Letters From 1950s Show Dire State Of Tresco Finances

Abbey Gardens could have closed in the 1950s

We know how successful Tresco is at attracting visitors to Scilly, but letters and communications between Government officials uncovered at the National Archive in Kew offer a bleak picture of the island in the 1950s.

Wyn Grant has researched correspondence, which shows the estate was close to bankruptcy due to high death duties following the death of Major Dorrien-Smith and too few tourists visiting the gardens.

The closure of the gardens was being considered.

Lieutenant Commander Dorrien-Smith asked the Government for money to maintain the gardens and the Valhalla figureheads and even offered free holidays to ministers, which were declined.

Wyn’s research showed that the employment prospects of Tresco islanders and the sustainability of the community was presented as a concern to the Government in 1958, and letters state how the population had dwindled to a level where “enough young men cannot be found to raise a football side.”

There were concerns that introducing income tax to the islands may have brought a decline to Tresco, although Dorrien-Smith replied this was only one factor.

One minister suggested that the tourism industry be developed further on the islands and that Tresco should be preserved as one of the “few places where people can escape the noise of urban life.”

Plans included building a hotel on Tresco, which eventually became the Island Hotel.

In the end, very little money was forthcoming from the Government, other than a small grant to refurbish some of the figureheads, and Tresco has since gone on to develop into a very successful tourism business.