. David Fletcher
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Researching 19th Century Devon Drawings



In September 2016 I bought two drawings from ebay that were simply described as being of "Knackers Knowle, Devon c1883". One of the drawings also has another sketch on the reverse so in total there are three views of potentially the same rural scene. Intrigued to find out more I have decided to research the drawings so as to better define what they are drawings of, who may have drawn them and why.

Charles Halkett
All three drawings have initials in their lower corners which appear to read "C.H.?.H.". The third letter is indistinct but could be another "C" or an "I". More usefully one of the drawings has a very faint signature on its reverse along the top edge. This signature once enhanced in Photoshop can be more easily read as "Captain Halkett Royal Engineers" (fig 1).


fig 1. Enhancing the faint signature of Captain Halkett.

If we Google "Captain Halkett drawing" two further pieces in the same style can be seen on the WorthPoint website (of a ship and a figure) which confirm that the initials on the drawings being researched read "C.H.C.H". These new drawings also include dates of 1879 and 1885. Combined with the date on the reverse of drawing No.3 of 1883 we conclude we are looking for a Captain C.H.C Halkett of the Royal Engineers in the mid to late 19th Century.

Searching on Ancestry.co.uk leads us to a very likely match of Charles H Cragie Halkett who appears in the 1881 and 1891 censuses. He is also listed in the British Register Of Services 1756-1900 which gives his full name of Charles Harland Cragie Halkett. Charles joined the army in 1858 and after being stationed around the world including in South Africa and New Zealand he returned to England in 1872 as an instructor in fortifications at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He is listed as having the rank of captain between August 1872 and November 1879 which helps narrow down the execution of our drawings to those years whilst he was at Sandhurst. It also means that the stamp on the reverse of drawing No.3 dated 1883 was added at least 4 years after they were drawn. Charles left Sandhurst in September 1881 and then became stationed at Devonport in Plymouth where he rose to the rank of Colonel. One of his sons was the very well renowned and highly decorated Brigadier General Hugh Marjoribanks Craigie Halkett. Charles died on 5th February 1907 in Exeter at the age of 68.

Knackers Knowle
The drawings are titled with some useful suggestions for where they might have been created. No.1 is titled "LEFT CHEEK OF HAXO EMBRASURE". No.2 is titled "From WOODLAND Fort looking N.E.W". No.3 is titled "From right flank of "Knowles" looking EAST".

Googling "Knackers Knowle" reveals itself to be a former term for an area in the Crown Hill district of Plymouth. This can be confirmed in the 1856 Ordnance Survey Six-inch map of England and Wales where Knackersknowle is a clearly marked village in the St Budeaux region. It is also critical that "WOODLAND" in the title of drawing No.2 is capitalised. This is not just a fort in or near a woodland as, if we Google "Woodland Fort Plymouth", it can be seen that Woodland Fort is the specific name for one of Plymouth's northern Palmerston Forts. It can be reasonably said that these drawings are of the valley running West to East that is just North of Crownhill Road in Plymouth.

To further narrow down where each drawing was executed let's take each in turn. Drawing No.3 is described as being from Knowles and written along the top are the three locations of CROWNHILL, Woodland and Knackers Knowle. Knowles almost certainly refers to Knowles Battery, an 1860s gun battery which is now the site of Knowle Primary School, Plymouth. Looking East from this location would be in the direction of Crownhill Fort, Woodland Fort and the area formerly known as Knackers Knowle.

To confirm this the lidar data for North Plymouth was acquired from the Environment Agency website, converted to the .obj file format and imported into the Autodesk Maya 3D software. A virtual camera was placed on the Eastern edge of the site of Knowle Primary School and directed East toward the site of Woodland Fort. A screen capture of this virtual scene was created with the positions of Crownhill Fort and Woodland Fort marked and it can be seen that the view matches that of drawing No.3 (fig 2.).


fig.2 Lidar data used to confirm the location and orientation of drawing No.3. using a 3D virtual scene.

The process of using lidar data and a virtual location was repeated for drawing No.2 but this time the virtual camera was placed on the northern edge of the site of Woodland Fort. The virtual camera was orientated in a roughly North Western direction and broadly the topography of the lidar can be seen to match that in drawing No.2. However we have no marked locations in the drawing to precisely infer our orientation so some other method is required.

Ignoring the dam like construction (which we shall return to later) there is a very clear wooded hill in the centre of the drawing. The best assumption for what this might have been is Tor Rock which is located at Ordnance Survey coordinate SX462608 and in the 1880s would have been much more prominent. We also have some buildings in the drawing which could help orientate us. To validate this a map for the 1890s was acquired from the National Library of Scotland mapping website and digitally placed onto the lidar data. This allows buildings contemporary to the drawing to be marked in the virtual scene and there is some correlation to those shown in the drawing (fig 3.). One of these buildings is quite likely to be West Whitleigh Farm (1892 map) which was previously known as Bolten's Tenement (1856 map).

One last crucial detail is that in drawing No.2 it looks as if a flat area of water is visible to the far left. This water is likely the Tamerton Lake and Budshead Creek areas and coloured blue in the virtual scene.


fig 3. Lidar data used to confirm the location and orientation of drawing No.2. using a 3D virtual scene. Buildings visible in 1880s mapping have been marked.

Given that drawing No.1. is on the reverse of drawing No.2. and also shows the left hand end of the dam-like structure it is probably also located at Woodland Fort. Its title mentions a Haxo embrasure. Haxo refers to Baron Haxo, a French military engineer of the early 19th Century and a Haxo Casemate was a gun placement on the rampart of a fort. An embrasure is broadly an opening in a defensive structure therefore this drawing would have been drawn from the left hand side of one of the fort's gun positions. Woodland Fort has two Haxo Casemates and this drawing probably refers to the one on the North West corner.


fig 4. Drawing No.1 which is on the reverse of drawing No.2.


fig 5. A map of North Plymouth showing the location and orientation of drawings No.2 and No.3.
(Lidar: Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government License v3.0.)

The Dam
Drawing No.1 and No.2 show a dam like structure as their focus. It is drawn on a second piece of paper and glued onto the drawings suggesting it did not exist at the time of the original drawings and its addition was speculative. Given that this structure does not currently exist at this location as can be seen from modern maps and no mention of it exists in any historical mapping it can be assumed that these drawings were produced to show the setting for this structure if it were to be built.

The structure curves so that it is convex against the downstream flow of the river in this valley which is consistent with a dam forming a strong arch shape against the weight of water contained. The structure could possibly be to carry a railway or road across the valley but in that scenario would have more likely been a viaduct or bridge. Also there are no records of railways in this location and by the 1870s there were already well used lines to the East and West of Plymouth rather than through the hilly central and northerly part.

In the book History Of Plymouth: From The Earliest Period to the Present Time" by Richard Nicholls Worth (1890) it is mentioned that in the late 1870s and early 1880s Plymouth was suffering a severe water shortage due to its considerable growth. In 1881 there was even a water famine due to snowfall blocking a water supply leat and the Army had to help clear it. To solve the problem a new reservoir was created at Burrator to supply the City. However this begs the question of whether the Royal Engineers were considering their own radical solution of constructing a dam below Woodland Fort and flooding the upstream valley (fig 6.). Possibly Captain Halkett was brought in the create drawings for how this might look. The Royal Engineers were heavily involved in pioneering dam construction around the British Empire in the 19th Century and it is possible they felt they had the practical skills required to solve the Plymouth water supply problem.


fig 6. A speculative map using lidar data of how a dam and reservoir below Woodlands Fort might look. The dam is positioned as if it were the structure in Captain Halkett's drawings. (Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government License v3.0.)

Conclusion
It can now be said that these drawings were made by Captain Charles Halkett in the 1870s and sited at Woodland Fort and Knowles Battery, Plymouth. Further research is required to properly answer whether the structure in the pictures really was a dam and whether the Royal Engineers further documented their idea.




All images copyright David Fletcher 2016