While I was in Start Bay in South Devon I visited a place called Hallsands. At least, I did my best to visit Hallsands. I could see it across the bay from Start Point.
This is another place I have been to many times and it's a place with a very sad story to tell.
In the mid-nineteenth century Hallsands was a quiet, working fishing village tucked under the cliffs with a sweeping arc of shingle forming a beach protecting it from the sea. Fishing boats were pulled up onto the shingle and nets would be strung between poles driven deep into the beach for mending and cleaning. I would expect that it was about as close to idyllic as hard work can get you. At its peak it consisted of thirty-seven houses and had a population of over 150. It wouldn't have been an easy place to live and carve out an existance, but it was safe and secure and was a thriving community.
Hallsands in 1885
But the world turns.
In the 1890s there was a plan to extend the large naval dockyards at nearby Plymouth and this would involve hundreds of thousands of tonnes of concrete. A company was employed to carry out the work and they applied to the government of the day for a licence to dredge for gravel offshore in Start Bay. They got their licence and work began. Very quickly the effects of this were felt at Hallsands. The beach began to get smaller and narrower. In the winter of 1900 a storm washed away part of a stone wall facing the beach. The people of the village were offered a small amount in compensation and asked to sign away any right to complain in future. They took the money.
Hallsands in 1894.
In 1917, ironically on January 26 - the day I was there ninety-one years later, there was a huge storm which swept the beach away completely and destroyed most of the houses now that they had lost the protection of the shingle. Luckily, no-one was seriously hurt, but the village was all but gone and the people homeless.
After the great storm in 1917
As a result of the offshore dredging the whole balance of the bay had been upset. The shingle taken out of the bay was replaced by what was on the rock shelves of the shoreline. For some of the communities of Start Bay this made little difference, for Hallsands it meant the end.
This is a story that has always touched me deeply. It's the big government bureaucracy against the little man trying to do the best for himself and his family. It's the horrid military machine against real people with real values. It's the whims of industry taking presidence over the lives of hard working individuals.
When I first visited Hallsands you could go down to the ruins and walk amongst them. Now the path has fallen away and there is just a viewing platform to see the village from. I think this shows that the problem is still there and the erosion of the coastline of Start Bay because of the dredging is still going on.