The Skerries are a small group of irregularly shaped islands approximately 3km off the northwest coast of Anglesey. The group of islands comprise a central island surrounded by several smaller islets including Ynys Berchen to the northeast and Ynys Arw to the southwest. They are well-known for the important historic lighthouse which has been an important beacon for shipping coming and going from Liverpool since its foundation in 1717. The islands and their heritage are now being threatened by the dangers posed by sea-level rise and erosion by wildlife.
The name ‘Skerries’ is thought to have derived from the English word ‘skerry’ (rock) but may also have its origins in the Scandinavian word ‘sker’ meaning ‘stretch of rock, reef’ which highlight the role the islands may have played as a landmark for Viking seafarers during their journeys between coastal Viking centres such as the Isle of Man, Dublin, Chester and the Wirral.
The islands are first mentioned in 1535 as being owned by the Abbey of Conwy prior to its dissolution the same year. While under the ownership of the abbey it is said that the bishops of Conwy used to use the island as a fishing retreat. Whilst the island lacks archaeological remains from this period an early map created by William Williams in 1734 provides some placename evidence which may reflect how the islands were used and perceived during the late medieval period. Three areas of the Skerries appear to have been assigned names that refer to various ‘resting places’ which may have provenance in the time of the bishops. The southern bulge of the central island was named ‘Gorffwyffa-bach’ which translates roughly as ‘small resting place’ and the central islands which host the lighthouse and the buoy keeper’s cottage ‘Pen Gorffwyffa-fawr’ which translates as ‘top’ or ‘end of the big resting place’. The northern part of the Skerries was transcribed as ‘Gorfedd Ilawelin’, which possibly means ‘the resting place of… (an unknown individual)’. The following two centuries saw the islands change hands several times before it was eventually leased in 1713 for the construction of a lighthouse which was completed in 1717. The lighthouse itself has a long and interesting history where it was rebuilt and remodelled several times as it moved between different owners before being purchased by Trinity House for the stunning sum of £444,984.11. The lighthouse continues to serve as an important warning to vessels navigating the treacherous coast of northern Anglesey.
Why are we working here?
The main threats to the islands are rising sea-levels and the erosion of the soils caused by wildlife and exposure to extreme weather conditions. Limited historical and archaeological research has been undertaken with limited archaeological records held for the islands. CHERISH has used aerial photography and LiDAR to assess and record the island’s threatened archaeology by mapping features from aerial sources and providing full archaeological records for deposition with the National Monuments Record. The collection of 3D LiDAR data also addressed a previous lack of high-resolution 3D data for the islands. Beyond the project this data will be used to model the impacts of future sea-level rise on the islands and its structural heritage and important sea bird habitat.