1914 Guide for Visitors to Devonport

The following text is extracted from 'A pictorial and descriptive guide to Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport with excursions by river, road and sea' [1]
Ed. 5, rev. Published 1914 by Ward Lock & Co Ltd. London.

.....Crossing Stonehouse Bridge, near the western end of Union Street, we are in


The Borough now boasts its seventy thousand inhabitants, but was only a wide stretch of common, with a few farms, when, in 1691, William III began the great naval arsenal, which, added to year by year for two centuries, now rivals Portsmouth in importance, and perhaps surpasses it in size. In early days large wooden ships were built here, and in recent years it has witnessed the construction of big battleships and cruisers.

Devonport is not only a dockyard town, but it is the administrative naval centre of the Western District, the importance of which will be understood when it is said that the Port Admiral controls all the naval stations on the Devon, Cornwall and Welsh coasts. It is also important in a military sense as the centre of activity of the various regiments which constitute the garrisons for the defence of Plymouth and Falmouth.

Close to Stonehouse Bridge is the Drake Church of England Soldiers' and Sailors' Institute, erected in 1903 to commemorate the signing of peace at Pretoria in the previous year, and extended in 1910. This is one of several excellent institutions, including the Royal Sailors' Rest in Fore Street, provided for the recreation and comfort of the sailors and soldiers who make together so large a proportion of the population.

Proceeding up Devonport Hill, we have on the north side a green expanse known by the uninviting name of the Brickfields. This is the parade and exercise-ground of the garrison, where reviews and other naval and military spectacles may sometimes be witnessed. A hundred yards farther is the entrance to

Mount Wise,

the centre of the many service activities of the Western District. Passing on the left the garrison Cricket Ground, we reach the Parade Ground, flanked by the official residences of the Naval Commander and the General commanding the defences of Plymouth, and by the offices of the Naval Commander. A bronze Statue of Field-Marshal Lord Seaton, by Adams, stands in the centre of the Ground, while on its southern extremity is a large brass gun taken from the Turks in 1807 by Sir T. Duckworth ; the carriage, inscribed with the names and dates of memorable British victories, was made in 1835.

Opposite the residence of the Naval Commander is a curious bell cast by the Chinese about the eleventh century. It was captured at Shan-hai-quan, and having been brought to England in H.M.S. Pique, was placed in its present position by Admiral Sir E. Seymour, Naval Commander-in-Chief in 1903. Flanking it is a battery of brass cannon.

Crowning Mount Wise is a little fort and semaphore signal station, whence orders are signalled to the warships in the Hamoaze and in Plymouth Sound. In the days before scientific appliances had practically annihilated the distance between the Admiral's house and the Admiralty in London, messages from the Naval Commander-in-Chief were signalled by semaphore from Mount Wise to London by means of a chain of stations occupying the highest points of the intervening country. It is stated that messages were sent by this method and answers received in twenty minutes under favourable conditions, among which good weather must be included. Wireless telegraphy, the telephone, and the telegraph have not by any means entirely rendered the method of signalling by semaphores obsolete. Every day the apparatus at Mount Wise is in frequent use, while a number of other stations at various points are used for transmitting messages to the ships in the Sound and the Harbour from the Naval Barracks, the offices of the King's Harbour Master, and other official centres.

Mount Wise, named after the Wises, at one time owners of the manor, is second only to Mount Edgcumbe, on the opposite side of the Harbour, among the many charming heights in the neighbourhood. It rises abruptly from the water's edge, and commands panoramic views of the Sound and the Hamoaze, crowded with war vessels, ranging from huge modern battleships and ancient leviathan wooden walls the Impregnable, Cambridge, and others to the little torpedo craft which cluster in the higher reaches of the river, where the Royal Albert Bridge spans the broad waterway, and the sub- marines which are harboured off Cremyll.

Leaving Mount Wise, and passing up George Street and Ker Street, we have many indications that Devonport is first and last a

Government Town

As already explained, it sprang up round the little dockyard which William III created when the war with France rendered it advisable that there should be a more westerly port than Portsmouth. The small dock of two hundred years ago was the germ of the many miles of Government buildings which now occupy the foreshore of the Hamoaze. Indeed, the dockyard gave the town its original name of Plymouth Dock. In 1824 it was felt that the place had grown old enough and big enough to stand alone and a Royal warrant for the change of name was obtained. Devonport received the privilege of Parliamentary representation in 1832, and of municipal government in 1837. The town proper was formerly defended on the two sides not protected by the Hamoaze by a glacis; but this has become obsolete, and has, moreover, been superseded by the chain of forts which command the whole of the Three Towns.

Entering the town by George Street and Ker Street, we have before us a group of handsome buildings of which the

Town Hall

is the chief, possessing a bold and well-proportioned Doric portico, surmounted by a large figure of Britannia.

The Egyptian-looking building next to the Town Hall was at one time the Civil and Military Library but is now used as the Oddfellows' Hall. On the north side of the Town Hall is

The Devonport Column

Admission. A charge of 2d is made for admission to the Column, the key-being obtainable from the Borough Surveyor's office, close at hand, in Ker Street

The Column is a lofty fluted Doric pillar, erected in 1824 to commemorate the " coming of age " of the town, when its present name was adopted. The column stands on a base of solid rock, and rises 125 feet. A spiral staircase gives access to the top, from which a flag is displayed on high days and holidays. It goes without saying that an extensive land and seascape, including the Harbour and Breakwater, Mount Edgcumbe, and other objects in the surrounding country, is spread before the eyes of the persevering climber.

St. John's Church,

between John Street and Duke Street, has a quaint cupola at its west end.

The Free Public Library

in the latter street has, since 1881, supplanted the Mechanics' Institute, which did good work in its day. The building includes an extensive and valuable collection of minerals, presented to the town by the late Sir J. St. Aubyn, besides a large library, reading-room, etc., where visitors are welcome.

Fore Street,

the principal business thoroughfare of Devonport may be reached by way of Chapel Street or St. Aubyn Street. In it are the Post Office, the Public Hall (now including a cinematograph theatre), the Royal Sailors' Rest, a handsome and commodious building, and the Welcome, a Wesleyan Institution for sailors and soldiers.

Just off Fore Street at the top of St. Aubyn Street, is the Hippodrome, a music hall ; and in Tavistock Street, another turning off the main thoroughfare, are the Metropole Theatre and the Market. At the western end of Fore Street is the main entrance to the dockyard .

Devonport Park,

which stands high and affords extensive views of the most varied character. The Park has an area of thirty-seven acres, and is tastefully laid out. On the summit of the hill is a War Memorial, in the form of a pom-pom gun taken from the Boers during the South African War, 1900-3. On a carved granite pedestal is an inscription recording the fact that the memorial was reared by officers and men of H.M.S. Doris in memory of their shipmates who lost their lives during that campaign. Near the lodge at the southern entrance is a terra-cotta Fountain, erected in memory of Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Napier, who died in 1860.

West of the Park is the Royal Albert Hospital, a memorial of the Prince Consort. We emerge in the Lower Stoke Road, near the Devonport Station of the London and South-Western Railway. Opposite the station is the Technical School, architecturally one of the most imposing buildings in the town. It is of limestone, with Bath stone dressings, and is surmounted by a clock tower. Turning eastward, along Paradise Place, we pass in front of the Military Hospital and

Stoke Church

The Perpendicular tower is nearly all that is left of the original edifice, which dates from the twelfth century. The Church contains some interesting tablets and monuments; and antiquaries will be delighted with an extract from its parish register: "Bamfyld Moore Carew and Mary Gray were married Xber. 29, 1733". It is scarcely necessary to remind readers that Carew, the representative of a West country family of some standing, achieved considerable fame as the " King of the Beggars."


.... we are rapidly carried round Devil's Point, and enter the estuary of the Tamar, a noble sheet of water, some four or five miles long, known as

The Hamoaze

The vast expanse of water is a reminder that the Tamar is fed by innumerable small streams, ranging in size from the Tavy, a river of considerable importance, to the veriest rivulet. The Hamoaze is one of the great naval anchorages of the world, and the steamer proceeds **

" Through lines of stately ships; and as we pass
The tale goes quickly round of glories old,
Of battles won on the great sea of chiefs
Whose daring flags triumphantly were borne
By this or that famed vessel.
Noiseless now Is each forsaken structure;
save when sounds The listless keeper's foot, nought else invades
The deep impressive silence of those decks
Where lately trod a thousand gallant men."

Rounding Devil's Point, we pass on the left the beautiful grounds of Mount Edgcumbe, 'while opposite are the massive buildings of the Victualling Yard at Stonehouse. From this point for several miles warships of various types are seen. "The wooden walls' of England" have all passed away to the yards of the shipbreakers, or been transformed into hulks, in which form thev lose the features to which they owed most of their picturesqueness. One of the few still left to Plymouth is the old three-decker Impregnable, which is moored almost under the shadow of Mount Edgcumbe. She was one of the last wooden ships built for the British Navy, and after construction was towed round to Devonport, where she has been continuously used as a training-ship. Her timbers, could they speak, would tell a tale of useful service to the Navy rather than of glorious deeds. Near the Impregnable are some ships of the Devonport Division of the Home Fleet, all kept in readiness for sea at the call of duty. The modern battleship and the old three-decker moored in close proximity represent in some measure the great developments which have taken place since Nelson, in just such another vessel as the Impregnable, won his great and final triumph in Trafalgar Bay.

On the left we pass the creeks of Millbrook and St. John's, the former an erstwhile parliamentary borough and a market town as long ago as 1319. Torpoint is practically a suburb of Devonport, though separated from the town by the river, a ferry providing means of communication. The Devon side of the river from Mutton Cove to Bull Point is occupied almost entirely by the Dockyard and other Government establishments. Warships in various stages of construction occupy the building-slips and docks, and present an interesting spectacle to the landsman. On the slips near Mutton Cove are built the hulls of some of the biggest battle- ships and cruisers, while in the dry-docks and basins, and under the gigantic cranes and shear-legs which form such conspicuous objects of the Dockyard equipment, they are fitted with engines, boilers, guns, and everything else which is requisite to make them efficient. Many ships under repair are also in the Docks and basins.

Cruising between the long lines of men-of-war battleships, cruisers, torpedo boats, submarines, with various depot ships and coal hulks, all necessary for "a fleet in being" we reach the spot at which the Cornish Nottor contributes its waters to the Tamar, the estuary being aptly called the Lynher (" broad lake ").

On the Devon bank, where the Tamar becomes the Hamoaze, is Bull Point, where in buildings erected for the purpose is stored the ammunition for the Navy. Then the steamer passes beneath

The Royal Albert Bridge,

carrying the Great Western Railway from Devon into Cornwall, and one of Brunei's greatest triumphs. It is constructed of malleable iron plates; is nearly half a mile long, and crosses the Tamar by two spans, each of 445 ft. They are both spanned by oval tubes, 17 ft. by 12 ft. in diameter, the ends of which are connected by chains, which in their turn support the roadway. A circular pier of granite, 35 ft. in diameter, and rising 12 ft. above high-water mark in the centre of the river, forms the base for four cast-iron hollow octagonal columns, which carry two ends of the massive tubes. The shore ends rest on piers of masonry. The railway is 100 ft. above high- water, and from its foundation to the highest part of the bridge is no less than 240 ft. Altogether there are 19 spans, two across the river and 17 on the shores. The bridge cost £230,000 and was opened in 1859 by Albert, Prince Consort of Queen Victoria. It touches the Cornish bank of the river at Saltash.

** At that time some of the Victorian hulks, of great naval ships, still lay upon the Hamoaze, and visitors taking a boat trip would pass them on their journey. Would that those great hulks were still there today, at 2013, just one even.

[1] Document accessed November 2013 from US Archive website.

(page added November 2013)