The early history of Hallsands is unknown, but a chapel has existed there since at least 1506. The site of the village was located at a cave known as Poke Hole, and probably was not inhabited before 1600. The village grew in size during the 18th and 19th centuries, and by 1891 it had 37 houses, a spring, a public house called the London Inn, and a population of 159. Most residents of Hallsands at that time depended on fishing for a living, particularly crab fishing on the nearby Skerries Bank.
In the 1890s, following a scheme proposed by Sir John Jackson, it was decided to expand the naval dockyard at Keyham, near Plymouth, and dredging began offshore from Hallsands to provide sand and gravel for its construction. Soon, up to 1,600 tons of material was being removed each day, and the level of the beach began to drop, much to the alarm of local residents. The Board of Trade agreed to establish a local inquiry in response to protests from villagers, who feared that the dredging might destabilise the beach and thereby threaten the village. The inquiry found that the activity was not likely to pose a significant threat to the village, so dredging continued. By 1900, however, the level of the beach had started to fall. In the autumn storms that year, part of the sea wall was washed away. In November 1900, villagers petitioned their Member of Parliament complaining of damage to their houses, and in March 1901 Kingsbridge Rural District Council wrote to the Board of Trade complaining of damage to the road. In September 1901 a new Board of Trade inspector concluded that further severe storms could cause serious damage and recommended that dredging be stopped. On 8 January 1902 the dredging licence was revoked. During 1902 the level of the beach recovered; however the winter of 1902 brought more storms and damage.
On 26 January 1917, a combination of easterly gales and exceptionally high tides breached Hallsands' defences, and by the end of that year only one house remained habitable. The villagers' fight for compensation took seven years.
The site of the old village at South Hallsands, is closed, although South Hams District Council has built a viewing platform, which is accessed from Trout's Apartments (formerly Trout's Hotel) in South Hallsands.
The beach at North Hallsands, known locally at the time as "Greenstraight", is the only one remaining at Hallsands as the beach beside the village no longer exists having been removed in 1917 by the storm.
There are two houses that remain intact, although in summer the owners spend much time repairing the damage the easterly winds have caused over the winter.
In May 2012, an access road, viewing platform and two houses were affected by a 200 tonne landslide, leading to the houses being evacuated and the affected area cordoned off by police. There was further damage to remaining houses at the site.
In 2006, the critically acclaimed opera company 'Streetwise Opera' commissioned a new opera, Whirlwind, based on the story of Hallsands. It was premiered at The Sage, Gateshead, on 24 October 2006. Written by Will Todd and Ben Dunwell, Whirlwind tells the story of Hallsands, a small fishing community thriving under the shadow of Start Point at the start of the 20th century. But in the next few years their world is turned upside down. Sir John Jackson’s dredgers come to take the beach, and a winter of storms drags their homes into the sea. Many years later, Lizzie May Prettyjohn, the last survivor of the gales, guides tourists round the ruins of the village. One day a young American couple come – and Lizzie May sees her young self reflected in the girl, Nella. Past seeps into the present, old Hallsands comes back to life around the young visitor, and she is caught up in their world of protest and tempest. As a hurricane far off in the Atlantic starts to form, mirroring the great Hallsands storm of 1917, all are caught up in the whirlwind.
- Sisters Against the Sea, Ruth and Frank Milton, ISBN 1-84114-435-5
- Pollard 2009, pp. 299–300
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hallsands.|
- Website of author Steve Melia, giving a detailed account of the history of Hallsands
- BBC account of the loss of Hallsands
- Abandoned communities ... Hallsands