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Royal William Victualling Yard
Devilís Point, Plymouth, Devon
associated engineer
Sir John Rennie
date  1826 - 1835
era  Georgian  |  category  Docks/Slipway  |  reference  SX460536
ICE reference number  HEW 1486
The Royal William Victualling Yard is situated on the sheltered north side of Plymouth's Devilís Point peninsula, which was chosen historically as a centralised provisioning depot for the Royal Navy. The complex is an important group of historic industrial buildings ranged around a basin. The structures include ceremonial gates, police station, slaughterhouse, residences, mill, bakery, cooperage, storehouses and administrative buildings.
The Navy Board engaged Sir John Rennie in 1822 to be responsible for the design and construction of the yard. He was at the time completing work on the Plymouth Breakwater. On 3rd June 1824, King George IV gave royal assent to an Act of Parliament for the purchase of land over the water at Cremyll Point for the supply of water and materials to the new yard. In the 1825 Parliamentary estimates, £291,512 was allocated for the project. Work began in 1826 under the supervision of Rennie and Philip Richards.
The limestone of the peninsula was blasted to form a level area for the site, and the material generated was used to reclaim further land from the sea. An estimated 300,000 tonnes of rock were displaced. The site covers 6.5 hectares, of which 2.4 hectares are reclaimed. On the north side of the yard is the tidal basin, 76m long and 61m wide, designed for deep water hoys (sloop-rigged coasting ships for cargo and passengers) and barges.
In 1827 the Duke of Clarence laid the coping stone of the sea wall. This was placed 3.4m under water using a cast iron diving bell measuring only 1.8m by 1.2m — it's not clear whether the Duke of Clarence was actually inside it!
Work on the yard continued from November 1827 until the end of 1832, possibly using convict labour. Construction was in Devonian limestone with granite detailing. Inside the buildings, cast iron columns and wrought iron principal joists for upper floors and roof members were used extensively. Roofs were slate with copper bonnets. Rennie ensured that the most impressive architectural details were incorporated into the Greco-Roman granite gateways in Cremyll Street and at the Clarence Steps, the police station and the slaughterhouse — all to impress visitors.
On 3rd December 1833, an Admiralty Order was given to name the site the Royal William Victualling Yard after William IV, the last Lord High Admiral, who had succeeded to the throne in 1830. The yard was completed in 1835 and cost around £2m — almost seven times more than the original estimate.
The site closed on 26th August 1992 and was acquired by the Plymouth Development Corporation on 1st April 1993. However, when the corporation ceased trading on 31st March 1998, the South West Regional Development Agency took over responsibility for the yard.
Urban Splash of Manchester have development plans for the site that retain the original details but provide a complex of apartments, business premises and leisure facilities. Work has already started and the project will take several more years to complete.
The Royal William Victualling Yard is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and some of its buildings are listed. When the development project is complete, the peninsula will be open to the public for the first time since the Royal Navy occupied the site over 180 years ago.
Resident engineer: Philip Richards
Main contractor: Hugh McIntosh
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH South

Royal William Victualling Yard