo is set in the Isles of Scilly and features Tresco several times.
  • Hell Bay (1984), by Sam Llewellyn, is set on Tresco and fictionalises the events leading up to Augustus Smith taking ownership of the island.
  • The Sea Garden (1999), also by Sam Llewellyn, is set on a fictional island based heavily on Tresco. It features a stunning Sea Garden much like the Tresco Abbey Gardens and the history of the fictional island draws heavily from the real history of the island.
  • Storm Islands, by Ann Quinton, is a mystery novel set on Tresco and in the Isles of Scilly.


Notable inhabitants[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Place-names in the Standard Written Form (SWF) Archived 15 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine : List of place-names agreed by the MAGA Signage Panel Archived 15 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Cornish Language Partnership.
  2. ^ Blackford, Oscar (1925). Cornish Church Guide. Truro: Blackford. p. 194. ASIN B00T7TMMMO.
  3. ^ Alford, Rev. D. P. (1891). The Abbots of Tavistock with Views Beyond. Plymouth: W. Brendon & Son. p. 123.
  4. ^ Weatherhill, Craig (2005). Place Names in Cornwall and Scilly. Wessex Books. ISBN 1903035252.
  5. ^ 'The Scilly Islands', Magna Britannia: volume 3: Cornwall. 1814. pp. 330–337. Archived from the original on 22 April 2009. Retrieved 14 November 2009.
  6. ^ Gill, Crispin, ed. (1987). The Duchy of Cornwall (1st ed.). David & Charles. ISBN 0715388916.
  7. ^ "At home: Robert Dorrien-Smith. The guardian of Tresco in the Scilly Isles talks about running a private subtropical island". Financial Times. 17 May 2013. Archived from the original on 12 August 2018. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  8. ^ "Tresco Marathon". Tresco Estate. Archived from the original on 26 April 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  9. ^ "Tresco Triathlon 2017 | Tresco Island". Archived from the original on 26 July 2020. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  10. ^ Lewis, Peter (1968). Squadron Histories: R.F.C., R.N.A.S. and R.A.F., since 1912. Bodley Head. p. 82. ISBN 0370000226.
  11. ^ Deformation tills are sediments which have been disaggregated and (usually) homogenised by shearing in the sub-glacial deformed layer.
  12. ^ van der Meer, J.; Menzies, John; Rose, James (2003). "Subglacial Till: the deforming glacier bed". Quaternary Science Reviews. 22 (15–17): 1659–85. Bibcode:2003QSRv...22.1659V. doi:10.1016/S0277-3791(03)00141-0.
  13. ^ 101 Isles of Scilly (Map). 1:25000. Explorer. Ordnance Survey.
  14. ^ "Tresco Island, Luxury Cottages, Holiday Island Resort, Isles Of Scilly | Tresco Island". Archived from the original on 21 May 2005. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  15. ^ Historic England. "Oliver's Battery, Tresco (1016181)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  16. ^ O'Neil, B. H. St John (1961). Ancient Monuments of the Isles of Scilly (2nd ed.). London, UK: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. OCLC 58256.
  17. ^ Brodie, Allan (2010). "The Tudor Defences of Scilly". English Heritage Historical Review. 5: 24–43. doi:10.1179/175201611X13079771582385.
  18. ^ Historic England. "The Smith Monument on Abbey Hill (1141199)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  19. ^ Historic England. "Remains of Tresco Priory and associated monuments and attached walls (1141172)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  20. ^ Historic England. "St Nicholas' Priory, Tresco (1016184)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  21. ^ Historic England. "Church of St Nicholas (Grade II) (1328849)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  22. ^ "Contact Us". Five Islands Academy. Archived from the original on 9 December 2018. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  23. ^ "Home to School Travel". Isles of Scilly Council. Archived from the original on 9 December 2018. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  24. ^ "Schools & Colleges". Isles of Scilly Council. Archived from the original on 9 December 2018. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  25. ^ "Education". Council of the Isles of Scilly. 14 October 2002. Archived from the original on 14 October 2002. Retrieved 8 December 2018. There is no post-16 provision on the Islands, students leaving the Isles of Scilly (VC) Federated School attend at colleges/schools with 6th forms on the mainland.[...]
  26. ^ "Penzance Helicopters launches new Isles of Scilly helicopter shuttle service". 23 March 2020. Archived from the original on 15 August 2020. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  27. ^ "Penzance Helicopters". Penzance Helicopters. Archived from the original on 18 August 2020. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  28. ^ Cooper, Andrew (2006). Secret Nature of the Isles of Scilly. Dartington: Green Books. ISBN 9781903998519.
  29. ^ "Castle Down (Tresco)" (PDF). Natural England. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  30. ^ "Great Pool (Tresco)" (PDF). Natural England. Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  31. ^ "Pentle Bay, Merrick And Round Islands" (PDF). Natural England. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
  32. ^ Mumford, Clive (1 November 2012). "Squirrels to be released in 2013". The Cornishman. p. 16. Archived from the original on 5 May 2013. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  33. ^ "RNAS Culdrose helicopter flies red squirrels to Tresco". BBC News. 20 September 2013. Archived from the original on 3 October 2013. Retrieved 5 November 2013.

External links[edit]