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Plymouth, Devon

Historical Description

Plymouth is situated at the south-western corner of Devonshire, on the shore of the capacious bay or inlet of the sea known as the Sound, and at the mouth of the river Plym, from which it derives its name. Another river, the Tamar, which forms the boundary between the counties of Devon and Cornwall, flows into the Sound on the west, as the Plym does on the east. The Tavy again falls into the Tamar just above Saltash. By rail Plymouth is 247 miles from London,. and 53 from Exeter, but the distance is much shorter by the old coach road. It is connected with the two great lines of railway-the Great Western via Exeter, Bristol, Bath, and Swindon, to Paddington; and the London and South-Western via Exeter and Salisbury, to Waterloo. The port of Plymouth extends to all the rivers; harbours, and creeks between Looe on the west and the river Yealm on the east. It has a magnificent roadstead, well protected by the breakwater, and is the second naval station in the kingdom. Locally, Plymouth, with its sister towns Stonehouse and Devonport, is known as the Three Towns, and although each town is under a separate and distinct government, it forms practically one large town, with an aggregate population of nearly 200,000. Devonport has already been described, and in the present article we deal with Plymouth, the older of the Three Towns, with a population at the present time (according to the registrar-general's returns) of 87,931. In the year 1821 the population was only 21,591, so that the increase has been very remarkable. The area of the borough is 1491 acres, including Drake's or St Nicholas' Island, and the rateable value is upwards of £320,000.

Plymouth is a county borough, governed by a mayor and county council, and returning two members to Parliament. Its parliamentary area is not co-extensive with its municipal area, the former including some of the suburbs, notably Mannamead, a residential outgrowth of the borough. It carries on an extensive trade with America, the West Indies, Africa, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, &c., and has besides a large fleet of fishing vessels and an ever-increasing coasting trade. The port is a place of call for many lines of mail steamers, competing with Southampton for the South African lines. Steamers also ply almost daily between this port and London, Cork, Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Waterford, Liverpool, the Channel Islands, and many other places. The chief exports are mineral products, granite, limestone, china clay, manures, &c., and there are also extensive manufactories, which add very largely to the wealth and commercial importance of the district. The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port in 1895 was 330 (40,000 tons). The entries and clearances each average 3500 (800,000 tons). The customs revenue amounts to £45,000 per annum. During the last thirty or forty years the resources of this port have been vastly improved, dock accommodation has been greatly extended, and the natural position and beauties of the district have tended much to make Plymouth a resort for holiday folk, and a capital centre for the counties of Devon and Cornwall. The facilities for river, sea, and rail trips are exceptionally good, while the mild climate is very beneficial to invalids, and the proximity of Dartmoor, with its invigorating breezes, renders the town a very desirable place of residence tuall who travel for the benefit of their health.

Plymouth has a history. In fact few towns in the United Kingdom have a more interesting and eventful history. So long ago as the days of Edward III. Plymouth claimed to be one of the most populous towns in the kingdom, and it was one of the first municipalities established, its charter dating from the year 1439, before which no such municipalities were incorporated. Hull appears to be the first, and Plymouth comes next in order, and therefore takes precedence of all other cities and towns. Although the charter was not granted until 1439, the claims of Plymouth for a separate existence were considered by Parliament in the year 1411. While the early history of the town is veiled in obscurity, there is little room for doubt that there was a settlement here long before the visit of Caesar. The port, too, was a resort of the Danes; the Saxons had an important settlement at Plympton, and at the Norman Conquest it was a manor called Sutton. As early as 1287 a fleet of 325 vessels assembled at Plymouth for operations against the French, and many subsequent expeditions of a similarly defensive and offensive character had their place of departure from this port. Edward the Black Prince made it his headquarters, and here he disembarked when returning with his illustrious prisoners after his brilliant victory at Poitiers. Here Catherine of Aragon landed when she first came to England; here were assembled the English fleet under Howard and Drake which defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588; from hence Hawkins and Drake started on their voyages of discovery; this was also the point of departure of the ill-fated Raleigh's various expeditions, and here he was arrested on the charge of high treason which eventually led to his execution; and this old town witnessed the arrival or departure of nearly every great seaman of Elizabeth's days, and nearly every memorable expedition of later times. Plymouth was the last port touched by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620, and hence the name of New Plymouth in the New World. It was the centre of the great struggle in the west between the Crown and Parliament, and was true to the Parliamentary cause all through the Civil War. When, in 1688, William of Orange landed in Torbay, Plymouth was the first town in England to declare for him. Captain Cook sailed from Plymouth on every occasion of his memorable voyages, and in later days Plymouth has seen England's heroes shipped off by thousands to fight our battles in the East, in Russia, in fact wherever the British flag has been carried, whether for conquest or defence. From Plymouth the first shipload of emigrants sailed for the colonization of Australasia.

Some of these events are commemorated in an enduring fashion in a series of historic windows which adorn the new Guildhall, opened by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in 1874. Royal visitors and distinguished strangers have always had a partiality for Plymouth, and its record in that respect, as in many others, is quite remarkable. Such is the briefest possible outline of the history of this grand old town, whose mother church of St Andrew's has seen hundreds of generations of men come and go since her noble tower was erected at the expense of a wealthy merchant, Thomas Yogge, in 1460. The church is considerably older than that date.

Among the chief points of interest in and around the town of Plymouth we may mention the Hoe, a magnificent public promenade of some forty acres in extent, with the huge Carolian fortification-the Citadel-adjoining. The Hoe commands an uninterrupted view of sea and land, and is one of the most beautiful and finely situated positions in the kingdom. Mount Edgcumbe, the seat of the Earls of that name, is a conspicuous object on the shores of the Sound; and the magnificent breakwater already mentioned; erected about 1824 at a cost of £2,000,000, stands about 3 miles from the shore, while the world-famous Eddystone Lighthouse may be seen some 14 miles out in the Channel. Not far away is the Royal Albert Bridge (Brunel's masterpiece), which spans the river Tamar and connects the railway services of Devonshire and Cornwall. The hills of Dartmoor may be seen from the Hoe, while in another direction are the heights of Staddon, the scene of some stirring fights in the time of the Civil War. The town, or rather the older portion of it, lies chiefly in a hollow, but the speculative builders have now absorbed nearly all the available ground in the vicinity, and have gradually encroached upon the open fields, with the result that the town now overlaps a number of small suburbs and spreads over the adjacent hills.

The streets of Plymouth, particularly the old part, are narrow and crooked, but they are being rapidly improved, while the newer streets and roads are wide and straight. There is a good service of trams, drawn by horse-power, that leading to Mannamead belonging to the corporation; while another, connecting the Three Towns, is owned by a company. Another corporation tramway connects the town with the piers and West Hoe. Numerous buses ply in various directions, and cabs are numerous and good. The gas is cheap, possibly the lowest in price of any town in the country; water, owned by the corporation and brought from Dartmoor, is plentiful and good. The streets are well lit and admirably kept, while the police supervision of the town is remarkably good. In sanitary matters Plymouth is not behind the age, and the town is generally considered a healthy place. As to the public buildings they are for the most part modern. In the lower parts of the town, however, may still be found some interesting specimens of ancient architecture. But nearly all the older portions of the town have been swept away in the march of modern improvement.

The ecclesiastical parish of St Andrew, with Penny Cross (population, 10,900), is a vicarage; net value of living, £500 with residence, in the gift of the Church Patronage Society. The church is an ancient structure, was restored in 1875 by Sir Gilbert Scott at a cost of over £7000, has a carillon of bells with Westminster chimes, a four-dial clock, a fine organ, and many other interesting features. The "abbey" or priest's. house adjoining is the oldest ecclesiastical building in Plymouth. All Saints (6778) is a vicarage; net value, £200, in the gift of trustees. King Charles' Church (11,795) is a vicarage, in the gift of the Church Patronage Society. The church was commenced to be erected in 1640 and was finished after the siege in 1627. It has been recently restored and improved. Christ Church, erected in 1847 (6276), is a perpetual curacy; gross value, £300 with residence. St James the Less, consecrated in 1847 (5978), is a vicarage; net value, £153 with residence. St John the Evangelist, Sutton-on-Plym (7206), is a vicarage; net value, £381. The church was erected in 1856 at a cost of £3000. St Peter's, Wyndham Square (11,785), is a vicarage; gross vlaue, £400, in the gift of trustees. The church was consecrated in 1846, and was recently rebuilt at a cost of £10,000. St Luke's, formerly a chapel of ease to Charles' Church (3342), is a vicarage; net value, £188, in the gift of the Church Patronage Society. The church was erected in 1828, St Jude's (7827) is a vicarage; gross value, £213, in the gift of trustees. The church was erected in 1876 at a cost of £4000. Holy Trinity (4822) is a vicarage; net value, £250 with residence, in the gift of the Vicar of St Andrew's. The church was erected in 1851. St Saviour's, Lambhay Hill (2777), is a vicarage; gross value, £200, in the gift of the Vicar of Holy Trinity. The church was erected in 1870. St Matthias' (4456) is a perpetual curacy; net value, £310, in the gift of trustees. The church was consecrated in 1887, and possesses architectural features of a high order. St Andrew's is a chapel of ease erected in 1822 at a cost of £5000, and the Citadel Church was erected for the troops in garrison. There are several large and substantial buildings belonging to the other denominations. Among these may be mentioned Sherwell Chapel, a nonconformist place of worship. There is also a Roman Catholic Cathedral, opened in 1858, with a handsome lofty spire, and a Jewish synagogue. The Church of Emmanuel, at Compton Gifford, was erected in 1870 at a cost of £9000.One of the largest and finest public buildings is the South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital, recently erected in the north part of the town at a cost of nearly £40,000. There is also an eye infirmary, a homoeopathic hospital, a dental dispensary, a medical dispensary, with many other institutions of a semi-charitable character. Some of the banks are prominent buildings in the main streets. The chief are the Devon and Cornwall in Bedford Street, the Naval in Whimple Street, and the Wilts and Dorset in George Street. A branch of the Bank of England is situated at the bottom of George Street. The chief hotels are the Royal (which with the Theatre Royal and Assembly Rooms forms one magnificent block in the centre of the town), belonging to the corporation; the Duke of Cornwall, near the Millbay Railway Terminus; the Grand, on the Hoe; and several comfortable commercial hotels well situated. The Plymouth Coffee House Company has a central house in Bedford Street and several branch establishments.

Of clubs, we may mention the Royal Western Yacht Club on the Hoe, the Plymouth Club in Lockyer Street, the Masonic Hall and Club in Princess Square, the Conservative Club in Princess Square, the Liberal Club in Bedford Street, besides several others of a political and other character. The Young Men's Christian Association has a handsome building in Bedford Street, and the Young Women's Christian Association is located in Lockyer Street. The General Post Office is situated on the west side of Guildhall Square. One of the largest buildings in the town is that of the Co-operative Society in Frankfort Street. Plymouth has two first-class daily papers-the Western Morning News, avowedly non-political, but really advocating Unionist principles, and the Western Daily Mercury, the organ of the Liberals. Both these newspapers have offices in George Street. There are also numerous weekly and monthly periodicals.

The town is well supplied with public halls. In addition to the Guildhall, capable of holding 2000 persons, with a fine organ, there are the Assembly Rooms at the Royal Hotel, a handsome suite of apartments where fashionable balls are held; the Mechanics' Institute, for concerts and lectures (a small library is attached); the Co-operative Hall in Frankfort Street; the Freemasons' Hall in Princess Square; the Princess Hall, Oddfellows' Hall, Foresters' Hall, St James's Hall (for variety entertainments), the People's Palace, Salvation Army Hall, &c. The Plymouth General Market, in the centre of the town, was originally erected in 1804, but is now undergoing a complete restoration, and will ere long be one of the most convenient and best situated public markets in the country, having cost the town in the work of reconstruction some £45,000. It occupies about three acres, and is a very remunerative property, belonging to the corporation. The principal fish market is on the Barbican. Various fairs are held in the town, but their old-fashioned glory has departed. There are several blocks of workmen's dwellings, and the corporation have now a very big scheme for providing better accommodation for the working classes in the east end of the town.

Plymouth is well served as regards railway facilities. The main station of the G.W.R. is at Millbay. The stations of the L. & S.W.R. at Friary and Devonport are good and modern structures; the same may be said of the Joint station at North Road, and the waterside accommodation is abundant. An extensive Promenade Pier, under the Hoe, is the source of great attraction at all seasons; the Millbay Pier is one of the chief places of embarkation for holiday steamers; and from the Barbican Pier the penny steamers ply to the towns and villages on the banks of the Cattewater. Boatmen are on hire under the Hoe and at the Barbican.

In addition to the Hoe, which is used as a public park, Plymouth possesses quite a number of recreation grounds: Freedom Park, recently laid out by the corporation; Beaumont Park, acquired by the corporation about three years ago at a cost of £26,000; Drake's Place, near the Drake Reservoir; and Hartley Recreation Ground, adjoining the Hartley Reservoir. A public recreation ground for the Three Towns is in course of formation at Deadlake, Pennycomequick. There is also a recreation ground at Mount Gould, where young Plymouth resorts for football, cricket, and other games.The township of East Stonehouse, which forms the centre of the Three Towns already noted, is continuous with the borough of Plymouth, but is governed by a district council. It forms part of the parliamentary borough of Devonport, and has a population of about 16,000. The greater part of the township belongs to the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe as lord of the manor. The place owes its prosperity chiefly to the proximity of large Government establishments, including the Royal William Victualling Yard, which occupies an area of some thirteen acres, nearly half of which has been reclaimed from the sea. Over the entrance gateway is a gigantic statue of George IV., in whose reign it was erected. Another large establishment is the Royal Marine Barracks, which affords accommodation for about 1500 men, and the Royal Naval Hospital, a huge establishment capable of accommodating 1200 patients, and occupying twenty-four acres of ground. It is situated on a slope overlooking Stonehouse Creek. Stonehouse Bridge, connecting the towns of Stonehouse and Devonport, was erected by the lords of the manor in 1773, but has been recently re-erected. Another notable building is the Town Hall (formerly St George's Hall), erected in 1850 by a company, but just restored and converted to its present uses by the town authorities at an expense of some £8000. Stonehouse has three churches, the oldest being St George's, erected in 1789 and renovated in 1882; St Paul's, erected in 1830 at a cost of £2700; and St Matthew's, consecrated in 1875, at a cost of £5000. Stonehouse also possesses chapels of various nonconformist bodies and several Board schools. The Grand Theatre, situated in Union Street, Stonehouse, was erected in 1889, and will accommodate over 2000 persons. There is a Constitutional Club in Edgcumbe Street and a Liberal Club in Union Street. Stonehouse has very little in the way of manufactures, but owing to its proximity to the Great Western Docks a great portion of the foreshore is occupied with wharves and stores.

The Great Western Docks, though practically a part of Plymouth, extend. nearly the whole length of Stonehouse. Millbay Pier was the first portion erected, and that was built under the powers of an Act of Parliament in 1840. The whole was subsequently bought by the Great Western Dock Company, and the docks were first opened for trading purposes in 1857. They are now the property of the Great Western Railway Company, and have been very much extended and improved during the last ten years. The graving dock is 468 feet long by 92 wide, and the floating basin covers an extent of over 13 acres. The number of vessels entering these docks averages 2000 yearly, with an aggregate tonnage of 500,000.

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 

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

Church Records

Findmypast, in association with the South West Heritage Trust, Parochial Church Council, and Devon Family History Society have the Baptisms, Banns, Marriages, and Burials online for Plymouth

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Plymouth from the following:


Online maps of Plymouth 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 districtPL1
Post TownPlymouth