Steep Holm

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Steep Holm
Bristol Channel map.svg
Location Bristol Channel
Coordinates 51°20′23″N 3°06′35″W / 51.33972°N 3.10972°W / 51.33972; -3.10972Coordinates: 51°20′23″N 3°06′35″W / 51.33972°N 3.10972°W / 51.33972; -3.10972
Length 1 km (0.6 mi)
Width 400 m (1,300 ft)
Highest point 78 m (256 ft)
Unitary Authority North Somerset
Ceremonial County Somerset
Civil Parish Weston-super-Mare

Steep Holm (grid reference ST228607) (Welsh: Ynys Rhonech) is an English island lying in the Bristol Channel. The island covers 48.87 acres (19.78 ha) at high tide, expanding to 63.26 acres (25.60 ha) at mean low water.[1] At its highest point it is 78 metres (256 ft) above mean sea level. It lies within the historic boundaries of Somerset and administratively, it forms part of North Somerset.[2] Between 1 April 1974 and 1 April 1996 it was administered as part of Avon.[1]

The island serves as a wind and wave break, sheltering the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel. The island is formed of Carboniferous Limestone and is geologically a continuation of the Mendip Hills at Brean Down.[3] The island is now uninhabited, with the exception of the wardens, and protected as a nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), notification having taken place in 1952.[4] Nearby is Flat Holm island (Welsh: Ynys Echni), part of Wales.

According to legend in the 6th century Saint Gildas lived on Steep Holm visiting his friend Saint Cadoc, who lived on Flat Holm as a hermit.[5] Gildas supposedly left the island to become Abbot of Glastonbury.[6]

Former military uses[edit]

Both Steep Holm and Flat Holm were fortified in the 1860s as a defence against invasion. They form part of a line of defences, known as Palmerston Forts, built across the channel to protect the approaches to Bristol and Cardiff.

The island was fortified following a visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to France, where they had been concerned at the strength of the French Navy. The Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom, under direction of Lord Palmerston, recommended fortification of the coast and the island formed part of this strategic coastal defence system. Construction began in 1865 and was completed in 1869.[7]

Steep Holm has several gun batteries, some of which are Scheduled Ancient Monuments, and a centralised group of brick-built barrack blocks.

These facilities were updated in both World War I and World War II; in World War II, search light batteries were built on Steep Holm. In 1940 the island's warden Harry Cox, was appointed as a coastguard and was supported by Local Defence Volunteers from Weston-super-Mare. In 1940 and 1941 the battery was refortified by soldiers from the Indian Army Service Corps using mules to transport guns and equipment up the steep cliffs. The armament included Mark VII 6 breech-loading guns taken from World War I naval vessels which had been scrapped and Lewis guns against air attack. Engineers from the Royal Pioneer Corps improved the infrastructure including importing sheep to feed the soldiers and, after a case of typhoid, shipping drinking water from south Wales.[8] The Steep Holm batteries were also connected, by underwater telegraph cable, to the Brean Down Fort batteries, but parts of the cable were stolen for scrap after the end of World War II.[9]

Kenneth Allsop Memorial Trust[edit]

Landing beach at Steep Holm

The island is owned by the Kenneth Allsop Memorial Trust, a charity which took over the administration of Steep Holm in 1974 in memory of the broadcaster and naturalist Kenneth Allsop, and purchased it in 1976.[1] The mission statement of the Trust is: "To protect, preserve and enhance for the benefit of the public the landscape, antiquities, flora, fauna, natural beauty and scientific interest of the island of Steep Holm in the County of North Somerset and to advance the education of the public in the natural sciences."

Visits can be made to the island. The trust runs day-long boat trips from Weston-super-Mare. One barrack block is in use to provide visitor facilities.


  1. ^ a b c Legg, Rodney (1995). The Steep Holm Guide: The history of the Island off Weston-super-Mare (2nd Ed). Wincanton: Wincanton Press. ISBN 0-948699-49-3. 
  2. ^ "Fifth periodical report – Volume 4 Mapping for the Non-Metropolitan Counties and the Unitary Authorities" (PDF). The Boundary Commission for England. 26 February 2007. p. 7. Retrieved 6 September 2007. 
  3. ^ Coysh, A.W.; Mason, E. J.; Waite, V. (1977). The Mendips. London: Robert Hale Ltd. ISBN 0-7091-6426-2. 
  4. ^ "Citation – Steep Holm" (PDF). English Nature. Retrieved 6 September 2007. 
  5. ^ Rutter, John (1829). Delineations of the north western division of the county of Somerset. G. Olms. p. 95. 
  6. ^ Clay, Rotha Mary (1914). "The Hermits and Anchorites of England." (PDF). Methuen & Co. London. p. 9. Retrieved 23 January 2010. 
  7. ^ Worrall, D. H.; Surtees, P. R. (1984). "Flat Holm  – an account of its history and ecology". South Glamorgan County Council. pp. 18–19. 
  8. ^ Brown, Donald (1999). Somerset v Hitler. Countryside Books. pp. 23–31. ISBN 1 85306 590 0. 
  9. ^ van der Bijl, Nicholas (2000). Brean Down Fort: Its History and the Defence of the Bristol Channel. Cossington: Hawk Editions. ISBN 0-9529081-7-4. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Legg, Rodney (1992). Steep Holm, Allsop Island. Wincanton Press. ISBN 0-948699-61-2.
  • Legg, Rodney (1992). Steep Holm Legends and History. Wincanton Press. ISBN 0-948699-59-0.
  • Legg, Rodney (1990). Steep Holm Wildlife. Wincanton Press. ISBN 0-948699-11-6.
  • Legg, Rodney (1991). Steep Holm at War. Wincanton Press. ISBN 0-948699-60-4.
  • Legg, Rodney (1985). The Steep Holm Guide. Dorset Publishing. ISBN 0-948699-49-3.
  • Brown, Donald (1999). Somerset v Hitler: Secret Operations in the Mendips 1939–1945. Newbury: Countryside Books. ISBN 1-85306-590-0.
  • Rendell, Stan and Joan (1993). Steep Holm: The Story of a Small Island. Stroud: Alan Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-0323-6.

External links[edit]