Treasure from Plymouth’s history discovered under reservoir

Formerly known as Hartley Pleasure Gardens, Hartley Park is now home to Plymouth Croquet Club.

Club members have been playing at the location since the club’s inception in the 1980s. But there’s a very interesting quirk to their pitch – they play above an operational reservoir.

Yes, that’s right, these quirky people get their croquet fix by playing directly above a chamber full of water – known as Hartley reservoir.

The reservoir is no longer visible but sits on the corner of Higher Compton Road and Mannamead Road, adjacent to the children’s play area and other recreational facilities.

A total of 165 concrete pillars were required to support the roof, which was eventually grassed over and provided a perfect ground for sports and recreation.

The water supplies approximately 15,000 properties in the centre of Plymouth, south of Mutley Plain.

The reservoir was open air until 1982 when it was given a concrete roof and grassed over. That’s when Plymouth Croquet Club moved in.

Hartley is now a service reservoir, meaning it stores treated water which is then piped to customers’ homes, but a reminder of its storied past has miraculously shown up buried in a shed.

Secretary, Linda Lang and Chair, Sue Marples of the Plymouth Croquet Club
Secretary, Linda Lang and Chair, Sue Marples of the Plymouth Croquet Club
(Image: Matt Gilley/PlymouthLive)

An original lifebuoy, which could date back to 1930, was recently unearthed by South West Water engineers. The water services company made the discovery after carrying out routine maintenance around the site.

And as soon as the lifebuoy was recovered Sue Marples, chairperson at the Plymouth Croquet Club, jumped at the chance to keep the new found treasure.

She said: “South West Water come up sometimes to check that everything is in working order, but a few weeks ago they came to sort out a shed – low and behold, buried underneath all of this rubbish in this shed they unearthed the original lifebuoy from when it was an open-air reservoir.

“We were all like, ‘Wow’ because we all knew it was a reservoir but when you see the lifebuoy it just brings it all home that yes it was.

“When we saw the lifebuoy we jumped at it and said, ‘Well, if it’s being thrown away, can we have it?’”

“We were so taken with this we thought, ‘Well it would be nice for our visitors to know a little history about our club’ because after all we are playing above a great, big reservoir.

“This is going back a very long time; this reservoir was an open-air reservoir back in 1930.”

She added: “We cleaned the lifebuoy up and displayed it. We also made a waterproof poster which will tell people all about it.

“I think It’s quite an important part of Plymouth’s history.

“It’s a little bit faded in colour after being buried underneath a load of rubbish in a shed for donkey’s years. You can definitely see what it is.”

In case you didn’t know – a lifebuoy is designed to be thrown to a person in water, to provide buoyancy and prevent drowning. Whereas modern lifebuoys are made of very strong polyethylene, back in 1930 they used cork to stay afloat.

It’s perhaps a good job Sue and her croquet team now have the lifebuoy as she candidly admitted that in some areas there is only about 12-inches of soil separating players and the water below.

The chairperson said: “We all know that underneath our feet we have goodness knows how much water. There’s probably only about 12 inches of soil in some places over the top of this mental container.

“It looks quite sinister down there, I’m not sure I’d actually want to go into the reservoir myself.”

Hartley Park is possibly one of the most unique sports arenas in Britain and the croquet-obsessed Sue is always looking to add new players to her roster.

Plymouth Croquet Club have players of all ages and routinely welcome groups to play with them.

“I’m absolutely obsessed with the game,” said Sue. “It’s amazing. It’s very, very addictive.

“We have more than 50 members and we also welcome visiting groups. We had a group of autistic children visit us this week and we have adults with learning difficulties play with us too.

“We’re always looking for new members. We play league matches and we have a lot of socials.”

An old lifebuoy was discovered at a former reservoir at Harley
An old lifebuoy was discovered at a former reservoir at Harley
(Image: Matt Gilley/PlymouthLive)

So, if you’re looking for a new sport to take up why not knock a ball through a hole while you stand above a piece of Plymouth history?

Plymouth Live