Walks with History: Victoria Park 2

Walks with History

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Every day throughout Plymouth History Festival, Walks with History have been tweeting routes in various locations around the city. Today we see the second of their featured walks (the first is here), at Stonehouse Creek.

Map copyright OpenStreetMap

Historical background

Between Plymouth Devonport and East Stonehouse lay a creek off of the River Tamar known at one end as Stonehouse Creek and at the other end as Deadlake. All of this creek has been filled in and now forms a recreational area between the three former towns. It was once alive with activity with small ships and floating rafts of timber. It has now given way to pedestrians, joggers, cyclists and schoolboys playing rugby and soccer. These walks aim to give you a flavour of the history of the area as you walk around. Our starting point is at the western end of the park by the entrance to the park from where Millbridge, Edgcumbe Avenue, Hotham Place and Molesworth Road meet.

1/ The Methodist Chapel

At this spot, if you face towards Hotham Place you will see the former Primitive Methodist Chapel dating from around 1877, is in the gothic style and is mainly constructed from local limestone. To the left of the chapel there once stood the chapel hall constructed in the 1890’s. The congregation first met in the early 1870’s in a house in Fellowes Place and may be connected to a congregation that met in a house in Mount Pleasant in Stoke Village in the 1850’s.

The chapel ceased as a place of worship in 1988 and was more recently used as offices by a firm of architects. The chapel organ survives and is just inside the main door at the front. Just beyond the chapel sits a row of fishermen’s cottages. Still at the same spot, if you look back to the right and the view along Millbridge, you will see a plaque mounted on a plinth.

2 The Mill Bridge

The Mill Bridge can trace its origins back to a tidal crossing or causeway across part of what is now Victoria Park. This was replaced by the first bridge on this site in 1525. The crossing was free up to 1807 when tolls were introduced collected from a toll house which stood roughly in this spot.

Things to note:

  • What you see today is the remains of a later bridge built to replace the 1525 bridge
  • The secondary purpose of the bridge was to act as a dam, holding back sea water from escaping after high tide. The trapped water was funnelled to power two mills which sat on the opposite side of the road.
  • Tolls on the bridge were finally abolished in 1924 and the plaque commemorates this.
  • A family who once lived in the toll house and collected the tolls had the surname of Wilton. Two local streets were named in honour of the family in the early 1900’s.

You should now cross Hotham Place then cross Molesworth Road by the pedestrian crossing, turn left and cross over Edgcumbe Avenue and carry on along Millbridge towards the bottom of Eldad Hill. On reaching the bottom of the hill, if you look up the hill, at the top you will see a white painted building that was once The No Place Inn. If you look across the road at the motor bike shop you will see the road sign proclaiming “Carlton Terrace East Stonehouse”. You are no longer in Plymouth or Devonport!

3. Eldad Hill and No Place

Ever wondered why you can go up Eldad Hil to get to No Place? These are two very unusual place names in this part of Plymouth which owe their origins to two men, The Reverend John Glanville Hawker and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

In the early 1800s, John Glanville Hawker was appointed as curate to Stoke Damerel church and like his father (Robert Hawker, the vicar of Charles Church in Plymouth) was a bit too evangelical in his preaching of the gospels and was eventually evicted by the Bishop from the post in around 1824. Much beloved by his congregation, various petitions and letters were sent in his support but to no avail. Finally Plymouth Corporation agreed to the building of a new chapel which was built off Wyndham Place and was dedicated to Eldad (who is mentioned in the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament). Eldad is thought to mean ‘God is Beloved’. Hawker was much beloved by his congregation, most of whom followed him to Eldad Chapel leaving Stoke Damerel church with barely any parishioners at all. Hawker died in 1846 and Eldad Chapel survives in the back garden of one of the houses on what is now Wyndham Square. The congregation expanded so much a new church, called St Peter, was built a short distance away and the name of Eldad survives as the name of the hill it is built on.

In the early 1840s the three towns of Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse were having a heated debate about where to build a railway station that would best serve all of the towns. The South Devon Railway wanted to expand the growing railway network and build a line from Exeter to Plymouth. At the same time, the Cornwall Railway wanted to build a railway from Falmouth to Plymouth. Where should the railways meet? Brought in to make the decision, Isambard Kingdom Brunel chose a site at the top of Eldad Hill which was included in the subsequent Act of Parliament obtained in 1844. Work on the site commenced around this time and a building was erected to act as the waiting room and ticket office with hotel rooms upstairs. It was built in the Italianate style. Unfortunately the matter did not rest and further debate continued with a resident of Plymouth, a Mr George Saltau proclaiming that Brunel’s location was “no place” to build a railway station. Brunel’s decision was overturned, the station’s location was moved to Millbay but the insult stuck. The building was sold to become a public house and was named “The No Place Inn”. It is now student accommodation but stands as the only remnant of the grand railway terminus that Brunel had planned for Plymouth.

From here you should back on yourself slightly, turn left and take the footpath towards Stonehouse Creek, going past the graffiti coved building on the left and out into what was once a tidal creek. On the right hand side on the site of where the tidal mills used to be sat one of Plymouth’s smallest and short lived housing estates.

4 The Prefabs at Millbridge Gardens / Millbridge Place

A small community of bungalow sized “prefab” or prefabricated houses were built here to help solve the post war housing shortage. The houses were constructed of metal and precast concrete sections and were meant to have a lifespan of 10-15 years. By the late 1960’s most prefabs were in a state of decay and the condition of them was regularly reported in local newspapers and by the 1970’s they were gone. The prefab lives on in Plymouth as most of the larger 2 storey prefabs and “Cornish Unit” houses survive and are still lived in.

Continue to walk along the footpath until you see a section of fence with barbed wire on top. On the other side of the fence you can see over at the original entrance to the Royal Naval Hospital.

5/ The Royal Naval Hospital

The Royal Naval Hospital, East Stonehouse can be traced back to the sale of fields to the Admiralty by the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe around 1757. The main section of hospital is made up of ten separate blocks, each built away from the next to ensure that any infectious diseases could be isolated and contained. The hospital had its own chapel and across Five Fields Lane (now North Road West) it had its own burial ground at No Place Field. The hospital closed in 1995 when the remaining staff transferred to Derriford Hospital.

Things to note:

  • This entrance to the Hospital was actually a quay where small boats would come alongside and empty out the sick and wounded to the hospital. The building contained rooms where patients would be stripped of their clothing and cleaned before being assessed and sent to wards.
  • The delivery of injured patients by small boats gave rise to the expression “Up the creek without a paddle” during the Napoleonic War and it continues to be used today to describe someone in a bad way with no way out of that situation.
  • This entrance stopped being used around the time of the First World War when land ambulances came into use. The main road entrance is from Clarence Place. When the hospital closed, the site was sold and is now run by the Millfields Trust and the site is now a mixture of private housing, industrial units and a school.

On the opposite side of the creek you can see the Army’s Stoke Military Hospital.

4/ Stoke Military Hospital

The hospital was built in the 1790’s and opened in 1797 and was designed to complement the Navy Hospital on the opposite bank. It has four blocks of wards facing the creek with a colonnade running along the front of the blocks. The hospital closed following World War two when it became the home of Tamar High School then Devonport High School for Boys from 1989.

Things to note:

  • Just like the Naval Hospital, wounded soldiers would be brought up the creek in small boats to the hospital’s own quay and gate (both can be seen across the playing fields but it is a much more modest entrance than that for the Royal Naval Hospital.

To complete this walk you should continue along the footpath towards Stonehouse Bridge the walk back towards Millbridge and your starting point.

This part of the creek was still filled with water until 1973 when spoil and earth from the creation of the A38 Plympton bypass through the Saltram Estate was brought here. The main use for this part of the tidal creek was as a mast pond. Felled trees used in the construction of sailing ships were stored in the water allowing them to season evenly and help prevent the wood cracking. They were known locally as “Tinkies” due to the noise made by the chains used to hold the timbers together in the water.

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