A succession of severe storms has pounded Falmouth seafront in recent weeks. That the coastline has “held firm” is due in no small measure to a major engineering project completed nearly 30 years ago, as Mike Truscott recalls.
The threat was all too clear when major coastal subsidence dramatically altered the cliff face immediately below the then Bedruthan Café on Falmouth’s Castle Drive, during one of many storms in the winter of 1961-62.
Nothing short of a big new “sea wall” was required if such incidents were not to be repeated in the years to come, bringing the mighty Atlantic and all its fury ever closer to half-a-dozen large hotels.
The old Falmouth Borough Council “saw it coming” and started the ball rolling for one of the Falmouth-Penryn area’s biggest-ever engineering projects.
It was completed in 1985 – a mile-long sea wall stretching from Gyllyngvase Beach to Pendennis headland.
And the £2 million job was done none too soon, according to resident engineer Paul Langford.
Reflecting on recent bad weather and further subsidence, he told the Packet: “We would have lost the road, by the falls that we’ve had in the last ten days; there’s no doubt in my mind that this wall has come in the nick of time.”
The idea, the Packet explained, was that the wall “should do for at least 100 years what King Canute could not do for one afternoon.”
Despite the enormity of it all, the 11-month construction project had attracted hardly a hint of public venom.
There had been “only mild interest and approval, particularly from people who live or make their living near it.”
Packet reporter David Rowe observed: “Being in the front line and facing the oversized waves that roll in from the English Channel, they know that without this sea wall the seafront would have great chunks chewed out of it, and the water would be much nearer the doorsteps of their hotels and old folks’ homes.”
The man who had overseen the project was Ken Quimby, who was assistant engineer for the old borough council in the early 1960s – when the growing need for a barrier against the waves prompted them to approach the Ministry of Transport. As Carrick District Council’s assistant environmental services officer (engineering) in 1985, he forecast: “With proper maintenance, the wall should last a century. They can come and get me in a hundred years’ time!”
Somewhat surprisingly, just 15 men from Redruth-based Isis Construction had been involved in the mammoth construction project.
The giant granite blocks, which give the wall such an attractive face, were brought down from Carnsew Quarry at Mabe.
Keith Rolleston, Carrick’s principal engineer, reflected: “Although the public were often in close proximity to the works, there has been no safety problem.
“Operations like tipping truckloads of six-tonne boulders down the cliff have been achieved without damage, except to the tipping vehicles themselves, which suffered an accelerated depreciation.
“The contractors’ most severe problem – peculiar to this type of work – has probably been keeping the site operatives working while partially surrounded by topless sunbathers!”