Mansands – the name says it all, or does it?

Mansands Beach, South Devon

On one of the recent warm days we were back on the South West Coast Path. Heading east towards Brixham, with a few miles yet to walk, we started to descend from the flat cliff top and the beach at Mansands appeared ahead of us. It’s a wider cove than many in this part of South Devon with some hints of settlement. The picture above (taken on June 6th 2013) shows the sweep of rocky beach enfolded by the surrounding cliffs and if you look carefully you can see a low building with white walls. This used to be Coastguard Cottages but is now private housing. The cottages were built in the 19th century by French prisoners from the Napoleonic wars but they now have some 21st century touches with the roofs boasting solar panels.

Limekiln at Mansands, Devon

Tucked away below the cottages and above the beach is what appears at first sight to be a rough alcove made from stone blocks. Once you have lived in Devon for a few years you recognise this as one of the many lime kilns found around the coast and on some inland waters. These date from the 18th and 19th centuries and were used to convert limestone in to lime. The lime was used to make mortar for building and lime wash for whitening cottage walls. Lime was also used in farming where, spread on fields, it counteracted the acidity of local soil and improved fertility. Limestone came from local quarries and was “burnt” in the kilns using coal brought from South Wales. The kilns were built near water so that materials could be delivered by boat.

Sea pinks at Mansands, Devon

Near the limekiln was this bright purple clump of thrift (sea pinks) growing in a crevice in the rock, the flowers darker than the usual pink.

One thing puzzles me – how did the name Mansands come about? I want it to be like the town of Manly in New South Wales where the name was given to denote the “confidence and manly behaviour of the locals” when it was first discovered by settlers. But in fact the derivation is much more prosaic; the name, Mansands comes from the Anglo-Saxon gemaen meaning common. According to Valerie Belsey in her book, Exploring Green Lanes in the South Hams, the sands could have been shared by two manors, hence they would have been common.

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