Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Great Mew Stone

The Great Mew Stone juts out of the sea like a giant limpet, clinging onto the seabed, and sparkling emerald-green in the late, autumn sun.
Wembury Point is a truly stunning place to sit and dream about the adventures men and their families had on The Great Mew Stone, and the rich history it holds, that dates back as far as the 1700’s.

Located just past the breakwater, it’s easily examined with a visit to Wembury, which is just on the outskirts of Plymouth, in the South Hams.
In fact the stone is so craggy it’s hard to believe that around three-hundred years ago it served as a prison for a local man, he was sent to the island as punishment following a theft and was made to stay there, in isolation, for a total of seven years! He lived there, with his family, undisturbed for the entire time, and when he eventually came back to the mainland, his daughter, called ‘Black Joan’, decided to stay on. She progressed to having a family of her own on the Mew Stone. Tragically, her husband died by falling off a seaweed-covered rock and drowned in just a small pool of water.

Over the years, several other families set up residence on the outcrop, including Mr Samuel Wakeham, who created a very unusual turreted home which can still be seen today (with binoculars!).
Samuel kept a few pigs and was also allowed to catch and eat as many rabbits as he wanted. You see, the island had become a massive rabbit warren, which was owned by The Langdon Estate. He protected the rabbits from poachers and also earned a living by giving day-trippers a tour of his solitary homestead.
A magazine article about the island published in 1834 reported that: ‘The Mewstone is about five miles from Plymouth. Any one of the old gentlemen who ply for hire at the Barbican with shore boats will convey you thither for a crown’ and also advised the reader ‘as you value your character for benevolence, export a few ounces of snuff to Sam, [as] he is a most inveterate snuff taker.’

I am afraid the downfall of Mr Wakeham was that he was a bit of a smuggler. No record can be found of what it was he was actually smuggling, although I like to think it was rum & tea. He was caught and returned to the mainland in disgrace. Samuel Wakeham was the final person to live on the Mew stone. 

Since his departure it has enjoyed peace and quiet from humans, but did gain some television notoriety when The Comic Strip filmed ‘Five go Mad in Dorset’ as it can clearly be seen in the background.

Today it is owned by the National Trust, who bought the island and the surrounding Wembury Point in 2006 for £1.4million. It’s only inhabitants now are the local wildlife as the policy is to exclude the public. This is in order to safeguard the bird populations attracted by the rare iso