A LOOK AT THE PLYMOUTH BREAKWATER

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another "content over style" web page from Steve Johnson Cyberheritage

  These photos were taken from 1968 to 1994. Much has changed on Plymouth Breakwater during these years. The Breakwater is under the custodianship of the Ministry of Defence, and over the last few years the inside of the Breakwater has been changed by the MOD placing large boulders close in to the Breakwater itself to preserve it`s structure during severe winter storms.

Built by John Rennie and Joseph Waidbeye, starting in 1812 at the then collossal cost of 1.5 million, paid out of naval funds, it still does its job well, protecting Plymouth, Plymouth Sound and the anchorage's therein. The foundation stone being laid on Shovel Rock. It`s line was over Panther Rock, Shovel and St. Carlos Rocks. The construction rocks being dumped along this line. It is 40 feet wide at the top and the base is 200 feet, a stunning 3,000,000 tons of rock were used. This rock was actually 27 acres of quarried Plymouth!! It was finished by 1841.The final work being finished by Rennie`s son, Sir John Rennie.

Even when finished rocks still need to be continually added, even to this day, the current weigh-in being 4,000,000 tons!

Over the years I have visited the Breakwater several times as from time to time organised excursions are arranged, by boat!!..to it, allowing an hour or two to look around. It is about one mile long (actually 1,700 yards) and three miles off the Hoe. The angle of slope of the seaward side being an absolute critical calculation...that the sea commanded and fixed....a gradient of 1 in 5 making the base wider..and also increasing costs.

A commemorative stone on the Breakwater remembers the visit of Queen Victoria, as the then Princess Victoria in August 1833 and accompanied by the Dutchess of Kent.

As usual with my web pages the aim is to give you the surfer a chance to see something you otherwise would not be able to see.

Many of these photos, now only a "mere" thirty years old, have started to show signs of fading and image degradation, perhaps this was to be expected from the colour, but was more of a surprise in the black and white, I know I should have fixed and washed them more...this is not a joke, but a sad statement of fact.

Large concrete blocks placed on outside, south, side of Plymouth Breakwater c1971..and a few of the collection of blocks in 1994. Each block weighs 100 tons.

Small jetty and one of the many odd little constructions that grace the structure, many have now been removed, east end looking to Bovisand and Staddon Heights c1971. 

Looking to the east end, the odd conical construction with a sphere on top is the "survival cage" a crude but possibly lifesaving device. Situated 20 feet above the high water mark and "seating" six!!...and by the way, the ladders are a recent addition, previously it was just hand holds. In the event of an unfortunate mariner finding himself shipwrecked on the Breakwater, he could climb up into the "cage" and be safe, but frozen until rescue. I am not sure if it has ever been used for real! Close up looking up to survival cage. A view of Staddon Heights.c1971 This is a 1970 view of the cage from sea to the south, and here is another shore side view from 1971-2 of the cage, including a very young yours truly!

In these 1994 views, my son who was 13 at the time graces the photos of the eastern Breakwater, as he does at the Pyramid like base construction of the survival cage.the large whiteish house, a little to the left of the cage on the shore, was Joseph Waidbeye`s shore base during the Breakwater`s construction.

Looking along the inside of the breakwater to the west, the Breakwater Light is visible. As you can see it is very weedy. It is ideal for angling for conger, wrasse and grey mullet. All along this side are now placed huge boulders designed to reinforce the structure of the Breakwater. This view would be different today. These "bunkers" were built as protected area for workers working on the Breakwater and also in earlier days for horses that would have been used by the labouring gangs. c1968. Similar constructions in 1994. This one is a little cruder. There are several, all a little different. This is a 1971 view.

About the end 1960`s to start 1970`s the breakwater jetty was removed, here we see it being dismantled and a barge is grounded on the Breakwater to remove waste. The huge dark outline of the Breakwater Fort is seen. c 1969ish. This 1968ish colour view shows the area with the jetty more or less intact. When the jetty was in one piece it was quite a substantial structure.

From the area that was once the jetty a good view of the sea fort is possible - these were taken in 1971, today the roof area has been substantially cleaned up with much of the Second World War constructions having been removed.This shot is   taken in 1995 during an angling event. This one is exactly one year earlier in 1994.

These photos of 1995 show the "quaint" little mini-harbour in the vicinity of what  used to be the jetty area. My son, Dom, a expert mullet angler fishes from a structure on an organised trip. He is after grey mullet, note loaves of bread for bait! This is the same area in about 1969 or so with now famous Plymouth Anglers Dave Horrill and Phil Byrne.

The perfection of the lines of the structure is perhaps visible in this eastwards view.

Looking again to the west end in this 1968 view, it is apparent just how "wide" the whole structure is, one could easily play football on it! This 1981 aerial view shows this well. Here are some more aerial views from 1980/81....looking west showing Breakwater Light, Breakwater Fort, remains of Jetty, and what I call the little mini "harbour"........1...........2......This aerial view is rather more vertical.

During the construction of this marathon structure, rails were laid on the surface to move materials along the length of the Breakwater, hauled by horses. The rails remain....in some places at least.

In wartime, machine gun posts made of poured and shuttered concrete were built along the length of  the Breakwater, looking seawards to defend against any attack from the sea, whether these were of First or Second World War manufacture I have never been able to find out. Either way they proved to be none too viable, wet, windy and unusable on high water spring tides when the sea washes completely over the structure in 1994. The black and white photos were 1971-2 and the colour ones 1994. Note all the anglers rods in the 1971 views.

Finally, this aerial view of about 1981, really shows just what a construction it is.

My pal Pete Mitchell has produced a super video on the Breakwater and Breakwater Lighthouse and Fort, with archive material and aerial filming. Much of the background of this page came from his film....did you know that the fog warning bell on the Breakwater Light should have gone to Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal, Canada, but was found to be out of tune...here it "dong" in hi-fi sound in his video!!!!!!!You can contact him at peter@submerged.com

High and Dry

Being as big as it is...it will come as no surprise that from time to time many vessels have come to grief on it. 1947 saw the Freija basking in the sun, as seen in this photograph. (thanks to Dave Page) American vessel - landing craft LST 493 also had a spell sitting in the sun as seen here and here.,  around the end of the war.(thanks to Dave Page) These very rare colour photos are of the same event and show LST 493 under blue skies. I would like to thank the person who e-mailed these to me but have lost the details...if it was you please let me know! The same is true of this just post war (39-45) view of LSTs in Torbay, possibly Brixham - these are similar to the sticken LST 493. Again I would like to thank the person who e-mailed these to me but have lost the details...if it was you please let me know!

My pal Pete Mitchell mentioned above has written a couple of "wrecking" books that feature the above incidents and gives a full description of the event.

"The Great National Undertaking"


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