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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Odds and Sods, January 2022, Part 2

We left Part 1 in Royal William Yard, Plymouth, and here we are the other side of the water looking back at Royal William Yard in the distance. Follow the pier right down the middle and just slightly to the right are the walled sea defences for the former revictualing yard of the Royal Navy.

Victuals - ARCHAIC noun, plural noun: food or provisions. The word derives via the Middle English and Anglo-French vitaille from the Late Latin plural noun victualia ("provisions"), and ultimately (by way of victus, meaning "nourishment" or "way of living") the Latin verb vivere, meaning "to live." Vivere is the source of a whole smorgasbord of other English words, such as vital, vivid, and survive. It's also the root of viand, another English word referring to food. There's also vittles, a word that sounds like it might be an alteration of the plural victuals (both are pronounced /VIT-ulz/) but which is actually just an earlier development of the Middle English vitaille that was served before victual. (Merriam-Webster)

On the left is the small island, Drake's Island, after Sir Francis Drake. On every side and in every direction there are forts still standing or remains of forts through the ages. This has to be, historically, one of the most defended pieces of water in Europe. For centuries it was the largest natural harbour of the world's largest navy.

The name of this breakwater had me confused, I had assumed the Mount Batten Breakwater had some connection to Lord Mountbatten the 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Governor General of India, Last Viceroy of India, Supreme Allied Commander in Southeast Asia and infamously a victim of assassination by the Provisional IRA in 1979.

But I hadn't noticed that this Mount Batten was in fact two separate words and so refers to an actual mount, a large outcrop of rock at this point in Plymouth Sound actually named after Sir William Batten who was an English naval officer and politician, who sat in the House of Commons from 1661 to 1667. As Surveyor of the Navy, he was a colleague of Samuel Pepys, who disliked him and disparaged him several times in his famous Diary.

The other Mountbatten is related to the Battenburgs mentioned in a previous post.

In 1644 William Batten was at Plymouth, where he fortified the tip of the peninsula, which has been known since as Mount Batten. Batten continued to patrol the English seas until the end of the First Civil War. His action in 1647 in bringing into Portsmouth a number of Swedish warships and merchantmen which had refused the customary salute to the flag, was approved by Parliament.

Pepys's picture of Batten is not wholly consistent: he portrays him as a devious schemer, but Batten often comes across in the Diary as a typical old sailor, open-natured and quick-tempered. Pepys himself noted that the easiest way to deal with Batten was to make him lose his temper, "for then he will tell you everything in his mind."

The Mount Batten Breakwater doubles as a breakwater for the Cattewater and Sutton Harbour. It was built in 1881 by the Cattewater Commissioners and subsequently refurbished by the Plymouth Development Corporation opening formally in 1995.

That thin line, below, far more deadly to invading ships than it looks is the Plymouth Breakwater. It 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 £69.7million today). In the middle of it is a fort.

Here viewed across Jennycliff Bay on the South West Coast Path. This area is designated a County Wildlife Site (CWS) and part of the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) known as Plymouth Sound, Shores and Cliffs. From its upper grassy area, the bay overlooks Mount Batten and Plymouth Sound.

It's importance as a nature reserve is primarily because it contains four Nationally Scarce species: Pale St John's Wort, Maidenhair fern, Dwarf elder, and Round-leaved cranesbill.

Over the water in the centre of the city is Plymouth Hoe from where legend has it Drake was playing bowls when the news arrived of the sighting of the Spanish Armada. Drake famously, it is alleged, proceeded to finish his game before leaving to save England.

Most British people are familiar with Plymouth Hoe from History lessons in school and the Spanish Armada connection, so it was a surprise when I Googled hoe to get the derivation and found this very definitely wrong definition for this historic place.

Hoe - A person(male or female) who uses their looks and charms to manipulate their partner to gain material(sex, money,). A hoe does not love their partner and the minute someone with better looks, or money comes along they abandon their previous partner and the cycle continues.

Now I can see why my American friend was so curious about Plymouth Hoe on our recent trip. Maybe when I pointed in the direction of the Hoe he was scanning the people on the side of the road trying to guess who I was referring to.

Sir Francis Drake (c.  1540 – 28 January 1596) was an English explorer, sea captain, naval officer, and politician. Drake is best known for his circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition, from 1577 to 1580. This included his incursion into the Pacific Ocean, until then an area of exclusive Spanish interest, and his claim to New Albion for England, an area in what is now the U.S. state of California. His expedition inaugurated an era of conflict with the Spanish on the western coast of the Americas, an area that had previously been largely unexplored by Western shipping.

Elizabeth I awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581 which he received on the Golden Hind in Deptford. In the same year he was appointed mayor of Plymouth. As a vice admiral, he was second-in-command of the English fleet in the victorious battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588. King Philip II of Spain allegedly offered a reward of 20,000 ducats for his capture or death, equivalent to over $4 million in today's prices.

Plymouth Hoe, referred to locally as the Hoe, is a large south-facing open public space in the English coastal city of Plymouth. The Hoe is adjacent to and above the low limestone cliffs that form the seafront and it commands views of Plymouth Sound, Drake's Island, and across the Hamoaze to Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall. The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon word hoh, a sloping ridge shaped like an inverted foot and heel (a term that survives in a few other place names, notably Sutton Hoo).

Further east is The Royal Citadel which was built in the late 1660s to the design of Sir Bernard de Gomme. It is at the eastern end of Plymouth Hoe overlooking Plymouth Sound, and encompasses the site of the earlier fort that had been built in the time of Sir Francis Drake.

De Gomme was born in Terneuzen, Zeeland as the son of Pieter de Gomme, who in 1631 was in charge of supplies at the Dutch fortresses of Lillo and Liefkenshoek on either side of the mouth of the Scheldt near Antwerp. In his youth he served in the campaigns of Frederick Henry, prince of Orange, for example in the Gennep campaign of 1641. He afterwards accompanied Prince Rupert to England, and was knighted by Charles I.

In March 1661 he was promoted to engineer-in-chief of all the king's castles and fortifications in England and Wales. Among his first tasks were the repairs of Dover pier, the erection of fortifications at Dunkirk, and the surveying of Tilbury Fort. In August 1665 instructions were given for making the fortifications at Portsmouth according to the plans prepared by Gomme. On 17th November of the same year the king directed him to build a new citadel on the Hoe of Plymouth.

The earlier fort was paid for with salted fish in barrels. In May 1592, Elizabeth I had decided that the fort could be funded by a tax on every hogshead of pilchards which was exported from Plymouth. A hogshead in Britain contains about 300 L (66 imp gal; 79 US gal).

This gives some idea of how enormous the exports of Pilchards in the South West was. More on pilchards further on.

During the Dutch Wars of 1664-67 King Charles II decided that it was necessary to realise the importance of Plymouth as a channel port. The original plan was to build a regular self-contained fort with five bastions, to the west of Drake's Fort, but this was revised to take in the earlier fort, resulting in the Citadel's irregular outline.

The Royal Citadel was the most important English defence for over 100 years, with 70 ft high walls, and was regularly strengthened over the years, particularly during the 1750s when it was equipped with 113 guns.

The Royal Citadel is still occupied by the military, being the base of 29 Commando Regiment of the Royal Artillery. This specialist British Army unit provides artillery support to 3 Commando Brigade of the Royal Marines. Guided tours are sometimes available. (Wikipedia)

RAF Mount Batten Memorial. "Mount Batten flying boat base, near Plymouth in southern England, was first established as Royal Naval Air Service station Cattewater in February 1917. It was transferred to the Royal Air Force (RAF) when that service was created in April 1918 and remained operational until March 1922 when it was placed in reserve. It became operational again in September 1928 and was renamed RAF Station Mount Batten on 1 October 1929.

The station operated throughout the Second World War and was home to both Royal Australian Air Force flying boat squadrons for varying periods. Operating from Plymouth Sound proved to be a challenge for pilots as it was always full of ships, and the ships and Plymouth itself were protected by barrage balloons.

Mount Batten ceased to be an operational station on 31 October 1945 but various RAF marine maintenance and training units occupied it up until it was finally closed in July 1992".

There is a great website here that gives more background to this area and the remains of the base still visible today.

Across the water in the county of Cornwall lie the twin villages of Cawsand and Kingsand. I recently visited them and the link will take you to that post. It explains why there are two villages in one with two different names.

Drake's Island is 400 metres long and around 100 metres wide and situated at the north of the Sound. It was fortified to defend Drake's Channel, the only deep-water route to Devonport. The Bridge is a shallow reef that links Drake's Island and the Cornish mainland. At low water the depth of the Bridge can be less than one metre but at high water it can rise to 5 metres. In World War I this natural barrier was supplemented by other obstructions to prevent submarines and small ships attacking the naval base.

By now you have probably had your fill of Plymouth so let's go rural with some shots from South Milton, a hamlet and beach in The South Hams. This is a fresh water ley set back from the beach.

Leave nothing but your footprint.

A view East along the English Channel, to Bolberry Head.

A view West with Burgh Island and the Art Deco Burgh Island hotel just visible.

Now at Bantham beach further west ( more here) and we are opposite the island with the hotel glowing in the morning sun. There are nearly always surfers here whatever the weather and usually the air sea rescue too, when they get washed out to sea. The small building lower right is The Pilchard Inn.

"Over the golden sandy causeway to Burgh Island, you’ll discover an inn with seven hundred years of history. There are few places better than The Pilchard Inn to sit and watch the tides ebb and flow while relaxing with a pint and savouring your favourite dish. The cosy, wood-beamed interior oozes history and atmosphere at every stone-flagged turn"

"Sardine" and "pilchard" are common names for various small, oily forage fish in the herring family Clupeidae. The term "sardine" was first used in English during the early 15th century and may come from the Italian island of Sardinia, around which sardines were once abundant.

The terms "sardine" and "pilchard” are not precise, and what is meant depends on the region. The United Kingdom's Sea Fish Industry Authority, for example, classifies sardines as young pilchards. One criterion suggests fish shorter in length than 15 cm (6 in) are sardines, and larger fish are pilchards. The origin of the word pilchard is unknown, lost in the mists of time.

Here is the river Avon which meets the sea at Bantham, with far fewer boats than normal at this time of year. Avon is an anglicisation of the Welsh Afon which means river. So this is the River River.

Finally one of our last January trips was to Brixham, so this is a taster for a separate post to come. It is thought that the name 'Brixham' came from Brioc's village. 'Brioc' was an old English or Brythonic personal name and '-ham' is an ancient term for home derived from Old English.

The town is hilly and built around the harbour which remains in use as a dock for fishing trawlers. It has a focal tourist attraction in the replica of Sir Francis Drake's ship Golden Hind that is permanently moored there. Which brings us neatly around in a circle to Sir Francis Drake again and his original knighthood on the original Golden Hind.

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John Durham
John Durham
Feb 01, 2022

I agree with Camellia about the last photo - great color and the ripples in the water make the reflections surrealistic. It must be great fun researching all these topics and people - I'm a researcher, but my work is in running down medical and biological information for friends and family. Much more as we age and deteriorate, especially. Just as I did when teaching, there's always something new to learn and pass on and I can't stand not knowing. Thanks for the pass!

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Feb 02, 2022
Replying to

I avoid researching medical conditions or I tend to develop them.🤣 The other research though is really enjoyable as the area is all new to us so every day is an adventure. The last photo is surprising as it was so overcast but it does seem to work nonetheless. Thanks.


Unknown member
Feb 01, 2022

Another nice set of captures. My favorites ones are the horse ones and the last photo.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Feb 02, 2022
Replying to

The horse ones were just a lucky touch as I have been there several times and never seen a horse there.🙂

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