Plymouth - Part Seven

Until the mile long breakwater was built many ships were dashed against the rocks around Plymouth often with great loss of life. This engineering marvel transformed Plymouth Sound into a place of safety.

If you look back and to the right, you should just be able to make out the flag that flutters over the citadel. If it's at right angles to the wall, then the wind is coming from the South West – and until 200 years ago that spelt trouble.

Before 1812, Plymouth Sound lay wide open to the surge of waves which began hundreds of miles away, travelling across the Atlantic and and down the English Channel before crashing against the rocks of the Hoe, causing terrible havoc and damage.

What happened on the night of January 26th 1796 was to change all that.

The East Indian ‘Dutton’ with 400 soldiers and many women and children on board was smashed against the rocks under the Citadel.

Fortunately Captain Edward Pellew, of the Royal Navy ship HMS Indefatigable, was crossing the Hoe in his carriage and saw the ship struck broadside against the rocks.

Crowds had gathered on the Hoe. They had managed to throw a rope from the shore, but no-one would dare attempt to board the wreck.

Pellew managed to get on board and take charge of the rescue operation, quelling the panic by threatening to run a sword through anyone who disobeyed his orders.

There were only 15 casualties, but to ensure that such an incident could never happen again, the great engineering feat that is Plymouth Breakwater was begun.

Three million tons of limestone, gouged out from the quarries at nearby Oreston were dumped in the sea, topped with another million tons of granite.

From start to finish it took 32 years of toil by hundreds of labourers and quarry workers to complete this monumental structure.

Designed by John Rennie and stretching for almost a mile, the breakwater transformed what had been a treacherous stretch of water into a place of safety.

Edward Pellew, the hero of the 'Dutton' shipwreck, was created Lord Exmouth and today, you'll notice, the cafe under the shadow of the Royal Citadel, proudly carries the name of 'Dutton's'.

From here you can also look across the water to the Mount Batten peninsula - for many years an RAF flying boat base. You can still see the huge hangars used to store the Sunderland flying boats which hunted down German U-boats during World war II. 

The final leg our our walk takes us back towards The Barbican and past the quays which once housed the biscuit factories and breweries that kept the Royal Navy fed and watered.

Walk past Dutton's Cafe and keep to the footpath that leads back to Sutton Harbour. Our next point of interest is opposite the Admiral McBride pub.