Public Get Rare Chance To Visit Telegraph Tower

Islanders had a chance to climb to the top of the Telegraph Tower yesterday.

It’s tenant, Peter Laverock, is moving out as he’s leaving the islands to take up a church position in Richmond and to be close to his family in his new role as a grandfather.

Peter has been passionate about the listed building since he first came to Scilly to live eight years ago. Peter says he’s loved living in a building with so much history but sees his role as a caretaker or custodian and he’d like a future tenant to encourage shared access, as has been proposed.

Coastwatch volunteers have planned to use the top floor as a lookout.

The tower was unoccupied when he took possession of it and it was a challenge getting the property ready for habitation. Peter says normally straightforward tasks, like getting furniture in, proved a challenge in the three-story tower with its narrow, winding and steep staircases.

He had to get a crane in just to get his sofas up to the top-floor living room.

Peter says he viewed his time in the tower as custodian of an historic building and he wants a future tenant to keep it open to the public and share the unique property with the community, either for open days like yesterday, or for groups who could use the tower, like Coastwatch. They still plan to monitor the coast around St Mary’s from the top.

Peter has converted part of the inside of the property, so there’s an internal stairway linking the bedroom and kitchen area. If the building is used by another group, like Coastwatch, they can use the original winding staircase without affecting the tenants’ privacy.

Peter says as a resident, you change the way you live because of the need to go up and down stairs between each room, in particular remembering everything you need to carry before setting off. And he says it’s kept him fit climbing all those stairs.

Peter says you notice a storm more than you would in regular accommodation. He says when the wind blows, the whole wooden structure at the very top of the tower shudders and he can’t understand how the original workers managed to stay up there on duty 24 hours a day.

Peter says he’d recommend the property to anyone and he’d like to encourage more developments in the Telegraph area.

He says he hopes that in twenty years time, this could be a thriving area with more housing and a village shop, rather than building more properties in Hugh Town.

The tower was built from Scilly granite in 1814 as a semaphore station for the Navy. The millitary had built a chain across England but the Telegraph tower wasn’t part of that network as it could only be seen for 6 miles.

It was meant to send messages to shipping and to the Garrison.

The officer in charge, Lt John Trinder had run a signal station on St Martin’s where the Daymark is and he married an island woman. He wasn’t keen on his St Mary’s posting and complained continually about the lack of toilet facilities, leaks and having no doorbell, which meant callers threw stones at the windows to gain his attention and broke the glass.

The admiralty became fed up of his complaining and the tower was closed in 1816.

It was next used for Marconi aerials as part of the Navy’s interest in telegraphy in 1903. The building began a relationship with the coastguards after that. In the Second World War they used it as an air-raid shelter and there was a fatality when a crewmember’s 12-year-old daughter was killed by a stray bullet from a German warplane.