The Western Morning News item £600,000 plans for Devonport Column (WMN, 4th Dec 2010) is one of a several recent reports of the Real Ideas Organisation's application for funding to restore the Devonport Column. This Grade 1 listed monument was built to mark the founding of Devonport - previously the district of Plymouth Dock - as a separate town from Plymouth. It was part of architect John Foulston's civic redevelopment of Devonport centred on Ker Street.
The new public buildings and private dwelling houses which have been lately elected in Devonport are characterized by taste and elegance. The Town-Hall in Ker-Street possesses a noble and classical exterior. The front is a Doric Portico with four massive fluted columns, producing, when viewed at a distance, a very fine effect. A. flight of stone steps leads to the Hall, a spacious room measuring 75 feet by 40, and 31 feet in heigh t. It is well fitted up with convenient moveable benches. Beneath the Hall are the town prisons and watch-house.
Close to the Town-Hall is the Devonport Column, erected by public subscription to commemorate the alteration in the name of the town. It is a noble fluted pillar of the Grecian Doric order, and its height above the level of the street is 124 feet. A spiral stair-case within the shaft conducts to the summit, from which the spectator enjoys a grand and extensive prospect. The hills, vales, fields, woods, and waters, front Hengeston Down in the north to the ocean in the south—from the wilds of Dartmoor in the east to the billowy eminences of Cornwall in the west— lie before the gaze in a beautiful varied panorama; while the eye looks down on Devonport and its immediate vicinity as on a map. The Column is built of Cornish granite, and, when completed, is intended to bear on its top a colossal statue of his present majesty George IV. Near the column is Mount Zion Chapel, a Calvinist meeting-house, built in the fantastic Hindoo style. The front, ornamented with pinnacles and fancifully embellished, possesses a very pleasing appearance. Adjoining the chapel is the building of the Devonport Public Library and News-Room, which being in imitation of the Egyptian architecture, forms a good contrast to the neighbouring edifices. The Classical and Mathematical Public School is situated at the head of Granby-Street, and conducted on the Madras system.
- pp 5-7, The Plymouth and Devonport Guide, Henry E Carrington, 1828
The above comes from Carrington's The Plymouth and Devonport Guide: an extremely good account of the area in 1828, when Foulston's civic centre was a sparkling new development in a site called Windmill Hill. Ned Kaufman's Place, race, and story: essays on the past and future of historic preservation has a contemporary drawing - page 175 - from Foulston's 1838 The Public Buildings Erected in the West of England. A more realistic one - the previous exaggerates the size of the buildings - is in the 1832 Devonshire & Cornwall Illustrated:
(Note that the statue of George IV never occupied the column due to lack of funding). As this 1838 catalogue describes, Foulston's style was eclectic, if not eccentric at times ...
This Work will comprise Buildings erected in the Greek, Egyptian, Hindoo, Old English, Ornamental, and Rustic Cottage Styles, &c.
... and the Devonport centre featured a Greek Doric column and town hall, a "Hindoo" chapel, and an Egyptian library (the Civil and Military Library, now the Oddfellows Hall), along with an approach of neo-classical terraced housing with Roman Corinthian columns.
The Mount Zion Chapel and the neo-classical housing have been demolished, but much of Foulston's civic centre still exists. See the Encyclopedia of Plymouth History, for a history and views from the Column in the late 1950s. The tower, originally open to the public, was closed in 1992 on safety grounds and is on the At Risk register. However, the writer and consultant Denna Jones argues that the site was merely closed for expediency, and has compiled a Flickr photoset (see Devonport Column Site Visit - Summer 2008) documenting a visit by the Chief Engineer of Tower Bridge, with an aim to proving the site structurally sound.
The British Listed Buildings entry - see Devonport Tower - includes interactive maps and a Bing Maps Birds Eye view of the district. Other key buildings are Devonport Guildhall, successfully renovated with a Community Assets Grant (see the RIO page) and the Oddfellows Hall (see the English Heritage At Risk entry, which has an image of the elevation showing the full glory of Foulston's Egyptian style for the building).
Following a post-WWII decline, Devonport is now again under development : for background, see this June 2009 Devonport Heritage Trail Artist/Design Brief and the July 2006 Devonport Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan). John Foulston's Ker Street centre looks to be as crucial to it as it was the original branding of Devonport.
See the May 2013 update: Devonport Column reopens to public.