St Martin’s Daymark

St Martins Daymark

St Martin’s Daymark is the earliest surviving beacon in the British Isles. The 40 feet high stone beacon was built by Thomas Ekins, on the island of St Martin’s.

It was originally painted white, but later painted red, and now has red and white bands.  The daymark is visible for miles as it stands on one of the highest points of the Isles of Scilly.

St Martin’s Daymark stands on Chapel Down and records indicate that a chapel with a beacon stood on St Martin’s Head from around the 15th century.  Monks looked after the fire beacon which acted as a navigation aid.  The chapel later came into disrepair after it was later abandoned.

St Martins Daymark

The current daymark was built by Thomas Ekins, an island steward working for the Godolphin family.  The structure is thought to have been built around the 1680s.

There used to be a doorway into the tower, but this was blocked up around the 1960s.  An internal spiral stone staircase leads to the upper floor which has two slit windows. 

The date inscribed on the tower states 1637. However, this date seems to be before Thomas Ekins came to the island, so there is some confusion over when exactly it was built.  It may possibly have read 1687 originally and later the 8 became a 3.  Official records state that it was built in 1683.

Daymark inscription

On 19th January 1830 the brig Hope, was bound for London with gold dust, ivory, palm oil and peppers. She foundered close to St Martin’s Daymark when her captain mistook the tower for St Agnes Lighthouse, as it was painted white at the time. When realising his mistake the captain dropped anchor but it was too late, and four people died during their attempt to escape.

On board was the officer’s servant, and at St Martin’s graveyard is a memorial stone which has an inscription of the daymark.  St Martin’s Church was also built by Thomas Ekin.

St Martins memorial
Jowaninpensans, CC BY-SA 4.0
via Wikimedia Commons

Following the disaster, the daymark was painted bright red but later changed to its current red and white bands, making it more visible.

Close to the beacon is the remains of a Napoleonic Signal Station which was built in 1804. Four men were stationed here to keep watch for French ships and to report any unusual shipping activity around the islands.

The beacon is easily accessed via a coastal footpath around the island, which is around 3 miles long and less than a mile wide. There are beautiful views across to Round Island Lighthouse and great views from the Sevenstones Inn near Lower Town.