Webpage created: March 28, 2018
Webpage updated: March 28, 2018
ALFRED RICHARD DEBNAM (1845-1916)
Alfred Richard Debnam was born at 7 High Street, Plymouth, in 1845. He had an older sister, Emma, and brother named Edwin. His father John, a cordwainer, died in 1860 leaving his mother Nancy, a ginger beer manufacturer, at the head of the family. Even at the age of five he was a scholar and was later educated at the Public Free School in Cobourg Street. He studied mathematics under Doctor Merrifield and went on to obtain teachers' certificates in building construction, geometry and mechanical machine drawing.
But while he was doing all that he was also employed full-time as a foreman of works for some Government contractors, when, at the age of just 22 years, he was placed in absolute charge of one of the contracts. Later, he went to work in the civil engineer's department of the Royal Dockyard at Keyham. At the age of 27 years he made use of his teaching qualifications by giving evening classes in those subjects for which he was certified and also gave technical classes in carpentry. He thus established the first technical classes held in the Borough.
Before he reached the age of 40 he had started a construction business of his own. He built the first block of the Royal Naval Barracks, the Plymouth Co-operative stores, the Technical College in Tavistock Road, a section of the old Plymouth Pannier Market, the Mount Street Board Schools, the Morice Town Board School, the outfall sewer works at Millbay, the extension to the graving dock at the Plymouth Great Western Docks, and the Coombe Viaduct on the Great Western Railway at Saltash. He also completed many large works for the Admiralty and the War Department.
In about 1890 Mr Debnam became a Councillor for the Tamar Ward in which he lived and during his short period of service only three years, he promoted many public improvements in the Borough of Devonport, including the removal of the "island" in Fore Street and the widening of the Tavistock Street approach to Devonport Market. He also encouraged the use of steam power for rolling the roads.
When in 1893/94 he moved into Plymouth to live, he obtained election to the Board of Guardians and to the Town Council as the Liberal representative for Drake Ward. He retired from both bodies in 1895 but in November the following year he re-entered the Council for the Frankfort Ward, filling vacancy created by Mr W N Elliott's elevation to Alderman.
Mr Debnam fought an interesting action for the people of Plymouth against the Plymouth Embankment Company. The Company claimed the right to levy tolls upon anyone using their property from Charles Place to any part of the Embankment Road. Mr Debnam challenged this in court, where it was ruled that the road from the old toll house in Saint Jude's Road to the gate near the Laira Bridge was free for purposes of ordinary traffic. This seems reasonable given that Plymouth Corporation built that stretch of road, not the embankment company.
He was also at the forefront of the decision to build Burrator Reservoir and the introduction of electric lighting to the Town.
Mr Alfred Richard Debnam died at Saint James's Villa, Plymouth, on Sunday June 26th 1916. He was survived by a son, Mr A E Debnam, and a daughter.
The funeral service was held at Saint Andrew's Church on Wednesday Jun e 28th 1916. The bearers were all Liberal Party workers from the Wards he had represented during his time on Plymouth Borough Council.