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15 May 2015

THERE has been a long tradition of people risking their own lives to save lives around the coast of the British Isles. Not least were those who rowed out the pilot gigs from our most remote English parish to ships in trouble off the Isles of Scilly. The racing gigs were used as a form of early lifeboat in times of need, but their rowing skills were honed by racing out to ships arriving in the Western Approaches to be the first to put a pilot on board, and thus get paid.

Now those racing rowers have been commemorated in a new stained-glass window in St Agnes's, on the island of St Agnes. It was designed by Oriel Hicks, who lives on St Mary's, the largest island of the Isles of Scilly.

The window shows two pilot gigs, each with a crew of seven, plunging through a rough sea towards a ship going down on the horizon. I am told that three of the faces are of former Scillonian lads who rowed in the boats.

Those who watched the BBC TV series Island Parish last year will know all about life on the Isles, part of the diocese of Truro, and how it has been transformed by the hundreds of visitors who now come each year. It is contributions from those visitors which have largely paid for the window, and its frame has been made by a local carpenter, Steve Harding.

The window will be dedicated by the Chaplain to the Isles, Canon Paul Miller, at a special service in St Agnes's on 9 July.

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