Monday, 22 April 2013

Plans for Port Royal: 1830s

The Sidmouth Harbour Company has left us with plans for developing the seafront:

The Sidmouth Harbour Company if 1836

and has left us with some evidence of their intentions:

Sidmouth Railway Tunnel | Devon Spelæological Society
Sidmouth cliff watcher voices Salcombe tunnel fears - News - Sidmouth Herald

A first railway for the construction of piers

In the early years of the nineteenth century Sidmouth had been a popular watering place, but its popularity was declining; at the same time the small, exposed harbour was shoaling badly, and local promoters considered building a properly protected harbour, by the construction of two stone piers at the Chit Rocks, at the western end of Sidmouth sea front. Plentiful supplies of suitable stone were available at Hook Ebb, a location on the coast 1¾ miles to the east.
An Act of Parliament for the work was obtained in 1836, and the railway was duly laid. Foundation stones for each of the two piers were formally laid amid considerable ceremony, befitting the intended dedication of the piers to, respectively, Her Imperial Highness The Grand Duchess Helena of Russia, and Princess Victoria (later to become Queen Victoria).
The railway ran parallel to the sea front, and along the esplanade at Sidmouth itself, but there was a tunnel about a third of a mile long through Salcombe Hill. The line ended on the shingle beach, crossing the River Sid on a small viaduct. The railway seems to have been of 3ft 6in gauge, with track consisting of longitudinal wooden beams 6½ by 4 inches with a ⅜ inch plate on the top. In the shingle the railway was fixed in place by vertical timber piles.
A local blacksmith constructed a machine to pull the wagons loaded with the stone; the machine relied on human muscle power and was found to be inadequate. Apparently[note 1] a locomotive was now ordered, and brought by coastal ship to the shore at Sidmouth; however there was no craneage available to unload it, so the ship was taken to Exmouth, where the locomotive was unloaded and brought to Sidmouth by horse and cart.
On placing the locomotive on the track at Sidmouth, it was discovered that it was too large to pass through the tunnel, and the scheme to use it was abandoned. Afterwards, it seems to have been used to give novelty pleasure rides for a period.
By 1838 the locomotive was removed, as was also the viaduct at Sidmouth. By this time £12,000 of the £15,000 projected cost of building the harbour had been expended, and nothing further was done, the subscribers having nothing to show for their investment. The tunnel remains in place, and during 1966-1967 storm action exposed a considerable length of the piles of the railway.[1][2]

Sidmouth Railway Tunnel | Devon Spelæological Society

Sidmouth: a harbour never built

Pennington Point  landslip
On Sunday I visited Sidmouth, in part to have a look at the recent cliff slippage at Pennington Point (pictured above) at the east end of Sidmouth seafront where Alma Bridge crosses the mouth of the River Sid.

This collapse was featured in the news recently (for instance, in the Sidmouth Herald
Sidmouth cliff fall closes link to town) with obvious issues relating to coastal erosion and the safety of coastal properties and installations. Here probably isn't the venue for discussing those, but reading East Devon District Council's Pennington Point Cliff Erosion Review (PDF here) connected a few observations leading to some historical background I didn't know: a failed venture to build a harbour for Sidmouth in the 1830s.

If you walk along the beach eastward from Alma Bridge and look up, you'll see an opening in the cliff. Don't mess with it unless you're a serious speleologist; it's the breached remnants of the Sidmouth Tunnel, a never-used narrow gauge railway tunnel dug behind the cliff face: see 
The railway that never was and Peter Glanvill Photography for images. Its intended use was to carry stone for the Sidmouth Harbour Company, set up to build a harbour at Chit Rocks (below what is now Connaught Gardens and Jacob's Ladder 1) with two L-shaped piers to be named respectively after Princess Victoria and the Grand Duchess Helena of Russia 2The Nautical Magazine, Volume 6, 1837, reported:
Sidmouth Harbour. — Active means are in progress for immediately commencing this highly important undertaking. The engineer, Mr. Price of London, has made all preliminary arrangements for widening and extending the esplanade onwards to the site of the harbour, the excavation for which in the Chit Rocks to the westward of the town have been begun. A tunnel will be carried through the cliffs to the eastward and a temporary railway extended through the same and along the seaward side of the town, for the purpose of bringing down some of those masses of rock, which lie under the cliff at the Hook Ebb Point, for the construction of the pier and breakwater. The birth-day of the Princess Victoria, May the 24th, has been fixed on for laying the foundation stone for this harbour. A representative of her Imperial Highness the grand Duchess Helena of Russia will lay the stone, and it is expected to be done with due masonic honours.

Ambitious and clear-cut plans ... which rapidly came to nothing. 
The Sidmouth Harbour Company of 1836 by MJ Messenger has the full story.

There was a later proposal to build a harbour in 1862, when an 
Admiralty reportproposed the Sidmouth Railway and Harbour Bill ...
The object of this Bill is to incorporate a Company, under the title of " The Sidmouth Railway and Harbour Company," and to empower them to construct three lines of Railway, none of which, however, interfere with their Lordships' jurisdiction; but power is taken in the Bill to construct a Port, Harbour, or Asylum Harbour, at Sidmouth, the mouth of the River Sid, with a breakwater, piers, jetties, &c.

Clause 22 describes the limits of the Harbour ; and as Clauses 24, 25 and 2/ protect fully the Admiralty jurisdiction, assent is given to the Bill.

Admiralty, 27 March 1862. W. G. Romaine.

... and an 1865 Act was passed "to enable the Sidmouth Railway and Harbour Company to make and maintain a Branch from their authorized Railway in the Parish of Sidmouth; and for Other Purposes" (see
 Hansard). This venture fell over in a mess of company law without even completing the railway line 3. The railway finally came to Sidmouth in 1874, minus the harbour portion of the plan.

Over a century later, there still isn't a harbour, but it may yet happen if the 
Port Royal marina development plans go ahead.

1. See Chips Barber's Sidmouth Past and Presentpages 11-.
2. The reason for the Russian connection is unknown, but at the time the two countries were on good terms. Sidmouth's Alma Bridge is, naturally, one of any number of monuments to the Battle of Alma in the Crimean War, only a couple of decades later.
3. See 
Shrimpton v. The Sidmouth Railway and Harbour CompanyThe Law Times Reports, February 29th 1868.



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