The involvement of the Admiralty starts at the time of the Crimean War. When it broke out in 1854 many CGs were drafted into the Navy. They did sterling work and it was recorded that "the coastguards have proved of the greatest use in forming the untrained crews of many of our ships". After that War had ended there was a general review of the Royal Navy as there had been criticisms that warships had gone to sea with inexperienced seamen. The Admiralty countered by proposing the complete transfer of the Service to it and its men trained as a reserve for the Fleet. The 1856 Act (passed in July) put the Admiralty in control from the October. Duties now were:

  1. The defence of the coasts of the Realm.
  2. The more ready manning of the Navy in case of War.
  3. The protection of the Revenue.

The Admiralty remained in charge up to the outbreak of the World War 1 and afterwards. For nearly a century the CGs were also required to carry out many miscellaneous duties. These included taking charge of wrecks, the operation of life-saving apparatus and becoming active participants in lifeboat crews that were being introduced around the coasts. (Lifeboats at Teignmouth and Exmouth both had coastguardsmen as crew). When many officers were called back into the Navy in World War 1 Boy Scouts took their places. The Torquay Company, and probably Scouts from other towns, provided patrols for a wide area of South Devon from 1915; they were provided with food and warm clothing but had to make their own way to the stations.

The Coastguard Act of 1925 which followed a major Report on the Service transferred it to the Board of Trade as recommended and so, from this time, became principally concerned with safety at sea. During the 1930s the numbers of officers were reduced further, from 820 to 772. To meet this deficiency in part, the Coast Life-saving Corps was proposed. The basis was to be one of "voluntary service" with the men taking part in regular drills to keep them proficient. This became the Auxiliary Coastguard Service in 1966 with three branches, Rescue, Look-out and Reporting.

During World War 2 the Coastguard Service was placed under the Ministry of Shipping (later the Ministry of War Transport) The "dawn patrol", used against smugglers in the 1840s, was re-introduced, although they now watched for spies and saboteurs, mine-laying aircraft and drifting mines. All CGs wore battledress and carried rifles or sten-guns. To assist the regular officers more auxiliaries were recruited; by 1940 there were 5,000 of them. With some reluctance, responsibility was restored to the Trade department in 1945, which, after various name changes, is now the Department of Transport.

In 1850 the Coastguard Station was on Queen's Quay (now King's Quay). It was said to have been an unsightly building, which was pulled down after the present station and houses were completed in Berry Head Road in 1889 (at a cost of £6,000) after a ten year delay. There was accommodation for a "Chief Officer and 10 men". Until the houses were built, the men had lived in St. Peter's Terrace. The Rocket Life-Saving Apparatus was housed in a small building beyond the old RNR drill ground (from where it was taken for rescues and exercises on Berry Head). The "Breeches Buoy" remained in use until 1988. However, by then it was only being used on rare occasions as much of the rescue work had been taken over by helicopters so its deployment to wrecks ended. (Examples of the equipment used from the earliest days can be seen on display in Brixham Museum).

The earliest date when the staffing at Brixham is recorded is in 1850 when Edward Lee Hoblyn, RN was Chief Officer. Augustus Benjamin MacLean, of Upper Brixham, is also listed. He might have been in charge at Man Sands because later records show that, by 1856, there was an Officer, Man Sands (Charles Hughes); latter the designation was changed to Boatman-in-charge. With the Admiralty in control from 1856, a more naval attitude seems to have been adopted. In 1860 the stations in the Dartmouth Division performed gun drill at the Fishcombe Battery and practised against a target afloat in Torbay. Later in the same year coastguards from Salcombe and neighbouring stations assembled there "to practise with the large guns at the Battery, under the direction of their Inspecting Commander, Capt. Majendie. The target, six foot square was placed about a half-mile distant on the other side of the Harbour and 43 shots directed to it. The firing was very correct, several going through the target and most fell within a few feet of it". With the Navy now responsible for equipment, a cannon was landed for their use in 1862 and for many years the Royal Naval Reserve Battery was at Brixham. It was "the second largest in England and 700 men were trained at the Depot each year". There was a Lloyd's Signalling Station on Berry Head and the semaphore (first seen on photographs in the 1870s) was still "constantly in use for naval purposes as seldom a week went by without some ships entering Torbay" well into this century. A look-out was built on top of the old Napoleonic War period powder magazine.

For many years the coastguards walked the cliffs. However, by the 1930s these had ceased because of the reductions in personnel. The "walks" were:

There was a patrol route along the cliffs to Scabbacombe Head, Pudscombe Cove and Mill Bay Cove which was, even then, closed to the public - then continuing from Millbay Cove to Kingswear Castle, described as "a delightful walk".

A Maritime Rescue Sub Centre was established in 1984 at King's Quay, Brixham, the Lookout on Berry Head being manned only in bad weather. The area covered by the Centre was from Exmouth to Dodman Point (250 miles of coastline). It was also responsible for the sea offshore to the "Manche Line" - the invisible division between British and French CG areas (some 40 nautical miles distance). In 1987 it was reported that: "The District is divided into six sectors and there are 13 Regulars who between them man the operations room". Major improvements were started in January 1992, the obsolete electro-mechanical equipment was removed and computer-based CCDS/ADAS systems installed for both radio and telephone communication.

The station at Mansands was in use from the 1850s and was still operational in about 1910/11. It probably closed when the men were recalled to the Navy at the outbreak of World War 1; it never reopened.

© copyright John Pike

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