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Devonport, Devon

Historical Description

Devonport, a parliamentary and municipal borough (and a county borough under the Local Government Act of 1888), market and garrison town, great naval arsenal, and a Government dockyard and port of considerable extent and importance, in Devonshire. It has stations on the L. & S.W.R. and G.W.R., and is 231 miles from Waterloo station, and 247 from Paddington. The town proper is in Stoke-Damerel parish; the municipal borough consists of all that parish, and the parliamentary borough includes also the parish of East Stonehouse. The town is the western one of three towns which form the port of Plymouth, Stonehouse being the central one, and Plymouth the eastern one, while the suburb of Morice Town is on the north-west; it has a relation to the other two towns somewhat similar to that which Westminster has to the manufacturing parts of the metropolis and to London city. It is bounded on the E by Stonehouse pool and creek, on the N by the new and increasing suburb of Ford, on the S and W by the Hamoaze, or estuary of the Tamar. It occupies much higher ground than either Stonehouse or Plymouth, and includes many points which command delightful prospects of the surrounding lands and harbours. Trams run between Devonport, Stonehouse, and Plymouth every five minutes.

Devonport sprang from the establishment of a dockyard at it in the latter part of the reign of William III. It was at first called Plymouth-Dock, and it got its present name, in 1823, from George IV., in answer to a petition to him by the inhabitants for a change of name. It contained few dwellings at the commencement of the 18th century, but it rose greatly, both in bulk and in naval and commercial importance, as the century advanced, and it was called Devonport in consideration of being the grandest sea-outlet of the county. It figures historically and commercially as part of Plymouth, but it was designed to be, and formally is, a great separate fortress; it contains the headquarters of the naval and military authorities of the port; it was constituted in 1837 a separate municipal borough, and in 1832, with Stonehouse and suburbs, a parliamentary borough. In consequence of its elevated site and healthy position, and its-perfect sanitary arrangements, its death rate is unusually low.

The town is oblong in outline, and consists of regular, well-built streets, intersecting one another nearly at right angles, Lines of fortification, of various height, until recently surrounded it. They were first formed in the reign of George II., and afterwards improved and enlarged; but on being inspected by the Duke of Wellington with reference to a completing of their strength, they were, as they then stood, pronounced to be useless as a defence from invasion. A considerable portion of the lines was demolished in 1893. The trenches that surrounded the town have been filled in. The entrance to the town is now by a grand roadway, 50 feet in width. There are other three land entrances, and the sea-side one is protected by batteries of heavy artillery. The chief street crosses the upper part of the town, and is both the oldest street and the greatest seat of business. Other streets contain large, handsome shops, and the north-eastern suburb of Stoke, beyond the lines, includes some elegant villas. A hard limestone, of marble-like quality, forms the pavements, and, having been considerably polished by the feet of passengers and the action of the weather, has a very beautiful appearance when washed by a shower.

A granite fluted Doric column, 125 feet high, was erected in 1824, at a cost of £2750, to commemorate the alteration in the name of the town; it stands on a rock, 22 feet above the pavement, near the town-hall, is pierced with a spiral staircase, and crowned by a balcony, and commands a fine, extensive, panoramic view. The town-hall, at the top of Ker Street, was erected in 1822, at a cost of £2900, exclusive of fittings; has a tetrastyle Doric portico, of imposing proportions; includes a hall 70 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 31 high; and contains portraits of George I., II., III., William IV., Queens Charlotte, Caroline, and Victoria, and the Prince Consort, and also of Sir John St Aubyn and Sir E. Codrington. The post office, in Fore Street, was built in 1849 from designs by Wightwick, and has an elegant semicircular portico, after the temple at Tivoli. The markets, with entrances from Tavistock Street, Cumberland. Street, and Duke Street, were erected in 1852 at a cost of about £18,000, and present a front to Tavistock Street in. The Italian style. The Clarence baths, opposite Mount Edgcumbe, contain hot and cold sea baths, and have bathing machines on a beautiful beach. A colossal bronze statue of the late Lord Sefton was placed in the Garrison in 1866.

St Aubyn's Church, in Chapel Street, is a plain edifice of 1771, and consists of nave and aisles, with western tower and low spire. The living is a vicarage; value, £380 with residence. Patron, the Rector of Stoke Damerel. St John's Church, between Duke Street and St John Street, is a plain building of 1797, and contains a fine marble monument of the Rev. T. M. Hitchings. The living is a vicarage; value, £250. St Michael's Church is a neat edifice of nave and aisles in the Early English style. St Mary's Church, between James Street and dockyard wall, was erected in 1854 at a cost of about £10,000, and has a reredos of Minton's embossed tiles. The living is a vicarage; value, £370. Patron, the Rector of Stoke Damerel. St Paul's Church, in Morice Square, is a handsome edifice of nave, aisles, and chancel, with fine tower and lofty spire. The living is a vicarage;, value, £265 with residence. Patron, the Crown and Bishop of Exeter alternately. St Stephen's Church, at the junction of George Street and Clowance Street, is in the Decorated English style, and cost, exclusive of the south aisle, £5743. The living is a vicarage; value, £274. Patron, Keble College, Oxford. St James the Great's Church, in Morice Town, is an imposing edifice of nave, aisles, and chancel, with tower and spire. Dockyard Chapel was built in 1817, and consists of nave, aisles, and sanctuary, with western tower. The living is a vicarage; value, £271 with residence. Patron, the Crown and Bishop of Exeter alternately. The living of St Mark is a vicarage; value, £160; of St Mary the Virgin, a vicarage; value, £300. Patron, the Crown and Bishop of Exeter alternately. Of Stoke Damerel, a rectory; value, £1051. Patron, Lord St Levan. All the livings are in the diocese of Exeter. The Roman Catholic church, dedicated to St Michael and St Joseph, in James Street, was erected in 1860-61. There are Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Bible Christian, Moravian, Unitarian, and Wesleyan chapels.

There is a High School for Girls. The Royal Naval and Military Free Schools, in King Street, are for the children of persons connected with the naval and military establishments, and have about 800 scholars. The Female Orphan Asylum is a handsome edifice, and has capacity for 110 inmates. At the north end of Keyham Factory there is a very fine college for the practical training of engineer students for the navy. The Royal Albert Hospital and Eye Infirmary is a fine building of stone in the Early English style, erected in 1861. The Free Public Library, Duke Street, was opened in 1882, and contains several thousand volumes: there is a museum attached. There are also a savings bank, mechanics' institute, and provident dispensary. The Sailors' Rest, erected by Miss Weston, is the finest building of the kind in the world. The People's Park is the great delight of Devonport. It contains about 50 acres, and is surrounded with beautiful gardens. The views from it are very fine, including the Tors of Dartmoor on the east, the Sound and Mount Edgcumbe on the south, a range of Cornwall hills on the west, and, on the north, the lovely Tamar and Hamoaze.

The dockyard, a great naval arsenal, lies on the Hamoaze at the Fore Street, occupies 70½ acres, is protected on the land side by a high wall, and employs about 3000 persons. It originally covered only 40 acres, but was enlarged in 1765 and at other dates. The chief objects of interest are the chapel, the guard-house, the pay-office, the surgery, and the engine-house, containing a fine collection of figure-heads from the old battle-ships; then a paved avenue leading to the residences of the local authorities. On descending the main steps, the ship-fitters' shop and the north smithery are on the right hand, whilst facing are three docks excavated from the solid rock-the two largest measuring respectively 437 feet in length by 97 feet in width, and 415 feet by 95 feet. On turning to the left, along the main avenue of the yard, are on the left hand the joiners' shop, the admiral's stairs, the officers' offices, the drawing office, the mast-house and mast basins, the two rope-houses, each 1200 feet long, then the King's Hill, an isolated spot conserved in its original state by the wish of George III.; whilst on the right hand are the double dock, the colour and sail lofts, the rigging house, the spacious storehouses, the graving slip, then a canal 60 feet wide running far up the yard, the saw-mills, the south smithery, containing 48 forges and large Nasmyth hammers, the machine-shop, with the most improved machinery for rolling, cutting, shearing, and drilling iron plates, the electrical shop, and lastly five great building slips, protected from the weather by vast sheds. The gun-wharf north of the dockyard, and separated from it by a part of the town, includes open spaces with great quantity of ordnance, and storehouses with large quantity of gun-carriages and small-arms. The steam-yard, at Keyham, occupies most of the water frontage of Morice Town; it is connected with the Dockyard by a tunnel, was commenced in 1846, and completed at a cost of about £1,500,000. It comprises an area of 72 acres, employs over 2000 hands in the repairing and fitting of steam-vessels, and includes a lock of admittance from the Hamoaze, two floating-basins, one 9 acres in extent, the other 7 acres, three large dry docks with entrances 80 feet wide and closed by iron caissons, and an enormous foundry, with two chimney shafts each 180 feet high. Barracks on Mount Wise, Granby Square, George Square and other places, have accommodation for 2000; a redoubt, called the Blockhouse, is on Mount

Pleasant, at the north side of the parish, and a chain of batteries commands all the harbour. Mount Wise, especially, bristles with cannon, overlooking the entrance of the Hamoaze; is surmounted by a signal station, which communicates with the guard-ship by semaphore, and with the Admiralty by electricity; has on it the residence of the Port-Admiral,. and also of the General in command of the district, and a large brass cannon taken from the Turks in the Dardanelles; is the place of reviews, and commands a charming prospect of the surrounding scenery. The Hamoaze commences at St Nicholas island, about a mile below the towiiy has a mean width of nearly half a mile to parts considerably north of the steam-yard. It is crossed by a steam floating. bridge, which connects Morice Town with Tor Point on the Cornwall side of the river. The Devonporfc New Quays, on Stonehouse Pool, at the entrance of the Hamoaze, were completed at a cost of about £80,000, and opened in 1886 m connection with the L. & S.W.R. They have a depth of water of 18 feet at ordinary low spring tides, which increases. a few feet out to 60 feet.

Devonport has a head post office, two railway stations— five banks, and two good hotels; is the headquarters of the western military district, and a seat of sessions, and has markets on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. lt& trade, except in the main things arising from the government establishments, is chiefly agricultural. The borough is governed by a mayor, twelve aldermen, and thirty-six councillors, and sends two members to parliament. The area of the-municipal borough is 1705 acres; population, 54,803. The-area of the parliamentary borough is 1950 acres; population,, 70,204.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyDevon 
Civil parishStoke Damerall 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Devonport from the following:


Online maps of Devonport are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering Devon online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of the County of Devon in the year 1564, with additions from the earlier visitation of 1531, is online.

The Visitations of the County of Devon, comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564, & 1620, with additions by Lieutant-Colonel J.L. Vivian, published for the author by Henry S. Eland, Exeter 1895 is online.

CountyCity of Plymouth
RegionSouth West
Postal districtPL2
Post TownPlymouth