24 February 2014

The Royal William Yard, Plymouth

Plymouth, in Devon SW England, is an historic coastal city which was badly damaged by bombing in the Second World War. Many of its significant buildings were originally constructed  for the Royal Navy. Plymouth would now like to be seen as an “Ocean City” rather than naval town. 

Last September I posted about the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich in London. Originally the Royal Hospital for Seamen, the magnificent buildings by Wren and Hawksmoor next to the Thames date back to 1700. The interior of the baroque Painted Hall by Thornhill portrays the supremacy of British seapower, something which would endure for two centuries. King William IV, who reigned from 1830 to 1937, had joined the Royal Navy in 1778 at the age of 13 and was known as the “Sailor King”, so it was fitting that when a new victualling yard was built in Stonehouse (map left) next to Devonport dockyard between 1825 and 1833, it would be named after him.

The Royal William Yard was designed by Sir John Rennie, engineer to the Admiralty, who is probably best known for his version of London Bridge, now in Arizona. Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England Devon (2nd edition) describe the Yard as “by far the most impressive single architectural group in Plymouth” and “the most grandiloquent of the monumental compositions created by the Victualling Board of the Navy after the Napoleonic wars [and] among the most remarkable examples of an early C19 planned layout of industrial buildings anywhere in England”.

The Yard closed in 1992 and after restoration, conservation and modernisation was converted by Urban Splash to provide a basin for visiting boats and restaurants, caf├ęs, and shops as well as flats. Visitors enter through an impressive gateway with King William’s statue.

The Gateway and the substantial buildings inside the Yard: Bakery, Slaughterhouse, Cooperage, Brewery etc, are made of local stone in an imposing late Georgian classical style.

All the buildings are Grade 1 listed and, being next to the harbour and Tamar river, provide photogenic subjects.

These plaques reminding visitors of the contributions made to the restoration by the EC and the now defunct local RDA could do with some restoration themselves:

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