Lundy has a rich and varied history, a history of religious piety, piracy, successful and failed enterprises, and sometimes downright roguery.

The Early Years – Pre-history to 1833

The Island has been inhabited for at least 3,000 years - archaeological investigations have discovered considerable traces of Bronze and Iron Age settlements.   The Dark Ages, following the fall of the Roman Empire, left Lundy shrouded in myth and legend.

Marauding Vikings around the 9th century AD contributed the name – Lund-ey, meaning Puffin Island.

Historical records began following the Norman Conquest.  For well over a hundred years Lundy became home to the troublesome de Marisco family whose favour with the reigning monarchs waxed and waned, the low point being when William de Marisco was hung, drawn and quartered for treason in 1242.

For the next 600 years the Island was variously a base for marauders (including allegedly the Barbary Pirates), a fortified outpost loyal to King Charles I, a retreat for disgraced nobility and the centre of an ingenious smuggling operation.

In 1833 the estimated population of Lundy was 10 people, a single family living in a cottage and the four keepers of the lighthouse which had been built in 1819 by Trinity House.  The Island was owned at the time by two “gentlemen”, Messrs Matravers and Striffe who purportedly won it in a card game.

Modern History – 1834 to Present 

Lundy has a timeless appeal.  Things do change, but it’s essence remains the same.

William Hudson Heaven was a Gloucestershire businessman whose wealth came from the plantations worked by enslaved people in Jamaica that he inherited from his godfather. Heaven’s ambition had always been to own an island. When in 1834 he received £11,711 in government compensation for the emancipation of his enslaved workers, he bought Lundy for £9,870.  Over the family’s 85 years of ownership the Beach Road, Millcombe House and St Helen’s Church were built.

The next important character was Martin Coles Harman who in 1925 paid just over £25,000 for the Island, along with its livestock and supply ship, the Lerina.  He was responsible for introducing many of the animals, the establishment of the private postal system and the single issue of Puffin coinage.

After his death in 1954 the Harman family continued to run Lundy until the death of Albion Harman, Martin Coles’ son, in 1968 which left his wife and two sisters with joint ownership.  The Island was put up for sale with the proviso that “Whoever takes over Lundy must love it as we do.”

The National Trust launched an appeal to raise the necessary £150,000 after the conservation charity, The Landmark Trust, offered to underwrite it.  No sooner had the appeal been launched when the philanthropic businessman Jack Hayward stepped in with a gift of the purchase price.

The Landmark Trust, under the guidance of its then chairman, John Smith, agreed to lease Lundy for 60 years and to restore, maintain and run the Island and to keep it as a tranquil and unaffected place for the Islanders and visitors to share and enjoy.

Read about prehistoric Lundy >