Saturday, 2 May 2015

South Devon Railway: 1844 NIMBY list

A while back I found this interesting list of the petitions objecting to the South Devon Railway Act, 1844, which set up the infrastructure for the building of Brunel's railway link from Exeter to Plymouth, following the now-classic coastal route via Dawlish and Teignmouth. The petitions relate to a number of people and places of historical interest.

As History of the Sea Wall Railway line (at describes, the construction didn't go according to schedule, and from the start in July 1844, it took two years to get a service running as far as Teignmouth, and another year-and-a-half to get the line on to Newton Abbot. Furthermore, despite the rapid passing of the Bill, there were legal objections to just about every section of the line, which trundled on in some cases for years. Reports of Committees of the House of Commons on Railway Bills, 1844, lists the ones to the first phase. They concern a mix of personal, landowning and commercial interests; one or two of the names are familiar.
First. A Petition from the Mayor, and two Petitions from the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses of the city and borough of Exeter, alleging that the Petitioners' receipts of certain tolls  on their canal would be diminished by the proposed Railway; and that the Railway would deprive the public of the use of a certain portion of the coast, and would be lessening the area of the river Exe, tend to choke up the approach thereto.

Second. A Petition from John Wilkinson, a Trustee under the will of the late Earl of Devon, alleging that the Bill did not contain sufficient provisions for the protection of the estates and the parties beneficially interested therein.

Third. A Petition from William Hobson Furlong, alleging that divers existing approaches from the sea shore to Petitioner’s land will be blocked up, and Petitioner thereby prevented drawing sea-weed, &c.
William Hobson Furlong was an Exeter lawyer who lived at Colleton Crescent, and evidently owned farmland somewhere along the coastal route. Seaweed was historically used as fertiliser.
Fourth. A Petition from James Powell, esquire, alleging that the line, being proposed to be carried within 40 feet of Petitioner's house, cutting off his access to the sea shore, will render the house unfit for his residence, and destroy its value, and that a better Line may be found.
James Powell's name probably still remains a curse word among line maintainers as the householder whose objection - he didn't want passers-by eyeballing him from the sea wall - led to the still-troublesome 'Sea Lawn Gap', a deliberately omitted section of sea wall at Dawlish that has repeatedly been a focus for storm damage to the line. See previously: Sea Lawn Gap: déjà vu at Dawlish
Fifth. A Petition from Lady Hester Jey Watson, alleging that the destruction of the wall and buildings forming the defence of her house at Dawlish would involve the application of her property; and that the Agents of the Company have undertaken not to touch certain property therein mentioned.
Lady Watson appears as a subscriber to Thomas Dalling Barleé's 1837 Miscellaneous Poetry (Internet Archive miscellaneouspoe00barl), which gives her address as "Lady Watson, Sea Grove, Dawlish, and Pulteney Street, Bath". This identifies her as the widow of Sir William Watson, builder of the mansion Seagrove that formerly stood on the hillside in grounds directly to the north of the present Dawlish Railway Station.
Higher up are several other buildings, well calculated for families, which command a pleasing view of various objects; particularly of a singular Gothic structure, called Seagrove, erected by Sir William Watson. This pile has a kind of arcade in front, with columns and pointed arches, decorated with escutcheons and fret-work pinnacles. It stands in a garden filled with various exotic plants, on one of the cliffs, and proudly looks down on the shore, which it commands for a considerable way, both towards Teignmouth and the opening of Torbay. Nearer the sea, a mount, imitating a natural rock, has been raised, with a cell in the interior.
- pages 391-2, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing Places in England and Wales, 1824
I'd love to know what the "mount" looked like; this much-recycled detail originates in William Hyett's 1800 Guide in a Tour to the Watering Places, and Their Environs, on the South-east Coast of Devon, which calls it a "whimsical mount", which I can't quite picture. From the location description, it was most likely destroyed with the building of the railway and terminus.

Seagrove (top left)
location identified by 1889 town plan,
detail from unsourced Flickr image.
The tower (right) is a pumping station
for the Atmospheric Railway.
The objection is easy to see in the image above, showing the railway terminus and pumping station by the shore below Seagrove; a number of prints such as George Rowe's West view of Dawlish, c. 1825, show the pre-railway view:

West view of Dawlish, c.1825 - Devon County Council Etched on Devon's Memory collection SC0559
After going through later incarnations as "Blyth" and "Lanherne", Seagrove was demolished and is now the site of the Lanherne sheltered housing complex whose polygonal outline is occasionally mistakenly assumed to be that of a former fort (see NLS Map Images).

Sir William Watson was a friend of the astronomer Sir William Herschel, and part of a general literary/scientific set that met at Seagrove. There's a little about this in Life of Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck, 1858 (Internet Archive lifemaryannesch01schigoog). Lady Hester seems to have been his second wife; her will (National Archives PROB 11/2068/247) confirms the name.
Sixth. A Petition from Henry Boulton Pennell, esquire, alleging that the Railway will out off Petitioner's access to the sea shore, and that he apprehends considerable injury therefrom.

Seventh. A Petition from John Copp, alleging that the Railway will be detrimental to the interests of the fishermen who use the sea shore, and that a better Line can be constructed.

Eighth. A Petition from Elizabeth Gamlin, alleging that she objects to the provisions of the Bill, by which her property will be injuriously affected.

Ninth. A Petition from certain proprietors of houses situated on the beach at Dawlish, alleging that those who keep lodging houses will not be able to let them with a Railway running within ninety feet of them.

Tenth. A Petition from certain Householders and Inhabitants of Dawlish to a similar effect; and that the Railway will destroy the promenade and the sea beach.

Eleventh. A Petition from certain fishermen, inhabitants of Dawlish and Topsham, alleging that the formation of the Railway along the beach will prevent their using it for their boats and nets, and will cut off several commodious coves; and, by preventing their landing there, endanger their lives.

Twelfth. A Petition from the Teignmouth and Shaldon Bridge Company, alleging that the Railway will cut off certain approaches to their bridge, and by the proposed mode of crossing injure the present roadway thereof.

Thirteenth. A Petition from the Trustees of the Teignmouth and Dawlish Turnpike Trust, alleging that by the construction of the Railway Petitioner's tolls will be reduced, and that compensation should be made to the creditors of the Trust; and that the Railway is impossible to be executed with safety.
Commercial interest here: the Teignmouth and Dawlish Turnpike Trust, founded in 1823, managed the toll roads, equivalent to the proposed railway route, round the coastal route from Powderham via Dawlish to Teignmouth.
Fourteenth. A Petition from William Mackworth Praed, esquire, alleging that the proposed Line passes in front of his house, and will oblige him to forego the enjoyment of the improvements on which he has expended large sums of money. That there is a better Line than the one proposed. That the latter will injure the harbour of Teignmouth.
Winthrop Mackworth Praed
This is one of the Mackworth Praeds of Bitton House, at the western end of Teignmouth. They've a number of historical connections: for instance, an earlier William Mackworth Praed was a banking partner of Benjamin Babbage, father of Charles Babbage, at Praed's Bank, London; and Winthrop Mackworth Praed (1802-1839) was a politician and poet. A number of his verses are of Teignmouth interest: see Teignmouth in Verse / Letters from Teignmouth – Our Ball. Also check out Select poems of Winthrop Mackworth Praed, (1909, Internet Archive selectpoemsofwin00praeuoft), and the two-volme The Poems of Winthrop Mackworth Praed (1805, Hathitrust 000450151).

I haven't quite worked out the family relationship of the petitioner, but there's an article about him in the Devon Family Historian: Selley, Maureen. A Nineteenth Century NIMBY - William Mackworth Praed, Devon Family Historian, vol. 131, (August 2009) pp.38. His objection to the railway is again easy to see: Bitton House (now council offices) is on a hill-slope with a favoured view over the Teign, the Back Beach of Teignmouth, and on to Shaldon and the Ness. See NLS Map Images.
Fifteenth. A Petition from John Johnson, Alderman of London, and William Johnson, esquire, alleging that they are proprietors of shares, to a large amount, in the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway, and are also mortgagees in possession. That the power of crossing the said Railway on a level, and of altering the same, and adapting it to the traffic on the South Devon Railway, as proposed by the Bill, will be injurious to the Petitioners.

Sixteenth. A Petition from the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway Company, alleging that the clauses in the Bill with reference to the alteration and adaptation of their Railway for the purposes of the South Devon Railway are insufficient in various specified respects
Another commercial objection, one with a deal of practical justification. The Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway was a narrow-gauge toll railway, run with horse-drawn wagons, that chiefly supported traffic carrying granite from the Dartmoor quarries to the quay at Plymouth. It would present considerable organisational and safety difficulties that it would have to cross the new steam line. In fact, this was what was done, and it remained the setup well toward the end its service; the Wikipedia article mentions that "many photographs have been circulated depicting the incongruous sight of the horse-drawn wagons crossing the busy main line railway".
Seventeenth. A Petition from the Sutton Pool Company, alleging that Sutton Pool is amply sufficient for the shipping frequenting Plymouth; that Mill Bay has not been rendered applicable for such purpose; that there are no provisions in the Bill for making a terminus at Sutton Pool; and that the want of such a terminus will be detrimental to the trade of Plymouth, and inconvenient to the vessels frequenting that port.

Eighteenth. A Petition from Thomas Bewes, esquire, alleging that he is the owner of certain land which will be taken for the terminus of the proposed Branch to Mill Bay, and which be has laid out as building ground, for which purpose its value will be destroyed by the Railway; that the selection of Mill Bay for the terminus is at variance with the general interests of the inhabitants; that this branch crosses on a level three streets leading from Plymouth to Stonehouse and Devonport, thereby involving dangers and inconvenience to the inhabitants; that such Branch is wholly unnecessary.
Commercial issues here again, but with a deal of sense. The proposed route - which went ahead as planned - completely bypassed Sutton Pool, then the main harbour district for Plymouth (see NLS Map Images) and went instead to the less-used Mill Bay (latter Great Western Docks - see NLS Map Images again).
Nineteenth. A Petition from the Earl of Mount Edgecumbe, alleging great inconvenience from the proposed level crossings, and that the Petitioner will be injured by the provisions contained in the Bill with reference to the Stonehouse Mill Bridge and his adjacent property.

Twentieth. A Petition from the Plymouth Union Bath Company, alleging that the construction of the Railway, or of the Mill Bay Branch, will prejudice certain of Petitioner’s works.
This would concern potential effects of the line construction on the  Royal Union Baths, Plymouth (see pages 96-97, Devonshire & Cornwall Illustrated, 1832), a neo-classical edifice by John Foulston now commemorated by the street names Bath Lane and Bath Street, which discharged its waters via a tunnel into Mill Bay (see NLS Map Images for location).

Royal Union Baths - Allom's Devonshire & Cornwall illustrated, 1832, Internet Archive devonshirecornwa00britrich

The intended terminus being right next to the Baths, the petitioner wanted provision for "protection of water pipes and culverts belonging to the Plymouth Union Bath Company". This concern turned out to be well-founded, as the Baths were demolished in 1849 on the erection of the Plymouth Millbay terminus.
Twenty-first. A Petition from the Mayor and Free Burgesses of the borough of Saltash, alleging the existence of certain rights and civil and criminal jurisdiction within the liberty of the Water Tamar, of which Mill Bay forms a part, and certain revenues arising thereout, and praying for protective clauses.

Twenty-second. A Petition from certain Shareholders in the Company. and other Inhabitants of Devonport, alleging that, contrary to the assurances given, the Bill contains no provision for constructing an approach road from the station at Eldad to Devonport; and that the proposed level crossings will subject the public to great annoyance and danger.

Twenty-third. A Petition from the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses of the borough of Devonport to a similar effect.

- Reports of Committees of the House of Commons on Railway Bills, 1844
One can well imagine a similar saga arising if, in the continuing political aftermath of the 2015 storms that disrupted rail links to the South West, any of the plans to restore former Exeter-westward railway links should be decided upon.

- Ray

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