The Plymouth Breakwater DVD – FULL VERSION. Peter Mitchell: Submerged Productions

warnings of gales in all areas except trafalgar general synopsis at midday low Bailey nine to six expected 50 miles north of Pharaohs 935 by midday tomorrow Humber Thames Dover White’s Portland Timnath north biscuit southwesterly 7 to severe Gale 9 decreasing six or seven rain then showers you the wind dies down the storm passes and once more the breakwater has protected Plymouth sound against the southerly gales which threaten shipping with loss and destruction but it wasn’t always so in 1690 the Admiralty decided to make Plymouth its major base in the southwest and from then on the volume of shipping increased dramatically the sadly so did the shipwrecks unprotected from those southerly gales ship after ship was given across the sound to be wrecked upon the rocky shore the loss of life was appalling and hardly a winter’s month went by without the sound being littered with the shattered Timbers of yet another shipwreck in 1804 on one day alone 10 ships were wrecked here in the cap water and the regularity of such occurrences began to arouse public feeling Lord Howe the Admiral of the fleet said that if nothing was done to protect the Anchorage Plymouth would become the graveyard of the Royal Navy by 1806 the war against France was placing Britain in a desperate position the battle of Austerlitz had confirmed Napoleon’s power in Europe and only the Royal Navy’s wooden walls stood between the French and utter defeat England’s main asset in the fight was her channel fleet but without a suitable harbor it was doomed to destruction and England to possible invasion the stakes could not have been higher only a breakwater could turn Plymouth Sound into a harbor safe from the prevailing southerly gales the scale of the enterprise was staggering and the cost estimates of one and a half million pounds was for those days colossal but the French were knocking on the door and even if the newspapers of the day were dreaming of ever more fanciful invasion theories the threat was real enough after years of dithering the politicians finally commissioned the building of the breakwater funded from the naval estimates so big was this project for its time that it became universally known as the great national undertaking the man the Admiralty chose to design this most important work was John Rennie a remarkable man by any standards born of humble origins in Scotland he rose to become one of the greatest civil engineers of the age England was peppered with his achievements of some like the Southwark bridge in London still survive but Rennie for all his gifts was not a marine surveyor nor did he know much about hydrography he needed someone who could complement his knowledge oversee the actual building of the breakwater and keep control of the costs he straightaway thought of his old friend Joseph would be who at the time was master attendant at the Wallace dock yard before construction could begin several options had to be considered although in truth Rennie and Whidbey had already decided how they would proceed one option was for a one thousand and forty yard pier from Penn Lee to partly enclose course and Bay this however would not give enough protection from south easterly gales and would anyway probably silt up the bay another popular scheme was to build a breakwater from Staten point to Panther Rock about two and a half thousand yards long this was eventually rejected on the grounds that the build-up of silt would again adversely affect the eastern side of the sound there was even a suggestion for building a causeway link between Mount Edgecumbe and Drake’s Island and pushing a cut through devil’s point into the Hallows in the event Wendy not unnaturally rejected all of these schemes in favor of his own which was to build a 1700 yard freestanding breakwater astride the center of the sound in essence the breakwater was to

consist of a middle section just over a thousand yards with an arm 350 yards long attached to each end at an angle of 120 degrees this would according to Joseph would be check the wild in rush of waves and at the same time by restricting the entrances to the sound increase the scouring effects of the currents and the prevent silting although there was to be another six years of bickering Parliament’s finally voted the money through and in August 1812 a massive foundation stone was laid on shovel Rock the building of the breakwater had finally begun since the breakwater was to be built along the lines of the panther shovel and sand caras rocks a series of boys were moored over them to mark their positions so that the rock could be accurately dumped the top of the breakwater was to be 40 feet wide with a base of just over 200 feet and all in all a total of 3 million tons of rock was estimated to be needed most of the stone was to be in rough hewn blocks weighing between 2 and 10 tons the gaps in between would be filled with rubble and the whole lot allowed to settle and solidify in order to produce such a large amount of stone 27 acres of limestone cliffs were bought from the Duke of Bedford at Reston and a new quarry was opened up on the PLIM estuary now the site is an industrial estate but in those days the large boulders were hauled down to the water’s edge a railway trucks pulled by horses for the men who worked in the quarry the task must have seemed endless and the work back-breaking some of the original keys are still in use but most of the old buildings live derelict and the railway lines of long since disappeared once at the key side the trucks were lifted bodily onto barges fitted with the same gauge railway lines and then they proceeded as directed to the various boys that marked the breakwater site and anchored the next bit was really very clever each loaded truck was pulled in its turn up an inclined railway line already fixed on the barge and then the load was tilted into the sea later as the breakwater rose higher the barges landed the blocks using a more conventional gantry the whole operation was speedy and cheap to perform and Reni estimated that it would cost less than 10 shillings per ton to quarry transport and drop into position that’s only 50 pence in today’s money and even allowing for inflation you’d be hard-pressed to beat that smaller boats carried the rubble out to the men on the breakwater who rounded him between the larger blocks to help consolidate them by the end of the year over 50,000 tons of rock had been sunk and by March 1813 the first parts of the breakwater were showing above the water but the job was not without risk one night three boatloads of workers were on their way back to Plymouth when a tremendous gang called 91 boat containing 20 men was overwhelmed by fear seized and despite the gallant efforts of the other boats crews the men were all drowning the wrecked boat was later found smashed a driftwood on the rocks of my by 1815 the top of the breakwater had been raised by another 10 feet when over 1100 yards were now showing above the water and giving some measure of protection to the assembled shipping whilst this was an occasion for congratulations unforeseen problems they had for Reni and would be in the original design the seaward side of the slope had been set at one in three Reni thought that the base should be wider giving a gradient of one in five but would be light the steeper slope and so did the Apple tea because it would be cheaper a violent storm in 1817 washed away huge amounts of rock and reduced the seaward slope to one in five Rennie was all for letting the sea have its way but we’d be and the Admiralty prevailed and an enormous amount of work was done

to reinstate the original gradient it was all to be for nothing this was one of the few serious disagreements that their partnership suffered which was a shame because by October 1821 if the age of sixty Rennie was dead he was given a hero’s funeral and interred with reverence in the crypt of sand Paul’s Cathedral in London Vietnam on another three years he would have seen his ideas vindicated in 1824 a savage hurricane twenty-four ships were torn from their moorings and driven ashore and the breakwater was flattened by seas that had risen nine feet above their normal levels hundreds of thousands of tons of rock have been thrown of the breakwater from the seaward side and when the storm abated it was found the original gradients of one in five had been restored Rennie had been right all along and Joseph would be in the Apple tea bowed to the superior forces of nature to prevent any further movements the seaward side of the breakwater was strengthened with granite blocks dovetailed to fit one against the other they were then cemented and bolted into place the bolts being held firm by molten lid being poured into the bolt holes more rubble was then dumped to fill in any gaps and by 1830 the whole structure had solidified into an immovable mass by this time Joseph would be at the age of 75 had retired partly due to ill health and partly because of a disagreement with Sir John Rennie the son of his former collaborator Sir John who was famous locally for designing Royal William Yard had taken over his father’s mantle as chief engineer on the breakwater but never really got on with would be in the event these disagreements were not to matter for the great undertaking was nearly done by 1833 Joseph would be had left the house near Braavos and that he had used for so many years as both his home and his headquarters and moved to Taunton where three years later he passed peacefully away aged 78 for him there was no hero’s funeral just a modest tomb put up by his friends and admirers who sadly missed him in 1840 the surface of the brake Auto being the most exposed was paved over with granite so they gave almost no resistance in the waves by 1841 it was officially completed having taken nearly 30 years in the making but it still needed rocks added regularly to keep it solid and by 1847 nearly four million tons of rock had been used in this construction as soon as the breakwater rose above sea level it afforded a substantial measure of protection for shipping already in the sand but became a lethal obstruction to any ship trying to get in especially nice green fog as the shipping losses mounted the outraged merchants demanded a proper lighthouse to be built to replace an unsatisfactory light ship which had been old stationed at the western end since 1813 Rennie and we’d be both submitted designs the Trinity House wanted their own in the end there are two engineers Burgess and Walker designed a lighthouse which was 32 feet in diameter with a total height – the weather vane of 78 feet with three inches the first stone was laid in February 1841 and the lighthouse built of fine white Granite’s for a Depar in Cornwall was completed in November 1843 the lighthouse has five floors and is entered by a flight of granite steps the entrance floor used to be the coal storeroom and it has a well underneath eight feet deep which used to contain the rainwater collected from the roof on the rare occasions that this ran out fresh water was for some reason brought all the way from Falmouth the next floor was the oil store containing the fuel for the lamp and above that connected by a winding granite staircase is a living and dining area this room is 14 feet in diameter and about 8 feet high has a dresser and cupboards a stove to cook on and a sink with a hand pump to bring the water up from the well it’s not a very big area for the three keepers who manned the lighthouse but at least they had a separate sleeping area above here are the bunks all curved to fit the

shape of the room and above the sleeping area is the era where air from outdoors was introduced to feed the burners underneath the lantern right at the top some 53 feet above the breakwater is the lantern room housing the huge light which is eight feet tall and rests or cast iron girders the lantern is made up of 118 mirrors and used to be illuminated by burners which use two gallons of oil every 12 hours nowadays these burners have been changed for modern quartz halogen bulbs and the light is switched on and off automatically using electronic sensors outside supported by a bracket is enlarged Bell which was struck mechanically in foggy weather and regulated by a clockwork mechanism to strike a certain number of times for a minute the Bell had something of a well-travelled past if you look closely you’ll see an inscription written French and an impression of a beaver the inscription shows that the Bell was made in 1863 by the Whitechapel Bell foundry in London and was designed to complement a peal of bells at the not Rodin Cathedral in Montreal Canada however when the Bell arrived it was found to be out of tune with the other bells and so it was sent back to London eventually the Bell found its way onto the breakwater in 1880 no doubts bought at a bargain price and has been sounding the alarm ever since so what was it like to serve as a keeper on the breakwater light David ball did just that it 22 he was a supernumerary keeper and did a tour on the breakwater in 1953 he well remembers living conditions I never met them being cold down as I remember the bottom and the lighthouse the entrance finito was wet and down but those living quarters life bouncy look like the bedroom is the sitting room for the kitchen as well that was always war and dry never no problems they were down at all exercise was always just a stroll away but cooking could be a very hit and miss affair especially with the sort of equipment they had well nothing electric it was all the iron saucepans then I cattle the boiling water and a large sense fine pound iron frying pan which was used more often or not Stew’s general basic I don’t if I can’t promo writing none of us were running the best of Kirk’s you cooked every third day we’re cooking every third day but you’re responsible for your own pudding though you cooked every third day for the three of you you cook or you made up your own 30 or suite whichever you like to call it Risa stuff up from someone called light in in Plymouth using ships Chandler and we’d stopped up three months though you won’t go until you always took three much provisions in case you be rather than worth and then what was the left and a side of the tins run open the package run open he would reimburse you for when he came ashore and you paid when he came sure but what you used of course you had to take flowers you made your own bread I’ll take all the East and flower and lots of them for making bread used to pop and meat take piece of meat beef and few but cut into cubes and push it into jam jars tight leaving the fat pieces on the top and then they would celebrate gently in the out in the oven and they were cooking all the fat would rise to the top of the jam jars and I would seen it and that was actually for you another like Stuart state live to it youth during the two months you clean the lens with a methylated spirit the policy lens that would be on your tour of duty every

third day so it was containers every man came on this container cleaning the light all the brass of a shiny general keeping the place clean the kitchen the bedrooms all like normal house for another lighthouse provided in the evening it at sunset and you turned off at dawn loves it sunrise did you have these a new mental impotent oh no madam the matter would go on for ages unless you accidentally bumped it up very part of the machinery the pedestal because I would check it with a tusk then he just time you right along one of the matters are lovely like a silk pinky white silk we tied them all got checked rock rock we touch them then you touch them take the rough shape and then when you’d let it and would balloon out to its pop shape don’t touch it does they’re the keepers spiritual needs were not neglected right from the start the mission to semen used to land Chaplin and later services were held about once a fortnight Jack Easton used to bring the mouse in his boat the glenda joy he also used to do a voluntary weekly run out to the lighthouse to bring newspapers milk and any extras that the keepers had asked for in ten years he hardly ever let them down and his efforts were much appreciated if it was rough visitors had to be road in by dinghy but this didn’t stop them turning up especially if they could bring their dogs mind youth they had to be suitably dressed although it had always been the intention to build another lighthouse at the eastern end of the breakwater when it came to it the authority has got cold feet at the expense and so for economy’s sake it was decided to build a beacon instead this was to consist of a metal globe six feet in diameter mounted on a pole so as to be twenty feet above the high-water mark the hole was set on top of a circular pile of granite steps the beacon not difficult to construct was started in 1845 and completed in the same year the idea of it was that anyone shipwrecked at that end of the breakwater in rough seas wouldn’t be able to reach the safety of the lighthouse so to save themselves from being swept out to sea they were supposed to climb the steep granite steps and then shut the pole to shelter in the metal globe which is supposed to take about six people of course in those days there wasn’t the benefit of all these ladders and the shipwrecked Mariner would have had to hang on to these small brass hand holes while Stasi tried to pluck him off it’s not hard to see why hardly anyone used it on a day such as this it would be frightening enough prick night in a full-blown storm you’d have to be really desperate I could example this is what happened to the Yvonne a four-masted barking team she went hard aground on the breakwater and 119 ordnance 1920 the seas were so rough that they swept right over her masts even though they were right next to the beacon no one tried the music instead they made me chief rafts under their broken lifeboats and threw themselves into the sea all were eventually rescued by the Plymouth lifeboat except for the cook his pitiful cronies would be heard fading into the darkness the beacon marks what can be a difficult entrance to the safety of the sound but even with today’s increased traffic it’s unlikely that anyone would need to use it as a refuge helicopters are so much more comfortable nowadays the public are not allowed on the breakwater but before this restriction it was a very popular place for sightseeing and general promenade a boats like these offering trips six months a time would land at the small iron pier or on one of the stone moles passengers would scramble excitedly onto the breakwater and roam around picking up seashells taking sea air or generally marveling in the impressive structure later as bathing became more popular the breakwater with its easy access became a favorite place for picnics so famous did the breakwater become that in the summer of 1833 Princess Alexandria soon to become Queen Victoria came to view the spectacle with her mother the Duchess of Kent far from being the grumpy woman of later years the young princess so charmed and delighted everyone that a commemorative stone was placed on the breakwater

tomorrow to visit ironically probably Plymouth’s most famous visitor Napoleon never set foot on the break order at all but viewed it from the deck of HMS Bellerophon which was carrying him away to exile in sin Salina all along the breakwater you can still see the remains of the narrow gauge railway line that conveyed the building materials from one end of the breakwater to the other and the rusting Bullards where the stone barges tied up chiseled into the capping stones are various bench and gradient marks and date stones showing the completion of the many stages of construction dotted along the breakwater a large granite shelters these were built to protects the workforce in bad weather shelter the occasional horse and to be used as a store for materials there were also two small gun emplacements built during the war years but they were too exposed to be effective and we’re never used all along the seaward side of the breakwater a huge blocks of concrete some weighing over a hundred tons these have been dropped over the years to stop the sea eroding the base of the structure however even these huge blocks can get swept over the top of the breakwater in fierce storms so nowadays they’re all dated so that engineers can see if they’ve moved position the huge blocks are made in these molds which are laid on the seashore at low tide and filled with concrete when a block is needed to be shipped out to the breakwater its slung underneath this special lifting barge and towed out on a spring high tide the weight of the 100-ton blocks makes the bar dried very low in the water so the tug pulls it along very slowly to avoid submerging the whole vessel once the barge reaches the area where it’s to drop the block its maneuvered into position using inflatable boats this calls for some skill and not a little nerve from boat crews as they push and prod the ungainly barge towards its position meanwhile main tow rope is still kept attached to the tug in case of accidents as the barge gets closer it’s lined up on its marker poles and as it nears the final position the release gear is made ready and there she goes in 1858 the threat to a French invasion was still ever-present with a launching of the first screw driven armored ship LaGuardia reticle II bombard our defenses it will and because they didn’t have to rely on the wind or tide they could sail right into the dock yard and cause havoc the populace became so alarmed that the Prime Minister Lord Palmerston set up a Royal Commission to look into the defenses of the United Kingdom Plymouth was deemed to need at least 10 batteries for coastal defence not the 24 Salone to protect the dockyard these forts would stretch in a ring from Staten points to which Sands Bay and the breakwater fort was to be built to plug the gap between pickle gum fort and Bravo sir the foundations for the force were completed in 1865 but the design was altered a year later when it was realized that only an iron structure could resist modern heavy shell fire for thicknesses of five inch steel plates separated by concrete made up the outer wall and the iron shields of the gun ports were up to two feet thick by 1880 the fort was completed and equipped with 14 12 and a half inch RM ELLs and for ten inches the huge guns like these lying on Drake’s island weighed up to 38 tons and were brought out to the 14 barges they were then lifted into position using this huge traveling crane which remarkably is still in working order it is now used by the commercial diving

school to recover its pupils the massive shells weighing well over 800 pounds were brought up from the magazine by hydraulic lifts and when the guns were fired inside the iron case-mate the noise must have been deafening to get a better idea of what it was like for the men who fired these guns you can visit crown hill fort this is an original palmerston fort and one of the chain which protected the dockyard the fort was in use Roger 1986 and then the land of our trust took it over with the intention of completely restoring it every so often a group of enthusiasts dress up in period uniforms and live fire a smoothbore six inch gun on a Moncrief mounting now although this isn’t an RM L it is from the same family but not nearly as big as the ones which were on the breakwater fort the Moncrief mounting was unique in that it allowed the gun to be hidden behind innocent-looking battlements at the last minute pop-up and fire at a very surprised enemy once the gun was aimed and made ready it was fired by one of the crew pulling on this lanyard the recoil from the explosion would normally send the gun back down behind the battlements but today for safety reasons they’re not allowed to fire a full charge so the recoil has to be simulated using blocks and tackles back on the breakwater fort access to the magazine area is down a spiral staircase the whole area is dank and dark now but once contained all the shell and cartridge hoists the remains of the huge diesel generators that provided power for the signal station during the war by rusting and somewhere in the dark lies the remains of a once bustling operations room below those levels of the coal store and old freshwater tanks now all flooded in the 1890s the fort was painted in a black and yellow checkered pattern the remains of which can still be seen today the object of this was to obscure the gunports or so confuse the enemy but armaments technology had moved on so rapidly that by the time the forts were all built they were obsolete so became known as powerless Dawn’s follies by the time of the Great War the fort had lost or its guns and became the port signal station in 1936 it was also used as an anti-aircraft training school the guns mounted on the roof in the early 60s it had become so dilapidated that it was closed down and the signal station moved to the Long Room today although some of the fort is used as a training area for divers most of it just rots gently away waiting for somebody with a bit of vision and a lot of money to restore it to its former historical glory with the breakwater now protecting Plymouth Sound the port became exceedingly busy and prosperous the Navy had made Plymouth its biggest dock yard in the southwest and as a fleet increased they became very busy building their own warships this was just as well because as the century turned war clouds once again started to gather a ship traffic increased even more the breakwater started to become a formidable obstacle to any ships captain who was careless in his approach especially at night in 1930 in this hopper barge enroute from Cadiz ran up onto the breakwater at high tide and became a total loss this vessel however was not lost due to carelessness but on account of enemy action the Abelard was a converted steamroller built in 1909 in the outbreak of the first world war she was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and used as a general duties minesweeper late on Christmas Eve 1916 she struck a floating mine and quickly sank to the bottom where she now lies gently decaying away providing a home for the masses of small fish which died in and out of her rusty remains mines and the threat of submarines getting into the

harbour caused great booms and Nick’s to be laid over Plymouth’s and to protect the Anchorage’s here you can see the submarine nets between match Edgecomb and Drake’s Island soon stone and metal dragon’s teeth were also laid to narrow the channel and the sunken barge was used to anchor one end of the net it Drake’s Island so a boom defense vessel could open and shut the net you’d think that salvaged vessels would have more sense than to go aground but in 1947 the Admiralty lifting vessel fryer went to salvage the remains of a motor launch and nearly became a complete write-off herself heavy seas had dislodged her holding anchors and thrown her onto the rocks the 14 crew got off safely and the vessel was refloated on the next high tide but she left this part of the wrecked launch behind and a later storm threw it over the other side of the breakwater where it can still be seen today during the war years the breakwater light and many of the navigation boy lights were switched off and in 1945 this caused the largest wreck of all the American landing craft LST 493 one dark night in April the LST bumped up onto the breakwater which was awash with a spring high tide all efforts to reflect were in vain and she was later dismantled where she lay but it was not any ships that crashed into the breakwater here smashed to pieces at 40 feet down at the base of the breakwater lies the remains of a Lancaster bomber and it’s a grim reminder of how close Britain came to losing the war against the u-boats the Lancaster belonged to 49 squadron based at fiskerton and was part of a huge bombing raid against the almost impregnable u-boat pens at loyal the attack was carried out in two ways and the damage to the port was so great but it was said the glow from the fires be seen 160 miles away but the pings were saying Sibley constructed that they still stood and the aircraft casualties were horrific our bomber was badly hit but managed disengage struggling across the dark seas with a wounded crew the Lancaster started to lose height as they closed the coast of Devon the pilot decided to try for a crash landing in the sound by now the plane was almost out of control and as it limped towards the breakwater it lost even more height collided with the balloon defenses and crashed into the freight board this integrating the crew were all killed outright and their bodies were never recovered these engines the largest pieces left of the Lancaster but soon even they will rot away and the sacrifice of her crew will become just another fading memory as the years of conflict finally ended plymouth recovered from the terrible Blitz that had destroyed most of the city and re-emerged ready for the dawn of a new era in spite of defense cuts the Royal Navy has maintained its historic links with Plymouth and with the expansion of its submarine base and the repositioning of the sea Training Unit Plymouth Sound is as busy as ever without the breakwater none of this would have happened the fleet would have moved elsewhere and the City of Plymouth as it is today would probably not exist the people of the city are a great deal to the great undertaking the sotas a smaller less well-known community and to visit them you have to go underwater if you throw over four million tons of rock into the ocean and then sprinkle it with a few shipwrecks what you have besides a breakwater is a man-made reef plants and fish are quick to colonize such ideal surroundings as soon a veritable underwater garden springs into being close to the surface the jumble of rocks make picturesque gullies which are covered with colorful seaweeds and memories polic hover over the kelp or further down dogfish blinds silently away a wrasse poking through the seaweed looking for food startles a large cuttlefish the change of color and the tentacle waving are all designed to intimidate any predator while the

cuttlefish gathers itself flight you lying on the sand at the bottom of the breakwater are the remains of all those shipwrecks because they’re all now well broken up the wave action has scattered their remains over the seabed and they now provide an ideal habitat for the myriad of small fish that have made the shipwrecks their home so in the heart of a busy commercial seaport the breakwater has made it all possible vogt peace and prosperity for the citizens of plymouth and also provides an ideal habitat for its own underwater community you Oh in an age where the environment is at the top of everyone’s agenda this is a marvellous bonus and for seeing at the time of building although neither John Rennie nor Joseph would be lived long enough to see their vision of a free-standing breakwater come to completion it stands today with a lasting testament Rennie died a famous man covered in glory but Joseph would be long thought of as the forgotten man in this great undertaking had to wait many more years to be fully recognized for his contribution you in 1980 an automatic light was established it a 10-point which commands the eastern interest to the sound there was named the Whidbey light now Joseph would be will know that in spirit he can steam watch over the great Anchorage of Plymouth Sound and that his guiding light will beam out in the darkness to guide all Mariners safely home god bless them both you you you