ON a blustery afternoon in January, more than a hundred people huddled on the cliffs above Start Bay to pay their respects to the lost village of Hallsands.
A century earlier, on January 26, 1917, gale force winds coincided with an abnormally high six-metre spring tide. By the time darkness fell, heavy seas were breaking over the sea walls and pounding the thatched cottages nestled into the cliffs.
Only two houses now stand on the site of the old village. Access by the public is normally forbidden for reasons of safety and security, but on the centenary, Gay Martin, owner of one of the surviving properties generously unlocked the gate and invited members of the public into her house.
Pebblecove, purchased by the Martin family for £20 in the 1960s, is the most southerly cottage left standing in the village.
The cottage sits precariously on a rocky outcrop with waves crashing below and stunning views out to sea and across to Start Point.
Camera crews from the BBC Spotlight and ITV Westcountry were in the old village, filming people as they explored, with a soundtrack of whistling winds and crashing waves.
At 3pm, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Devon, David Fursdon unveiled a commemorative plaque alongside the coast path above the site of the old village.
David Fursdon said: ‘It’s fantastic for me to be here. It’s a great opportunity to recognise what the original community would have been like at Hallsands, to meet some of the descendants of those people and to see what the community can do in this day and age to mark that occasion and organise such a great day.
‘I’m delighted to be a part of that.’
Mr Fursdon continued: ‘Nobody had any idea how many were coming. I suppose they’re pleasantly surprised - it’s such a great turn out.’
‘We’re going to walk down to Beesands, take a look at the exhibition and attend the service of remembrance and mark the occasion in the proper way.’
After the plaque was unveiled, about 50 descendants, dignitaries and members of the public walked along the coast path, over the cliffs to Beesands a mile away, retracing the route the Hallsanders took to safety a hundred years before.
The Lord-Lieutenant was then shown around the Hallsands exhibition at St Andrew’s church in Beesands, where the organising committee presented him with a special centenary edition print of an engraving of the old village by local artist Mike Glanville.
In the evening, a special service of remembrance at the church of St Michael and All Angels, Stokenham was held.
The church was packed with about 400 people, with local residents, descendants of old villagers and people travelling from far and wide to mark the centenary.
The service was attended by a number of dignitaries, including musician Damon Albarn from the bands Blur and Gorillaz, who has a house near Hallsands.
The service, using prose and poetry, followed the theme of Hallsands through the ages, and included many poignant hymns and readings.
The day was rounded off with a crab supper at the Cricket Inn Beesands where entertainment was provided by Storm and the Old Gaffers, and an auction of donations, including a special edition 7” Gorillaz singles collection box set, held to raise funds for charities.
John Churton, who along with Roger Stone, curated the exhibition in St Andrews Church, Beesands said: ‘The number of people visiting the exhibition has amazed us. We have had to close the doors on a couple of occasions due to overcrowding.’
David Marcer, on behalf of the Hallsands Centenary Commemoration Committee said:
‘We thank the hundreds of people who joined us on our Hallsands centenary commemoration day, especially those who braved a biting south easterly wind. That so many people attended, some from far away, demonstrated the widespread affection that there is for Hallsands and its history.’
Tim Lynn, descendant of the Lynn family who lived in the village, said: ‘I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came. I never thought it would be as big as this.
‘The exhibition was wonderful and it was a pretty emotional experience at the service listening to the readings.
‘We’d like to thank everyone who came, especially descendants from the old village, all who were involved in the organisation of the day and the exhibition, and the dignitaries.’