Queen Annes Battery
In December 1938 Bennett Maxwell Banks began to write his autobiography.
It was to end up as a slender but informative book which he evidently returned to up until his death, adding little snippets to it as they came to him. This extract is from the first page:
"I am, as it is asserted & as I believe, the son of David & Ellen Banks. I was born (so I was told & again I believe it) at Queen Annes Battery, Coxside, Plymouth.
The house in which I was born was an unusual one. It was originally, so I understand, a store for curing & storing fish & when I knew it it had been enlarged by the addition of two or three extra rooms. It certainly was of an unusual shape. To begin with the house was only one room deep & the kitchen & the dining room were connected by a glassed in passage extending the whole width of the front of the house between these rooms thus making only an indirect access of light and air to where were Nursery & Drawing rooms. There were only four bedrooms, two on each landing. The house was destroyed some 30 odd years ago so as to quarry the limestone upen which the house stood. The following drawing may make matters clearer, so far as the ground floor is concerned."
The photo to the right is understood to be of the house at Queen Anne's Battery, which was called Orestes Villa. Where the original of this picture is I do not know, nor do I know the date it was taken. And who is the mystery woman in the doorway? There is a photograph of Jane Tonkin Banks, wife of Joseph Banks who built this house and had his boatyard on the same site, and in one of the pictures she is wearing a similar bonnet. It might well be her.
Note : The photograph has the name of Fred Viner of Fleet Street, Swindon on the side. He specialized in magic lantern slides and educational lecture sets. In 1882 his business, which he had started in 1864, was renamed York and Son, which might suggest this picture was taken before that date.
(Source : RCS Photographers Index)
Bennett Banks' autobiography continues:
"My paternal Grandfather was Joseph Banks (from Kent) & my paternal Grandmother was Jane Tonkin Banks, who had this name before and after her marriage, although there was no blood relationship, so it is asserted.* My Grannie came from Cornwall. How my Grandfather came to the West I do not know. Nor did I ever see him as he died (in my father's arms when holding him in his bed) from dropsy when quite a young man and before I was born. At the time of his fathers death my father was 21 & upon him fell the responsibility of providing for his mother and sisters (Bessie, Annie & Nellie). My Grandfather was a builder of wooden ships and had a yard at Cremyll on the Mt.Edgecombe estate. (On the Cornish side of the Tamar Ed.) But when my father was 4 years old my Grandfather moved by barge from Cremyll to Queen Annes Battery - where he had built a dry dock - the first to be constructed in Plymouth. But this dry dock, a tidal one, became a "White Elephant", first because there was a permanent spring of water in the dock which necessitated constant pumping (which made an added coal and labour expense) & secondly because shortly after my Grandfathers venture the G.W.Railway built a larger dry dock & built it in a better position with a deeper & constant draught of water. As a result my Grandfather died with a heavy mortgage on his yard; a mortgage which my father was never able to payoff until he sold up and practiced as a consultant. This meant that my father was always a poor man and therefore could not expect to marry and maintain a family in luxury. However my Father did marry and kept his wife and four children in necessary comfort. How it was done I do not pretend to understand, for although at one time we had two maids (at £12 a year) and a Governess, yet the total income was never more than £300, (including £70 per annum of my mothers)."
* It has subsequently been proved that Jane Tonkin Banks and her husband Joseph did have shared ancestry from Kent as can be seen through the Genealogy section of this site. Ed.)
In May 2017 Shirley and I spent some time in Plymouth visiting some of the locations mentioned in Bennett's book, and also those that other research shows to have been associated with the family. We spent a day at the Devon Records Office and the local studies section of Plymouth library and found additional information at both. The Records Office have a copy of an advertisement that shows that Joseph Banks' father David ran into financial difficulties at his boatyard in East Stonehouse by 1820. He had in fact been declared bankrupt in 1818, and so the fact that he had been able to restart his career across the river in Cremyll was very positive.
Cremyll village has a shelter in which display boards give a history of the area. These include a number of images which I, in turn, photographed, hence the poor quality, but from which I gleaned the following.
Boat building was carried out in Cremyll by 1774 as evidenced by a lease on the premises of Frank's Quarry being offered in a local newspaper. The yard was in the possession of a John Parkin from at least 1779 until 1812, and he "built new quays, a smithy, storehouses and workshops and an elegant three storey dwelling house, four labourers' cottages and a count house within the shelter of the quarry walls"
It seems that the Banks family "had taken the yard by 1823 and stayed until 1852. They built at least 49 vessels, many of them schooners for the fruit trade to the Azores and the Mediterranen"
The date of 1852 ties in roughly with the date that Bennett gives for the move from Cremyll to Queen Anne's Battery, although his father would have been only two years old in 1852, not four. It is interesting to note the date the family moved, coinciding with the resumption of quarrying.
The "elegant ... dwelling house" still stands at Cremyll, as does much of the yard and the quays, and some very old stone buildings. I know this as the staff of Mashford Brothers who currently build and maintain boats in exactly the same location were very kind and showed us around the whole site, including the quarry which is tucked behind the buildings, and only a few yards from the elegant house. Life must have been very noisy at best for a family with young children - little wonder Joseph Banks decided to relocate.
Boatyard at Franks Quarry, May 2017
As soon as I saw the house at Cremyll I was intrigued by its similarity to what I knew of the house that Joseph Banks had built, or altered, at Queen Anne's Battery. I remembered the old photograph and the hand-drawn floor plan, both of which clearly showed the bays, to right and left of the front door. Did Joseph model the family home in Plymouth on the old house at Cremyll?
Where was Orestes Villa ?
Some family members may know the exact location of Orestes Villa, but the Copeland descendents did not. Their belief was that it must have been somewhere about the location of the present building complex that is home to the Royal Western yacht Club, a cafe bistro and other small businesses, probably because Bennett's plan shows the house being next to a cliff, and the complex is close to where the old sea cliff was. Also there is a short flight of old stone steps near that complex that lead down close to the old dry dock, the position of which is still evident, although it is now a slipway, which suggested that this was the site of something old, perhaps Orestes Villa.
The Ordnance Survey map of 1893 however shows precisely where it was, as it was named on the map. It was over the entrance to what is now the Diving & Marine Centre University of Plymouth, at the end of what is now called Artillery Place, as can be seen from the overlaid maps, old and new, below. The house is shaded pink in the centre of the map, whilst Teats Hill House is the other pink shaded building, further left and higher in the image. Not surprisingly, given the detail in Bennett's hand-drawn plan, when blown up the map shows precisely the same shape and ground layout as his.
Ordnance Survey Maps reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland http://maps.nls.uk/index.html
Plymouth 1893 - CXXIII.12.9
The Westcotts and Teat Hill House
The location of Teats Hill House is shown because this is where the Westcott family lived. David Banks' sister Bessie married John Westcott, a ship owner, and their children were of course cousins of Bennett and his brothers and, according to Bennet's autobiography, the two families saw much of each other. David Banks built some of John Westcott's ships so there was a business connection as well.
The photographs below, again taken in May 2017, by chance show the locations of the two houses. Teat Hill House would have stood in front of the large grey timber clad building in the left hand picture, up on the hill, immediately above the items of yellow plant. Orestes Villa would have been behind the right side of the University building in the right hand picture, in front of the dark green patch of vegetation in front of the cream block of flats which are just visible on the far right.
The final photo - right - shows the view from the site of Teats Hill House. At the time these pictures were taken however the significance of this location was not known to me, nor that of the spot to the right of the University marine centre, (above right), which perhaps justifies another trip to Plymouth.