The town of Dock

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In 1791, the Universal British Directory was published in five large volumes. It contained a description of the chief places in England and Wales together with a listing of the principal inhabitants, their occupations and status. It was not, in the modern sense, a travel guide - the volumes were far too large to carry around. It was meant to be a handy trade guide for those who required goods and services not available in their own area and others who were willing to travel around the country in order to supply those needs. The lists of residents in each area and the descriptions of places as they were in 1791 are of great value to the family historian.

This is the Directory's description of Dock, then a new Devon town:


"The town of  Dock lies about two miles below Plymouth. It is nearly as large as Plymouth itself as the list of inhabitants will show. A new Balloon* coach sets out every morning for Exeter, Bristol, Bath and London, from Mr. Lockyer's the Old King's Arms Inn and Tavern. A diligence** sets out every morning at six o'clock for London, Bath, Bristol and Portsmouth from Mr. John Sole's, the Fountain Inn and Tavern.

Portsmouth sloops that bring passengers to Plymouth and Dock and from thence to Portsmouth are:

The Three Brothers - Captain Henry Haskett

The Rose - Captain James Churchill

The Duke of Portland - Captain Benjamin Stephens

The Daniel - Captain Richard Haskell

The Enterprise - Captain William Harvey

The Hope - Captain Richard Braggs"


There follow long lists of the Commissioners and Officers of His Majesty's Dock Yard, followed by the local Gentry, Clergy, medical men and attorneys, ending with  the names of nearly 700 of the leading traders of Dock. Inn-keepers feature heavily, as one might expect, but there are representatives of almost every trade and craft needed to cater for the official requirements of the 18th century British Navy and for the needs of an unlisted army of ship-yard workers and their families. Sword-cutlers, gunsmiths, button-makers, tailors and Customs officials take their place alongside hairdressers, midwives, butchers and bakers.

The amenities for ship building and repair at Dock, begun in the reign of William III,  are described in detail as are the handsome houses built for the commissioners and officers of the "king's yard" as it was called.


Devonport - a wet dock

Devonport - a wet dock


"Adjoining the yard is also a gun-wharf where all the cannon belonging to the men-of-war, lying in the Sound at the time of peace, are laid up. This wharf is remarkable for being hewed out of, and contained within, a solid rock. It contains an arsenal and magazines, in which are generally kept a large quantity of arms and stores, in like order, though not in so great a quantity as those in the Tower of London.

This place is, in short, now become as complete an arsenal and yard, for building and fitting-out men-of-war as any the government are masters of, and perhaps more convenient than  some of them, though not so large: and this has occasioned a proportional increase of building to the town which is now become a very considerable, well-built and large place and had the name of Plymouth Dock, but now generally called Dock only."


Devonport - old buildings on the Gun Wharf

Devonport - old buildings on the Gun Wharf. 

Behind lies the modern dockyard.


*An improved coach with concave sides. It was lighter than previous models and consequently speeded up journey times slightly.

**The diligence came to Britain from the continent. It was longer and lower than the standard coach and had capacious luggage compartments above the seating area. More luggage could be carried but journey times were slower.

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