Plymouth

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Plymouth (/ˈplɪməθ/) is a city and unitary authority area on the south coast of Devon, England, about 190 miles (310 km) south-west of London. It is built between the mouths of the rivers Plym to the east and Tamar to the west, where they join Plymouth Sound. Since 1967, the City of Plymouth has included the suburbs of Plympton and Plymstock, which are on the east side of the River Plym.

Plymouth’s history goes back to the Bronze Age, when its first settlement grew at Mount Batten. This settlement continued to grow as a trading post for the Roman Empire, until the more prosperous village of Sutton, the current Plymouth, surpassed it. In 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers left Plymouth for the New World and established Plymouth Colony – the second English settlement in what is now the United States of America. During the English Civil War the town was held by the Parliamentarians and was besieged between 1642 and 1646.

Throughout the Industrial Revolution, Plymouth grew as a major shipping port, handling imports and passengers from the Americas, while the neighbouring town of Devonport grew as an important Royal Naval shipbuilding and dockyard town. The county boroughs of Plymouth and Devonport, and the urban district of East Stonehouse were merged in 1914 to form the single county borough of Plymouth – collectively referred to as The Three Towns. The city’s naval importance later led to its targeting and partial destruction during World War II, an act known as the Plymouth Blitz. After the war the city centre was completely rebuilt.

Today the city is home to around 250,000 people, making it the 16th most populous city in England. It is governed locally by Plymouth City Council and is represented nationally by three MPs. Plymouth’s economy is still strongly influenced by shipbuilding, but has become a more service-based economy since the 1990s. It has the ninth largest university in the United Kingdom by number of students, the University of Plymouth, and the largest operational naval base in Western Europe – HMNB Devonport. The city has ferry links to France and Spain.

Upper Palaeolithic deposits, including bones of Homo Sapiens, have been found in local caves, and artefacts dating from the Bronze Age to the Middle Iron Age have been found at Mount Batten showing that it was one of the main trading ports of the country at that time. The settlement of Plympton, further up the River Plym than the current Plymouth, was also an early trading port, but the river silted up in the early 11th century and forced the mariners and merchants to settle at the current day Barbican near the river mouth.

At the time this village was called Sutton, meaning south town in Old English. The name Plymouth, meaning “mouth of the River Plym” – the river name being a back-formation from Plympton (“Plum-tree town”), was first mentioned in a Pipe Roll of 1211.

During the Hundred Years’ War a French attack (1340) burned a manor house and took some prisoners, but failed to get into the town. In 1403 the town was burned by Breton raiders. A series of fortifications were built in the Tudor and Elizabethan eras, which include the four round towers featured on the city coat of arms; the remains of two of these can still be found at Mount Batten and at Sutton Pool below the Royal Citadel. See 1591 Spry Map of Plimmouth and surrounding areas, British Library

During the 16th century locally produced wool was the major export commodity. Plymouth was the home port for successful maritime traders, among them Sir John Hawkins, who led England’s first foray into the Atlantic slave trade, as well as Sir Francis Drake. According to legend, Drake insisted on completing his game of bowls on the Hoe before engaging the Spanish Armada in 1588. In 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for the New World from Plymouth, establishing Plymouth Colony – the second English colony in what is now the United States of America.

During the English Civil War Plymouth sided with the Parliamentarians and was besieged for almost four years by the Royalists. The last major attack by the Royalist was by Sir Richard Grenville leading thousands of soldiers towards Plymouth, but they were defeated by the Plymothians. The civil war ended as a Parliamentary win, but monarchy was restored by King Charles II in 1660, who imprisoned many of the Parliamentary heroes on Drake’s Island. Construction of the Royal Citadel began in 1665, after the Restoration; it was armed with cannon facing both out to sea and into the town, rumoured to be a reminder to residents not to oppose the Crown.

Throughout the 17th century Plymouth had gradually lost its pre-eminence as a trading port. By the mid-17th century commodities manufactured elsewhere in England cost too much to transport to Plymouth and the city had no means of processing sugar or tobacco imports, although it played a relatively small part in the Atlantic slave trade during the early 18th century. In 1690 the first dockyard, HMNB Devonport, opened on the banks of the Tamar and further docks were built in 1727, 1762 and 1793. In the 18th century new houses were built near the dock, called Plymouth Dock at the time, and a new town grew up. In 1712 there were 318 men employed and by 1733 it had grown to a population of 3,000 people.

Prior to the latter half of the 18th century grain, timber and then coal were Plymouth’s greatest imports. During this time the real source of wealth was from the neighbouring town of Devonport – the major employer in the entire region was the dockyard. The Three Towns conurbation of Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport enjoyed some prosperity during the late 18th and early 19th century and were enriched by a series of neo-classical urban developments designed by London architect John Foulston. Foulston was important for the town and was responsible for several grand public buildings, many now destroyed, including the Athenaeum, the Theatre Royal and Royal Hotel, and much of Union Street.

The mile-long Breakwater in Plymouth Sound was designed by John Rennie and work started in 1812; numerous technical difficulties and repeated storm damage meant that it was not completed until 1841, twenty years after Rennie’s death. In the 1860s, a ring of Palmerston forts was constructed around the outskirts of Devonport, to protect the dockyard from attack from any direction. Some of the greatest imports to Plymouth from the Americas and Europe during the latter half of the 19th century included maize, wheat, barley, sugar cane, guano, sodium nitrate and phosphate. Aside from the dockyard in Devonport, industries in Plymouth such as the gasworks, the railways and tramways and a number of small chemical works had begun to develop in the 19th century, continuing into the 20th century.

During World War I, Plymouth was the port of entry for many troops from around the Empire and also developed as a facility for the manufacture of munitions. Although major units of the Royal Navy moved to the safety of Scapa Flow, Devonport was an important base for escort vessels and repairs. Flying boats operated from Mount Batten.

In World War II, Devonport was the headquarters of Western Approaches Command until 1941 and Sunderland flying boats were operated by the Royal Australian Air Force. It was an important embarkation point for US troops for D-Day. The city was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe, in a series of 59 raids known as the Plymouth Blitz. Although the dockyards were the principal targets, much of the city centre and over 3,700 houses were completely destroyed and more than 1,000 civilians lost their lives. This was largely due to Plymouth’s status as a major port Charles Church was hit by incendiary bombs and partially destroyed in 1941 during the Blitz, but has not been demolished, as it is now an official permanent monument to the bombing of Plymouth during World War II.

The redevelopment of the city was planned by Sir Patrick Abercrombie in 1943 and by 1964 over 20,000 new homes had been built. Most of the shops had been destroyed and those that remained were cleared to enable a zoned reconstruction according to his plan. In 1962 the modernist high rise of the Civic Centre was constructed, an architecturally significant example of mid twentieth century civic slab-and-tower set piece allowed to fall into disrepair by and recently grade II listed to prevent its demolition.

Postwar, Devonport Dockyard was kept busy refitting aircraft carriers such as the Ark Royal. By the time this work ended in the late 1970s the nuclear submarine base was operational. The army had substantially left the city by 1971, with barracks pulled down in the 1960s, however the city has become home to the 42 Commando of the Royal Marines.

The first record of the existence of a settlement at Plymouth was in the Domesday Book in 1086 as Sudtone, Saxon for south farm, located at the present day Barbican. From Saxon times, it was in the hundred of Roborough. In 1254 it gained status as a town and in 1439, became the first town in England to be granted a Charter by Parliament. Between 1439 and 1934, Plymouth had a Mayor. In 1914 the county boroughs of Plymouth and Devonport, and the urban district of East Stonehouse merged to form a single county borough of Plymouth. Collectively they were referred to as “The Three Towns”.

In 1919 Nancy Astor was elected the first ever female member of parliament to take office in the British Houses of Parliament for the constituency of Plymouth Sutton. Taking over office from her husband Waldorf Astor, Lady Astor was a vibrantly active campaigner for her resident constituents . Plymouth was granted city status on 18 October 1928. The city’s first Lord Mayor was appointed in 1935 and its boundaries further expanded in 1967 to include the town of Plympton and the parish of Plymstock.

The 1971 Local Government White Paper proposed abolishing county boroughs, which would have left Plymouth, a town of 250,000 people, being administered from a council based at the smaller Exeter, on the other side of the county. This led to Plymouth lobbying for the creation of a Tamarside county, to include Plymouth, Torpoint, Saltash, and the rural hinterland. The campaign was not successful, and Plymouth ceased to be a county borough on 1 April 1974 with responsibility for education, social services, highways and libraries transferred to Devon County Council. All powers returned when the city become a unitary authority on 1 April 1998 under recommendations of the Banham Commission.

In the Parliament of the United Kingdom, Plymouth is represented by the three constituencies of Plymouth Moor View, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport and South West Devon and within the European Parliament as South West England.

The City of Plymouth is divided into 20 wards, 17 of which elect three councillors and the other three electing two councillors, making up a total council of 57.

Plymouth has a Lord Mayor, which is elected each year on the third Friday of May by a group of six people. It is traditional that the position of the Lord Mayor alternates between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party annually and that the Lord Mayor chooses the Deputy Lord Mayor.

The Lord Mayor’s official residence is 3 Elliot Terrace, located on the Hoe. Once a home of Waldorf and Nancy Astor, it was given by Lady Astor to the City of Plymouth as an official residence for future Lord Mayors and is also used today for civic hospitality, as lodgings for visiting dignitaries and High Court judges and it is also available to hire for private events. The Civic Centre municipal office building in Armada Way became a listed building in June 2007 because of its quality and period features, but has become the centre of a controversy as the council planned for its demolition estimating that it could cost £40m to refurbish it, resulting in possible job losses.

Plymouth City Council is formally twinned with: Brest in France since 1963, Gdynia in Poland since 1976, Novorossiysk in Russia since 1990, San Sebastián in Spain since 1990, and Plymouth, Massachusetts in the United States since 2001.

Plymouth lies between the River Plym to the east and the River Tamar to the west; both rivers flow into the natural harbour of Plymouth Sound. Since 1967, the unitary authority of Plymouth has included the, once independent, towns of Plympton and Plymstock which lie along the east of the River Plym. The River Tamar forms the county boundary between Devon and Cornwall and its estuary forms the Hamoaze on which is sited Devonport Dockyard.[50]

The River Plym, which flows off Dartmoor to the north-east, forms a smaller estuary to the east of the city called Cattewater. Plymouth Sound is protected from the sea by the Plymouth Breakwater, in use since 1814. In the Sound is Drake’s Island which is seen from Plymouth Hoe, a flat public area on top of limestone cliffs. The Unitary Authority of Plymouth is 30.8 square miles (80 km2), but the city of Plymouth, as cited from Plymouth City Council, is 30.61 square miles (79.3 km2). The topography rises from sea level to a height, at Roborough, of about 509 feet (155 m) above Ordnance Datum (AOD).

Geologically, Plymouth has a mixture of limestone, Devonian slate, granite and Middle Devonian limestone. Plymouth Sound, Shores and Cliffs is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, because of its geology. The bulk of the city is built upon Upper Devonian slates and shales and the headlands at the entrance to Plymouth Sound are formed of Lower Devonian slates, which can withstand the power of the sea.

A band of Middle Devonian limestone runs west to east from Cremyll to Plymstock including the Hoe. Local limestone may be seen in numerous buildings, walls and pavements throughout Plymouth. To the north and north east of the city is the granite mass of Dartmoor; the granite was mined and exported via Plymouth. Rocks brought down the Tamar from Dartmoor include ores containing tin, copper, tungsten, lead and other minerals. There is evidence that the middle Devonian limestone belt at the south edge of Plymouth and in Plymstock was quarried at West Hoe, Cattedown and Radford.

On 27 April 1944 Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s Plan for Plymouth to rebuild the city was published; it called for the demolition of the few remaining pre-War buildings in the city centre and their replacement with wide, modern boulevards aligned east–west linked by a north–south avenue (Armada Way) connecting the railway station and Plymouth Hoe. Prefabs had started to be built by 1946, and over 1,000 permanent council houses were built each year from 1951–57. By 1964 over 20,000 new homes had been built, more than 13,500 of them permanent council homes and 853 built by the Admiralty. Plymouth is home to 28 parks with an average size of 45,638 square metres (491,240 sq ft). Its largest park is Central Park,[59] with other sizeable green spaces including Victoria Park, Freedom Fields Park, Alexandra Park, Devonport Park and the Hoe.

The University of Plymouth is the 9th largest university in the United Kingdom by total number of students (including the Open University). It has over 30,000 students, almost 3,000 staff and an annual income of around £160 million. It was founded in 1992 from Polytechnic South West (formerly Plymouth Polytechnic) following the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. It has courses in maritime business, marine engineering, marine biology and Earth, ocean and environmental sciences, surf science, shipping and logistics. The university formed a joint venture with the fellow Devonian University of Exeter in 2000, establishing the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry.

The city was also home to the Royal Naval Engineering College; opened in 1880 in Keyham, it trained engineering students for five years before they completed the remaining two years of the course at Greenwich. The college closed in 1910, but in 1940 a new college opened at Manadon. This was renamed Dockyard Technical College in 1959 before finally closing in 1994; training was transferred to the University of Southampton.

Plymouth is home to the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (MBA) which conducts research in all areas of the marine sciences. The Plymouth Marine Laboratory is an offshoot of the MBA. Together with the National Marine Aquarium, the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Sciences, Plymouth University’s Marine Institute and the Diving Diseases Research Centre, these marine-related organisations form the Plymouth Marine Sciences Partnership. The Plymouth Marine Laboratory, which focuses on global issues of climate change and sustainability. It monitors the effects of ocean acidity on corals and shellfish and reports the results to the UK government. It also cultivates algae that could be used to make biofuels or in the treatment of waste water by using technology such as photo-bioreactors. It works alongside the Boots Group to investigate the use of algae in skin care protects, taking advantage of the chemicals they contain that adapt to protect themselves from the sun.

Plymouth population graph.png

In June 2010, the Office for National Statistics estimated that Plymouth’s unitary authority area population for mid-2009 was 256,700; 15,980 more people than that of the last census from 2001, which indicated that Plymouth had a population of 240,720.

Because of its coastal location, the economy of Plymouth has traditionally been maritime, in particular the defence sector with over 12,000 people employed and approximately 7,500 in the armed forces. The Plymouth Gin Distillery has been producing Plymouth Gin since 1793, which was exported around the world by the Royal Navy. During the 1930s, it was the most widely distributed gin and has a controlled term of origin. Since the 1980s, employment in the defence sector has decreased substantially and the public sector is now prominent particularly in administration, health, education, medicine and engineering.

Devonport Dockyard is the UK’s only naval base that refits nuclear submarines and the Navy estimates that the Dockyard generates about 10% of Plymouth’s income. Plymouth has the largest cluster of marine and maritime businesses in the south west with 270 firms operating within the sector. Other substantial employers include the university with 30,000 students and almost 3,000 staff, as well as the Tamar Science Park employing 500 people in 50 companies.

Plymouth has a post-war shopping area in the city centre with substantial pedestrianisation. At the west end of the zone inside a grade II listed building is the Pannier Market that was completed in 1959 – pannier meaning “basket” from French, so it translates as “basket market”. In terms of retail floorspace, Plymouth is ranked in the top five in the South West,[91] and 29th nationally. Plymouth was one of the first ten British cities to trial the new Business Improvement District initiative. The Tinside Pool is situated at the foot of the Hoe and became a grade II listed building in 1998 before being restored to its 1930s look for £3.4 million.

Plymouth Council is currently undertaking a project of urban redevelopment called the “Vision for Plymouth” launched by the architect David Mackay and backed by both Plymouth City Council and the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce (PCC). Its projects range from shopping centres, a cruise terminal, a boulevard and to increase the population to 300,000 and build 33,000 dwellings.

In 2004 the old Drake Circus shopping centre and Charles Cross car park were demolished and replaced by the latest Drake Circus Shopping Centre, which opened in October 2006. It received negative feedback before opening when David Mackay said it was already “ten years out of date”. In contrast, the Theatre Royal’s production and education centre, TR2, which was built on wasteland at Cattedown, was a runner-up for the RIBA Stirling Prize for Architecture in 2003.

There is a project involving the future relocation of Plymouth City Council’s headquarters, the civic centre, to the current location of the Bretonside bus station; it would involve both the bus station and civic centre being demolished and a rebuilt together at the location with the land from the civic centre being sold off. Other suggestions include the demolition of the Plymouth Pavilions entertainment arena to create a canal “boulevard” linking Millbay to the city centre. Millbay is being regenerated with mixed residential, retail and office space alongside the ferry port.

The A38 dual-carriageway runs from east to west across the north of the city. Heading east, it connects Plymouth to the M5 motorway about 40 miles (64 km) away near Exeter; and heading west it connects Cornwall and Devon via the Tamar Bridge.

A regular international ferry service provided by Brittany Ferries operates from Millbay taking cars and foot passengers directly to France (Roscoff) and Spain (Santander) on the three ferries, MV Armorique, MV Bretagne and MV Pont-Aven. There is a passenger ferry between Stonehouse and the Cornish hamlet of Cremyll, which is believed to have operated continuously since 1204. There is also a pedestrian ferry from the Mayflower Steps to Mount Batten, and an alternative to using the Tamar Bridge via the Torpoint Ferry (vehicle and pedestrian) across the River Tamar.

Plymouth railway station, which opened in 1877, is managed by First Great Western and also sees trains on the CrossCountry network. Smaller stations are served by local trains on the Tamar Valley Line and Cornish Main Line. First Great Western have come under fire recently, due to widespread rail service cuts across the south-west, which affect Plymouth greatly.

Plymouth has about 150 churches and its Roman Catholic cathedral (1858) is in Stonehouse. The city’s oldest church is St Andrew’s (Anglican) located at the top of Royal Parade—it is the largest parish church in Devon and has been a site of gathering since AD 800. The city also includes five Baptist churches, a Greek Orthodox church and 13 Roman Catholic churches. In 1831 the first Brethren assembly in England, a movement of conservative non-denominational Evangelical Christians, was established in the city, so that Brethren are often called Plymouth Brethren, although the movement did not begin locally.

Plymouth has the first known reference to Jews in the South West from Sir Francis Drake’s voyages in 1577 to 1580, as his log mentioned “Moses the Jew” – a man from Plymouth. The Plymouth Synagogue is a Listed Grade II* building, built in 1762 and is the oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue in the English speaking world. There are also places of worship for Islam, Bahá’í, Buddhism, Unitarian, Chinese beliefs and Humanism.

 

Built in 1815, Union Street was at the heart of Plymouth’s historical culture. It became known as the servicemen’s playground, as it was where sailors from the Royal Navy would seek entertainment of all kinds. During the 1930s, there were 30 pubs and it attracted such performers as Charlie Chaplin to the Palace Theatre. It is now the late-night hub of Plymouth’s entertainment strip, but has a reputation for trouble at closing hours.

Outdoor events and festivals are held including the annual British Firework Championships in August, which attracts tens of thousands of people across the waterfront. In August 2006 the world record for the most amount of simultaneous fireworks was surpassed, by Roy Lowry of the University of Plymouth, over Plymouth Sound. Since 1992 the Music of the Night has been performed in the Royal Citadel by the 29 Commando Regiment and local performers to raise money for local and military charities.

The city’s main theatres are the Theatre Royal (1,315 capacity), its Drum Theatre (200 capacity), and its production and creative learning centre, The TR2. The Plymouth Pavilions has multi uses for the city staging music concerts, basketball matches and stand-up comedy. There are also three cinemas: Reel Cinema at Derrys Cross, Plymouth Arts Centre at Looe Street and a Vue cinema at the Barbican Leisure Park. The Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery is operated by Plymouth City Council allowing free admission – it has six galleries.

Plymouth is the regional television centre of BBC South West. A team of journalists are headquartered at Plymouth for the ITV West Country regional station, after a merger with ITV West forced ITV Westcountry to close on 16 February 2009. The main local newspapers serving Plymouth are The Herald and Western Morning News with BBC Radio Devon, Heart Plymouth, Radio Plymouth and Pirate FM being the main local radio stations.

Plymouth is home to Plymouth Argyle F.C., who play in the fourth tier of English football league known as Football League Two. The teams home ground is called Home Park and is located in Central Park. It links itself with the group of English non-conformists that left Plymouth for the New World in 1620: its nickname is “The Pilgrims”.

Plymouth Raiders play in the British Basketball League – the top tier of British basketball. They play at the Plymouth Pavilions entertainment arena and were founded in 1983. Plymouth Devils are a speedway team in team in the British Premier League.

Plymouth is an important centre for watersports, especially scuba diving and sailing. The Port of Plymouth Regatta is one of the oldest regattas in the world, and has been held regularly since 1823.

After the English Civil War the Royal Citadel was built in 1666 on the east end of Plymouth Hoe, to defend the port from naval attacks, suppress Plymothian Parliamentary leanings and to train the armed forces. Guided tours are available in the summer months. Further west is Smeaton’s Tower, which was built in 1759 as a lighthouse on rocks 14 miles (23 km) off shore, but dismantled and the top two thirds rebuilt on the Hoe in 1877. It is open to the public and has views over the Plymouth Sound and the city from the lantern room. Plymouth has 20 war memorials of which nine are on The Hoe including: Plymouth Naval Memorial, to remember those killed in World Wars I and II, and the National Armada memorial, to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

The early port settlement of Plymouth, called “Sutton”, approximates to the area now referred to as the Barbican and has 100 listed buildings and the largest concentration of cobbled streets in Britain. The Pilgrim Fathers left for the New World in 1620 near the commemorative Mayflower Steps in Sutton Pool. Also on Sutton Pool is the National Marine Aquarium which displays 400 marine species and includes Britain’s deepest aquarium tank.

A mile upstream on the opposite side of the River Plym is the Saltram estate, which has a Jacobean and Georgian mansion.

On the northern outskirts of the city, Crownhill Fort is a well restored example of a “Palmerston’s Folly”. It is owned by the Landmark Trust and is open to the public.

To the west of the city is Devonport, one of Plymouth’s historic quarters. As part of Devonport’s millennium regeneration project, the Devonport Heritage Trail has been introduced, complete with over 70 waymarkers outlining the route.

Plymouth is often used as a base by visitors to the Tamar Valley and the beaches of south-east Cornwall. Kingsand, Cawsand and Whitsand Bay are popular.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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