Plymouth Dockyard

From Naval History Archive
Jump to navigationJump to search
HM Royal Dockyard Plymouth
Ensign of the Royal Navy animated.gif
Part of Plymouth Station
Devonport
Near Plymouth in United Kingdom
Site information
OwnerAdmiralty
OperatorRoyal Navy
Controlled byNavy Board Flag 1832 new version.jpg Navy Board (1690-1832)
Board of Admiralty Flag 20th Century.png Board of Admiralty (1832-1843)
Site history
In use1690-1843
Installation information
Past
commanders
Resident Commissioner Plymouth

Plymouth Dockyard or formally HM Royal Dockyard, Plymouth also known as Plymouth Dock was a Royal Naval Dockyard established in 1690. During the 18th century and into the early 19th century it served as headquarters for the Western Squadron. In peacetime it built and repaired ships. In 1843 it was renamed Devonport Dockyard.

History

In 1497 John Cabot discovered Newfoundland with its rich stocks of fish. From then on fishermen from Plymouth fished off the coast of Newfoundland. Fishing was the most important industry in Tudor Plymouth. The maritime history of Plymouth was shaped by its position as a natural anchorage in the form of Plymouth Sound at the western end of the English Channel. With the Rivers Plym, Lynher and Tamar emptying into Plymouth Sound, the area was a natural point for the development of trade, fishing and transport. However, the port of Plymouth remained small until the 1500s when trade increased and Tudor England’s disputes with Catholic continental powers led to the steady development of fortifications to protect the anchorage.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, in which some of Plymouth’s sea captain traders/explorers and slavers played a notable role, demonstrated that in the age of sail and with prevailing westerly winds, Plymouth was ideally placed to play a vital role in national defence. Control of the English Channel was central to England’s, and then Britain’s, national security, making Plymouth’s anchorage a prime strategic location. Plymouth also benefitted from the colonisation of the new world after 1492, but it was other ports in the West (Bristol and Liverpool) which grew rich through the Trans-Atlantic trade in slaves and colonial commodities. While Bristol and Liverpool grew as commercial ports, Plymouth’s history was closely tied to national defence and the story of the Royal Navy.

Despite Plymouth’s part in the defeat of the Armada, the erection of Tudor fortifications, and an important role in the English civil war of the seventeenth century,by the late 1600s, as the Crown began to investigate a site for a Royal dockyard, Plymouth was still a small town. In 1690 the Admiralty commissioned Robert Waters of Portsmouth to construct a stone dock, not at Plymouth, but on the nearby East bank of the Hamoaze, where the Tamar and Lynher rivers meet. The site would be known as Plymouth Dock, and around it a small settlement developed to house the construction workers. In the 17th century trade developed with the colonies in the West Indies and North America. Sugar and tobacco were imported and wool and manufactured goods were exported. There still a coastal trade. Coal from other parts of Britain was brought to Plymouth by sea.

The working dockyard was separated from the developing town by Dockwall Street and a twelve foot high stone wall.12 Investment in Plymouth Dock as a centre for the Royal Navy was supported by the erection of a lighthouse on the Eddystone Reef which lay on the route into Plymouth Sound .In 1689 it was decided to build a dockyard at Devonport. A dry dock was built there in 1693. The Admiralty also built storehouse, quarters for officers and in 1698, a rope house where rope was made. The first lighthouse was built in 1698 and swept away by the sea in 1703, but it was succeeded by other structures which would make the Eddystone Reef much safer for shipping approaching Plymouth Sound.

As early as 1725 the military and naval commands of the city had been moved from the Tudor Citadel in Plymouth to the Plymouth Dock base area.14 The settlement of Plymouth Dock developed rapidly; A new dock was built in 1727, followed by a third in 1762 and a fourth in 1793.The dockyard dominated industry in 18th century Plymouth but there was also considerable wool weaving industry and a leather industry. There was also a brewing industry and fishing remained important. The building trades were also kept busy as many new buildings were erected. Plymouth continued to be a major port. Merchants continued to trade with the West Indies and the American colonies and also traded with the Mediterranean. There was also a considerable coastal trade. Grain and coal were brought by sea from other parts of Britain into Plymouth and tin was taken away.

Improvements continuing to make the dock busier year on year, by 1811 the population of Plymouth Dock had grown to more than 30,000. Population growth presented new challenges. By the early nineteenth century, the town was struggling to cope with the presence of so many sailors, marines and soldiers. Dockyard work for civilian employees was also dangerous, leading to accidental deaths, injuries and disablement, and an epidemic of a new type of fever, ‘Plymouth Dockyard Disease’, broke out in the 1820s. The town had more than its fair share of vice and violence but there was also a degree of civic amenity: the developing infrastructure made it a more pleasant place to live than Plymouth (particularly Plymouth’s cramped Elizabethan heart around the Barbican) and local guide books extolled the virtues of the developing town.22 The middle classes of Plymouth Dock, and the Commissioner of the Dockyard, did what they could to elevate the intellectual and moral horizons of the town by building churches and providing public facilities.

A naval hospital was built in 1762 and in 1797 a military hospital was built by Stonehouse Creek. In 1798 a dispensary opened where poor people could obtain free medicines. In 1801, at the time of the first census Plymouth old town had a population of 19,000. Devonport had 23,000 and had outgrown the original town. Stonehouse had a population of 3,407. By 1851 Plymouth had almost 53,000 people. Devonport had 38,000. Stonehouse had almost 12,000. The end of the war with France in 1815 was catastrophic as many men were laid off from the dockyard. However, Plymouth eventually recovered. In 1843 Plymouth Dockyard was renamed Devonport Dockyard.

Administration of the Dockyard

Plymouth Dockyard Plan by John Cooke, Stonehouse, Plymouth 1820. It depicts the dockyard, Royal Marine Barracks, Plymouth, Royal Naval Hospital, Plymouth and HM Gun Wharf, Plymouth.

Resident Commissioner at Plymouth (1691-1823)

Resident Commissioners at Devonport (1823-1837)

Master Shipwright at Plymouth (1693-1865)

Master Attendant at Plymouth (1704-1766)

Admiral-Superintendent, Plymouth Dockyard

Additional Notes

Up until 1832 the Plymouth Royal Dockyard, was administered by a Commissioner of the Navy on behalf of the Navy Board in London included:'[1][2][3] The post of Admiral-Superintendent, Plymouth Dockyard was not renamed to Admiral-Superintendent, Devonport Dockyard until 1846.

References

  1. Archives, The National. "Navy Board and Admiralty: Yard Pay Books". discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk. The National Archives, 1660 to 1857, ADM 42. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  2. Beatson, Robert (1788). A Political Index to the Histories of Great Britain and Ireland: Or, A Complete Register of the Hereditary Honours, Public Offices, and Persons in Office, from the Earliest Periods to the Present Time. Oxford, England: G. G. J. & J. Robinson. pp. 352–353.
  3. Moseley, Brian. "Old Devonport: Commissioners of Dockyard". olddevonport.uk. Old Devonport 5 May 2017. Retrieved 19 December 2017.

Sources

  1. Archives, The National. "Navy Board and Admiralty: Yard Pay Books". discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk. The National Archives, 1660 to 1857, ADM 42. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  2. Beatson, Robert (1788). A Political Index to the Histories of Great Britain and Ireland: Or, A Complete Register of the Hereditary Honours, Public Offices, and Persons in Office, from the Earliest Periods to the Present Time. Oxford, England: G. G. J. & J. Robinson.
  3. Harrison, Simon (2010–2018). "Master Attendant at Plymouth Dockyard". threedecks.org. S. Harrison. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  4. Harrison, Simon (2010–2018). "Master Shipwright at Plymouth Dockyard". threedecks.org. S, Harrison. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  5. Moseley, Brian. "Old Devonport: Commissioners of Dockyard". olddevonport.uk. Old Devonport 5 May 2017. Retrieved 19 December 2017.