Case Study Site 22 – Exmoor

Case Study Site 22 – Exmoor

1.         Location

The case study frontage extends along the north Devon coast from Combe Martin eastwards to the western side of Minehead in Somerset; a coastal frontage of approximately 40km. 

2.         Why was the Case Study Site selected?

The case study covers the coastal extent of the Exmoor National Park.  The aim of the National Park is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the park and to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the park by the public.  Along this largely natural and very beautiful coastline there are Conservation Areas at Lynton, Lynmouth and Porlock.  Heritage assets include the lime kiln at Heddon’s Mouth, Martinhoe Castle (Roman signal station), Duty Point Tower at Lee Abbey, the village of Lynmouth, and the coastguard station at Hurlstone Point near Bossington, Somerset. 

3.         Summary of the Geology, Geomorphology & Coastal Processes

The coastal geology comprises almost entirely sandstones and limestones of the Torbay and Tamar Groups of the mid to late Devonian Period.  Much of this coastline is undefended and the natural processes of weathering, coastal erosion and cliff instability are allowed to continue.  Between Combe Martin and Lynmouth erosion over the next 100 years is likely to have an impact on Scheduled Monuments, Listed Buildings and other non-designated archaeological features; however, the Lynmouth frontage will continue to be protected.  Extending eastwards to Porlock, again there are no proposals for further coastal defences along this frontage. 

At Porlock Weir, the defences here are privately owned and the owner has indicated an intent to maintain them.  However, the long term sustainability of defences at this location is under further consideration.  Eastwards from Porlock Weir to Hurlstone Point the coastline would be allowed to retreat naturally, with the loss of a number of Scheduled Monuments located in the low-lying floodplain as the shoreline moves landwards.  This is in line with established policy in the area, implemented by the National Trust and the Environment Agency, who are currently investigating how to mitigate future flood risk through land use change as part of a separate study (Halcrow, 20091).  A further section of the coast from Hurlstone Point to Minehead will also allow the natural evolution of this frontage without any active intervention. 

4.         Risks to Heritage Assets along the Case Study Frontage

The North Devon and Somerset SMP (Halcrow, 20091) has identified the potential impacts of coastal change on a number of heritage sites as through ongoing natural processes or through possible changes in coastal defence policy from ‘hold the line’ to ‘managed realignment, or ‘no active intervention’.  Heritage sites along this frontage are located close to the top of, or along the foot of high cliffs and slopes.  Some of these sites are not at immediate risk, for example, the Roman signal station of Martinhoe Castle.  However, the two storey castellated Duty Point Tower stands on the very edge of the cliff at Lynton, and is at risk in the foreseeable future. 

5.         How can historical Imagery inform heritage risk management?

The picturesque setting of Lynmouth, with its steep, wooded cliffs and fast rivers flowing down to the Bristol Channel, has been the site of devastating floods in the past.  Historical images show the gradual development of the village over the last 200 years along the narrow confines of the valley, and at the point where it meets the river meets the sea.  Images of this kind can form an additional tool to inform flood risk management.  Sites of heritage significance were not always identified as a suitable subject for artists unless perhaps they had a particular picturesque value.  As a result, some of the sites along the Exmoor coast do not feature as artistic images.  In these cases, oblique or vertical aerial photography are most informative in support of site management.  These issues are explored through the series of images and captions provided below. 

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

The case study site provides a range of illustrations of heritage sites of interest located close to or on the Exmoor coastline.  Artistic images of some heritage features do not exist and, therefore, aerial or oblique photographs represent the best opportunity for study.  The strength of the artistic images is in the depictions of the coastal villages such as Lynmouth, where its history and changing patterns of development since the early nineteenth century can be clearly understood. 

Figure 22.1: This lithograph produced in the 1840s shows Heddon’s Mouth to the North-West of Martinhoe.  The Post-Medieval lime kiln (MDE1026) is located on a ledge above the River Heddon and close to the shore.  The structure was restored by the National Trust in 1982.  Access steps lead to the kiln working area from the shore.  In the past the kiln has suffered severe storm damage in this exposed location.

Figure 22.2 and Figure 22.3 show the location of Duty Point Tower at Lee Abbey near Lynton.  This mid-nineteenth century romantic lookout tower is an important local landmark (Grade II Listed).  The tower is located on the edge of high cliffs and is at risk from coastal erosion and rockfalls beneath.  No artworks of the tower itself have been found although the engraving (right) shows the Abbey and its grounds.  The aerial photograph (below) (c.1930) shows the Duty Point headland and Lee Bay beyond.

Image courtesy: HES Britain from Above.

Figures 22.4-22.6 show three views of the village of Lynmouth spanning the time period from 1814-1990.

Figure 22.4 is an aquatint engraving by William Daniell RA produced at the start of his eleven year ‘Voyage Round Great Britain’.  Generally, Daniell’s scenes, and especially the architecture, are topographically accurate.

Figure 22.5 shows the same view in about 1920 depicted by the watercolour artist Alfred Robert Quinton.  A new wall provides protection for the additional row of houses that were built after Daniell’s visit.

Image courtesy of J. Salmon Limited of Sevenoaks.

Figure 22.6: The former architect and artist, David Addey, retraced Daniell’s tour painting over 400 watercolour drawings in the late 1980s-early 1990s.  The row of properties remain almost unchanged since Daniell’s visit.

Image courtesy of David Addey.

Figure 22.7: A highly detailed lithograph of the Lynmouth coastal frontage by George Rowe c.1835.  The developing village can be seen together with the harbour and its distinctive Rhenish Tower (see also Figures 22.10 and 22.11 below).  Elegant properties have been built on the steep, cultivated hillside beyond.

Figure 22.8 shows a similar view by A. R. Quinton, c.1925.  The village was struck by a devastating flood in August 1952 following torrential rainfall with the combined flows of the East and West Lyn Rivers discharging through the village on the way to the sea. 

Image courtesy of J. Salmon Limited of Sevenoaks.

Figure 22.9 shows the river valley as a scene of tranquillity.  This finely engraved lithograph by W. Spreat, c.1840 provides exact details both architectural and topographical.

Figure 22.10: This detailed architectural watercolour by A. R. Quinton, c.1920 shows the view looking down Mars Hill towards the distinctive Rhenish-style tower.  It was built in c.1860 to store sea water for bathing (MDE 21018).  The tower was destroyed in the 1952 floods but rebuilt.

Image courtesy of J. Salmon Limited of Sevenoaks.

Figure 22.11 shows a further detailed view of the tower by Myles Birket Foster RWS, the leading and perhaps finest watercolourist of the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

Photograph courtesy of Marshall Spink, London UK/Bridgeman Art Library.

Figure 22.12: A fine watercolour by Albert Goodwin RWS, 1877, showing Lynmouth and Countisbury Hill from the shore at Low Water.  Goodwin produced numerous Devon coastal views.

Image courtesy of Chris Beetles Gallery, London.

Figure 22.13: ‘Porlock Weir’ by Edward William Cooke RA. 1862.  Cooke was a remarkably accurate painter, a Fellow of the Royal Society with a fascination for coastal geology.  His views of the coast are of photographic quality (see also Case Study 8: Beer).  Encouraged by the art critic John Ruskin, Cooke sought to capture nature exactly following the ethos of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Image courtesy of Martyn Gregory Gallery, London.

Figure 22.14: ‘A photograph of Porlock Weir in the 1950s.’  The defences here are privately owned (by the National Trust) and there is a coastal defence policy of ‘No Active Intervention’ in place for sustainability reasons. 

Figure 22.15: Porlock Weir was also painted by A. R Quinton in watercolour (c.1920); these properties still line the waterfront.

Figure 22.16 shows the old Coastguard Lookout Station’ at Hurlstone Point near Bossington, Somerset to the east of Porlock.  The two-storey building was erected c.1900 and was manned up to World War II (MSO 8110). 

Image courtesy of Graham Horn.  Creative Commons Licence.

7.         References

  1.  Halcrow, 2009.  ‘Hartland Point to Anchor Head SMP2’.