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Portpatrick Harbour
Portpatrick, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland
associated engineer
John Smeaton
John Rennie snr
Sir John Rennie
date  1773 - 1778, 1821 - 1839
era  Georgian  |  category  Harbour  |  reference  NW997541
ICE reference number  HEW 1276
Portpatrick Harbour lies on the stormy west coast of Scotland, on an ancient trade route with Donaghadee. Originally an exposed sandy bay, with just a simple landing stage, Portpatrick was nevertheless important as one end of the shortest sea passage to Ireland.
In 1770, John Smeaton proposed two breakwaters to enclose and protect the bay. However, efforts to construct the northern breakwater on a rocky outcrop known as M'Cooks Craig failed as a result of the destructive powers of the sea, and were abandoned in 1801.
The southern breakwater was built for the Post Office, to service mail packet ships, and was completed in 1778. It had a main section 82m long, aligned south east to north west, constructed with sloping external courses of stone. A 53m long flank section branched off near the tip of the main pier, in a north easterly direction. The flank pier was founded mostly on sand using the pierres perdues method, and had a rounded pier head where the external masonry was interlocked with dovetails, 'Eddystone fashion'. A lighthouse was added in 1779.
The main south pier was protected by a revetment of stone blocks in 1782, at Smeaton’s recommendation, as a defence against winter storms. By 1797, harbour works had cost some £15,000.
As Thomas Telford remarked in 1802, Portpatrick remained “destitute of the advantages requisite for a perfect harbour”. Further improvements were needed, and in 1818 John Rennie Senior expanded Smeaton’s ideas, designing a deeper harbour bounded by two massive piers each with lighthouses. The estimated scheme cost was £120,000 and work began in 1821.
The new south breakwater and lighthouse were completed by 1836, under John Rennie the younger, as his father had died in 1821. In 1839, a storm undermined the pier head, endangering the lighthouse and causing £13,800 worth of damage. Total costs then exceeded £170,000, so work on the unfinished north breakwater and lighthouse was stopped and never resumed.
In 1849, the Irish mail service was transferred to the port of Stranraer. The railway arrived at Portpatrick in August 1862, but despite the excavation of an inner basin to the north of the harbour to accommodate Irish packet traffic, the mail service did not return to its former level.
The ferry service between Larne and Stranraer began in 1862, and the official ferry terminus was relocated from Portpatrick to Stranraer in 1868. The harbour fell into disuse and was abandoned after 1873. In 1871, the lighthouse was dismantled and re-erected in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Portpatrick Harbour is now owned and managed privately. Its ruined breakwaters provide a safe haven for fishing and pleasure boats.
Resident engineer (1773-5): John Gwyn
Resident engineer (1775-8): James Kyle
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"John Smeaton, FRS" by Professor A.W. Skempton
Thomas Telford Limited, London, 1981
www.ports.org.uk
reference sources   CEH SLB
Location

Portpatrick Harbour