Sidmothian John solves pipe mystery

Mystery pipes on Sidmouth beach are Victorian sewerage pipes says local historian

MYSTERIES are meant to be solved, and when you are a Sidmothian and a local historian like John Ankins, they usually have a logical explanation.

So it is with the mystery pipes that spring tides uncovered off Pennington Point last week.

With the massive tubes baffling council boffins, and thoughts the metalwork could be remnants of the MSC Napoli disaster, John, from Tyrell Mead, has come up with the answer after reading our plea for help.

“They are sewage pipes. They have been there quite a while,” he said. “They wouldn’t have been washed there, I saw them a few years ago when the shingle had been washed away.”

As a lad, John said the pipes were buried by shingle, but over the past few years, with it being washed away to reveal the bedrock, he has seen bits of the pipe revealed, “but never to this extent”.

John’s book: Sidmouth A History, Jacobs Ladder to the Alma Bridge, first published in 2007, shows a photograph of similar, if not the same, pipes leading into the sea.

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In his chapter Sewers and Drains he writes: “In the mid 19th century, there was a growth in the town’s population; 3,350 in 1867, rising to 4,401 in 1895.

“This led to concerns about the sewers and drains…The surface drainage and the open drain at Alma Bridge required urgent attention, as at this time it was the deposit of nearly all the drains of the town.

“A new local board was formed on May 20, 1863, and plans were made for a new drainage system.

“The aim was to affect an efficient discharge into the sea below the water line. A new tubular drain replaced the East Street drain. This was flat and too small, and this was laid by November 1864.

“By December 1866 it was announced that all the permissions had been obtained for a new sewer to be taken out to the sea between the Guard House and the River Sid.

“The work commenced in March 1867 and was completed in September. In 1870 the construction began, on the Ham, of a liquidising plant.”

Although the plant seemed to work well, there were complaints about deposits of sewerage on the beach and in 1897 work was carried out to construct, under the Ham, an underground storage tank, 90 feet by 45 feet, from which a new two foot cast iron outfall sewer was laid under the river and out to sea.

In 1959 Sidmouth Urban District Council accepted a tender for a new sewer outfall costing �9,240 and work started on this in March 1961 for a 1,500 foot sewerage outfall.

“Low loader lorries brought parts in to build a gantry, which was to be floated out to sea for the divers to lay the pipes on the seabed,” writes John.

There we have it. Mystery solved!