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Historic England Research Records

Royal Marines Turnchapel

Hob Uid: 1589570
Location :
City of Plymouth
Non Civil Parish
Grid Ref : SX4960705320
Summary : Turnchapel, Part of a 20th century naval oil fuel depot, with some surviving mid-20th century storage andadministration buildings. Evidence of Second World War activity including the site of a D-Dayhard. The site also retains buildings associated with its earlier use as a shipyard and dockyard,with a series of 19th century warehouses. There is also considerable archaeological potentialassociated with the shipyard, which may provide evidence of ship-building from the 17th centuryincluding a late 18th or early 19th century dry dock which is known to have existed on the site.
More information : The site forms a small projection on the southern side of Plymouth Sound, at the eastern end of
Turnchapel Bay. To the north, east and west the site is surrounded by water, with the small
hamlet of Turnchapel to the southwest and a rocky outcrop to the southeast. The area now
known as Turnchapel Bay forms a naturally sheltered area on the southern edge of the
Cattewater; the area where the River Plym meets Plymouth Sound to the north of which the
settlement of Plymouth developed.
The village of Turnchapel appears to have developed from the 17th century, possibly in relation
to the ship building yard, which has been present since the 17th century (see below). The
principal terrace of houses in the village (now Boringdon Terrace) was constructed to house
workers at the main yard in the 18th century. The area south of the village has also been
extensively quarried for limestone since the 18th century.

The site appears to have had a long history prior to naval occupation in the early 20th century,
linked to Plymouth’s history as an important harbour and its naval role. There are records of a
yard for repairing the king’s ships in the mid-17th century, presumably making use of a naturally
advantageous situation along the river edge. By the 18th century the area was part of the estate
associated with Saltram House, owned by the Parker family (Barons Boringdon). It was
apparently one of two ship building yards along Turnchapel Bay. The site is shown on the
Surveyor’s map of 1784-6 with some buildings depicted, although the scale does not allow close
analysis of the buildings.
In the last years of the 18th century, the estate owner, John Parker (later 1st Earl of Morley)
invested heavily in the yard. He was apparently responsible for building first a wet dock (in
c1798) and a few years later a dry dock, which after some structural problems, was eventually
used from 1804. A plan of the site from 1829 shows these structures, along with two further
slips and ancillary buildings including a mould loft, smithy, store house, saw pit and several
dwellings (Plymouth and West Devon Record Office 2171/3). Notably an engine house
associated with the dry dock indicates that the investment in the dry dock included advanced
technology. Later documents describe the dry dock as being 192 feet long and 52 feet wide,
with the wet dock and slips slightly smaller.
This investment coincided with the high demand for ships for the Napoleonic Wars. Naval
vessels were constructed at Turnchapel, including the Clarence, the launch of which, in 1812
was celebrated in a painting by John Rogers (see
This shows the site and it is buildings, with the mould loft clearly portrayed. The
site was clearly still in use in 1829, when the lease was transferred to trustees of the previous
tenant, but by the late 1850s it is referred to as a dockyard rather than a shipyard in formal
documents, perhaps indicating some functional changes (Plymouth and West Devon Record
Office 2171/7). However the range of buildings described still includes all of those identified in
the 1829 documents, perhaps suggesting a mix of uses. The docks must certainly have been
out of use by the 1880s, as in 1883 a series of documents show the purchase part of the
foreshore from the Duchy of Cornwall with plans extend out into the bay with a large quay on the western side of the site (Plymouth and West Devon Record Office 2171/10-13). The
associated plans clearly show that this would involve blocking the entrances to the old docks,
including the dry dock. Subsequent plans show that this scheme was undertaken, although the
outline of the former dock area remains on the plans, indicating that these structures had not
been completely removed. At this time, or perhaps slightly later, additional warehousing was
constructed on the northern part of the site, one attached to the earlier storehouse of the
shipyard, which was retained and a second slightly further west. These structures survive today.
The site appears to have functioned as a dockyard for the remainder of the 19th century, with
some subsequent alterations. At some stage the quarry activity south of the site at Hooelake
Quarry, lead to the construction of a tramway which ran into the dockyard, presumably allowing
stone to be loaded straight into ships for transportation. In 1899 the railway was brought to
the yard, as the terminus of the Turnchapel Branch, which ran off the mainline to the east of
Plymouth and then down through Plymstock to the site. This was a passenger line, with stations
including one at Turnchapel, but also provided a goods line.
The site was purchased by the Admiralty in 1903. At that time or soon after they also
purchased a further block of land to the southeast, a disused part of Hooelake Quarry, for use
as an oil storage area, although this was detached from the main site, divided by the quarry and
its tramway which appear to have remained in use until sometime before the First World War
(English Heritage Archive, PSA Collection 95/1123). The earlier warehouse buildings were
retained and a plan of the building in 1911 shows the internal layout of these buildings, all
marked as storehouses and apparently largely open structures (National Archives ADM
The 2nd edition OS mapping of 1914 shows the tramway apparently out of use, and at some
stage during or after the First World War the Admiralty must have purchased the intermediate
area, as the eastern quay was adapted as a hard-standing for D-Day in June 1944. The oil tanks
were destroyed in a bombing raid in 1940, the explosion also destroying the adjacent
Turnchapel Station.
During or immediately after the Second World War there appears to have been some
additional buildings added to the site. A plan of 1955 shows a series of office buildings and
stores and a number of circular cable tanks (National Archives TS68/94). Some of these
buildings survive today. The fuel depot area (south of the current site) was leased for
commercial use at some point in the mid-20th century, certainly before 1970 when an exploding
diesel tank caused some damage (National Archives TS68/94). The railway line closed in the
early 1960s. Since 1993 the site has been a base for the Royal Marines.
The site appears to sit largely on made ground, which has pushed out from the shore to a
number of rocky outcrops in the river channel. The present dockside is the result of mid-19th
century consolidation of early reclamation work. The principal buildings on the site are the
range of five 19th century warehouse blocks at the northern tip of the area (NGR SX 49534
53255). These are all of stone with slate roofs and brick detailing to door and window
openings. Although coherent in material and detailing these have a range of dates, with the
earliest (block D) probably incorporating elements which date to before 1829. Blocks B, C and
E were all constructed at some stage between 1863 and 1894, probably towards the beginning
of this period, coinciding with the expansion of the wharf facilities. Block A was added after
1897, presumably to provide additional capacity due to the arrival of the railway. All five blocks
have been extensively altered, with new window and door openings and considerable internal
sub-division. There have also been some late 20th century additions to the east side of block E.
North and west of the warehouse blocks some metal rails survive set in the concrete, surviving
remnants of the Turnchapel branch railway.
West and south of the warehouses are a series of brick blocks built between 1933 and 1951
(labelled F to L on the plan). These are all built of brick with flat roofs and cement lintels and
sills. Blocks F and J are of two storeys and appear to have been built as office blocks, the
remainder are small single storey buildings which appear to have been used for various types of
storage and as guardhouses etc. Three further buildings, labelled M to O are modern storage
sheds in corrugated plastic.
The eastern section of the site is largely open ground. This section of the site is current leased
to a local sailing club and used for the storage and launch of small sailing boats. There is a large
concrete slipway giving access from this section into the bay. This is on the site of a D-Day
hard, but the current slipway appears to be of modern concrete. To the east a single large iron
mooring post may date from the Second World War. There is a modern boathouse within the
boat yard created for the sailing club. (1)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Turnchapel, Plymouth
Source details : By Rebecca Lane, May 2013. Report part of the Defence Disposals project English Heritage.
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : 17th century
Monument End Date : 1700
Monument Start Date : 1601
Monument Type : Shipyard
Evidence : Documentary Evidence
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : 18th century
Monument End Date : 1800
Monument Start Date : 1701
Monument Type : Dry Dock, Wet Dock, Steam Engine House
Evidence : Documentary Evidence
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : 19th century
Monument End Date : 1900
Monument Start Date : 1801
Monument Type : Mould Loft, Blockhouse, Steam Engine House, Quay, Warehouse, Railway
Evidence : Documentary Evidence, Extant Structure
Monument Period Name : 20th Century
Display Date : 20th Century
Monument End Date : 2000
Monument Start Date : 1901
Monument Type : Embarkation Hard, Mooring Block, Naval Dockyard, Oil Works
Evidence : Extant Structure, Documentary Evidence

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SX 45 SE 869
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 1470799
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND OFF BARTON ROAD, TURNCHAPEL
Start Date : 2017-01-01
End Date : 2017-12-31