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Coordinates: 50°20′2.98″N 4°8′55.18″W / 50.3341611°N 4.1486611°W / 50.3341611; -4.1486611

Plymouth breakwater from Kingsand showing the 1844 lighthouse and the Breakwater Fort beyond.
Plymouth breakwater from Wembury.
Plymouth breakwater, viewed from above Kingsand.

Plymouth Breakwater is a 1,560-metre (1,710 yd) stone breakwater protecting Plymouth Sound and the anchorages near Plymouth, Devon, England. It is 13 metres (43 ft) wide at the top and the base is 65 metres (213 ft). It lies in about 10 metres (33 ft) of water. Around 4 million tons of rock were used in its construction in 1812 at the then-colossal cost of £1.5 million (equivalent to £87.2 million today).


In 1806, as the Napoleonic Wars impended, Lord St. Vincent commissioned John Rennie and Joseph Whidbey to plan a means of making Plymouth Bay a safe anchorage for the Channel Fleet. In 1811 came the order to begin construction; Whidbey was appointed Acting Superintending Engineer. This task required great engineering, organizational and political skills, as the many strictly technical challenges were complicated by the significant resources devoted to the project, from which various parties evidenced a desire for advantage. Nearly 4,000,000 (four million) tons of stone were quarried and transported, using about a dozen ships innovatively designed by the two engineers. A paper to the Royal Society suggests that Whidbey found many fossils as a result of the quarrying necessary to the breakwater.[1]

The foundation stone was laid on Shovel Rock on August 8, 1812. It followed a line over Panther Rock, Shovel and St. Carlos Rocks, and was sufficiently completed by 1814 to shelter ships of the line. Napoleon was reported as commenting that the breakwater was a grand thing, as he passed by it on the way to exile on St. Helena in 1815.

Severe storm damage in 1817 and 1824 prompted a change in the profile and height. Whidbey continued to work on the breakwater and other engineering projects, including the breakwater's lighthouse (designed by Walker & Burgess for Trinity House), until retirement around 1830. It was finished by 1841, the final work being finished by Rennie's son, Sir John Rennie. The lighthouse became operational in 1844, and soon afterwards a horse-drawn omnibus was driven from end to end, with a full complement of passengers and accompanied by a military band.[2] A beacon was placed at the eastern end, consisting of a 6-foot (1.8 m) spherical cage on a 17-foot (5.2 m) pole; the cage was designed as a refuge for six shipwrecked sailors.[3]

Plymouth Breakwater Fort[edit]

Plymouth Breakwater Fort from inside the Sound

In 1860, a Royal Commission, established by Lord Palmerston, produced a plan for the defence of Plymouth and other Royal Dockyards.[4] The Breakwater Fort was designed to defend the entrances to Plymouth Sound in conjunction with forts and batteries on either shore. Designed by Captain Siborne, work on the oval masonry sea fort started in 1861 and the main structure was completed in 1865. It has its foundations on Shovel Rock and is 35 yards inside the Breakwater. After several changes in plan, the fort was finally armed in 1879 with fourteen 12.5-inch and four 10-inch rifled muzzle-loading guns in armoured casemates. Although the fort had been disarmed before World War I, it served as a signal station, and from 1937, an anti-aircraft training school. It was finally released by the military in 1976.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Whidbey, Joseph (1817). "A Farther Account of Fossil Bones Discovered in Caverns Inclosed in the Lime Stone Rocks at Plymouth". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 111. pp. 133–135. Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
  2. ^ Plymouth Times, 27 July 1844
  3. ^ http://www.plymouthdata.info/Breakwater.htm
  4. ^ "The Breakwater Fort, Plymouth - the Palmerston battery at the mouth of the Sound". BBC. Retrieved 2011-10-22. 

External links[edit]

  • [1] Plymouth Breakwater

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plymouth_Breakwater — Please support Wikipedia.
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36 news items

Plymouth Herald

Plymouth Herald
Fri, 23 Jan 2015 02:41:15 -0800

He has also volunteered at the Plymouth Breakwater Swim. “I thought it was time to do something that would benefit me in a healthy way and benefit the charity by raising funds and awareness,” he explained. A Chestnut Appeal spokeswoman said: “I know ...

Plymouth Herald

Plymouth Herald
Sat, 04 Oct 2014 06:00:52 -0700

THE genius engineer behind Plymouth's famous breakwater has finally been recognised in his homeland - nearly 200 years after his death. John Rennie, considered an unsung hero in Scotland for deigning the Leith Dock, has been inducted into the Scottish ...

BBC News

Yachting and Boating World
Tue, 02 Sep 2014 03:07:30 -0700

Three sailors were rescued from their sinking yacht on Monday evening after hitting Plymouth breakwater. The incident, which happened just before midnight, saw The Lady Larissa crash into the structure in Plymouth Sound while attempting to enter the ...

Plymouth Herald

Plymouth Herald
Fri, 08 Aug 2014 04:58:26 -0700

A CHARITY swim in Plymouth Sound due to be held this weekend has been postponed due to the weather. The Chestnut appeal for Prostate Cancer was due to hold its third annual sponsored swim from the Breakwater to Plymouth Hoe on Sunday August 10.
BBC News
Fri, 18 Nov 2011 00:46:03 -0800

Sailor rescued after Plymouth breakwater collisions. A lone sailor has been rescued after getting into difficulty twice while trying to land his vessel in Plymouth. The man made two attempts to bring his 26ft (7.9m) yacht into the Sound on Thursday night.
Plymouth Herald
Thu, 23 Oct 2014 11:27:15 -0700

Devonport Gallery has exhibitions on WW1, WW2, Semaphore, Morse code, Naval supplies, uniform collection, medals, a working periscope for visitors, cooperage, history of Plymouth Breakwater and a Royal Marines exhibition. • 'Age of Sail', an exhibition ...

The Guardian

The Guardian
Fri, 13 Jun 2014 22:01:09 -0700

Plymouth is the port of entry (or exit) for the UK section of La Vélodyssée, an 870-mile cycling epic that links the Atlantic seaboard of France with the Devon Coast to Coast route between the "Ocean City" and Ilfracombe. The route is broken up into ...

Plymouth Herald

Plymouth Herald
Mon, 12 May 2014 09:30:00 -0700

A KEEN sea swimmer is going to put his teenage fitness to the test when he takes on four separate events this summer. Jack Northmore, aged just 14, came sixth in the annual breakwater swim last August organised by the Chestnut Appeal for prostate cancer.

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