Isles of Scilly: Old Photos & Film

Isles of Scilly Isles England UK local history old film

The Isles of Scilly are physically cut off from the mainland and life there is different to most parts of the UK. So not surprisingly, cinema newsreels, TV broadcasters and British holidaymakers have all recorded the island’s people and landscapes throughout the past century.

In The 1920s

“The Prince In The Scillies (1921)

Fifteen years before he caused a constitutional crisis by resigning as King Edward VIII so he could marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, Edward as Prince of Wales officially visited a number of locations around the UK. In the film from the British Pathé collection, Edward is seen cheered by crowds of people on the Scillies and then taking a trip  in a lifeboat. 

In The 1930s

” Eve Helps The Flower Harvest (1932)

The Isles of Scilly are famed for their clement weather, which allowed a local flower growing industry to flourish. In this silent British Pathé film, we see flower workers bringing in their produce from the fields and greenhouses, delivering them to the boats at the quayside, and then watch the boats leaving for Penzance.

“Secrets Of Nature – Springtime In The Scillies (1932)

An early wildlife film from British Pathé, showing the seals, gulls, shags, razorbills and puffins living with the variable weather conditions in the Scillies.

In The 1940s

” Scilly Isles, 1940’s – Film 30661

This home movie is now part of the HuntleyFilmArchives collection. Although it is dark and silent, you can make out scenery and a lighthouse.

“Spring Flowers (1948)

This film from British Pathé returns to Scilly’s flower industry. We again see workers in the fields and greenhouses, but this time the flowers are loaded onto an aircraft.

” Arctic Drops In (1948)

At the start of this British Pathé film we are told “in 30 years snow has fallen only twice on the islands”. But here are the Scillies covered in snow, despite the palm trees and ongoing work by the flower picking labourers.

” Island Mail (1948)

This fascinating British Pathé film shows the Scilly mail arriving via steam boat, rowing boat, horse and cart, post office and pedestrian postman.

In The 1950s

“Wolf Rock: The World’s Loneliest Christmas (1950)

Wolf Rock was difficult to access or leave, and this British Pathé film reminds us of the isolation experienced by those who kept the seas safe for others. 

“Wolf Rock Lighthouse (1952)

British Pathé captured the difficulty of getting people and supplies moved in and out of the Wolf Rock lighthouse. 

“A Lady In Distress (1954)

The lady in this British Pathé film turns out to be a seal with a tyre stuck round her neck. Getting near a distressed seal in these conditions was no easy matter.

In The 1960s

“isles of scilly 1960s

From YouTube channel hr35rasmus.

“Scilly Isles (1963)

By the time of this British Pathé film, Scilly had a booming tourist industry which sat alongside other major industries, such as the fishermen and flower pickers shown in the footage. 

Amusing moments include the car number plates which show only the owners phone number, the ‘English Spoken Here’ sign in a window, and the museum which appears to be a shed filled with ship’s figureheads.

And British Pathé now points out there are errors in the commentary. The lighthouse is not at Lizard and the town’s name is not ‘St. Hughes’ but Hugh Town, St. Mary’s. 


The British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, liked the Isles of Scilly so much that he bought a holiday bungalow there. Not surprisingly, he and his family visited often. In this film uploaded to YouTube channel AP Archive, the Wilson family are shown enjoying a Christmas vacation on Scilly. 30th December 1964.

Scilly Isles

Ian Horner uploaded a standard 8mm film of a visit to Bishop Rock lighthouse recorded in 1965.

“Mr. Wilson In Scilly Isles (1965)”

In this British Pathé film we see British Prime Minister Harold Wilson with a rucksack on his back as he strolls about talking to local people. He is accompanied by his wife and one of his sons.

Party Heads Relax (1965)

British Pathé recorded Conservative Leader Edward Heath and his father on holiday in Nice, staying with an Oxford University friend’s family at a cliff top villa.

Meanwhile Harold Wilson, his wife Mary and son Giles are seen on the Isles of Scilly staying at their bungalow named Lowenva. Wilson spends his time walking about, talking to locals and signing the occasional autograph, then going on a boat to a picnic location on Samson.

In The 1970s

Lighthouse Relief – 1970

By 1970 helicopters were used to bring supplies of goods and staff to the Smalls and South Bishop Lighthouses. As shown by this footage from British Movietone, it was not an easy or carefree task.

1970, Matt Lethbridge, MV Poleire Shipwreck, Scilly Seal Spotting

ScillyMemories has been given an 8mm reel of a 1970 holiday. 

It briefly shows Matthew (Matt) Lethbridge, coxon of the St Mary’s lifeboat, in SC7. In 1983 he helped in the rescue of 6 people who survived the Penzance helicopter crash which occurred in thick fog four miles off St Mary’s, killing 20 passengers. 

You can also see the shipwreck of MV Poleire (1954-1970). The rest of the video shows views aboard the tripper/pleasure boats, finishing with a little Scilly Seal Spotting.

“1970, Bishop Rock lighthouse Relief, Isles of Scilly, Keeper supply and transfer, 8mm, Cine Reel”

ScillyMemories uploded to YouTube this footage taken from an 8mm reel of a 1970 Holiday. 

Before automation of the Bishop Rock lighthouse, a hugely popular event was the Bishop Rock lighthouse relief. The keepers and supplies were manually hauled up and down 45ft above the sea and rocks. 

It’s reminiscent of this undated British Movietone footage in which a visiting Chaplain is winched onto the Bishop Rock:

Helicopter Isles of Scilly to Penzance 1970s

Geoff Claydon’s YouTube channel includes an old cine film from the 1970’s showing a helicopter flight from the Isles of Scilly to the heliport at Penzance. 

British Isles Holidays, 1970s – Film 36598

This silent home movie from the early 1970s is now part of the HuntleyFilmArchives. It starts off with scenes from the Scilly Isles, including camping, the beach and the ferry.

Footage then moves on to other places.

In The 1980s

1987, Our Street, Hugh Street, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, BBC

‘Our Street’ was filmed on Scilly and aired on BBC2SW in 1987. It features people and places on Hugh Street, St Mary’s, including a number of interviews.

Lesley and Phillip Jones at Crebinick Guest House on St Mary’s gave the VHS tape containing this footage to ScillyMemories, who uploaded it to YouTube.

“1988, Isles of Scilly, Songs of Praise.

In September 1988, hugely popular TV show ‘Songs of Praise’ visited a number of locations around the islands of Scilly.  Interviews with Bertie Ashford, Marie Tragear, Tom Parkinson, Christine Savill, Armorel and Bryony Duncan were included in the programme. The hymns and songs were sung just below Star Castle on The Garrison.

This episode was watched by millions of viewers across the UK, and has been uploaded to YouTube by ScillyMemories.

Isles of Scilly, June, 1989

Although the quality of this 1989 footage from safeashouses221 isn’t great, you get to see the Isles of Scilly by air, starting and finishing at the heliport in Penzance. 

1989: Great British Isles, Scilly. C4 ‘Scilly, The Land Of Lyonesse”

In 1989, Channel 4 broadcast ‘Great British Isles, Scilly, The Land Of Lyonesse’, featuring lots of people and locations across the islands. Lesley and Phillip Jones at Crebinick Guest House on St Mary’s recorded the episode onto VHS tape and gave it to YouTube channel Scilly Memories. 

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