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Halsends is a village that dissolved into the sea

The coast of Great Britain is slowly but systematically absorbed by the sea. These processes lasted for decades, but there are exceptions. In the case of the Halsends village, everything happened suddenly, and during one stormy night the village literally dissolved into the sea.

The island of Great Britain is reduced in size. Every year several meters of land are washed away by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Every few decades at least one village is lost. From the coast of Yorkshire in the north, to the iconic cliffs of chalk on the southern coast of England, the sea absorbs an average of 2 meters at the northern end to eight inches in the south. The Holdernes coastline on the east coast of England is one of Europe’s fastest-collapsing coastlines due to its soft clay rocks and powerful waves. Since late Roman times, about five kilometers of land have been washed by the sea, including 23 cities and villages. Overall, more than a quarter of the British coast is experiencing erosion at a rate of over 4 inches per year.

While coastal erosion is an inevitable natural process, sometimes human activity and greed can also be detrimental. A fairly well-known example of anthropogenic erosion is the now-deserted coastal village of Hollsunds in the south of Devon. At the turn of the 20th century there was a small fishing community with about forty buildings and a population of 160 people. However, by the beginning of 1917 only one house remained. But the Halsends erosion was not gradual, as was the case with the processes described above. It all happened suddenly – the Halsends disappeared during one stormy night.

Halsends was built on a rocky ledge under a high cliff, on the coast of South Devon. It was a safe place. The sea was not too rough, and between the village and the sea was a wide pebble beach, which provided a protective buffer from powerful waves from the east. Even the Great Hurricane of 1891, which hit southern England and flooded dozens of ships in the English Channel, could not harm the village. But that all changed three years later.

In 1894, the Royal Navy proposed the expansion of the naval shipyard at Keyham, near Plymouth. This project required about 400,000 cubic meters of pebbles. It was decided that the pebbles would be extracted from Start Bay north of Halsends. Work began in April 1897, and an average of 1,600 tons of material was mined every day. The effect of the operation was felt almost immediately in the village of Hallsands. The beach began to lose its shape and level, which worried the villagers, who asked the local deputy to intervene. An investigation was carried out, but the engineering firm escaped responsibility and continued to deepen the bottom, scooping pebbles.

The fact that the pebbles on the Halsends beach appeared thousands of years ago, in the process of raising the sea after the ice age, was ignored. There was no reserve of pebbles in the sea, which could naturally replace the material extracted during the mining process. Therefore, waves and currents simply filled the voids, making the coastal strip narrower and bringing the high water directly to the village. By 1900, cracks appeared in the houses at the southern end of the village, and the opposition from several fishing villages forced the Council of Commerce to cancel the dredging license in 1902. During these five years, 660,000 tons of material have been mined.

Halsends suffered several casualties. Their public house called “London Inn” lost the kitchen, bedroom and basements. Several families were relocated, and the population fell to 93 people, and then to 79 in 1906. A new, more powerful sea wall was also built, and the villagers decided that their worst days were over. However, the worst was yet to come.

January 26, 1917 a strong strong hurricane hit the east coast. The storm wind was pushing huge waves that crashed into houses at roof level. Constructed on the ledge of the house collapsed, and those that were on the stones above – were badly damaged by wind, waves and stones. By some miracle, all 79 inhabitants survived and climbed to a safe place. As the sun rose, the effects of the devastating spectacle opened. Many houses have disappeared, but the marina somehow managed to hold on, thus saving many lives. But this failure is not over. Two days later, on January 28, a strong tide broke the already weakened marina, and the entire village, with the exception of one of the highest houses in the village, was washed away into the sea.

The headline of the Kingsbridge Gazette newspaper after these events said: “The beach went to Devonport, and the Halsends houses went to the sea”, referring to the new dock in Devonport, which was built from the pebbles of the Halsends beach. An investigation was conducted, but reports were never published. The Trade Board avoided liability, but eventually agreed to pay £ 6,000 to villagers in compensation. Today, a new village is built higher on a cliff overlooking the scene of a disaster. From the observation deck you can see some of the ruins of the old village, which still resemble the madness of man and his desire

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