History of Plymouth

History of Plymouth

The History of Plymouth in Devon, England, goes back to the Bronze Age, where its first settlement at Mount Batten grew. It continued to grow as a trading post for the Roman Empire, until the more prosperous settlement of Sutton, the current Plymouth, surpassed it. In 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for the New World from Plymouth, thereby establishing the modern English-speaking character of the United States of America. During the English Civil War the town was besieged between 1642 and 1646 by the Royalists. Throughout the Industrial Revolution Plymouth grew as a major shipping industry, including imports and passengers from the USA and the construction of ships, ranging from small fishing boats to battleships for the Royal Navy. This later lead to its partial destruction during World War Two in a series of air-raids known as the Plymouth Blitz. After the war was over, the city centre was completely rebuilt.


Plymouth’s name is made up of Old English and Modern English. The name has two parts: "Plym" and "mouth". The name "Plym" is thought to have its origin as an Old English word for plum tree. Plympton, a suburb of Plymouth, was the first place to use the word "Plym" in its name in 904. "Ton" meaning town, which forms the word "Plympton" meaning "Plum Tree Town", originally recorded as "Plymentun". In 1238, the river, which flows from Dartmoor into the English Channel at Plymouth, was called the River Plym, as a result of Plympton. The earliest settlement of Plymouth was located right at the edge of the Plym Estuary where the River Plym joins the sea and was first recorded as "Plummuth" in 1235. These areas are commonly referred to as the "Mouth of the river". Combining the two words "Plym" and "mouth" produces the word "Plymouth" meaning literally "Plum Tree Mouth" or in long form "Mouth of the Plum Tree River". [cite web|url=http://www.plymouthdata.info/Place-Names.htm|title=Place-names of Plymouth|work=Plymouth Data|accessdate=2008-06-05] [cite web|url=http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Plymouth|title=Plymouth: Word History|publisher=TheFreeDictionary.com|accessdate=2008-07-03] [cite web|url=http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/plymouthhistory|title=Brief history of Plymouth|publisher=Plymouth City Council|accessdate=2008-07-03]

Early history

The earliest human remains in the Plymouth area are from a number of caves around Plymouth Sound. The ‘bone caves’, located at Cattedown, Oreston, Turnchapel and Stonehouse, contain extensive Upper Palaeolithic deposits, including those of "Homo sapiens", some of the earliest such evidence in England. A reindeer bone from one of the Cattedown caves is dated 15,125 ± 390 years B.P. There is no public access to the caves, and they are not easily locatable or visitable. However their archaeological importance is very great, owing to both the geographical location of the Cattedown discovery, in a European context, and to the quantitative and qualitative nature and physical disposition of the human remains; this is one of the most important discoveries for the early history of anatomically modern humans in Europe. There is currently no evidence of "Homo neanderthalensis" having been found in caves at Cattedown, Oreston, Stonehouse or Mount Batten (Turnchapel). [cite web
title=The bone caves of Plymouth and district website

It used to be thought, based on ancient Greek accounts, that tin brought from Dartmoor via the River Plym was traded with the Phoenicians here, but this theory is now discounted. [cite book
title=The South West to AD 1000
] However, evidence of copper ingots and copper scrap in contexts dating from the late Bronze Age to the Middle Iron Age have been found at Mount Batten, a promontory jutting into Plymouth Sound, which was one of the main ports of trade in Prehistoric Britain. [cite book
editor=Malcolm Todd
title=A Companion to Roman Britain
chapter=Britain and the Continent:Networks of Interaction
publisher=Blackwell Publishing
] Tin trading at Mount Batten in the region inhabited by the Dumnonii continued up to the period of Roman Britain (approximately 50 AD), but it had declined since the Iron Age. [cite book
title=A History of Roman Britain
publisher=Oxford University Press
chapter=The British Background
] As part of the Roman Empire this port traded tin along with cattle and hides but was eclipsed by the rise of the fishing village opposite, whose name Sutton means "south town".

At the time of the Domesday Book (1086) the manor of Sutton was held by the King, but Henry I granted it to the Valletort family of nearby Trematon Castle. The Valletorts in turn granted parts to the Augustinian priory at Plympton, a larger and older settlement than Plymouth, at the head of the tidal estuary of the River Plym. That part of the town owned by Plympton Priory was granted a market charter in 1254, and the whole town and its surrounding area achieved municipal independence in 1439, becoming the first town to be incorporated by Act of Parliament.

As the higher parts of the Plym estuary silted up, ships used the Cattewater moorings and the then tidal harbour at the Plym's mouth instead of Plympton. [cite web
title=The early history of Plymouth
publisher=Plymouth City Council
] And so the name of the town "Sutton" slowly became "Plymouth". The name "Sutton" still exists in the name of its old harbour and a parliamentary division.

The town was often the target of enemies across the English Channel, especially during the Hundred Years' War. In 1340 French attackers, who had been successfully burning towns along the cost by surprise, burned a manor house and took some prisoners, but failed to get into the town; by the time they reached Plymouth, they had lost the advantage of surprise. [cite book|last=Sumption|first=Jonathan|title=The Hundred Years War: Trial by Battle|publisher=University of Pennsylvania Press|date=1999|pages=347|chapter=Sluys and Tournai: The War of the Alberts|isbn=0812216555|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=V6vghfDY7loC&printsec=frontcover#PRA2-PA347,M1|accessdate=2008-06-29] In 1403, the town was briefly occupied and burnt by Breton raiders. [cite web|url=http://www.devon.gov.uk/localstudies/100323/1.html|title=Devon timeline|publisher=Devon County Council|accessdate=2008-06-29] . A series of fortifications were built in the Tudor and Elizabethan era 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. [cite book|last=Jewitt|first=Llewellynn Frederick|title=A history of Plymouth|publisher=Oxford University|year=1873|pages=648|accessdate=2008-07-04]

Renaissance age

During the 16th century, Plymouth was the home port for a number of successful maritime traders, among them William Hawkins, who made the first English expeditions to West Africa in the 1530s; and his son Sir John Hawkins, who led England's first foray into the slave trade. [cite web|url=http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/early_times/adventurers.htm|title=Adventurers and Slavers|work=The National Archives|accessdate=2007-10-13]

The historic port of Sutton Harbour, located in The Barbican, has seen the arrival and departure of many notable people; for example Catherine of Aragon and Pocahontas arrived here in England in 1501 and 1616 respectively.

Plymouth Hoe, meaning "high place", is a wide grass meadow atop cliffs overlooking the natural harbour of Plymouth Sound. According to an enduring national myth, this is the place where Sir Francis Drake insisted on completing his game of bowls to allow wind and tide to change in his favour enabling his defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

There is written evidence that until the early 17th century large outline images of the giants Gog and Magog (or Goemagot and Corineus the mythical founder of Cornwall) had for a long time been cut into the grass of the Hoe, exposing the white limestone beneath. [Cite book
publisher = The Mint Press
isbn = 1-90335-632-6
last = Gray
first = Todd
title = Lost Devon: Creation, Change and Destruction over 500 Years
location = Exeter, Devon
date = 2003
pages = 153
] There is no trace of these figures today.

Plymouth is also renowned as the departure point of the "Mayflower" in 1620, aboard which the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for the New World, thereby establishing the modern English-speaking character of the United States of America. On sighting land, they christened their first point of contact on the western Atlantic shore Plymouth Rock in gratitude for the hospitality they had received whilst wintering in Plymouth. Their settlement of Plymouth, Massachusetts also bears the name of its European forebear. Twin flags of the US and UK now fly at the Mayflower Steps to commemorate the significance of this event to both nations.

Civil War and the Restoration

During the English Civil War Plymouth, in common with the other major port towns, sided with the Parliamentarians and so was isolated from the surrounding regions of Devon and Cornwall which were held by Royalist sympathisers. The town was besieged almost continuously from December 1642 to January 1646; the main factor in its successful resistance was the navy's adherence to Parliament which allowed the regular arrival of supply ships and, when under serious Royalist attacks, enabled parties of seamen to be rushed ashore to reinforce the defences.Cite book
last = Davies
first = J. D.
title = The New Maritime History of Devon Volume 1. From early times to the late eighteenth century
editor = Michael Duffy et al.
publisher = Conway Maritime Press
chapter = Devon and the Navy in the Civil and Dutch Wars, 1642-88
location = London
date = 1992
pages = 173
isbn = 0-85177-611-6
] Extensive works were constructed to defend the town, including a line of stockaded earthworks on high ground north of the town, from Lipson in the east to Eldad in the west, as well as several isolated works, for instance at Prince Rock, Cattedown and Stonehouse.Cite book
last = Bracken
first = C. W.
title = A History of Plymouth and her Neighbours
publisher = Underhill (Plymouth) Ltd.
date = 1931
pages = 129-131
] Various skirmishes and confrontations occurred, including the rout of Royalist cavalry along Lipson Ridge on 3 December 1643, which is commemorated by a monument in Freedom Fields Park, [cite web
last = Moseley
first = Brian
title = Sabbath Day Fight Memorial
publisher = Plymouth Data, the Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History
date = 2003-09-28
url = http://www.plymouthdata.info/Memorial-Freedom%20Park.htm
accessdate = 2008-07-05
] and the battle of St Budeaux.

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. The dockyards at Devonport at the mouth of the Tamar, were commissioned by William of Orange in 1691 to support the Royal Navy in the western approaches. [cite web|url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/devon/discovering/rivers/tamar.shtml|title=Devon's rivers: The Tamar|publisher=The BBC|date=2008-02-06|accessdate=2008-07-08]

Napoleonic era

After his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte was brought to Plymouth aboard HMS "Bellerophon" which remained in Plymouth Sound with the ex-emperor aboard for two weeks before his exile to St Helena. Under renewed threat of invasion from across the English Channel, Plymouth Sound and the dockyards at Devonport once again assumed a critical strategic significance in the defence of the nation. Though the threat never materialised, the sound was heavily fortified with early nineteenth century gun emplacements installed at Mount Edgecumbe and St Nicholas Island (now Drake's Island), and with the construction of forts guarding the port on the headlands at the mouth of the harbour.Facts|date=May 2008

The 1700s marked a point in Plymouth's history where much development started: the first theatre in Plymouth and a naval hospital was built in 1762 and ten years later it was followed by the town's first bank followed by the Marine barracks in Stonehouse another 10 years later. The first ferry to Torpoint began operating in 1791, which still operates today and in 1797 a military hospital was built by Stonehouse Creek. [cite web|url=http://www.localhistories.org/plymouth.html|title=A short history of Plymouth - Plymouth in the 18th century|publisher=World History Encyclopedia|first=Tim|last=Lambert|accessdate=2008-06-22]

The Three Towns enjoyed some prosperity during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century and were enriched by an series of neo-classical urban developments designed by London architect John Foulston.cite web
title=Plymouth, John Foulston
] Foulston was an important and early advocate of the Greek RevivalFact|date=May 2008 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.

Twentieth Century

Until World War II, the port at Millbay Docks was used for Transatlantic liner shipping, as it had been since the 1870s. Many of the surviving crew of the RMS "Titanic" disaster disembarked at Millbay docks on their return to England in 1912. [Cite book
last = Langley
first = Martin
title = Millbay Docks (Port of Plymouth series)
publisher = Devon Books
location = Exeter
date = 1987
pages = 17
isbn = 0-86114-806-1

During the First World War, Devonport Dockyard provided employment to around 20,000 workers, but after the war the ending of the naval arms race, the need to economise on government expenditure (culminating in the Geddes Axe), and the Great Depression jointly led to large declines in its workforce, down to a low of under 11,000 by 1933.Cite book
last = Hilditch
first = Peter
title = The New Maritime History of Devon Volume 2. From the late eighteenth century to the present day
editor = Michael Duffy et al.
publisher = Conway Maritime Press
chapter = The Dockyard in the Local Economy
location = London
date = 1994
pages = 221-222
isbn = 0-85177-633-7
] Despite this, Plymouth suffered less than cities that were dependent on commercial shipbuilders: in 1932 unemployment in Plymouth was 20.6% compared to 30.7% in Glasgow and 34.2% in Barrow-in-Furness. A number of representations were made to the Admiralty for alleviating the high unemployment, including transferring part of the Dockyard's workforce and facilities to a commercial employer, converting part of the yard into a commercial port and the use of dockyard labour and facilities to do commercial work under the Admiralty's control. Only the last of these suggestions was adopted, and only to a limited degree. The 1931 census showed that despite the decline in Dockyard employment, 40% of the employed population of Plymouth were still working in either "Public Administration and Defence" or "Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering"—this is compared to 11% for the country as a whole—and 21% of the employed were directly engaged upon defence.

World War II

Due to its strategic proximity to the northern coast of France and its naval pre-eminence, the city was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, an event known as the Plymouth Blitz. Although the dockyards were the principal targets, the two main shopping centres, most of the civic buildings and over 3,700 houses were completely destroyed and more than 1,000 civilians lost their lives.cite book
title=Plymouth. A New History
publisher=Devon Books
] Charles Church has been left in its ruined state as a memorial to those civilians who died. On the Hoe stands a memorial to the many members of the Royal Navy from Plymouth who were killed in both World Wars. [cite web
title=Plymouth, Naval War Memorial

In June 1944 Plymouth was one of the principal staging posts for the Normandy landings. General Omar Bradley and the 1st US Army embarked here for the landings at Omaha Beach and Utah Beach and after the initial bombardments some of the American battleships came to the dockyard for repair.

1945 to 1967

In 1943 Sir Patrick Abercrombie's published his "Plan for Plymouth" in response to the devastation inflicted upon the city. Its wide-ranging vision called for the destruction of the few remaining pre-war buildings in the city centre and their replacement with wide, modern boulevards aligned east-west linked by a grand north-south avenue (Armada Way) linking the railway station with Plymouth Hoe. [Gould, Jeremy: "Architecture and the Plan for Plymouth: The Legacy of a British City", Architectural Review March 2007]

The Plan had to deal not only with the effects of the War, but also the pre-war defects of the city: much of the housing and many narrow streets were overcrowded. The main concern was for housing, and many prefabs were built by 1946, followed by over a thousand permanent council houses built each year from 1951–1957 as part of the 'Homes for Heroes' programme . The first estate, at Efford, was started in 1945 and this was rapidly followed by many others, laid out according to the Plan. 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. Despite all this building, in 1971 over ten percent of the houses in Plymouth were still occupied by more than one family.cite book| title=Plymouth. A New History| last=Gill| first=Crispin| date=1993| pages=262-267| publisher=Devon Books| isbn=0-86114-882-7]

After the war, the Admiralty required more space in the city and by 1950, after much discussion, fifty acres were allocated. Devonport Dockyard was kept busy for many years refitting aircraft carriers such as the "Ark Royal". By the time this work ended in the late 1970s the nuclear submarine base was operational. In the 1950s a new Royal Navy Engineering College was built at Manadon, and HMS Raleigh, the current basic training facility of the Royal Navy, was opened west of Torpoint. The army had substantially left the city by 1971, with Raglan Barracks and Plumer Barracks pulled down in the 1960s. However the Royal Citadel has been home to 29th Commando Regiment Royal Artillery since 1962, and 42 Commando Royal Marines has been based at Bickleigh Barracks, a few miles outside Plymouth, since 1971. [cite web
title=A Short History of 42 CDO RM & Bickleigh Barracks

On 28 May 1967 Sir Francis Chichester returned to Plymouth after the first single handed Clipper Route circumnavigation of the world and was greeted by an estimated crowd of a million spectators on the Hoe and every vantage point from Rame Head to Wembury.


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