The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History
The need for
somewhere on the western approaches to repair and replenish naval warships became apparent
during the Dutch Wars of 1652-74. Sir Walter Raleigh had first suggested the
Plymouth area many years before.
Point Froward was the name of the headland just west of Mutton Cove. The land, comprising two fields, was owned by a Mr Doidge and Sir Nicholas Morice while a parcel of land within the Barton of Mount Wise was also utilised.
On December 30th 1690 the contract was let to Robert Walters of Portsmouth for the first stone dock. It was to cost £11,000. The plans were quickly revised from the one dry dock to include a wet basin, residences, stores and workshops. The cost rose to £50,000. By 1691, 75 people were employed in the Yard and when it was completed in 1698 it covered some 24 acres at a cost of £70,000.
Two building slips were also constructed and the first vessels launched were the advice boats "Postboy" and "Messenger", both of 73 tons. The "Postboy" was captured by the French off Calais in October 1694 while the "Messenger" foundered in the Atlantic on the last day of November 1701.
The Yard was still known as Plymouth Dockyard until the visit of Her Majesty Queen Victoria and HRH the Prince Albert in September 1843 when authority was given for it to take the name of Devonport Dockyard.
Fore Street Gate was the main entrance to the Yard. Just inside the Gate was the Dockyard Chapel, opened by the Government in 1817 on the site of the old chapel of 1700. Divine service was performed twice on Sundays and the inhabitants of the town were freely admitted. The chapel had a tower containing six bells.
In front of the chapel was a large gun captured by Admiral Seymour from the Chinese.
The large North Dock was first opened during the visit of HRH King George III in 1789 and was at that time the largest in the kingdom. The Dock has since been enlarged.
There was a great fire in the Dockyard (it was not then known as South Yard, of course as the North Yard had not been built) on September 27th 1840 which resulted in the destruction of some £80,000 worth of public property and the ships "Talavera" and "Imogene", while the "Minden" was severely damaged.
In 1876 work started on a new dock, some 400 feet in length and 90 feet wide, with a depth of 43 feet, allowing for 35 feet of water at ordinary high spring tides. The contractor was Mr John Pethick of Plymouth and the contract worth £200,000 included using Cornish granite, bricks from Calstock on the river Tamar and sand from Laira. The foundation stone of this dock was laid on December 11th 1878 by Rear-Admiral Willes, CB, then Superintendent of the Dockyard. The whole of the work took over five years to complete.
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