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Encyclopedia > Plymouth, England
City of Plymouth
Status: Unitary, City (1928)
Region: South West England
Ceremonial County: Devon
- Total
Ranked 266th
79.78 km≤
Admin. HQ: Plymouth
ONS code: 00HG
- Total (2002 est.)
- Density
Ranked 43rd
3,014 / km≤
Ethnicity: 98.4% White
Plymouth City Council
Leadership: Leader & Cabinet
Executive: Labour
MPs: Linda Gilroy, David Jamieson, Gary Streeter
Smeatons tower on the Plymouth Hoe
Smeatons tower on the Plymouth Hoe

Plymouth is a city in the Westcountry of England, situated at the mouths of the rivers Plym and Tamar in the traditional county of Devon. Historically, it was Britain's largest and second most important Royal Navy naval base. Now one of Britain's few remaining naval dockyards, it is still the largest naval base in Western Europe.

The city is one of the primary gateways to Cornwall providing access by way of the Torpoint Ferry across the Hamoaze, and the Tamar Bridge linking the St Budeaux area of Plymouth on the Devon bank of the Tamar to Saltash on the Cornish bank. The major rail link to Cornwall, the Royal Albert Bridge runs side-by-side with the road bridge.

People born in Plymouth are known as Plymothians or less formally as Janners. In the Royal Navy, "Guz" is a nickname for Devonport.

The twin cities of Plymouth are Brest, France (twinned 1963), Gdynia, Poland (twinned 1976), Novorossiysk, Russia (twinned 1990), San Sebastian, Spain (twinned 1990) and Plymouth, USA (twinned 2001).


Plymouth 2020

The Plymouth Dome with Mount Batten and Plymstock seen from across the Cattewater
Plymouth's main shopping street, Armada Way with the Plymouth Hoe in the distance

Plymouth is currently undertaking a massive project of urban redevelopment, the largest since the city was rebuilt after the Second World War. The Vision for Plymouth launched by internationally renowned architect David Mackay and fully backed by Plymouth City Council is set to see vast areas of the city centre demolished and rebuilt by the year 2020. Two of Plymouth's greatest eyesores; the old Drake Circus shopping centre and Charles Cross carpark, have already been demolished and are currently being replace by the new £200 million Drake Circus circus. 2005 alone is set to see the demolition of the Bretonside bus station and the Ballard Centre to be replaced with high quality urban living and office space and construction on a new Arts Centre adjacent to the University. Future plans include the demolition of the Civic Centre and the Plymouth Pavilions to create a boulevard linking Millbay to the city centre. Millbay itself is also to be regenerated with mixed residential, retail and office space alongside extensive harbour facilities.


The earliest known settlement in Plymouth dates back to 1000BC with a small iron age trading port located at Mountbatten. It is thought that tin was brought here from Dartmoor via the Plym and traded with the ancient Phoenicians. When part of the Roman Empire this same port continued to trade tin along with cattle and hides. The small port was later overshadowed by the rise of the fishing village of Sutton.

Statue of Drake on the Plymouth Hoe

Sutton became a market town in 1254 and later was the first town incorporated by the English Parliament on November 12, 1439. At the same time the name of the town was changed from Sutton to Plymouth.

In 1620 it was from Plymouth that the Pilgrims sailed for the new world aboard the Mayflower and that the defeated Napolean Bonaparte was brought aboard the HMS Bellerophon before his exile to St Helena in 1815. Plymouth was also where the surviving crew of the Titanic disaster were brought on their return to England in 1912.

Prior to 1914, what is currently the modern city of Plymouth was actually the three separate towns of Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse. Collectively they were referred to as "The Three Towns" before being united into a single borough. In 1928 the Borough of Plymouth was awarded city status and in 1967 expanded to include the town of Plympton and the parish of Plymstock. On April 1, 1998 the city became a unitary authority.

Most visitors to Plymouth are drawn to the spectacular Plymouth Hoe, a stretch of greensward overlooking Plymouth Sound; it is believed that this is the place where Sir Francis Drake completed his game of bowls before setting sail to defeat the Spanish Armada.

Plymouth during the Civil War

Plymouth sided with the Parliamentarians against Charles I in the English Civil War. The town held out for almost four years until the defeat of the Royalists. There are a number of Forts and Keeps from that era, the remains of which can still be seen. After the restoration of the monarchy, construction of The Royal Citadel began in 1665. It is interesting to note that cannons were placed on the walls both facing out to sea and towards the town. A reminder to the people of Plymouth what consequences a repeated stance against the monarchy could have in future.

Eddystone Lighthouse/Smeaton's Tower

The notorious Eddystone Rocks, 14 miles southwest of Plymouth, were the scene of many shipwrecks. Construction of the first Eddystone Lighthouse started in 1696. The third lighthouse, known as Smeaton's Tower, was constructed by John Smeaton using innovative techniques, and was eventually removed in 1877 when the rocks themselves started to crack. This lighthouse is now located on the Plymouth Hoe and visitors can climb its 92 steps for spectacular views over Plymouth Sound and the city centre. The fourth and current lighthouse was built in 1878.

Plymouth during the Second World War

Plymouth was one of Britain's principal naval dockyards, a naval tradition that continues to this day. The city was extensively blitzed during the Second World War, to the extent that approximately twice the amount of housing stock that existed prior to the war was destroyed during it (as a consequence of rebuilt houses being successively hit). Although the dockyards were the principal targets, civilian casualties were inevitably very high.

Resurgam Door

The first bomb fell on the city on Saturday July 6th 1940 at Swilly, killing 3 people. The last attack came on April 30th 1944. Altogether 1,172 people were killed and 3,269 people were injured - these figures do not include the many service casualties. At one point the population fell from 220,000, at the start of the conflict, to 127,000.

The two main shopping centres and nearly every civic building were destroyed, along with 20 schools and 40 churches. 3,754 houses were destroyed with a further 18,398 seriously damaged. In the midst of that devastation a famous wooden sign was anonymously posted over the door of St Andrew's Church saying simply Resurgam (we will recover) indicating the wartime spirit. To this day the entrance of the church has been referred to as Resurgam door and a granite plaque with the word engraved is now permanently placed there.

Plymouth was also one of the principal staging posts for the Normandy landings in June 1944.

During the 1950's the devastated city was extensively rebuilt in line with an ambitious urban plan drawn up by Patrick Abercrombie.

The Barbican

The Barbican is Plymouth's old harbour area and one of the few parts of the original city to escape the bombs of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. The Barbican manages to retain much of the architecture and charm of a old fishing town and port.

A vibrant and interesting area, originally home to Plymouth's fish market (now relocated to the other side of the harbour) and still home to many fishermen, The Barbican contains all manner of shops and businesses - including sweet shops, art galleries, the Barbican Theatre, some eclectic bars, the Plymouth Gin Distillery the Dolphin public house and a gypsy fortune teller named Acora. The Barbican is also home to the famous Cap'n Jaspers burger bar.

Other places of interest include the Barbican Glassworks, where skilled glassblowers can be seen practising their craft; the National Marine Aquarium, the largest aquarium in Britain, which boasts one of the deepest tanks in Europe; the Elizabethan House, an old house now used as a museum, which dates back to the early 16th century; the Mayflower Steps from where the Pilgrims set off in the Mayflower for the New World in 1620, which is commemorated in the nearby visitors' centre; and the gallery and studio of the late artist Robert Lenkiewicz, who lived and worked on the Barbican for many years, and derived much of his inspiration from the local people.

The Royal Citadel

The Royal Citadel at night

The Royal Citadel was built in the late 1660s, overlooking the Plymouth Sound, on the site of the earlier Plymouth Fort that had been built in the time of Sir Francis Drake. King Charles II decided it was neccessary after the Dutch Wars of 1664-67 to realise the importance of Plymouth as a channel port.

Work began on the Citadel in March 1665, however it was not until July 18th 1666 that the foundation stone was laid by Lord Bath. The Citadel itself is built of local limestone, while the gateway is built entirely from Portland stone.

It was the most important English defence for over 100 years, with 70ft high walls, and was regularly strengthened over the years, particularly during the 1750's when it was equipped with 113 guns. It is still used today by the military, but it is also a tourist attraction in the summer, with guided tours available.

Fisher's Nose Blockhouse can be found on its south east corner, which dates from 1490-1540. On the opposite bank to Fisher's Nose is the Queen Anne's Battery, dating from 1667.

Devonport Dockyard

In 1676 Plymouth was visited by Charles II looking to select a new location for a naval dockyard. After considering Turnchapel on the river Plym he opted for Devonport due to its geographical advantages. Work began in 1691 and from then until the end of the Second World War the dockyards were the economical backbone of the city.

With 15 dry docks, four miles of waterfront (6km), 25 tidal berths, five basins and an area of 650 acres (2.6km≤) the Royal Navy Dockyard at Devonport is the largest naval base in western Europe. As the largest naval base in Britain the dockyard is the base for seven of the Trafalgar class nuclear powered hunter killer submarines and the main refitting base for all Royal Navy nuclear submarines. Currently work is underway to build refitting dock to support the Vanguard class Trident missile nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

Plymothians and tourists have long been able to visit the Dockyard during 'Navy Days', a three day event where visitors can tour the facility, go on active naval ships and watch various displays of naval prowess. Among the most popular attractions is the nuclear powered submarine HMS Courageous, used in the Falklands War.


Many highly acclaimed events and festivals are held in Plymouth including the British Fireworks Championships, World Championship Class 1 Powerboat Racing and Music of the Night, a massive outdoor production held every two years in The Royal Citadel involving the efforts of the 29th Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery, The Royal Artillery Band, the band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines and hundreds of local amateur performers.


The Theatre Royal and its Drum Theatre is the premier theatre not only for Plymouth but of the entire Westcountry. It puts on many current and widely acclaimed productions. The Theatre Royal recently opened its Production and Education Centre on the waterfront at Cattedown, otherwise known as TR2. This architecturally praised building ensures that drama and acting continue to succeed in the city.

The Barbican Theatre provides the opportunity for the people of Plymouth to access and participate in high quality drama and acting. Plymouth is also home to a number of amateur dramatic societies and schools of dance that regularly perform at the Athenaeum Theatre, Devonport Playhouse and Globe Theatre.

The Plymouth Pavilions opened in 1991, and stages regular music concerts to suit all tastes from rock and pop to ballet, and other live events.

The Plymouth Music Accord is an organisation of classical music consisting of many amateur and professional orchestras and choirs such as the South West Sinfonietta, Plymouth Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonic Choir, Opera South West, the City of Plymouth Concert Band, the University of Plymouth Choir and Orchestra and Plymouth Jazz Club.

Museums and Art Galleries

The Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery is home to vast collections of fine and decorative arts, natural history and human history. The museum's natural history collection consists of over 150,000 specimens of insects, birds, mammals, skeletons, plants, fossils and rocks along with an historic natural history library and archive. Many prehistoric artefacts from Dartmoor, important Bronze Age and Iron Age material from Mount Batten and medieval and post-medieval finds from Plymouth are found in the human history collection alongside artefacts from ancient Egypt and other ancient cultures of Europe and the Middle East.

The Art Gallery boasts ever changing art displays and exhibitions showcasing local and international art ranging from the 16th to 20th centuries. The collections include 750 easel paintings, over 3000 watercolours and drawings, at least 5000 prints and a sizeable collection of sculptures. Work by local artists include that of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Robert Lenkiewicz along with work by artists of the 19th century Newlyn School, the influential 20th century St. Ives group of painters and works by the Camden Town Group.

The Plymouth Arts Centre is located in the historic Barbican and offers displays of work by a wide range of local, British and international artists such as Beryl Cook, Richard Deacon, Andy Goldsworthy and Sir Terry Frost. As well as promoting art many independent and foreign films are also shown here.

The Sherwell Centre is a spectacularly converted church on North Hill that plays host to regular exhibitions, concerts, recitals, lectures and other public events. Many more small and privately owned galleries can be found on the Barbican.

Other museums in Plymouth include the Plymouth Dome, the Plymouth & West Devon Record Office, Smeatons Tower, the Elizabethan House and Merchants House in addition to thousands of historic documents at various other locations.

Famous painters associated with Plymouth include Beryl Cook, Robert Lenkiewicz, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin Robert Haydon, Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, James Northcote and Samuel Prout.

Writers who are associated with Plymouth include the noted Dartmoor antiquarian William Crossing, and Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould.

Drakes Island, Plymouth Sound and the Hamoaze seen from the Plymouth Hoe, looking across towards the Mount Edgcumbe Estate in Cornwall


University of Plymouth

The university is the largest university in the Southwest of England with over 30,000 students, almost 3,000 staff and an annual income of around £110 million.

Undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are taught at campuses in Plymouth, Exeter, Exmouth and Seale-Hayne near Newton Abbot. Many of its students are taught at Further Education Colleges throughout Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.

The University of Plymouth was previously known as Polytechnic South-West; before that, its constituent bodies were known as Plymouth Polytechnic, Rolle College, and Seale-Hayne College. Designated as a university in 1992 along with the other former polytechnics, Plymouth has a reputation as one of England's leading new universities. In part because of its coastal location and strong maritime history, it is particularly renowned for marine engineering and biology. It also scores well in law, psychology, computer science and art history. The university offers a course in "Medialab Arts", a unique new media and computer science hybrid course.

Jointly with the University of Exeter and the National Health Service in the region, the University runs the recently founded Peninsula Medical School. A new £13 million building on the University of Plymouth's main campus provides teaching rooms, office space, a clinical skills laboratory and research facilities for the School.


The College of St Mark and St John (often referred to as "Marjon"), is primarily a teacher training college, although it also offers degree courses in a wide range of subjects. Marjon is affiliated to the University of Exeter.

Plymouth has one of the largest Further Education Colleges in the country providing courses from the most basic to Foundation Degrees. Plymouth College of Further Education is a highly successful college with many national awards for teaching and is to be found on the old site of Devonport Station which was Plymouth's largest and most important station until the cuts of Beeching.

The Plymouth College of Art and Design (referred to as PCAD) is located at Drake Circus. The College offers a wide selection of innovative and traditional courses relating to the world of art and design.


Plymouth College, one of England's public schools, is situated in Ford Park, to the north of the city centre.

Devonport High School for Boys is a Foundation Grammar School with a reputation for academic excellence.

Devonport High School for Girls is located in Peverell.

Plymstock School is a comprehensive school and a Specialist Sports College, its excellence and success have earned it the reputation as a Beacon School.


The city is home to Plymouth Argyle Football Club that plays in the English Football League's Championship. The club is based at Home Park in central park and Plymothian Michael Foot, the Labour MP and former leader of the Labour Party, is now a director of the club.

The Plymouth Albion Rugby Football Club plays in the National League Division One. The Plymouth Rugby League Football Club play in the Rugby League Conference South West Division.

The Plymouth Raiders basketball team plays in the British Basketball League.


The city's radio station is Plymouth Sound FM.The regional stations include BBC Radio Devon and Pirate FM.

The main regional newspaper is the Western Morning News, whose headquarters and printworks were designed by architect Nicholas Grimshaw.The local news printed by the same publisher is The Evening Herald. (Formerly The Western Evening Herald)

Places in Plymouth

  • Union Street
  • West Hoe
  • Weston Mill
  • Woolwell

People from Plymouth

A list of people from or associated with Plymouth.

External links

  • Official Plymouth Tourist Information (http://www.visitplymouth.co.uk)
  • Plymouth City (http://www.plymouthcity.com) a comprehensive city guide and directory with thousands of local businesses and websites.
  • Unofficial Plymouth site (http://www.plymouthdata.info)
  • Local history society (http://www.oldplymouthsociety.org)
  • Aerial photographs of Plymouth (http://web.ukonline.co.uk/stephen.johnson/air/)
  • A brief history of Plymouth (http://www.plymouthdata.info/A%20History.htm)
  • Evening Herald newspaper (http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/)
  • Theatre Royal Plymouth (http://www.theatreroyal.com/)
  • Plymouth Arts Centre (http://www.plymouthac.org.uk/)
  • Plymouth Gin Distillery (http://www.plymouthgin.com/)
  • Plymouth Marine Laboratory (http://www.pml.ac.uk/)
  • The University of Plymouth (http://www.plym.ac.uk/)

Districts of England - South West England

Bath and North East Somerset | Bournemouth | Bristol | Caradon | Carrick | Cheltenham | Christchurch | Cotswold | East Devon | East Dorset | Exeter | Forest of Dean | Gloucester | Isles of Scilly | Kennet | Kerrier | Mendip | Mid Devon | North Cornwall | North Devon | North Dorset | North Somerset | North Wiltshire | Penwith | Plymouth | Poole | Purbeck | Restormel | Salisbury | Sedgemoor | South Gloucestershire | South Hams | South Somerset | Stroud | Swindon | Taunton Deane | Teignbridge | Tewkesbury | Torbay | Torridge | West Devon | West Dorset | West Somerset | West Wiltshire | Weymouth and Portland

Administrative counties with multiple districts: Cornwall - Devon - Dorset - Gloucestershire - Somerset - Wiltshire

  Results from FactBites:
Plymouth - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (3178 words)
Plymouth is a city in the South West of England, or alternatively the Westcountry, and is situated within the traditional county of Devon.
Plymouth was where the defeated Napolean Bonaparte was brought aboard the HMS Bellerophon before his exile to St Helena in 1815 and the surviving crew of the RMS Titanic disaster disembarked on their return to England in 1912.
In 1914 the County Borough of Plymouth merged with the Municipal Borough of Devonport and the Urban District of East Stonehouse to form an enlarged County Borough.
  More results at FactBites »



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