The Brixham Harbour & Breakwater
"Soon after 1500 Brixham Castle was built (by a local land-owner it is believed) to defend the harbour. It is stood above the harbour at Overgang, or above Overgang itself. However, it did not exist for long. There seem to be no records of armaments, though it is known that guns were used and that an appeal was made to the King for weapons. It was probably built of stone from part of the ancient Roman fort ruins - as were most of the houses at that time. Most of the castle had been dismantled by 1600 and the stone used again elsewhere. The cottages at Overgang Steps appear to incorporate some of the walls. A Castle House is a reminder of its existence..." State Papers Domestic offer some evidence in support. They record a letter from Earl of Surrey to the King in 1522: [After describing the risk to ships lying in the Dart]... "To avert this write to the Bishop of Exeter saying that you are informed they are making a blockhouse beside Brixham within Torbay and if they make another at Churston you would help them with ordnance and powder. I see by the gentlemen who have been aboard today they would do it at their own cost". Subsequent entries dispute this was done; for example, in 1539 Torbay, among other Westcountry ports, was "unprovided for". Henry VIII's Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, in his remembrancer in the same year notes that among ports where fortifications were to be made were Torbay and Dartmouth. In 1540 Brixey says that the State Papers state there were "charges to the King for bulwarks at Torbay" but there is no indication of how much they cost or whether indeed they were built. The next date of interest is nearly a hundred years later. In August 1635 when Lord Lindsay was desired to look into Torbay when he was informed of many abuses there including "that an ancient castle there seated, that commanded the road is quite abolished, and the iron pieces made into horse-shoes, and stones to the value of £200 sold". The stone was converted into lime by the buyers, and into cash by the sellers, but the people seem to have resented this. Lord Lindsay also noted that the people were willing to build a [new] fortress at their own cost, if His Majesty would supply the ordnance. Brixey also reports that Dartmouth had built fortifications in 1627, but had complained they too lacked ordnance - it is unlikely, therefore, that Torbay was more successful than Dartmouth.
The events of November 1688 when William of Orange landed at Brixham to move on to London to change the course of English history has been well documented. Although the Tercentenary of his arrival was celebrated by a visit of the Queen in 1988, the repercussions of those changes he set in train are certain to continue into the next millennium.
In 1828 the Duke of Clarence (later King William IV) stepped ashore on to "the stone on which William III [sic] placed his foot when he landed in Torbay in 1688". This had been moved to the New Quay from the Old Quay (which had been removed soon afterwards). The day was marked with parades and a commemorative tablet was unveiled at the same time. The Revd. H. F. Lyte read the address of welcome. Some time during the changes made to the port and harbour, the memorial was "taken down and put aside for a considerable time". Perhaps as a result of the publication of Macaulay's great history in 1848 (in which he eulogised the role of William as "saviour" of England), "it was taken from its obscure hiding place and re-elected [re-erected] on the New Pier". It was relocated again prior to the visit of Her Majesty in 1988. A century earlier, in 1888, the Bicentenary of the landing was celebrated by a thanksgiving service and a torchlight procession. At the same time the Netherlands Minister laid the foundation stone for a statue in bronze, designed by Messrs. W. and T. Wills of London. It was subsequently decided that it should be made of Sicilian granite rather than bronze. A large Cornish granite base was also put down. The completed statue was unveiled in November 1889 by "Mr Bentinck of Bovey Tracey, who was one of the family of that name whose ancestor was devoted to the Prince of Orange". The William statue, little changed after a century of weathering (his damaged nose was replaced in time for the Royal visitor), still graces the harbourside. The heavy railings, which had obscured much of its grandeur for half a century, were removed for "war weapons" during World War 2.
In earlier times there were two mills built on a dam or foss across the mouth of the creek. [This was where the Strand is today. The 1905 Ordnance Survey map names it the "Beach" possibly because of the sand which had built up in front of it]. In 1672, the Admiralty wrote to Richard Cliffe concerning the possibility of making a large square vessel able receive water from the large pool at the corn mill. This was to be "made with deal boards, well caulked and pitched, and from thence there may be as many small conveyances made (also of deal) as will at once fill as many casks as the stream will afford to do". Brixham's sweet water was to be rolled down to the ships in barrels. The records are incomplete as to what action followed. However, plans dated 1781, have survived which show that the "Naval Reservoir", with wooden pipes under the ground to Deer Rock, was in existence (or planned) on the site now occupied by Brixham Town Hall. A chart of Torbay (also surveyed in 1781) shows the Reservoir with pipes to the harbour. [Unfortunately the "navigation instructions" on it refer to the "New Quay" and show the new harbour at Torquay; it cannot therefore have been printed before 1803 - after the reservoir is believed to have been in use]. Most accounts say that it was completed in 1801 though there has been a suggestion recently that it was only enlarged then, having been originally constructed in about 1700.
The Press Gang was active around Torbay for many years. Correspondence between admirals on vessels lying in the Bay and the Privy Council show what a vital contribution the Torbay towns made in the recruitment of crews. Boats, full of sturdy marines, tied up at the quays in search of men. Local magistrates, however, were not always as co-operative as the Navy thought they ought to be on this matter.
Life on board the warships was hard in the extreme. Between decks the seamen had to live and sleep in fetid, damp and unhealthy conditions. When men were taken ill, they were put ashore on the Quay and taken to Dartmouth in open carts where they lay in Sick Quarters, "two by two in a bed". Dr. Thomas Trotter, for some years Surgeon to the Channel Fleet, did much to improve the conditions on board the ships and setting up, among other things, a hospital at "Peynton".
Kings's Quay was built about 1690; the building of Devonport Dockyard may have making any further development unnecessary. The Eastern Quay was built about 1760. The Piers, Haven and Market Improvement Act of 1799 authorised the building of a new Pier and Fish-market. Both were completed in 1804. There was an old quay, very short and converging with the Eastern Quay, which was pulled down about 1840 as it was causing the harbour to silt up.
During the week of 25th February 1837 a Bill for a breakwater was being considered by Parliament. It had been designed by James Meadows Rendel and surveyed by Mr C. Greaves in 1836. Subsequently the Quay Lords obtained authority for the new and larger breakwater and the foundation stone was laid in 1843. [The "intended breakwater" is shown on the 1781 chart]. The money came from loans and gifts which included £319.10.11 raised by the inhabitants of Brixham. After 1400 feet had been built to the Rendel's designs all work stopped for lack of funds.
As a indication of income, in January 1855, it was noted that a toll of one shilling (per ships's boat) for "not more than twice in one day" was being levied by the Toll Collector at Brixham Harbour, on all boats "who may chance to put in for the purpose of putting a letter in the Post Office, or may come on shore for a necessary supply of food, water, etc. And many Seamen have in consequence lost their Christmas pudding, etc".
The partially completed breakwater suffered damage in the 1866 and other storms. An Order authorising special tolls was approved in 1875 but no real progress was made. The new Brixham Urban District Council took over in 1896 and the Harbour Commissioners (who had existed for nearly 100 years) were dissolved. In 1909 a 600 feet additional section was started with government help; then, in 1912, a further 1,000 feet was begun. This was the final part and, although World War 1 was being fought at the time, it was completed in 1916. By that year the total amount spent had been £100,000.
In August 1913 the Denaby & Cadeby Colliery Company was given permission to anchor coal-hulks offshore for 20 years. Income was estimated at £800 from dues and there was additional income from the old ships. During 1912-13 722 ships called for bunkers, 667 in 1913-14. Pilotage was the responsibility of Brixham (Harbour) Pilots. Among the hulks used were the Persian and the London City between the Wars. The latter was bombed several times in World War 2. The tug Dencade, used for many years, belonged to the Company too. The oil jetty dates from 1920 when the first vessel for bunkers arrived although the oil tanks in the Old Quarry had been placed there in 1917. At that time the jetty was owned by the Anglo-American Oil Company and supplied heavy fuel oil for steam ships. Because of the large amounts used, these vessels needed to make frequent stops around the coast. When ships were motorised, the demand for heavy oil dropped and the use of the depot ceased for some years. However, in about 1934, the tanks were used to store 18,000 tons of whale-oil during a world glut. A new era dawned in November 1936 when the Dehaag (from Richmond, Ca.) berthed at the jetty to discharge 11,000 tons of petrol. This was aviation fuel for use by the RAF in event of war. The whole of the pipeline along the breakwater had been overhauled in readiness and the entrance to the storage depot built up as a safety measure. The two tanks between them held 4½ million gallons but, shortly before World War 2, the Air Ministry decided it needed larger tanks. Ten acres of undeveloped ground were bought near Berry Head Farm where two large underground oil tanks were built, together capable of holding 400,000 tons of aviation fuel. There was a pipeline down to the Breakwater and there was a loading station at a siding on the Brixham branch line. Fuel was pumped in at the Breakwater to the tanks, and out to the railhead where it received additives to make it suitable for aircraft. Four bombs were dropped near the Quarry tanks but the others escaped damage. The system was last used during and after the Suez crisis, when a half-million tons of gas oil remained in storage for 10/12 years. After the discovery of North Sea oil, this was sold off. The Old Quarry tanks continued to be used by Esso to bunker trawlers and small coasters until 1969 when the Company's lease expired. Brixham & Torbay Fish subsequently ran the operation until its demise in 1987. The jetty operation closed down in April 1988, in spite of the continuing limited use of the facilities. At Berry Head the underground tanks were also being cleared away during 1987/8.
The outer harbour covers 108 acres and vessels up to 12,000 tons can use the jetty, although the demise of the bunkering operation will make their appearance a very rare sight.
The unsightly stores at Kings Quay were demolished in April 1939 which had been "so long an unsightly blot on Brixham's fair face". Readers of the Brixham Western Guardian were reminded that the building and launching of fishing smacks used to go on within the limits of the Inner Harbour (still then known as Furneaux's Yard). The last to be launched was the Quiver.
A flight of steps was also being built which would enable pedestrians to miss the dangerous corner at King Street.
It was noted too that the Strand was originally Victoria Embankment as engraved on a stone placed there in 1897. It also appeared on maps as "Beach Road".
Major changes in the layout of the harbour took place in the 1970s when the new fish-quay, market building, ice-plant, repair slipway and offices were completed in 1971.
During the next two decades it was clear that additional facilities were needed. Finally, in February 1991, improvements costing £456,000 (a new extension to the Fish Quay platform and the addition of a Southern Quay to provide additional berthing and landing facilities) were completed and officially opened. The total cost over the 20 years has been about £4.6 million. The fishing industry of Brixham is worth about £30 million per annum. During 1991 a walkway from the harbour to the newly reclaimed Oxen Cove car park was completed.
Redevelopment of Upham's shipyard first went before Torbay Council in 1984 when the purchase of part of the harbour bed could be made so that a "redevelopment could go ahead of residential accommodation". Initially, the idea was rejected. In 1987 a "proposed marina with 64 residential units, club house and car parking" for Charles B. Fleming & Associates was approved. In 1988 "the £16 million scheme was given the go-ahead", work starting in January 1988. However, Fleming encountered major financial problems and so the scheme languished for a time until it was taken over by Marina Developments in 1990. The ultimate cost of the marina is said to be £28 million but so far only the first phase has been completed. These included 17 flats (costing from £175,000 to £300,000 then) built on 999 year leases. By the summer of 1991 the coastal promenade had been completed and the first shops in the complex opened. These included a restaurant (The Capstan Club). The second phase, costing about £5 million, has been delayed until conditions improve. Mooring costs for 1991 were £175 a metre compared with between £280 and £300 at Torquay. During July a "special events pontoon" (costing £125,000) was imported by sea from Sweden through the port of Teignmouth; this is accessible from the quayside walk. A further £1.25 million is scheduled to be spent replacing the existing pontoons with heavier-duties types which will be better able to withstand the bad weather sometimes experienced inside the outer harbour.
Overlooking the Harbour is Grenville House. This is the former "Brixham Seamen's Boys Home" which was established by William Gibbs in 1859. A new building was started in 1863; it was enlarged in 1873 and a schoolroom (paid for by Baroness Burdett Coutts) added in 1875. There were further additions in 1888/9, 1912 and 1913. It closed in 1988 after 125 years of providing a home and sea training for orphan boys. It is now a nautical field centre.
Soon after the Great Storm the RNLI quickly organised a local committee and set about enrolling crew members. In the meantime a group of Exeter people started their own Lifeboat Fund and soon collected £600 which they passed to the Institution for a Torbay station. Matters went so well it was hoped that the vessel, to be named appropriately the City of Exeter, would be ready by October. It was however decided, on expert advice, to locate the new lifeboat, not at Torquay but at Brixham, where it was likely to be of more value. By doing so, its launch was delayed as there was an outbreak of cholera in the town.
The first four Brixham Lifeboats (known as Torbay Lifeboats from 1924) were of course pulled mainly by oarsmen [Brian Bates,1885-1894; Betsey Newbon, 1894-96; Second Betsy Newbon, 1896-1922]. It was not until 1922 that the first motor-powered lifeboat, the Alfred and Clara Heath, arrived in South Devon. The engine for this boat was built with a legacy, and somewhat unusually, was formally named Mary and Katherine at the inaugural ceremony. The George Shee was in service throughout the 1930s and during World War 2. Among her launches were three to United States landing craft in trouble during preparations for D-Day. Her successor, the Princess Alexandra of Kent, was a familiar sight as she lay at her moorings in the Outer Harbour at Brixham during the sixties and early seventies. Torbay Lifeboat is, at the time of writing, the Edward Bridges, a fast 54-foot vessel with the latest navigational and life-saving equipment. A far cry indeed from that first 34-foot ten-oared self-righter. Inshore Rescue Boats first appeared in Torbay in 1964: 1988 saw the introduction of one of the new D class inflatable inshore lifeboats (D354) - one of 20 now in service around the coasts. It is called the Alfred George Martin, as it is one of the four craft donated to the RNLI by the late Dorothy Joan Martin. 1988 also marked the legacy of £200,000 from Mrs Marie Baker of Budleigh Salterton. Part of this money was used to refurbish the Lifeboat House - built in 1920 and used by the Americans as a command post.