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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Royal William Yard

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas MARCH. 30, 2021

Yesterday we were on the beach relaxing and it was our plan to go to Plymouth today, our first proper day out of any distance since Christmas as our stay at home order has been lifted. On the beach we got chatting to a lady and we were discussing lockdowns and how good it was to be free to travel about again. We mentioned we were going to Plymouth to explore and she said whatever you do don't miss Royal William Yard.

We had never heard of it so we looked it up on Google and wow what an amazing place it was.

The Royal William Victualling Yard in Stonehouse, a suburb of Plymouth, England, was the major victualling depot of the Royal Navy and an important adjunct of Devonport Dockyard. It was designed by the architect Sir John Rennie and was named after King William IV. It was built between 1826 and 1835 and occupies a site of approximately 16 acres (65,000 m2) being half of Western Kings, north of Devil's Point.

Described as the grandest of the royal victualling yards, 'in its externally largely unaltered state it remains today one of the most magnificent industrial monuments in the country'.

These photos are just an appetiser as the place is vast, and I plan to return on a photo walk to document it in more detail.

It is like a small town, dedicated to provisioning the ships of the Royal Navy which at the time was the largest navy in the world. As a consequence it has it's own factories manufacturing all the supplies needed. Included in the grand, money no object, buildings, are a bakery with flour mill attached, a slaughterhouse, a cooperage where barrels were repaired and made as well as accommodation, all set within a defensive wall facing the English Channel.

The northern range of this complex of buildings contained a central granary flanked by flour mills, with 27 sets of millstones powered by a pair of steam engines, capable of producing 270,000 lb (120,000 kg) of flour per week. Grain could be loaded directly into the granary from vessels on the quayside. The southern range contained the bakery, with two sets of six ovens, back-to-back either side of the central spine wall (beneath a row of four square chimneys). There was a central boiler house with a chimney, with one engine to the north and the other to the south (the engines also powered biscuit-making equipment). The biscuits were dried on the upper floors of the side ranges; there was also a drying kiln above the boiler house.

It's worth noting here that "ship's biscuits" were the staple diet of the British Navy and were designed as a food that lasted well and travelled the world. Initially the main diet was biscuits and beer until it was eventually possible to carry safe fresh water. Beer being a brewed liquid made it safer to drink than water. This beer was weak in comparison to modern beer and was also drunk by children.

Currently an apartment here would start at about £200,000 going up to £400,000 for a two bedroom with balcony and sea view. There are several restaurants scattered about the complex along with gyms and brewery and health and wellness centres.

But the real beauty of the place is that it is free to enter and wander around, reasonably cheap to park, and takes in parts of the National Coast Path too. It has to be the largest open air museum in Britain. It is also a start point for various passenger ferries and boat trips when things return to normal.

The car park itself is worth a mention as it has been carefully laid out inside the ruins of old buildings so that you are in effect driving around the inside of the building with no roof and the original walls divide up the parking spaces with original windows offering views through.

Part of the centre of the complex is still under renovation. The Royal William Yard includes a collection of Grade I and Grade II listed buildings, built from Devon limestone with granite detailing, arranged around the square basin;

Just outside the fortifications sits this tidal bathing pool looking out to sea with various defensive forts from different eras guarding the harbour entrance.

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