Case Study Site 14 – Plymouth

Case Study Site 14 – Plymouth

1.         Location

The case study extends from the eastern side of Plymouth Sound to include City frontage, Devonport, Mount Edgcumbe and west to Rame Head.  The total coastal frontage is approximately 15km. 

2.         Why was the Case Study Site selected?

Plymouth was selected on account of its rich maritime heritage, which dates back to the reign of King Henry VIIIth when the earliest fortifications were constructed as defences against French attack.  Concerns about invasion after the Spanish Armada led to further improvements with the Royal Citadel being constructed for King Charles II in 1665, incorporating the remains of the sixteenth century fort.  Further improvements to the fortifications continued through into the late eighteenth century.  On account of Plymouth’s rich maritime heritage, there are numerous illustrations of the Citadel, as well as views of shipping and Naval activity within Plymouth Sand, Cattewater and Hamoaze.  A further attraction for artists was Mount Edgcumbe, located on a headland to the south-west of the city.  Plymouth experienced perhaps the most intensive bombing of any English cities in the Second World War, and many historic buildings were lost, leading to a major programme of reconstruction.  However, the Citadel and a number of other historic locations around the waterfront remain today.  On account of the numerous images of the Plymouth area, and the importance of the Royal Citadel and Mount Edgcumbe, the rich resource of images available allow us to understand more about changes to historic sites since the 1770s.   

3.         Summary of the Geology, Geomorphology & Coastal Processes

The coastal frontage at Plymouth is composed of rocks of the lower old red sandstone group of early Devonian age.  North of the coastline there are outcrops of limestones, mudstones and slates of the Torbay and Tamar Groups.  These occupy most of the area of the inner harbour. 

Plymouth developed on an estuary, the largest along the south Devon coast, and is located at the point of discharge of three major rivers, the Tamar, the Tavy, and the Plym.  Several smaller streams and creeks also discharge into the estuary.  These waters combine to form Plymouth Sound, which is flanked by steep rocky cliffs, and is partially protected by the Plymouth Sand breakwater, which limits the wave exposure of the shoreline on its landward side.  The presence of Drake’s Island within the sand also provides an element of shelter for the shoreline. 

The adjacent cliff lines and rocky coasts are resistant to erosion, with very slow rates of retreat. 

4.         Risks to Heritage Assets along the Case Study Frontage

On account of the nature of the solid geology and the relatively sheltered position of Plymouth within its Sound, the impacts on heritage assets can be expected to be slight.  However, severe storm events, such as those experienced in the winter of 2013/14, demonstrate that, even in such locations, damage to exposed historical structures, such as at the Citadel, can be experienced.  This may be expected to increase as a result of an increased frequency of storm events and rising sea levels.

5.         How can historical Imagery inform heritage risk management?

On account of the wealth of images produced of Plymouth, often relating to its maritime and Naval heritage, it is possible to illustrate the chronology of development and change in the case study site.  A series of annotated images have been provided as part of this case study to show how they may be interpreted to better inform us of development patterns within the city and its environs over time. 

6.         Key Issues – What can be learnt from this site?

Like the case study for Torquay (Case Study 12) this review of Plymouth focuses on changes resulting from human activity rather than natural change.  Interpreting historical images in this way provide more information on the addition, alteration or loss of heritage sites over the decades and centuries, thereby providing a more complete record of the city’s heritage. 

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