Devonport

DEVONPORT, a celebrated naval arsenal, and a borough, in the parish of Stoke-Damerall, or Stoke, S. division of the hundred of Roborough, S. division of Devon, 1½ mile (W.) from Plymouth, and 218 (W. by S.) from London, containing, with Morice-Town and Stoke, 33,820 inhabitants, and, including the parish of East Stonehouse, 43,532. In the reign of William III. a naval arsenal was established here, under the name of Plymouth Dock, and to this event the town is indebted for its importance and present magnitude: in 1824, the appellation of Devonport was conferred upon it by royal permission. It was first fortified in the reign of George II., but the works have been much improved under an act of parliament passed in the 21st of George III. In the early part of the American war, Colonel Dixon, then commanding engineer at Plymouth, applied on behalf of the troops in garrison at Dock, to the corporation of Plymouth, for supplies of water from a leat, a stream which had been conveyed to that borough by Sir Francis Drake; but the application was refused, for the alleged reason that the stream was insufficient to supply both places. Various other plans were devised and proposed without success, till 1792, when Mr. Bryer, Messrs. Jones and Grey, and others, submitted a plan to the government, and also to the inhabitants, for supplying the houses with water on the same terms as those of Plymouth, and the government departments at a stipulated price. This plan, under an act of parliament obtained in the same year, though not without strenuous opposition, was carried into effect by means of a stream brought from Dartmoor, in a circuitous line of 30 miles, to a reservoir on the north side of the town.

Devonport is situated on an eminence, bounded on the south and west by the mouth of the Tamar, which, expanding into an irregular estuary, forms the capacious harbour of Hamoaze, and on the east by Stonehouse creek. The town is of an oblong figure, and the streets, which are regular and well built, nearly intersecting each other at right angles, are paved and lighted; for the latter purpose, a new gas company was established in 1845. The foot-paths, when washed by a shower, have a remarkably beautiful appearance, being paved with marble obtained in the neighbourhood, which receives a considerable polish from the action of the weather and the feet of passengers. The Fore-street, which crosses the upper part of the town in a direct line, is approached through a gateway on the east, where there is a fosse with a drawbridge; the houses are in general respectable, and some are of a superior order, the thoroughfare forming a good approach to the dockyard. The town is protected on the north-east and south sides by a wall about twelve feet in height, called "The King's interior boundary wall;" is skirted on the west by the dockyard and gun-wharf; and fortified on the sea-side entrance by heavy batteries on Mount Wise: immediately to the south of it are the houses of the port-admiral and governor, the telegraph, and grand parade. Without the wall is a line, or breastwork, with a fosse excavated in the solid rock, from twelve to twenty feet in depth, the whole planned by a Mr. Smelt, of the engineer department, about the year 1756. In the lines are three barrier gates; the North Barrier, which leads to the passage across the Tamar; the Stoke Barrier, leading towards Tavistock; and the Stonehouse Barrier, conducting towards Stonehouse, Plymouth, &c. On the south side of the town, immediately above the sea-shore, is Richmond-walk, raised under the direction of the Duke of Richmond, when master-general of the ordnance, for the accommodation of the inhabitants; it commands a fine view of Mount-Edgcumbe, and forms a healthy and pleasant promenade. A small theatre in the town is well conducted, and frequently patronized by the visits of the heads of departments: there is a public subscription library, ornamented with an Egyptian façade; and at the Royal Hotel is an elegant assemblyroom. Southward from the town are hot, cold, shower, vapour, and swimming baths, with several convenient lodging-houses handsomely furnished. The principal quays are at Mutton-Cove, North Corner, and Morice-Town; on the south is a ferry to Mount-Edgcumbe, and on the north-west another to Torpoint. The privilege of having bonding warehouses was granted in 1846, for the convenience of the trade of the port. The terminus of the South Devon railway will be at Stoke, between the orphan asylum and St. Michael's church; and the Cornwall railway will commence at the same point. The market days are Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday: the market-place is of recent erection, and for extent and accommodation is inferior to none in the western part of England; it is well supplied with all kinds of provisions, particularly fish.

By the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, Devonport was constituted a borough, with the privilege of returning two members to parliament, the right of election being in the £10 householders of the parish of Stoke-Damerall, and the township of stonehouse; and in the first year of Queen Victoria, an act of incorporation was obtained, by which Devonport was constituted a municipal borough, comprehending the parish of Stoke-Damerall. The borough is portioned into six wards, and the corporation consists of 12 aldermen and 36 councillors, from whom a mayor is elected, who is also returning officer on the occasion of choosing members of parliament. The government of the town is partly vested in 120 commissioners; since the act of incorporation, their powers are restricted to matters relating to the poor, the paving and lighting of the town, and some minor affairs. The lord of the manor holds courts leet and baron at Michaelmas, at which a jury is selected by the steward, to present any nuisances or annoyances; and at this court the constables of the parish, about 22 in number, are sworn in. The county magistrates hold petty-sessions every Wednesday at the town-hall; and there are 16 borough magistrates, who sit almost every day. The town-hall includes, in addition to its principal room, which is 75 feet by 40, a watch-house, temporary prison, engine-house, &c.; the front is decorated with a noble Doric portico, finished with a horizontal blocking course and tablet, instead of the usually adopted pediment. Near this edifice is a column erected to commemorate the naming of the town anew; it is a fluted column of the Doric order, and from its summit, which is accessible by a spiral flight of 140 steps, is a most splendid view. The port-admiral's house is a very convenient structure; the semaphore near it communicates with the flag-ship in the harbour, and is the first of 32 telegraphic stations connecting this place with the Admiralty in London. It is said that a communication has been conveyed to and from the metropolis in the short space of fifteen minutes.

The dockyard, one of the finest in the world, is bounded on the east by the town, from which it is separated by a wall, in some places 30 feet high, extending from north to south; its water boundary forms a curve bending outwards in a western direction. Exclusively of the recent additions, it occupies, with the projections of the jetties, an area of 72 acres, to which dimensions it was extended in 1768. The land entrance is from Fore-street, having a carriage-gate and a gate for foot-passengers; and near this entrance is a chapel, built by government on the site of one erected in 1700, "by the generous and pious contributions of officers and seamen belonging to a squadron of men-of-war," under the superintendence of George St. Leo, Esq., at that time commissioner of the yard. Opposite to this edifice are the military guard and navy pay-offices. To the southwest is a range of excellent houses occupied by the commissioners and other officers of the establishment, and fronted by a double row of lime-trees, from which is a descent by a number of steps to two handsome buildings, one of which, the "Joiner's Shop," is surmounted by a cupola. Facing these are the basin and dock, constructed in the reign of William III., and the latter sufficiently capacious for a 74-gun ship, being in length 197 feet 3 inches, in width 65 feet 10 inches, and in depth 23 feet 1 inch: the basin is bounded on each side by jetty heads; that on the south is named "the Master-Attendant's stairs." Adjoining this jetty is an edifice of limestone with quoins and cornices of Portland stone, 480 feet in length, and three stories high, forming one side of a quadrangle, and called the "Rigging-House:" over it is the sail-loft; and different storehouses complete the quadrangle, in the area of which is the "Combustible Storehouse," entirely composed of iron and stone, and the geometrical staircase of which is greatly admired. To the south is a slip for cleaning the bottoms of vessels, and beyond it the Camber, a canal 70 feet wide, terminating in a basin, which is bounded on the north by the boat-house: this was the boundary of the yard previously to 1768; all beyond, in a southerly direction, is the New Ground, where are several very large building slips or docks roofed over, in which ships of the greatest magnitude may always be seen either in frame or in various stages of progress. These building-slips, as they are termed, are not excavated so deep as the repairing-docks; they are inclined planes, and on one of them the Kent, a large two-decked vessel of the computed weight of 1882 tons, was hauled up to be repaired, principally by mechanical power. Here are, also, the "Blacksmiths' Shop," a building about 210 feet square, containing 48 forges, the fires of which annually consume 1300 chaldrons of coal; the anchor-wharf, where anchors are made weighing five tons; a boiling-house, for heating planks which are to receive a particular curve, and in this state are worked to the side of the vessel; a mast-house; and a pond, inclosed from the sea by a strong wall 10 feet thick and 380 long, and supplied with water through two openings, of about 40 feet wide, crossed by light wooden bridges.

Near the mast-house, in a southerly direction, is a small mount, called Bunker's Hill, with a battery of five guns (nine-pounders), one of which is a beautiful brass piece, made at Paris: from this elevation the prospect is very fine and extensive. In the dockyard are two limestone buildings, parallel with each other, two stories high, and 1200 feet long, called Rope-houses; the largest cables made here are 25 inches in circumference, and 100 fathoms long, weighing 116 cwt., and worth £404. Behind these buildings, in addition to dwellings and storchouses, is the Mould, or Model loft. On the north are the jetty, north stairs, and doubledock, the last so called from being sufficiently large to contain two ships at a time; the gates form the segment of a circle, with their convex sides to the sea. The second dock, built in 1762, and called the Union or North dock, is 239 feet 4 inches by 86 feet 7, and 26 feet in depth; it is constructed of blocks of granite, faced with Portland stone. The New North dock, 259 feet 9 inches by 85 feet 3, and 27 feet 8 inches deep, is said to be the largest of the kind in the kingdom; it was finished in 1789. The immense roofs over the docks, being on the principle of an arch without a buttress, are extraordinary specimens of architectural skill; the square contents of one of them amount to 1 acre, 39 poles, and 200 feet. The buildings on the gun-wharf, which is separated from the northern part of the dockyard by a branch of the town, were erected after designs by Sir John Vanbrugh; the armouries, and the immense piles of ordnance in the yard, each marked with the name of the ship in Hamoaze to which it belongs, are worthy of especial notice. Important works have been completed within the last few years, chiefly with a view to place the port in a more efficient state of defence. A steam-dock has been formed, and the original dockyard enlarged by the addition of Mutton-Cove and its neighbourhood: the steam machinery is very extensive, and suitable buildings for its increase are in course of erection. On the 28th of September, 1840, a destructive fire, attended with the loss of a line-of-battle ship, a frigate, and an immense amount of property, occurred in the dockyard. The barracks are calculated to accommodate 3000 troops. The harbour of Hamoaze is about four miles long, and half a mile broad; its greatest depth at high water is between eighteen and twenty fathoms, at low water about fifteen; it is a grand repository for ships of war of all classes, and is capable of floating the entire British navy at once. About half a mile from the dockyard are the powder magazines, capacious enough for the supply of the whole of the navy.

There are two episcopal chapels; St. Aubyn's, a neat edifice with a portico and octagonal spire at the west end, erected by subscription, in 1771; and St. John's chapel, also erected by subscription, in 1809: the right of presentation to both is vested in the Rector of Stoke-Damerall; net income of St. Aubyn's, £117, and of St. John's, £200. The inhabitants have free access likewise to the dockyard chapel. Four church districts, named respectively St. James', St. Paul's, St. Mary's, and St. Stephen's, were endowed in 1846 by the Ecclesiastical Commission: the livings are all in the gift of the Crown and the Bishop of Exeter, alternately. Two or three rooms have been licensed by the bishop for divine service; and there are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Wesleyans, Moravians, Unitarians, and other sects. A classical school was built by subscription, and opened in the year 1821. The Royal British Female-Orphan Asylum affords protection to 100 children of sailors and soldiers, who are boarded and clothed, and trained for domestic service: a new building for this asylum was erected at Stoke, and opened in June, 1846. The Royal Military and Naval Free Schools, situated in King-street, are also appropriated to soldiers' and sailors' children. The parish of Stoke-Damerall forms a poor law union of itself, under a local act.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.

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