Old Town Church dates back to the mid-twelfth century but was so extensively rebuilt in the nineteenth, that it is difficult to know what, if any, of the original church survives. That said it has a quaint charm and feels suitably ancient.
The churchyard contains a number of interesting memorials. Most striking are the two Cleopatraʼs needles on the hillside, one above the other.
The lower one is a memorial to Augustus John Smith, who started the Tresco Abbey Gardens. He is generally credited with saving the Scillies from absolute destitution, and setting the economy on the road to recovery.
A monument of such prominence seems fair enough in his case, but who could possibly have been considered more important.
It comes as a bit of a shock then to discover that the higher monument bears the following inscription:
In memory of Louise Holzmaister. Born at New York May 15th 1851. Lost her life in the wreck of the SS Schiller off the Scilly Isles May 7th 1875. Her body resting in the deep. This monument has been erected to her memory as a mark of affection by her husband.
The Schiller, an iron screwed sailing steamer, was sailing from New York with passengers and freight destined for Plymouth, Cherbourg and Hamburg when the fog came down and she struck the Retarrier Ledges out near the Bishop Rock. There were around 372 people on board, of whom only only 37 survived.
Another significant grave is much less easy to spot. Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister from 1964-70 and 1974-76, is buried in a more recent extension to the graveyard, back towards the road.
Whatever you may think of Wilson and the governments he led, it is reassuring to see that, unlike some more recent holders of that job, after he retired he did not suddenly become a multi-millionaire, picking up lots of well paid non-executive directorships and consultancies, but lived a relatively modest life and is buried in an unassuming grave.
At the time of writing (2012), his wife, Mary Wilson, still visits their little holiday bungalow at the top of Church Road, every year.