THE HISTORY OF THE BERRY HEAD FORTIFICATIONS

Written by: D Evans

The defences abandoned

The Plymouth Office notified the Board on March 26 1832 that the lease of the twenty acres would expire at Michaelmas. There were a surprisingly large number of tenants -

James Shears Philip Gillard

Henry Hoare

Frederick Baddeley

John Baddeley

Samuel Langley

Elizabeth Wheaton

Henry Francis Lyte

Samuel Milman

Roger Hyne

Apart from Roger Hyne, the other name in this list which recurs in the story of Berry Head is that of the Rev.Henry Francis Lyte, well known as the writer of "Abide with me."

Col .Birch's office was of the opinion that the land should be let rather than sold, and to one tenant rather than the present multiplicity. On April 11 the following letter was sent to the Board :

"- with respect to the Land at Berry Head, we are of opinion it is not Let for its full value, and beg to recommend the whole may be let in One Lot, for a period of 5 years from Mmas 1832, at which time the Lease of the Common and Hospital will expire, when the whole may be a desirable object for a Farmer or Butcher to Occupy." [124] This was minuted : "Approved & Ordered as recommended. The usual clauses for resumption being introduced in the Lease in the event of the Land being required for the Public Service." The Board had clearly terminated Hyne's lease.

Four tenders were received and sent to the Board on September 3. The highest tender - £40-10-6 - was from James Shears. Hyne had only offered £27-10-0, The Plymouth Office was asked to enquire about the suitability of Shears as a tenant : they replied on September 22. "Col.Birch had written in confidence to a most respectable person in Brixham who reported 'I am bound to answer that I do not consider him a responsible Tenant, I say this of course in confidence, but I should much prefer another Tenant at a Lower Rent, knowing that in many instances it has been difficult to recover the smallest sums from him". The Board therefore ordered that the next highest offer, £40, from Abraham Fogwell, be accepted. Incredibly, the same process was repeated, and Hyne was therefore approached at the beginning of October. His original offer was thought to be too low, and he was offered the lease for £35. In reply he suggested £30, which was accepted on October 18. [125]

The Berry Head was proving to be a very troublesome property. Col .Birch wrote to the Board on October 8 informing them that objections had been made to the proposed boundary fence, and requesting to be informed of any deeds which might clarify the situation. This was minuted on October 19 "Read & ordered that Col Birch be acqd there are no deeds in the department which will afford the information required, but the vesting Act of 34 Geo 3 defines the boundaries of the land on pages 1014-17 - A copy to be sent to him." [126]

On January 8 1833 Birch wrote to the Board stating that one Philip Glllard had by intrusion gained possession of some 2 rods 8 perches of Ordnance land. Gillard was willing to exchange this for a piece of his own land of 1 rod 17 perches; this land Birch considered would be of greater military value, and the deal would regularise Gillard's position. [127]

A new Inspector-General of Fortifications, Major-General Robert Pilkington, now interested himself in Berry Head, which had by this time accumulated a sizeable dossier, mostly concerned with land transactions. An Ordnance Board memorandum was sent to Birch inquiring what had been paid for the land originally and the reasons for its purchase. Birch sent a report to Pilkington on August 8 which largely repeated his earlier one, adding the information about the use of the site during the War of American Independence which has been given here. The following useful facts are also given:

"...The amount paid for The Land does not appear in the books of this Office.,. the Barracks, which were wooden buildings upon foundations of Masonry, were pulled down and sold after the last peace - the masonry foundations of them, with the Tanks remaining. [Within No.3 Fort are] An excellent Officers and Mens Guard House being a substantial building of Masonry, slated. An excellent Arched Magazine for 800 barrels of powder. A small Store House of Masonry Slated - in good order - dimensions 32ft by 20. A Shed for Artillery of Masonry and Slates, closed with gates in front (108ft by 23)....[Within No.l Fort are] A small guard house with store room adjoining - and a small arched magazine for 150 barrels of powder. [A small barrack building, pulled down at the peace] There is moreover a building called a cottage on the Common and let with it, including what was formerly the Engineers Office and apartments that served as a Mess Room -before the regular one within the Work was built." [128]

By the beginning of October 1833, presumably as a result of a deal with Roger Hyne, the Rev.H.F.Lyte was living in the Hospital. The Board at this time considered converting it into two buildings, and plans were drawn up, but the estimated cost of the conversion was £800, and it was thought that it would only realise some £50 a year, if it could be let at all. They wanted it to be lived in so that it would be kept in good order. [129]

On January 6 1834 Lyte wrote to the Board suggesting terms for his tenancy. These involved the Board repairing the house and giving some assistance with the construction of a road from Brixham to the Hospital, a seven year lease, with compensation if it were terminated early, and the option of renewal after seven years. In return Lyte would pay £20 a year, make some alterations to the building and keep it in good decorative order. What prevented him from laying out money on the place was the uncertainty of the tenure. A contribution to making the new road would be of lasting benefit to the building. [130]

The Board were by now clearly impatient with the bother of leasing land at Berry Head, and decided to sell the twenty acres outright. An order for the sale was drafted on June 13. Hyne wrote on July 5 demanding compensation for his standing crops: he was allowed to remain in possession for harvesting until October 31. On July 28 Lyte offered £1125 for the whole of the land, and £95 for some waste land. He paid a deposit of £225 on September 19, and on December 5 Coutts1 Bank paid the balance. On December 2 he made a formal offer to lease the Hospital, Cottage and Common, This was minuted on December 6 "It appears that it would be very desirable to accept the....Offer from the Revd.H Lyte to rent the Hospital, Common and Cottage at Berry Head." Over the years Lyte continued to acquire parcels of land from the Board. [131]

The question of financial help to build a new road was raised again in a letter of June 2 1836 from Sir John Yarde Buller, asking for support for the plan proposed by the Lords of the Manor of Brixham to connect Brixham with Berry Head. Birch's successor, Col.Whitmore, sent a report to the Board on the 15th with a sketch plan showing the proposal. He stated that such a road would be of no real benefit to the Board, as there was a reasonable road in existence which had gone unnoticed by Buller. The request was refused. [132]

The final document in the Board of Ordnance archives dealing with Berry Head is the "Inspection report on Hospital and adjacent premises leased to the late Revd Henry Francis Lyte." The inspection was made on January 26 1848. (Lyte had died at Nice the previous year.) [133]

The Forts vanish from the official files: but their usefulness to the local inhabitants increased greatly, though necessarily in an undocumented fashion, as they were stripped for building stone. This, together with the quarrying which cut away the north side of Fort No.3, is responsible for the present condition of the Forts, which are much more ruinous than could be expected for such relatively recent structures. The site was used as a rifle range during the later part of the nineteenth century, but its function as a coast defence was totally abandoned. The survey "Ports and Harbours in Western Districts. Revision of Coast Defence Armaments prior to August, 1892" has this to say of Torbay : "No works have been constructed for the defence of this anchorage. The Volunteers carry out drill and practice with a 64 pr.R.M.L, and a 32 pr. S.B. gun, from platforms at Brixham, Fishcombe Point, and with a similar armament from platforms at Paignton, on the beach, 34 mile from the town." [134]

After a hundred and twenty-five years of inactivity the Second World War brought the Army back to the Forts. It was not classified as a Fort, however, and no coast defence guns were installed there. It served three main purposes: a signal station, an anti-aircraft gun site and a Royal Observer Corps post. The R.O.C. post was adapted from one of the surviving roofless stone buildings, being given a protective cover with observation slits. This survives. The steel bases for several anti-aircraft guns are still discernible; Bofors guns were placed at the tip of the Head and at the north end of the rampart of Fort No .3 and before D-Day a battery of 3.7" guns were positioned between the two Forts towards the cliffs.


124 PRO WO 44 12

125 PRO WO 44 12

126 PRO WO 44 307

127 PRO WO 44 12 Plan is WO 78 MPHH 692/4

128 PRO WO 44 12

129 PRO WO 44 12 Plan is WO 78 MPHH 692/5

130 PRO WO 44 12

131 PRO WO 44 12

132 PRO WO 44 308

133 PRO WO 44 12

134 PRO WO 196/29



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