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Inside Out

The Village That Collapsed Into The Sea

On a stormy night in January 1917, the Devon fishing village of Hallsands collapsed into the sea. The entire village was destroyed together with the livelihoods of its people.

For decades the fishing village of Hallsands and its stunning coastline had been at the mercy of the forces of nature. But it wasn't nature that led to the dozens of homes being washed into the sea on a fateful night in January 1917, it was the foolishness of man that obliterated this small Devon village forever.

Hallsands - the buried village

Today Hallsands lies largely under the waves, a sad testament to man interfering with nature. The story of Hallsands is a tale of greed, deception, and slow death. Our story starts in the 1890s when the Admiralty decided to expand the naval dockyard at Keyham, 30 miles away from Hallsands. This lucrative contract was awarded to Sir John Jackson Limited, one of the country's biggest engineering companies in 1896. The Board of Trade gave the company permission to dredge shingle from along the coast between Hallsands and Beesands. The villagers were never consulted, but protested to their local MP, Frank Mildmay, as soon as the dredgers appeared.

Disaster or conspiracy?

The villagers' protests centred around worries about the fishing industry, and damage to the coastline including:

fears that crab pots would be damaged.
concerns about disturbance to fish.
fears that removal of the shingle would lower the level of the beach, thereby threatening their homes.

Following pressure from the local MP, the Board of Trade agreed to an enquiry. This eventually led to an agreement whereby Sir John Jackson paid 125 per year to the villagers of Hallsands. Fears about the long term impact of dredging abated, and life returned to normal. Three years later, storms battered the coastline again and swept away part of the sea wall. Studies showed that the beach had fallen by between seven and 12 feet.

Slow death of a fishing village

The worst was yet to come.... on 26 January 1917, the village of Hallsands fell into the sea.
Here is a profile of the village before tragedy struck.
Gales and extremely high tides shook houses to their very foundations, walls came toppling down, and the waves roared over the breaking rafters. The local Gazette reported eye-witness accounts including that of the Logans who experienced the disaster.

"It had been blowing hard from the South East all day, and in the afternoon, the seas came tumbling in, shaking everything all to pieces. We became greatly alarmed, instead of abating, as we hoped it would, the gale increased, and we soon saw that our cottages would come down."

Another resident Edith Lamble battled vainly to save her house. She later recalled "the blackness of that fateful night."

Hallsands today

All that remains of Hallsands today are the shells of a few of the houses and the ruins of the chapel which perches on the edge of the cliff top. Dozens of families lost their homes when Hallsands disappeared. Miraculously, no villagers died in the tragedy. Many of the families relocated to North Hallsands or Beesands, having lost most of their belongings.
An inquiry into the tragedy was set up, but the poverty-stricken villagers never got to see what it contained. The Government of the day wouldn't release the report because it said the tragedy was unequivocally because of the dredging. The villagers were eventually offered 6,000, but some believe that the villagers were never given the full compensation they deserved.

Historian Steve Melia  lodged a complaint with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Like many descendants of the villagers, he believes that it's time for some official recognition. 
The story of Hallsands is far from over... and the village refuses to lie down despite its watery demise.

Hallsands before

On a stormy night in January 1917
the fishing village of Hallsands in
Devon, England, collapsed into the
sea. Today only these ruins remain.
Natural disaster or political conspiracy?
This website tells the story with old
photographs and original documents.

the shells of some of the houses
are still there to remind us of that
night in January 1917

The ruins of the lost village of
Hallsands has been described
as a testament to man's folly. the
South Hams village was swept away
by the sea in 1917, as a result of dredging
in the bay. BBC Nature expert
Andrew Cooper tells us in this extract
 that it was a man-made disaster.

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