A brief history of “The Most South Westerly Pub in the British Isles”
In the mid-nineteen nineties a well known West Country television producer and presenter, Chris Denham, made a series of programmes about some of his favourite pubs in the South West. In it he said “there are bad pubs, there are good pubs, there are special pubs and this to me is a very special pub.” He added “it is like a pilgrimage for me to visit the Turks Head on the quay on St Agnes”. Indeed, since it’s opening in 1972, many thousands of people, visitors and locals alike have made that pilgrimage.
The front room in Westward Farm house was the site of the first pub with the name turks Head on St Agnes although this was probably a “kiddleywink” or beer shop where locals and visiting Sennen Cove fishermen met. The Scillonian Magazine of June 1939 announced that - “ The new “pub” at St Agnes, aptly called the Turks Head opened just before Easter. The inn supplies not only liquid refreshment for the thirsty soul, but caters also for teas. Visitors when crossing the sound can now see the flag marking the Turks Head.
The Gig 'Shah'
The landlord Jack Hicks, the grandfather of the present occupant, Mike the founder of the ‘Isles of Scilly Distillery’ and resident alchemist creating Scilly Gin. The then pub also offered meals cooked on an early Aga to the infrequent visitors.
Closing in the early forties, the island had it’s first period in modern times without a pub.
The mantle was taken up by Don Hicks on his return from the R.A.F. at the end of the second World War and using driftwood washed up on Annet he built a pub on the site of the present Post Office. Don’s daughter Marigold recalls that there was just a barrel of beer and three spirit optics behind the bar. Trade was sparse in later years. Don and his wife Carmen closed the bar in 1951 to concentrate on running the shop and Post Office.
The island was without a pub for over twenty years until Marigold returned in 1969 with her then husband Roger and took over the lease of Porthconger Cottage. This former Coastguard and Customs boatshed had in more recent years been a farm workers tied cottage and the last occupants, Ruth and Gorden George, would serve teas to the visitors in their rooms above the boat store. Although the building had been re-roofed by the Duchy of Cornwall, it was just a shell, without water, drainage or power and over the next three years were spent converting the building into a pub, much of the work being done by the local men in shifts whilst waiting for the launch bringing in the island supplies. At this time a barrel of beer was kept in the coal shed to refresh the workers.
Opening on 13th June 1972 the Turks Head soon became a popular destination for visitors and locals with homemade pasties being in great demand.
The pub was sold to Bristolians Roger and Liz Harris in 1983 and they ran it until October 1990, During this time they saw one of the most significant changes to life on the off-islands, the connection of the electricity supply by undersea cable to the UK national grid system. Previously oil and battery driven generators were the main source of power on all the off-islands.
It was around this time that a piano was acquired by the Turks Head and there were some great “singalong” evenings with local pianist, Fred Smith who was, incidentally, the last person actually born on St Agnes.
In October 1990 Pauline and John bought the lease, caught the scilly bug after four wonderful years running the Mermaid Inn on St Marys and having had experience in the trade for many years were determined to make the Turks Head a special place to visit. Mark Eberline the then head chef from New Zealand is still residing on St Agnes and after running High Tide Seafood restaurant for a number of years is now flexing his artistic talent making some lovely wood tattoos.
Rob and Niki Anderson then took on Turks Head whilst bringing up two children and galvanised the Turks Head as a special location to visit when seeing the Isles of Scilly. Rob was a keen Scuba diver and when not cheffing would visit many of the shipwrecks and sunken treasures of the islands during his tenure at the Turks Head.
The Pilot Gig Shah
Built in 1972/3 by Nicolas Peters at Polvarth, St Maws - Originally for the Pilots of St Ives, Cornwall but eventually purchased by the Pilots of St Agnes, Isles of Scilly and Now Owned by the Gig Committee, Isles of Scilly.
Dimensions:- Length 30’ 2 ¼”
Bean 4’ 9”
Construction:- ¼” Cornish Elm Planks
Original Keel - American Elm
Present Keel - English Oak
Renovated and renailed in 1995 by S. Brabyn at Padstow.
The Shah is kept in the renovated Pilot Gig Shed on the grounds of The Turks Head.