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Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

City of Plymouth (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 44935 54234


740/20/10023 ROYAL NAVAL DOCKYARD 04-MAR-08 South Smithery (Building S126)


Smithery, disused. Built 1771, modified throughout C19 and reconstructed c.1890. Further alterations in the 1850s when the New Smithery was erected. Additional alterations in C20.

MATERIALS: Dressed and roughly coursed Plymouth limestone with ashlar dressings. The lower walls of the Old Smithery are random rubble brought to course and the upper walls are of squared, coursed limestone. Some of the lower windows are timber sliding sashes, with larger timber-framed casement windows above. It has a timber truss roof of late-C19 date. The New Smithery is built of similar limestone with coursed blocks laid between the cast iron H-section columns that make up the frame. It has large glazed panels with sheet iron louvres above, clerestory glazing, and open timber louvres at the upper central roof level. The link section between these two structures is of random rubble limestone with some areas of brick and block infill. The roof coverings are covered with mid-C20 corrugated sheeting with translucent corrugated sheets inset; the central raised roof to the New Smithery appears to be corrugated iron.

PLAN: A rectangular plan consisting of the Old Smithery to the west; a central section linking it with the New Smithery to the east. The original building had a U-shaped plan with an open courtyard on the west side, defined by walls and gates, which was roofed over and incorporated into the building in the early-C19. The New Smithery is roughly square in plan with a chimney at each corner.

EXTERIOR: The OLD SMITHERY is of two storeys. The triple-gabled west front was rebuilt in the late-C19 with segmental-arched casements to the ten-window first floor range. The ground floor windows have segmental-arched plat surrounds, some retaining sliding sashes, and there are blocked segmental-arched double entries. The fenestration to the nine-window north and south elevations is similar, with two segmental-arched double entries in the south wall. The south elevation of the CENTRAL SECTION which links the Old Smithery to the New Smithery, comprises a mid- to late-C19 wall (rebuilt 1859 to 1900) with three first floor two-light windows in square-headed granite surrounds above a tall window in a segmental-arched plat surround to left, and blocked segmental-arched entries. The office addition of circa 1890 stands at the east end of the central section, adjacent to the New Smithery, and has been reduced in height and has a lean-to roof. The north elevation, dating to circa 1849 has mostly C20 windows, except for the voussoirs of a C19 arch to left, a mid-C19 blocked lunette to the first floor, and a partly blocked segmental-arched double entry to the ground floor right. The NEW SMITHERY is built of coursed and dressed stone comprising seven bays to the north and south elevations, and nine to the east side. The external elevations are articulated by the H-section cast iron columns of the frame, the lower parts of the walls are of squared rubble with continuous glazing above. Each bay has four iron-framed windows with small panes with a central secondary column and metal louvered vents above, set directly beneath the eaves. There are windows rather than louvres above the door openings. The central bay of the east elevation has metal roller doors. The ashlar corner flues/chimneys have a plinth and string course at roof height and were reduced in height in the C20. The concrete block structures to the north east end of the New Smithery, used to house bottled gas, and the two brick structures to the west elevation of the Old Smithery are not of special interest.

INTERIOR: Most of the internal walls are the result of the three separate elements of the South Smithery being altered, extended and joined, and they date largely from 1849 to 1890. The arched brick openings to the engine and boiler rooms of circa 1849 have been infilled but remain evident. Most of the full height walls to the central area are former external walls, including some late-C18 masonry that have been enclosed and roofed over. Part of the original east wall of the Old Smithery retains a segmental-arched doorway and window, though the latter was converted into a doorway in the 1850s; the original west entrance also appears to survive unaltered. The roof to the Old Smithery consists of timber purlins with steel trusses, and some of the ridges have timber glazed lantern lights and ventilators. The New Smithery has some sixteen central H-section cast iron columns forming a central square and along the west side with rigid connections to lattice beams, supporting the braced open beam above, itself supporting the raised central roof section. The roof structure itself comprises a cast and wrought iron truss system. The building retains numerous cast iron brackets to the walls which carried the smoke boxes to the chimney flues and rotating shafts. There are also several large iron capstans set in the floor, presumably for bending and shaping iron. There are two large C20 gas kilns with chain lift doors and rails, and the late-C20 former office and ancillary block constructed in the middle third of the Old Smithery which are not of special interest.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: An up-ended cannon set within the ground at the south east corner of the New Smithery serves as a bollard.

HISTORY: The importance of Plymouth as a base for English fleets in the Western Approaches was recognised in the late-C17 and the construction of a dockyard was instigated by William III. By 1700 it consisted of a dry dock, large store, smithery, ropery and a large terrace of houses for the yard officers. The Seven Years War in the mid-C18 precipitated a significant change in the planning of dockyard works and at Plymouth new smitheries and stores were erected to allow more effective operation of the yard. The original 1776 smithery in South Yard was built as part of the Dockyard Modernisation Programme which commenced in 1758. It had a courtyard plan with forges in the side ranges and casting taking place in the open central yard. It was used for heavy forging.

During the C19 the dockyards became geared to a technological race with the French, and to the incorporation of new industrial techniques and processes. With the transition between sail and steam during the first half of the C19, and from wooden to iron ships during the second half, the naval dockyards expanded and radically altered in character. Within the existing yards many of the old smitheries and forges became redundant, and new types of engineering workshops, some pioneering novel construction systems, were replacing them. In 1850 Colonel Greene was appointed Director of the Admiralty Works Department and, with Andrew Murray, Assistant Chief Engineer at Woolwich Dockyard, developed a new smithery for the South Yard which was to be attached to the existing 1776 one. It formed part of the joint metal and timber complexes which were conceived for both Devonport and Sheerness. The New Smithery was erected between 1852 and 1855 and was very different to, and more innovative than the previous generation of metal-working shops, being an all-metal construction. It was able to cope with the great increase in the number of large iron components needed for ships. Following its construction, the Old Smithery was used as iron and coal stores, but in the early-C20 its east wall was opened up to allow expansion of the smithery function. Since the mid-C19 there have been various alterations to South Smithery which indicate how the original concept was adapted and modified to meet changing demands imposed by a modernising navy. The Smithery ceased to be used as such in 1987.

SOURCES: Evans, D., `Building the Steam Navy' (2004) Unicorn Consultancy, `Historic Structure Quadrennial Inspection - S126 The South Smithery, HM Naval Base Devonport' (1998), 2 vols. Lake, J. & Douet, J., `Thematic Survey of English Naval Dockyards Summary Report, Thematic Listing Programme' (1998), English Heritage

REASON FOR DESIGNATION DECISION: The South Smithery is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * Its plan has evolved over time and charts the historic development of smithing * Despite later alterations, the mid-C19 New Smithery is a remarkably complete example of its type and has no parallels outside the navy yards. * A technologically advanced and structurally innovative building that combines both cast and wrought ironwork. * It incorporates historic fabric of the Old Smithery (1776) which, although much altered, is principally of interest as being the oldest surviving smithery in any of the royal dockyards * The significance of both the Old and the New Smithery is clear enough; however the central, link structure is of lesser importance having been subject to much rebuilding and alteration over the years.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Evans, D, Building the Steam Navy: Dockyards, Technology and the Creation of the Victorian Battle Fleet 1830 to 1906, (2004)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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