Seascape, calm sea occupies lower half of the image, light grey / pink upper half of image. Just off-centre to the right, a red cylindrical tower rises well out of the sea, which is the Trinity House beacon marking the beacon marking the wreck site.
The Trinity House beacon viewed from the sea

Bartholomew Ledges

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The site

The Bartholomew Ledge is a granite reef in St Mary’s Sound, situated about 600 metres to the south-west of the island of St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly. The top of the reef is less than one metre below chart datum, so its location within a busy shipping channel makes it a hazard to shipping. At least seven ships are known to have struck the reef, most recently in 1997 when the 25,000 tonne cruise liner Albatros ran into the adjacent North Bartholomew Rock, removing about half a metre from the top of the rock. Partly as a result of this incident, the Bartholomew Ledge buoy was replaced in 2002 by a steel beacon fixed to the top of the reef.

Metal pole rising from the sea surface. The island of St Agnes is visible in the background where the white painted lighthouse is visible
Surface view of the site marked by the Trinity House beacon. The island of St Agnes in the background.

The Ledge consists of a rock pinnacle surrounded by gulleys and large boulders. Beyond the pinnacle, the seabed falls to 10-15m depth below chart datum. There are patches of sandy sediment in the gulley bottoms. The site is covered with a dense growth of tall kelp which hinders location and survey.

Green kelp leaves on the seabed, with the light filtering through the water from above
Exceptionally thick kelp growth over the site makes locating remains extremely difficult.

Site history

In the late 1970s, lead ingots and broken fragments of bronze bells were recovered from the vicinity of Bartholomew Ledge by local divers led by Mike Pirie. Over 100 ingots and in excess of 600 bell fragments were recovered, although accounts vary as to the exact quantity. These were thought to be consistent with a 16th century date. Sadly, only a handful of the ingots and bell fragments survive, the majority having been sold for scrap.

Glass display case in the Isle of Scilly museum. The case contains objects and information panels
Artefacts recovered from the Bartholomew Ledges on display in the Isles of Scilly Museum

Other artefacts discovered included six silver coins with a date range of 1474 to 1555. What remains on the seabed are at least five iron anchors, 13 wrought iron swivel guns and two cast iron guns as well as a number of unidentified iron objects. Most of these items are consistent with a date some time in the second half of the 16th century. To date, no evidence of ship’s structure has been located. Current thinking suggests that the remains were part of the cargo of an unidentified armed cargo vessel, possibly of Iberian origin.

The site was designated on the 3rd October 1980.

Access to the site

Public access to the site is achieved by licence under the Protection of Wrecks Act. This licensing is currently administered by Historic England. The three dive charter boats operating in Scilly have annual licences to visit the protected wreck sites.

Diver searching through the kelp on the seabed
Searching for the iron guns in the dense kelp

Finds

Many of the objects recovered from this site are now missing. The majority of the bell fragments were apparently melted down for scrap at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Corroded iron gun on the seabed surrounded by kelp
Cast iron cannon to the south of the Trinity House beacon

The fate of the lead ingots is uncertain – but these were also apparently largely ‘recycled’. One ingot and two bell fragments were seen at the Blue Boar public house (Dorset) in 2005. One ingot is in the British Museum. Two ingots, several bell fragments and a number of other artefacts are on display in the Isles of Scilly Museum.

Corroded iron gun on the seabed surrounded by kelp
Wrought iron breech-loading swivel gun – broken at the muzzle end

Historic England list entry

If you would like to find out more, view the Historic England list entry for Bartholomew Ledges.