Heritage protection for battleship wreck and Lundy Island cliff-face steps

The wreck of a battleship that grounded on rocks off Lundy Island and steps cut into the cliff face there to salvage it have been granted protection.

HMS Montagu was built in response to large French, Russian and German ship-building programmes before the First World War and launched in March 1901.

It grounded on rocks around Lundy at Shutter Point in thick fog on May 30 1906, due to a navigational error while undertaking secret radio communication trials.

HMS Montagu is the only surviving Duncan-class battleship in north European or English waters and shows development between the 19th century Ironclads and turbine-powered British Dreadnought warships.

In 1907, a series of steps known as the Montagu Steps were cut into the cliff face on Lundy Island to help salvage the wreck.

Both HMS Montagu and the Montagu Steps have now been granted protection by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.

The gun casement of the shipwrecked HMS Montagu
The gun casement of the shipwrecked HMS Montagu (Historic England/PA)

They have been scheduled, meaning that they are recognised as a nationally important archaeological site and are closely managed.

Recreational divers are free to dive there but they must respect the wreck site and not damage it or remove anything.

The site has also been added to the National Heritage List for England, which is held by Historic England on behalf of the Government and Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Heritage minister Helen Whately said: “HMS Montagu and the Montagu Steps are all part of our nation’s fascinating naval history.

“Sites like these must be protected for future generations and together with Historic England and Help for Heroes, we have now done exactly that.”

HMS Montagu was initially salvaged by the Liverpool Salvage Company for the British Navy but the wreck was sold to the Cornish Salvage Company in June 1907.

An aerial walkway, suspended from the island cliffs to the wreck, was constructed and a series of steps were cut into the cliff face to help with the salvage operation.

Steps cut into the cliff face leading down to the shipwreck
Steps cut into the cliff face leading down to the shipwreck (Historic England/PA)

The steps were cut into the granite of Lundy Island and reinforced with iron plates in places, likely to be from part of HMS Montagu’s hull.

The walkway, a reinforced suspension bridge, was built from HMS Montagu to the steps to ensure that the stricken vessel could be reached in any weather or tide.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “Not only is the wreck of HMS Montagu important for what it can tell us about pre-First World War naval shipbuilding, but it is forever linked to the landscape of Lundy Island by the distinctive flight of rock-cut steps.

“Combined, the wreck and the steps provide a rare group of maritime monuments.”

Last summer, wounded veterans carried out a series of dives on the wreck on HMS Montagu to examine what remained.

The project was funded by Historic England, the charity Help for Heroes and Wessex Archaeology, with data from it contributing towards the decision to protect the site.

Dr Dan Atkinson, coastal and marine director at Wessex Archaeology, said: “We’re delighted that our archaeological work last year, carried out on behalf of Historic England, has led to HMS Montagu being granted heritage protection.

“It’s a rare example of a pre-Dreadnought battleship, marking a fascinating period of expansion and innovation in the UK’s naval forces and, since its foundering in 1906, has remained an intrinsic part of the Lundy community’s cultural identity, enjoyed by locals, tourists and the diving community alike.”

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