26th January 1917. Death of a Village.
Sir John Jackson’s obituary in 1919 recorded that; ‘he was one of the greatest British engineers of the century’.(1)
However the villagers of Hallsands in Devon might have used other descriptions, as their settlement was washed into the sea as a result of a previous removal of shingle from the beach by a dock-building company run by Jackson.
He had thought, in the 1890s that the nearby shingle could be used for the extension to Plymouth Docks at Keyham, to accommodate the building of the new giant Dreadnought Battleships. (2)
The people of the village were not considered or told about the removal of their beach, which was to result also in the destruction of their village.
In the process, 1600 tons of shingle were abstracted daily, and as a result of villagers’ concerns, who lived by crab fishing, the Board of Trade set up an Inquiry.
Unsurprisingly the Inquiry stated that dredging would not have a significant effect, so it continued.
By 1900 the level of the beach had fallen considerably and a storm washed the sea wall away. In November the villagers petitioned their local Member of Parliament. By March 1901 Kingsborough District Council, approached the Board of Trade again, complaining of road damage. A new inspector recommended dredging be stopped and on 8th January 1902 the licence was revoked.
However the damage had been done and it was Today on the 26th January 1917 that the village fell into the sea after a combination of easterly gales and high tides had breached sea-defences. By the end of the year one house remained.
It took seven years for any compensation to be received by the affected dispossessed people. An all too familiar tale where national concerns over-ride the impact on local communities .
John Jackson Ltd was to be responsible for building harbours and docks all over the world which included in Britain those at Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Swansea and Glasgow, and the foundations for London’s Tower Bridge.
One of his great projects to span the Channel with a bridge never materialized, as plans were cut short by World War I. He was to die in 1919.
(1) December 16th 1919 as reported in the Times.
(2) Jackson later knighted, was Unionist MP for Devonport 1910-18.
Ref: bbc.co.uk/hallsands.4.11.2002.Inside Out Prog/Pic Images.