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HER Number:MDV120664
Name:Sea Wall at Coryton Cove, Dawlish


Length of sea wall between Coryton Tunnel and Kennaway Tunnel. Constructed of local red sandstone with Devonian limestone facing. It was probably originally built in association with that of the South Devon Railway in 1846.


Grid Reference:SX 960 760
Map Sheet:SX97NE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishDawlish
Ecclesiastical ParishDAWLISH

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses: none recorded

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • SEA DEFENCES (Built, XIX - 1801 AD to 1900 AD (Between))

Full description

Garnsworthy, P., 2013, Brunel's Atmostpheric Railway, 50-51 (Monograph). SDV360708.

Coryton Cove and breakwaters are shown on one of a series of watercolours by William Dawson of Brunel's Atmospheric Railway shortly after its construction in the 1840s.

Historic England, 2018, Coryton Cove East Breakwater, Coryton Cove West Breakwater and Sea Wall (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV361260.

Confirmation that the breakwaters and sea wall have been issued with a Certificate of Immunity from listing for five years.

Historic England, 2018, Coryton Cove East Breakwater, West Breakwater and Sea Wall (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV361194.

Notification that following a recommendation from Historic England, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has decided not to list Coryton Cove breakwaters and sea wall but is minded to issue a Certificate of Immunity from Listing (COI).
The breakwaters and sea wall are depicted in an 1846 illustration by William Dawson, including the drainage tunnel at the north end of the sea wall. The north breakwater is barely visible and does not link to the shore as it does today; the south breakwater is clearly in two sections as shown on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map (1890). Picture postcards from the late C19 and into the 1930s commonly depicted Coryton Cove, as it was a well-used bathing beach. Examples dating from 1922 show the gap in the south breakwater as a lower section linking the two earlier sections.
Coryton Cove East and West Breakwaters are of a relatively early date in terms of railway engineering, but they are late in relation to examples of maritime breakwaters put in place from before the C18 to protect, for example, fishing ports from the sea. Whilst their history within the development of the Dawlish to Teignmouth railway is important, the breakwaters have been extended and altered to such an extent that their original fabric is unreadable. Therefore they are not of special interest.
As with the breakwaters, Coryton Sea Wall has its origins in Brunel’s 1846 railway, and as such can be classed as part of the ‘heroic age of railway building’ as it was part of the engineering for the track bed. However, it cannot be said to be particularly innovative and little fabric survives to relate it to the 1846 Atmospheric Railway. Together with the successive changes made to other aspects of the railway into the C20, for example the doubling of the track and the widening of the tunnel portals, the sea wall is not of special interest.
Together, Coryton Cove East and West Breakwaters and Sea Wall (along with the Coryton Tunnel portals, which are the subject of a separate assessment) form a group of features associated with the construction of Brunel’s 1846 railway, as is evident in William Dawson’s 1846 illustrations of various tunnel portals. However, the successive changes and alterations to bring the line up to standard have eroded any cohesive interest.
After examining all the records and other relevant information and having carefully considered the architectural and historic interest of this case, the criteria for listing are not fulfilled. A COI should therefore be issued.
Coryton Cove East and West Breakwaters and Sea Wall are not recommended for listing for the following
principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: plain, utilitarian structures with little design interest;
* Historic interest: the association with IK Brunel is limited due to the loss of 1846 fabric during the widening of the railway in the early C20 and requirements to upgrade the sea defences;
* Group value: cumulative changes to the sea wall and breakwaters in the C20 have eroded any evidential cohesion of the structures as a group constructed to facilitate the safety of the railway.
See report for further details.

Historic England, 2018, Coryton Cove East Breakwater, West Breakwater and Sea Wall, Dawlish, Devon (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV360675.

Following an application to issue a certificate of immunity, Historic England has completed an assessment of the structures in order to consider whether they have special architectural or historic interest.
The Plymouth, Devonport and Exeter Railway Company was formed in 1840 to establish a railway line between Exeter and Plymouth. In 1843 the name was changed to the South Devon Railway and Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed as engineer. In 1844 the South Devon Railway Act was passed, authorising the construction of a single-track, broad-gauge line.
The proposed route included a stretch along the coastline between Dawlish and Teignmouth, between the sea and sandstone cliffs, which required a series of tunnels to be cut through the protruding headland. The line had to negotiate several steep climbs and changes in gradient and Brunel’s plan to deal with this landscape was to adopt an experimental system of atmospheric propulsion. Known as the Atmospheric Railway, it was developed by Samuel Clegg and Jacob and Joseph Samuda on the Dalkey Railway in Ireland in 1844. It used a combination of partial vacuum and atmospheric pressure. Instead of a traditional locomotive engine, stationary engines were placed in pumping stations along the line, extracting air from vacuum pipes laid in the middle of the track. Brunel first used the system in 1844 on a five-mile stretch of the London to Croydon Railway. Despite criticism of the system from various contemporary engineers he also recommended it for the South Devon Railway. The first section of the line opened in May 1846; however, the atmospheric vacuum pipes had not been completed, and initially, a steam locomotive was used. The first atmospheric train ran in 1847, although only between Exeter and Teignmouth. Ultimately the railway suffered from defects, including the deterioration of the leather seals on the vacuum pipes. In 1848 the atmospheric system was abandoned and the line was converted to conventional steam locomotion.
In 1876 South Devon amalgamated with the Great Western Railway, and in 1884 the section of track between Teignmouth Old Quay and Smugglers Lane was doubled. In 1892 the line was converted from broad to standard gauge. Between 1902 and 1905 the section between Smugglers Lane and Dawlish Railway Station was also made into a double line. Due to the location of the new railway, sea defences were constructed to protect the track and its freight. This included lengths of sea wall – which acted not only as part of the structure for the track bed but also as a defensive measure against powerful waves and high tides – and sections of breakwater. At Coryton’s Cove the sea wall is probably contemporary with the original construction of the railway in 1846, although alterations may have been made in the early C20 with track widening as different phases and repair works are evident, particularly patching to the red sandstone parapet and repointing to the limestone block. A breakwater at the north end of the beach (‘East Breakwater’) running at right angles to the railway line may also be contemporary to the sea wall as it is shown on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey (OS) map (1855-89). In comparison to modern mapping it appears to have formerly been twice its length. The ‘West Breakwater’, at the south end of the beach, is also shown on the 1st edition OS and at this date comprised two separate sections of masonry block work. These had become one structure by the interwar years. The breakwater was later connected to the cliff face at the south end.
Two breakwaters and a sea wall associated with the 1846 construction of the South Devon Railway and its successive C20 improvements.
Sea wall: local sandstone, with Devonian limestone facing.
North breakwater: sandstone, with concrete repairs and additions.
South breakwater: local sandstone and concrete with stone casing.
The sea wall stretches almost the entire length of Coryton’s Cove between Coryton Tunnel East Portal and Kennaway Tunnel West Portal for approximately 200m. Mainly constructed of local red sandstone block above Devonian limestone block facing with a sandstone string course between, the wall is punctuated with cast-iron tidal flaps and railed refuges within gaps in the parapet. At the north end at beach level, there is a gated access/drainage tunnel. The north breakwater lies at right angles to the cliff and a walkway, running for approximately 45m. It is of stone block construction, with concrete additions and alterations. At the west end the breakwater is connected to the walkway by C20 concrete steps.
The south breakwater lies within Coryton Cove, and is approximately 65m long. Constructed mainly of stone block, with concrete casing to the north end, with a central lower section probably constructed in the mid-C20 to connect the earlier north and south sections.

Ordnance Survey, 2018, MasterMap 2018 (Cartographic). SDV360652.

Line of breakwater shown.

Historic England, 2018, Parsons Tunnel to Kennaway Tunnel (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV360677.

Notification of application for a Certificate of Immunity for structures and features on the railway line from Parsons Tunnel to Kennaway Tunnel, including sea walls, breakwaters and tunnel portals.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV360652Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2018. MasterMap 2018. Ordnance Survey Digital Mapping. Digital. [Mapped feature: #79906 ]
SDV360675List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Historic England. 2018. Coryton Cove East Breakwater, West Breakwater and Sea Wall, Dawlish, Devon. Notification of Completion of Assessment. Digital.
SDV360677List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Historic England. 2018. Parsons Tunnel to Kennaway Tunnel. Notification of Application for a Certificate of Immunity. Digital.
SDV360708Monograph: Garnsworthy, P.. 2013. Brunel's Atmostpheric Railway. Brunel's Atmostpheric Railway. Paperback Volume. 50-51.
SDV361194List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Historic England. 2018. Coryton Cove East Breakwater, West Breakwater and Sea Wall. Notification of Recommendation to issue a Certificate of Immunity. Digital.
SDV361260List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Historic England. 2018. Coryton Cove East Breakwater, Coryton Cove West Breakwater and Sea Wall. Notification of Certificate of Immunity.

Associated Monuments: none recorded

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:May 10 2018 9:30AM