History

Over many centuries, our rivers have offered man a varied living and there is plenty to see that hints of this busy and changing past.

Plymouth Sound is alive with sea-going vessels that take advantage of the deep sheltered waters that have made this a natural place for a port. Devonport has been a busy dockyard since the seventeenth century.

In contrast, the rivers upstream seem like lazy backwaters but it was not always like this. The banks of the Tamar, itself, were rich in copper, arsenic and tin and mining remains can still be seen. Along the Lynher, many small quays, some still visible at low tide, served the quarries along its banks, the stone shipped downstream in large sailing barges worked by just a man and boy. Produce from the orchards and fields also found its way to market by boat just as, in return, the land was enriched by barge loads of horse dung from the dockyard and lime burnt in the limekilns along its bank.

Before the arrival of trains, lorries and good roads, the river was the main trading route in and out of the region. Ferries - from men with rowing boats to the steam, chain ferries at Saltash and Torpoint - were the only means of crossing it.

Saltash was - until the twentieth century - the biggest and most important town on the river, levying port dues on every boat anchoring in the whole river. Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge was opened in 1859, bringing the railway to Cornwall. The suspension bridge replaced the car ferry in 1961.

The river was also used for recreation. Rowing regattas were popular and enormous paddle steamers, forerunners of today's trip-boats, took thousands of Victorian Plymothians to enjoy the tea gardens at Forder and Calstock and way upstream to Calstock and Weir Head.