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Wedding Cakes

The glorious past life of Plymouth’s famous “wedding cake” by the pick

Many of us take the beauty of Plymouth for granted.

We’re so used to taking a leisurely stroll along the Barbican, the waterfront, and the Hoe – if Covid-19 rules allow – that we’ve become blind to how breathtaking these views of Drake’s Island and over Plymouth Sound are is really.

Buildings and statues that have been on the peg for years have really become part of the furniture, and we often pass by without thinking about how special or unusual they really are.

From Smeaton’s Tower to the ‘Beatle Bums’ and ‘The Wedding Cake’, Plymouth Hoe is full of historical gems that only ask people to find out about them.

This week we interviewed local historian Stephen Johnson who previously taught us all about Plymouth’s historical defense strategies and the only World War II “deep” shelter in Plymouth – the history of the “wedding cake” on Plymouth Hoe and what it was built for .

Stephen explained that the wedding cake – the actual name The Belvedere – marks the point where Plymouth’s pier once met land.

The Promenade Pier, one of the Hoe’s greatest attractions, was destroyed in the Plymouth Blitz some 80 years ago, but stories of its grandeur live on.

“The Belvedere was built in 1891,” said Stephen, “it is the last stretch of the old Plymouth Pier that caught fire during World War II and was demolished in the early 1950s.”

“Plymouth Hoe has always been a hangout, the place where people would meet friends or partners, and people would often hang out with their friends and go out on the pier for a dance or a concert.

“The wedding cake is the piece of the pier that was on land. The pier was destroyed in 1941 [during the Plymouth Blitz] So the wedding cake is the only piece that is still standing. “

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For more history-related news in Plymouth, please visit the Hidden Plymouth section of our website here

Plymouth Hoes Belvedere, known as the wedding cake
(Image: Lucy Duval)

A belvedere is an outdoor area that offers visitors an impressive view. The name is derived from two Italian words, where “bel” means “beautiful” and “vedere” means “see” or “see”.

Stephen, who heads the local history and heritage organization Hidden Heritage, says the Promenade Pier was popular with people of all ages, but especially with young people who wanted to meet friends at a dance or event.

He said, “Back then there weren’t that many things to do in Plymouth, it’s not like today when we have a lot of movies, bowling alleys and everything, then there was less to do so the pier was the main thing for that a lot of people.

“You would go to the pier for tea dances, music events, the orchestra, and friends.

“You would take the tram to get there, it was easy to get to as there were tram lines all over the city. The pier had a very ornate entrance to the wedding cake. “

“The wedding cake has three levels and under the steps you can actually see the remains that the pier went into, but a lot of people don’t really look for it,” he added.

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In addition to tea dances and music concerts, another event that drew the wedding cake and the surrounding area on Plymouth Hoe was a swimming regatta, Stephen says.

“In the 1900s, when a regatta was going on in the Sound, people would crowd the steps and fill the hoe.

“I know it sounds very funny to us when all these people go there to see some swimming, but that was a very popular thing at the time,” Stephen said. “And the Belvedere, the pier and the hoe were the right places to see it.

“Thousands of people would have come to watch the swim – some of the steps on West Hoe are bang-sized, the size of someone’s bum, so they could fit as many people as possible on the steps to watch the regatta.”

“There was also a concrete beach by the hoe, which was popular with the people at the time. It used to be cleaned regularly, now it’s full of algae, ”he added.

Plymouth Hoe has always been an important place for the local people, says Stephen, but we often forget how important it really was in the 20th century.

“During World War II, vegetables were planted there as part of the Dig For Victory campaign and people went on the hoe to dance,” he said.

“Many Plymouths were bombed in the war and the pier caught fire and was later demolished.

“But the wedding cake wasn’t as badly damaged and it’s pretty easy to build, so it would have cost less to repair.

“The age of the pier was not long and there were financial difficulties at the time, so it was not rebuilt.

“But the wedding cake is still there.”

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