Georgian-era art could help preserve Devon’s coastal heritage

‘Across Shipload Bay to Lundy Island’ Henry Moore 1859

Posted on: 2 February 2017

A ground-breaking resource, which uses artworks dating back to the late 18th century as a tool to help manage risks to Devon’s coastal heritage has just been published.

The CHeRISH Project (Coastal Heritage Risk – Imagery in Support of Heritage Management) contrasts 300 images and art from as early as 1770 with modern photographs.

Commissioned by Historic England and written by coastal scientist and art historian Professor Robin McInnes of Coastal & Geotechnical Services, the study was compiled with information gathered from a mix of heritage organisations, museums, art galleries, study centres, auction houses and local authorities including Devon County Council.

The prolific watercolourist
Alfred Robert Quinton painted this view
of the red sandstone cliffline and coastal
path looking across the mouth of the Exe
Estuary in 1915.

The images chart Devon’s two coastlines over the last 247 years at locations such as the Exe Estuary, from Hartland to Clovelly and Ilfracombe, Babbacombe to Torquay, along the North Devon coast as well as near communities like as Beer, Sidmouth, Exmouth, Dawlish and Teignmouth.

The mix of paintings, watercolours, photographs and old postcards are intended as a resource to help chart the nature and extent of coastal risks to heritage sites along the region’s extensive coastline.

For many years Historic England and its predecessors have charted the changing state of England’s coastline using various techniques including Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Surveys, which have been carried out since the late 1990s.

However, there are very few locations where accurate records of coastal change exist before the middle of the 20th century.

Aerial photography, for example, for much of the coastline only dates from the early 1940s. But by using art from the 18th century onwards it allows recognition of the scale and rate of coastal change over a much longer time frame than that normally considered by coastal scientists, planners and engineers.

This view of Salcombe from Sunny Cove by A.R. Quinton shows the typical villa development found on many South
Devon estuaries in the early 20th century.

A timescale of up to 250 years allows assessments to be made of changes in morphology, land-use and development long before the days of photographs.

The images can also improve our understanding of long-term coastal change and the resulting risks to heritage assets along parts of the coastline of south-west England.

Professor McInnes said: “The great strength of this imagery is its ability to detail and illustrate changes that have affected coastal heritage sites over a greatly extended time period.

“These resources are currently often under-used as a record of coastal change and can be particularly helpful in areas of great heritage significance such as Sidmouth where the

Professor Robin McInnes

coastal cliffs are less durable or unstable, and are becoming increasingly affected by marine erosion, landsliding, flooding and the impacts of climate change”.

“The project guides readers to such images and how they can be used; it is hoped that the result will be valuable in terms of providing improved risk management.”

A series of illustrated lectures are also being planned at suitable locations over the coming months.

Professor McInnes will be giving a talk on his research and this project at the Devon Heritage Centre Great Moor House, Bittern Roadd, Exeter EX2 7NL, on the afternoon of Monday 3 April 2017. This will be part of an event run by the Friends of Devon’s Archives (free to FODA members, small fee for non-members).

Click HERE for an illustrated summary on Historic England’s Research News.

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Posted in: Environment