The British Empire and its effect on Plymouth

Sir Edmund Frederick Du Cane

Captain Du Cane was the principal designer for the ring of twenty-two forts that form the nineteenth-century defensive ring of Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport. Known popularly as "Palmerston's Follies" after the ageing Prime Minister who in 1859 began formulating his proposals to fortify the two major, south-coast dockyards against a possible French invasion. The British had just defeated the Russians in the Crimean War by capturing their Black Sea port at Sevastapol and wanted to ensure that no other country could do something similar to Britain. The project cost the nation what was then a staggering 9 million pounds, and for a number of years (1862-70) brought an immense amount of building work to the area.

The Plymouth forts that Du Cane was responsible for include: Stamford, Staddon, Brownhill, Polhawn, Tregantle (in part) and all the forts in the North Eastern Position, including, most impressively, Crownhill which is the most spectacular and the best preserved of them all. As part of the largest scheme of fortification building ever undertaken in England, Crownhill was in its day the most advanced and 'state of the art' fortification in the world. However within just twenty years advances in weaponry had rendered it all but obsolete. Although, it still managed to find a role for itself in the Second World War as the command centre for local defence in the event of an invasion and as an invaluable platform for anti-aircraft guns and searchlights. Du Cane went on to build Wormwood Scrubs.

Empire in Your Backyard: Plymouth Article | Significant Individuals

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by Stephen Luscombe