History in Old Images of Plymouth, UK

Categorised as Devon
Old photo of Plymouth Pier Devon England UK
Plymouth Pier

Glimpse history through old images of Plymouth, the English seaside city in the county of Devon.

Plymouth Civic Week 1927

During Civic Week 1927, Lady Jellicoe inaugurated a new lifeboat. There was a posh garden party, and a cricket match.

Plymouth Civic Week (1927) – British Pathé on YouTube


1920s Carnival

This silent, black and white footage shows carnival antics at various locations. The best background views are behind the boats full of costumed people.

Plymouth Carnival (1920-1929) – British Pathé on YouTube


Bomb Damage 1941

During World War II, the Lufftwaffe dropped bombs on Plymouth on 59 occasions, killing 1,172 civilians, and injuring a further 4,448.

The air raids started on Saturday 6 July 1940, when three people died at North Prospect. Five bombing raids in 1941 reduced much of the city to rubble. Two attacks in May 1944 marked the end of this terrifying ordeal.

In 1941, families evacuated their children out to live with relatives and complete strangers far from the city. During air raids, large sections of the remaining population – which had dropped to 220,000 to as low as 127,000 people – would flee to the countryside in lorries.

The royal dockyards at HMNB Devonport remained open, despite being the target of the air attacks.

This newsreel records the visit of Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the ruins of Plymouth in the deadliest year, 1941.

Churchill Visits Plymouth (1941) – British Pathé on YouTube


Children Evacuated 1941

Some of the children in this silent footage were very young, but even the children approaching their teenage years must have been very nervous about what was going to happen to them. Most evacuees had no idea where they would live, who with, or for how long.

It’s interesting that they arrive at the railway station by bus, accompanied by a small number of organisesers but not their parents. Clearly their parents were not allowed to be there, which makes sense for organisational reasons and perhaps made for a calmer departure.

All they had was one bag, and a label attached to them to identify them, before leaving on a steam train.

Children Evacuated From Plymouth (1941) – British Pathé on YouTube


Police Memorial 1946

On 20th October 1946, a dedication service was held in St. Andrews Church for the members of the Plymouth City Police Force who died in the city of overseas during the Second World War, 1930-1945. The church had no roof or windows, and sat in an area clearly badly damaged by the bombing raids.

The Bishop of Plymouth then unveiled the memorial listing the fallen men. The Imperial War Museum has a photo of this memorial if you wish to see the names and police unit.

Plymouth City Police Memorial (1946) – British Pathé on YouTube


Plymouth Reconstruction 1947

This newsreel from 1947 includes footage of bomb sites, rows of tiny pre-fabricated houses packed closely together, pre-fabricated shops, students from Czechoslovakia working on the building sites without any safety gear whatsoever (even their shoes look flimsy), and new streets under construction.

The Mayor puts in the foundation stone to a new radio factory, which will provide employment to several hundred local men and women.

Bombed Plymouth, England rebuilds homes and industries following WWII (1947) – British Pathé on YouTube


Plymouth in the 1964

Many different locations, events, cars, buses, and people appear in this digitised 8 cine film recorded in 1964.

Plymouth, Devon. 1964 – SlhKernow on YouTube


Plymouth in 1986

One Saturday during December 1986, this home movie was made during a drive through the city. It includes many shops, restaurants, people, streets and cars along the way, at a time when New George Street and New Cornwall Street were yet to be pedestrianised.

Xmas Movie Plymouth City Centre 1986 – Nick Colbourne on YouTube


Plymouth in 1997

This home movie was recorded on a grey day in 1992. Dingles, Freemans, Stead & Simpson, Debenhams and Woolworths are some of the shops open in the pedestrianised city centre. There are also views of the many other streets and buildings, with people going about their daily lives.

Plymouth City Centre 1992 – John Skeldon on YouTube


Local Buses

This DVD trailer shows buses in 1997, along with a few glimpses of local buildings and businesses, and occasionally a pedestrian walking by.

PLYMOUTH BUSES 1997 DEVON – DaveSpencer32 on YouTube


Historic Book

Extract from “The Plymouth and Devonport guide” by Henry Edmund Carrington

Published 1828

Pages 37-41

“PLYMOUTH is a town of considerable antiquity ,
but it was principally inhabited by fishermen till
the reign of Henry II . In the time of the Saxons
it was called Tameorwerth ; after the Conquest
it acquired the name of South – town or Sutton .
In the reign of Edward I. it was denominated
Sutton – Prior and Sutton – Valletort , the north part
of the town being situated on the lands of the
Prior of Plympton , and the south on the estate of
the Valletorts ; but in the time of Henry VI .
these names were relinquished for the more ap
propriate name of Plymouth .

Plymouth is distant 218 miles from London
and stands in the parishes of Charles and St. An
drew . It is a borough town , sending two mem
bers to parliament . Its population amounts
to nearly 24,000 . Many of the streets are nar
row and irregular , but improvements are daily
taking place , and elegant edifices , both public and
private , are springing up in every direction .
The mayor is the chief magistrate ; he is assisted
in his duties by the justice , ( the mayor for the

preceding year ) and two senior aldermen . They
sit on Mondays and Thursdays at the Guildhall
for the purpose of determining causes of inferior
importance ; but the Courts of Quarter Sessions
are competent to try all offences not involving
capital punishment , and to decide all civil causes
arising within the limits of the borough .

The town contains two parish churches , * St.
Andrew’s and Charles ‘ , the former of which is of
venerable antiquity . It has been lately repaired
and embellished at a great expense . It contains
a fine organ , and some very curious monuments .
Charles ‘ Church was built in the reign of Charles
II . The interior is spacious but not handsome .
The spire is of Dartmoor granite , and being light
and airy , forms a pleasing finish to the building .
Besides these places of worship we have to notice
St. Andrew’s Chapel of Ease , and the various
dissenting meeting – houses in the town , among
which are the Presbyterian Chapel , in Batter
Street ; the New Tabernacle , ( Calvinist ) in
Norley – lane ; the Ebenezer Methodist Chapel at
the head of Old – town – Street ; the Unitarian
Chapel , Broad – Street ; the Old Tabernacle , Bri

tonside ; the Friends ‘ Meeting – house , in Broad
Street ; the Baptist Chapels , in Norley – lane and
Broad – Street ; & c . The Jews ‘ Synagogue is in
Catherine – Street .
The Market is very convenient and spacious ,
occupying nearly three acres of land . It is well
supplied with commodities of all kinds which are
sold at a cheap rate . The principal entrances
are in Cornwall – Street , East – Street , and Drake
Street . The Plymouth Fairs are held in the
Market – place . The tolls are the property of the
corporation .

The chief inns are Whiddon’s Royal Hotel ,
George – Street ; the Commercial Inn , Old Town
Street ; the King’s Arms , Britonside ; and the
Globe Inn , Bedford – Street . Several stage coaches
leave the town for London every day . The Erin
steam – packet runs from Plymouth to London and
Belfast , which voyage she accomplishes in a very
short period of time . The Brunswick steam
packet runs between Plymouth and Portsmouth
twice a week , taking goods and passengers . The
hackney coach stand is principally in Old – town
Street , but ” dillies , ” as they are provincially
termed , are stationed in various other parts of the
town . These vehicles are generally employed
in conveying passengers from one town to the

other , but they are frequently hired for excur
sions into the country .
Plymouth is abundantly supplied with excellent
water , by a fine leat , which was first brought into
the town in the reign of Elizabeth , at the sole
expence of the renowned and patriotic circum
navigator of the world , Sir Francis Drake . This
stream is diverted from the river Mew , just above
Sheepstor bridge , on the skirts of Dartmoor , and
winds a circuitous route of twenty – four miles .
The water is distributed from a reservoir at the
head of the town through the principal streets
and into the houses of such of the inhabitants as
are willing to pay for this accommodation . The
revenue resulting from the leat belongs to the
mayor and corporation .

The Public Charities of Plymouth are very
numerous . The principal are the Dispensary , the
Eye Infirmary , the Lying – in Charity , the Miseri
cordia , the Merchants ‘ Hospital , the Female
Benevolent Society , the Blanket Society , the
Corpus Christi Society , the Provident Society ,
Charles ‘ Alms Houses , and Jory’s Alms Houses .
The Schools for Poor Children are Hele’s Cha
rity , Lanyon’s Charity , Orphan’s Aid , Grey
School , Lady Rogers ‘ School , Household of
Faith , School of Industry , the Public Subscription

School in Old – town – Street ; & c . The religious
societies are the Auxiliary Bible Society , the
Ladies ‘ Bible Association , the Auxiliary Society
for promoting Christian Knowledge among the
Jews , the Religious Tract Society , the Peace
Society , Society for promoting Christian Know
ledge , the Bethel Union , and the Auxiliary Mis
sionary Societies connected with many of the
dissenting chapels .

The principal literary institution is the
Atheneum , which owes its origin to the efforts
of Henry Woollcombe , Esq . and some other gen
tlemen who were disposed to co – operate in the
measure . The building of the Society stands
near the Theatre at the end of George – Street.”

Pages 43-47

“The
The Public Library , connected with which is a
News – Room , stands in Cornwall – Street .
front of the building is simply elegant , without
windows , as the different apartments of the in
terior are lighted by glass cupolas in the roof .
” The entrance from the street is through a vesti
bule , on either side of which are the committee
and news – rooms . At the end of the vestibule is
the library , containing a large and valuable col
lection of well selected books . Each of the four
sides of the room is surmounted by a beautiful
segment arch , richly ornamented , and supporting
the roof which terminates in a light and elegant
dome , resting on fluted pillars . “

The Plymouth Mechanics ‘ Institute was formed
in the early part of 1826. This Society originated
among the mechanics of this town , and its views
were much forwarded by a generous donation of
£ 100 . from C. Greaves , Esq . Other subscrip
tions with gifts and loans of books from many
liberal – minded gentlemen , have contributed to
wards placing this Institution on a permanent
basis .

The Theatre and Hotel . This massive and noble
pile of building stands at the western end of
George – Street . It was erected in 1811 by the
Corporation of Plymouth , whose property it still is ..
The north front is 275 feet in length . In the
centre is a magnificent portico , seventy feet wide ,
consisting of eight Ionic columns , designed after
the purest Greek models . On the eastern side of
the building is a smaller portico about fifty – nine
feet wide . The columns in each portico measure
three teet six inches in diameter . The east wing
of the building is occupied by the Royal Hotel ,
which is handsomely fitted up , containing a fine
ball room and many other spacious apartments .

The western wing contains the Theatre . This
place of amusement is open during the winter
season . Its interior embellishments and scenery
are very beautiful ; indeed no expense has been
spared to render it one of the most elegant thea .
tres out of London . The performers who appear
on this stage are generally of very respectable
abilities .
The Commerce of Plymouth is not so consider
able as its population and extent would seem to
argue . It carries on , however , a good coasting
trade , and its maritime intercourse with foreign
nations is by no means trifling . The harbour of

Catwater affords good anchorage for shipping . It
is well sheltered from the southern gales by the
peninsula of Mount Batten . The principal com
mercial wharfs of Plymouth are in Sutton Pool ,
a commodious bason situated almost within the
town . At its entrance from Catwater are two
piers of solid masonry , between which is a pas
sage about ninety feet wide for the admission of
ships . Sutton Pool is the rendezvous of the
trawlers or Plymouth fishing vessels which supply
the town and neighbourhood with an abundance
of excellent fish .

The Exchange , a place of general resort for the
merchants and traders of Plymouth and its neigh
bourhood , stands in Woolster – Street , and was
built in 1813. It is conveniently situated ” near
the Custom House , the quays , and the principal
mercantile warehouses . A spacious piazza sur
rounds an open area , from which a massive stair
case of granite leads to apartments appropriated
to the various objects of the Institution . The
great room for sales , meetings and other business
is well adapted for such purposes ; an adjoining
corridor affords access to the Reading – room ,
Chamber of Commerce , Marine Insurance Office ,
the Office of the Oil Gas Company , the Office of
the Steam Packet Company , & c . “

The Guildhall is a building of no pretensions to
architectural beauty , situated in Whimple – Street .
The principal hall contains some old portraits ,
and at the east end is a fine picture of our present
majesty , painted while he was Prince Regent by
Hopner . At the Guildhall , in addition to affairs
immediately connected with the borough , almost
all business of a public nature is transacted .
The Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway was
commenced in 1819 under the sanction of an act
of parliament procured for that purpose . It leads
from Sutton Pool to Kingstor near Walkhamp
ton , a distance , including the windings of the
road , of about twenty – four miles . The property
of the Railway is vested in a company of share
holders , and is at present employed in trans
porting granite from the moor . The carts used
for this purpose carry out lime and other manure ,
coals , & c .

Plymouth has an annual Regatta at which boats
and yachts of different sizes contend for valuable
prizes . This grand national amusement takes
place in the Sound , which on such occasions wears
a very beautiful and enlivening aspect . Thou
sands of spectators crowd the Hoe and the neigh
bouring shores , while an immense number of
pleasure boats , filled with gaily dressed gazers ,

make the waters of the Sound ” instinct with life
and motion . ” The Regatta formerly lasted two
days , but the races are now decided in one day .
The Hoe , which may be called ” the lungs ” of
Plymouth , lies on the south of the town . ” It
occupies the whole line of the Sound , facing the
south , and is an open eminence devoid of trees
or shrubs , but overlaid with a velvet green sward
in the centre of which is a wide gravelled path ,
used as a promenade by the inhabitants of Ply
mouth , who have free access to all parts of this
delightful spot . Its height being equal to that of
any ground in the immediate neighbourhood , it
commands an extensive view and overlooks a vast
range of populous communities , including Ply
mouth , Devonport , Stonehouse , and Stoke , which
alone are reported to contain seventy thousand
souls . In the cool evening of a sultry day the
inhabitants of all ranks and conditions may be
seen crowding to the Hoe to inhale the refreshing

sea breezes , and there , on a plain surface half a
mile long , they may escape the lassitude generated
by cares and a contracted atmosphere , or , de
scending by a gentle declivity to the shore ,
receive that quiet and solitary satisfaction which
is always found in the neighbourhood of the
great deep when its waters are still.”


More about Devon