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A Topographical Dictionary of England


 Samuel Lewis (1831)

Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)

PLYMOUTH, a sea-port and borough and market-town, having separate jurisdiction, locally in the hundred of Roborough, county of DEVON, 44 miles (S. W.) from Exeter, and 215 (W. S. W.) from London, containing, exclusively of parts of the parishes of St. Andrew and Charles the Martyr, but including the towns of Devonport and Stonehouse, 61,212 inhabitants, of which about 35,000 are in Plymouth. This place, which is one of the principal naval and military stations in the kingdom, and, during war, the most important, as commanding the entrance of the English channel, and being the grand rendezvous of the channel fleet, is by some supposed to have been the Tameorwerthe of the Saxons. At the time of the Conquest, however, it was known only as a small fishingtown, which, under the appellation of Sutton, or South Town, was dependent on the abbey of Plympton, and which some time afterwards obtained the name of Plymouth, descriptive of its situation on the river Plym, near its influx into the bay called Plymouth Sound. Henry III., in the 37th of his reign, granted to the prior of Plympton a market and a fair, with the right of holding weekly courts, assize of bread and beer, and view of frankpledge. This port became at an early period the occasional rendezvous of the British navy; and here, in 1355, Edward the Black Prince embarked, on his expedition to France, and landed, on his return, with his royal prisoners. From the convenience of its harbour the town appears to have soon obtained a considerable degree of importance, and to have become extremely populous. The French effected a landing here in the course of this reign, and attempted to burn it, but were repulsed by the intrepidity of Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire, who, with the neighbouring gentry and their vassals, drove them back to their ships, with the loss of five hundred men. They made various other, attempts, and, in the reign of Henry IV., landed with a party of troops from Bretagne, under the command of the Marshal of Bretagne and Monsieur De Castell, and, before any effectual resistance could be opposed to them, burnt six hundred houses in the town; but failing in their design to reduce the castle, and take possession of the higher part of the town, they retreated to their ships, and proceeded to Dartmouth, where De Castell and several hundred of his men were made prisoners. From this time the town declined into a mere fishing-village again, till the reign of Henry VI., during which it was improved greatly by the prior of Plympton, who rebuilt many of the houses, and, by granting liberal leases, encouraged persons to reside there, thus considerably promoting the increase of its population j its port became once more frequented by merchants, its trade revived, and its importance as a naval and military station became Apparent. On a petition from the inhabitants, urging the necessity of fortifying the town and port against the future assaults of the enemy, the king granted them a toll on all merchandise entering the port. To these fortifications Leland alludes, in his description of the town, with which a chart, taken in the reign of Henry VIII., and now in the British Museum, exactly coincides. In 1439 the town was incorporated, under the designation of Plymouth; and the manor of Sutton-Prior, with all its rights and appurtenances, was settled on the corporation, with a reserved annual rent of £40 payable to the prior of Plympton, and an .annuity of -ten marks to the abbot of Bath. In 1512, an act was passed for enlarging and strengthening the fortifications, a grant of indulgences being issued by Bishop Lacy to all who contributed to that work; and, to prevent the accumulation of sand at the mouth of the harbour, the tin miners were prohibited working in the neighbourhood of any river communicating with the sea at Plymouth. In the 27th of Elizabeth, Sir Francis Drake obtained an act of parliament for supplying the towa with freshwater, which he brought by a rivulet, called a leat, from the confines of Dartmoor, which, after a circuitous course of twenty-four miles, clis charges itself into a reservoir in the town.

In 1588, the British fleet of one hundred and twenty sail, to which this port contributed seven ships, assembled in Plymouth Sound, under the command of Sir Francis Drake, Lord Howard, and Sir John Hawkins, to oppose the Spanish Armada, the admiral of which, confident of success, and delighted with the beauty of the place, had selected Mount-Edgecumbe as his place of residence in England. The Armada, after appearing off Penlee point, the Hoe, and adjacent coast, advanced to the east, where it was attacked by the British fleet, which had sailed to Torbay, to join the Exeter squadron, and after having suffered severely from a storm, this formidable armament was annihilated. In 1595, a body of Spaniards effected a landing on the coast of Cornwall, but their progress was checked by the activity of Sir Francis Godolphin, and twenty-two chests, full of Papal bulls, dispensations, and pardons, which had been taken in that county, were brought into Plymouth and burnt in the market-place. In 1596, this port was the place of rendezvous for the British fleet destined for the expedition against Cadiz, under the command of the Earls of Essex and Nottingham, in which Lord Howard was Vice- Admiral, and Sir Walter Raleigh Rear-Admiral; and from it also the Earl of Essex embarked on his unfortunate expedition to Ireland. In 1625, Charles I., with one hundred and twenty ships, and six thousand troops, arrived from Portsmouth, and remained in this town for ten days, during which time he was, with his whole court, sumptuously entertained by the mayor and commonalty. At the commencement of the parliamentary war, the inhabitants, embracing the cause of the parliament, seized the town during the absence of the king's delegate; and, in 1643, the royalists under Prince Maurice and Colonel Digby, after having besieged it for more than three months without success, were compelled to withdraw their forces. After repeated attempts to obtain possession of the town, Sir R. Grenville endeavoured to blockade it, but was repulsed by the arrival of the Earl of Essex. Sir Robert, however, commenced a second blockade, which, after a continuance of nearly a year and a half, was found unavailing, and notwithstanding repeated assaults, the parliamentarians remained in quiet possession of the town; many of the fortifications and military works which were raised on this occasion are still perceptible on the heights in the vicinity. After the Restoration, the present citadel was erected, and the fortifications rendered more complete. On the appearance of the combined fleets in the channel, in 1779, the French prisoners of war were removed from this place to Exeter; and in 1814, the Bellerophon anchored in the Sound, on her voyage to St. Helena with the Emperor Napoleon. In 1828, the Russian fleet remained for some time in this harbour, while waiting for tidings of the Admiral's ship, which had parted from it in a storm; and in 1829, Don Miguel, Regent of Portugal, visited Plymouth, which subsequently afforded an hospitable asylum for several months to three thousand of the adherents of Don Pedro of Brazil.

The town is pleasantly situated at the mouth of the river Plym, on the north shore of the Sound: the eastern portion exhibits several irregularly-formed streets, which in some parts are inconveniently narrow; but the western part is more regularly built, and contains many ranges of handsome and substantial nouses, among which are several fine specimens of architecture; it is lighted with gas, and amply supplied with excellent water. The surrounding scenery abounds with objects of intense interest and striking magnificence. From the summit of the Hoe, an eminence near the town, are seen on the south the spacious Sound, containing within the Breakwater an area of nearly five square miles, affording safe anchorage to ships of the largest burden, and bounded on the west by the richly-wooded heights of Mount-Edgecumbe, and on the east by Mount-Batten and the Wembury cliffs; the fortified summit of Drake island, near the shore, and the Breakwater, in the distance. The inland view is bounded by the lofty elevations of Cornwall, and the barren heights of Dartmoor; and in the foreground are seen the towns of Plymouth, Stonehouse, and Devonport, extending in a continued line. This place is chiefly distinguished for the capaciousness of its harbours, and for the importance of its maritime commerce; the naval arsenal, and yards for building ships of war, are noticed under the head of Devonport (which see). The principal harbours are the Sound, Sutton Pool, the Hamoaze, Stonehouse Pool, Barn Pool, the Catwater, and several smaller ones! The Sound, which is capable of holding two thousand vessels, has been rendered much more secure by the construction of the Breakwater, which may be regarded as the most gigantic work ever effected in England. It was commenced on the 12th of August, 1812, and has, during its progress, experienced two most severe trials, effectually proving its strength and utility. In January 1817, and November 1824, the southern coast of England was strewed with wrecks. The Breakwater, presenting an uneven and unfinished surface, was the more liable to be disturbed by the violence of the waters; but it was by no means seriously injured, and evidently served as a very great protection to the town of Plymouth. This immense barrier is composed of granite blocks of several tons' weight. It is in length at the base one thousand seven hundred and sixty yards; in breadth, one hundred and twenty. The slope facing the sea is much more gradual than the inclination toward the land. The flat surface on the top forms a fine promenade, approached by three flights of steps, leading to one common landing, near the centre of the work. On the eastern side of the Sound, at Staddon Point, is a quay for the accommodation of vessels taking in fresh water. Near it, in a hollow between two Mils, a reservoir has been constructed, capable of containing twelve thousand tons of fresh water, for the use of the navy, which is constantly supplied by an excellent stream: the water is thence conveyed to the quay in iron pipes.' Near the reservoir is the residence of the superintendent of the Breakwater establishment, and in the vicinity are numerous cottages for the convenience of those who visit this interesting spot.

The Eddystone Lighthouse, as a successful effort of art, is scarcely less extraordinary than the gigantic structure just described. It is built on a rock in the channel, about fifteen miles south-south-west from the citadel of Plymouth. In 1696, a wooden lighthouse was first erected on this rock by Mr. Winstariley, who was so convinced of its security, that he desired to be within it during "the greatest storm that might ever blow under the heavens." His wish was fatally fulfilled: in November 1703, he perished with the structure itself. A second lighthouse of stone and timber was completed by Mr. Rudyerd, in 1709, which was destroyed by an accidental fire, in December 1755. The present building was begun on the 1st of June, 1757, and completed, in October 1759, according to the masterly design of Mr. Smeaton: it is one hundred feet high, and twentysix feet in diameter. The outside and basement are formed of granite, the lantern on the summit being composed of cast-iron and copper; it is octagonal in plan. The Citadel is a most noble fortification, consisting of three regular and two irregular bastions, the curtains of th'e former being strengthened by ravelins, &c. This extensive building includes houses for the governor and officers, barracks, an hospital, chapel, magazine, and arnioury. The ramparts are three quarters of a mile in circuit. Here are in general from four to five hundred men, a portion of whom relieve the garrison on St. Nicholas' Island every month. The Victualling-Office below the citadel, on the east, is a vast range of buildings, including the; Navy cooperage, &c. The oven? are large and of remarkable construction: .they are eight in number; and it is said, that in time of war a sufficient quantity of bread has been baked in one day for sixteen thousand men. The. Mill Bay Prisons of War are capable of holding three thousand men; the building stands on an eminence near the sea, whereby it is rendered, not only more healthy, but more convenient for the landing of prisoners.

The Union Sea Baths, lately erected, comprise shower, vapour, private, plunging, and swimming baths, areadingTroom., and another for refreshments, with all necessary appendages. The greatest architectural ornament in the town is the Royal hotel, assembly-room, and theatre, comprised in one design, covering nearly an acre of ground. The north-west front is nearly three hundred feet in length, the centre being decorated with a noble Ionic portico of eight columns, under which is the entrance to the assembly-room and the theatre; the former is a most elegant apartment, eighty feet in length, and forty feet wide, decorated with Corinthian columns. The theatre is sufficiently spacious, and appropriately decorated: it contains a good pit, and two tiers of boxes, with gallery and slips above: the proscenium is ornamented with Ionic columns, and the scenery is superior to what might be expected in a provincial town. The entrance to the inn is under a smaller portico at the eastern side of the building, which is in every respect anoble structure: it was commenced in September 1811, and completed at an expense of £60,000, defrayed by the corporation. Near this is the Athenaeum, a structure of inferior magnitude, though of equal architectural merit: its front exhibits a Grecian Doric portico', and in the interior is a spacious lecture-room, decorated with .casts from the Elgin marbles, &c. The foundation stone was laid in 1818, by the president of the Plymouth Institution for the promotion of the Arts, Science, and Literature, and the institution was opened February 4th, 1819; the society meet once a week during.the season, when a read, and the subject subsequently discussed; a volume of- transactions is also published from time to time. The public library is another ornament to the town; simple, but. classical . adjoining the library, which is a handsome vaulted apartment, are reading and committee rooms. The;Freemasons' Hall is a well-designed edifice, including, besides the hall used by the brethren, an auctionroom, &c. A mechanics' institute was opened in December 1827, when a most excellent introductory. paper was read by Dr. Cookworthy; its members are numerous and respectable.

Plymouth Regatta usually takes place in the Sound, in July, when thousands assemble on the Hoe to witness the splendid exhibition. The races are held on Chelson meadow, containing one hundred and seventy- five acres, which have been recovered from the sea by an embankment two thousand nine hundred and ten feet in length: this great improvement was executed under the directions of the Earl of Morley, who received, in consequence, a gold medal from the Society of Arts. To this nobleman the inhabitants are also indebted for a magnificent iron bridge over the Lara, opened to the public on the 16th of July, 1827. It consists of five elliptical arches of cast-iron, the central arch being one hundred feet in span. As a design it is highly worthy of encomium; and its convenience is equally unquestionable; for, by following the new line of road to which it leads, the hills in the old route to Totness are avoided. Near this bridge is Saltram, the noble residence of the Earl of Morley.

A considerable trade in timber is now carried on with North America, the Baltic, the Mediterranean, &c.; and a direct intercourse has been established with the West Indies, highly advantageous to the port, inasmuch as the imports, coming immediately from the colonies, escape the agencies, duties, and port-charges of London and Bristol. The coasting trade is chiefly with London, Newcastle, Newport (in Wales), and Bristol. Great quantities of manganese are shipped to Scotland, wool to Hull, and lead to Bristol and the metropolis. In the foreign trade there are employed, besides numerous chartered vessels, thirty sail belonging to the port of Sutton, their burden varying from sixty to five hundred tons. Upwards of fifty coasting vessels also belong to Sutton. Pool, which, in the year 1828, received within its piers one thousand one hundred and ninety-four ships, the cargoes of which amounted to seventy-five thousand and sixty-seven tons. Besides the Sutton harbour, there are others, vis., Hamoaze (see Devonport), Stonehouse Pool, Barn Pool, Catwater, with several smaller harbours. To the entire port of Plymouth it may be said, that three hundred merchant-vessels belong, the combined burden of which amounts to twenty-one thousand tons. The fishery is accounted excellent, whiting and hake being among the fish which more particularly abound. Fifty trolling, and twelve hooking, boats, employed in this fishery, belong to Sutton Pool. The harbour is held on lease under the duchy of Cornwall. The piers, through which it is entered, were erected by means of parliamentary grants, in 1791 and 1799. The quays surrounding it are numerous and convenient: here are also several yards for building and repairing merchant-ships. Catwater harbour, into which the river Plym falls, is capable of receiving a thousand sail of large merchant-vessels. The Custom House is a commodious and substantial structure, with a handsome granite front, and a well-designed long room. The exchange has no pretensions to elegance, though fully serving its intended purpose: it includes a Chamber of Commerce, Marine Insurance Office, Steam-Packet Office, &c.

The manufacture of serge is carried on to a small extent. The neighbourhood abounds with quarries of granite and, slate, and the traffic in these articles has been greatly facilitated by a rail-road, the projection of which is mainly attributable to Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt: it is in length twenty-four miles, reaching from King's Tor on Dartmoor, to Jory-street, and communicating with Sutton Pool. Among its advantages may be enu-t merated the means it affords for conveying coal, lime, and, in particular, manure, from Plymouth into the interior. The Plymouth marble is justly esteemed, on account of its veining and susceptibility of polish. The principal quarry is at Oreston, near the Lara bridge, from which is obtained the material for the breakwater. It was opened in 1812, and in the progress of the work a cavity was discovered in the marble rock, about twentyfive feet long, and twelve feet square. Here were found, imbedded in clay, numerous bones of the rhinoceros, wolf, deer, cow, horse, &c., containing less animal matter in them than any fossil bones hitherto discovered, and unusually perfect. The market days are Monday, Thursday, and Saturday; the market-place, a spacious area comprising three acres, is enclosed with a wall, in which are three principal entrances. The fairs, in April and November, are not fixed to any particular day, but are regulated by those of Plympton; the latter, which is called the great market, is well attended.

The government, by successive charters of incorporation, is vested in a mayor, twelve aldermen, and twenty-four common council-men, assisted by a recorder, town clerk, chamberlain, coroner, serjeants at mace, and subordinate officers. The mayor is annually elected by the corporation on the 17th, and sworn into office on the 29th, of September, and, with the late mayor, recorder, and two senior aldermen, is a justice of the peace within the borough. The corporation hold courts of quarter session after the festivals of Lady-day, Midsummer, Michaelmas, and Christmas, for all offences not capital. A court of record, formerly held by prescription tinder the prior of Plympton, and confirmed by an act of the 18th of Henry VI., for the recovery of debts to an unlimited amount, is held every Monday, under the presidency of the mayor, assisted by the town clerk, who must be a barrister of three years' standing; and the mayor, chamberlain, and other officers, sit every Monday and Thursday at the guildhall, for determining minor offences. The borough exercised the elective franchise in the 26th and 33rd of Edward I., and in the 4th and 7th of Edward II., since which time it omitted till the 20th of Henry IV.; it has since regularly returned two members to parliament, the right of election being vested in the freemen generally: the mayor is the returning officer. The guildhall is an irregular structure, in a mixed style of architecture, comprising a hall for the transaction of the public business, jury and committee rooms, the central watch-house, and the town prison.

The town is included within the parishes of St. Andrew and King Charles the Martyr. The living of St. Andrew's is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Totness, and diocese of Exeter, rated in the king's books at £12. 15. 5., endowed with £600 private benefaction, and £3000 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Mayor and Corporation: the church is a spacious structure of very ancient foundation, and has been recently repaired and improved, at an expense of £3000: it has a lofty square embattled tower; the interior is finely arranged, and coloured in imitation of granite, and has a handsome altar-piece. The living of the parish of King Charles the Martyr is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Totness, and diocese of Exeter, rated in the king's books at £12. 15.5., and in the patronage of the Mayor and Corporation; the church, begun a little before, and completed soon after, the parliamentary war, is a neat edifice in the later style of English architecture, with a square tower surmounted by a well-proportioned spire. St. Andrew's and . St. Charles' chapels are neat edifices, of which the former, built at the expense of the Rev. Robert Lampen, and Messrs, Woollcombe, Gill, and Pridham, was consecrated in 1823, and the latter in 1829. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, Presbyterians, and Unitarians, and a synagogue.

The grammar school, a substantial stone building, with a residence for the master, was founded, in 1572 by Queen Elizabeth, who granted to the corporation the arrears of a rent-charge upon the vicarage, on condition that they should find a curate, and pay £20 a year to a schoolmaster. The Red boys' school was established in pursuance of the will of E. Hele, Esq., of Wembury, dated 1632; eight poor boys are clothed, educated, and apprenticed. The Blue boys' school was founded by means of a bequest by Mr. J. Lanyon: it has the same advantages as the Red boys' school, and there are generally twelve children on the foundation. In 1625, Messrs. T. and N. Sherwill founded a school and asylum for orphans: this charity is managed by a committee, including four aldermen and two common council-men: there are now twelve boys on the foundation. InVennel-street is the Household of Faith, in which near two hundred children are educated; it is supported by contributions. The Grey school was founded in 1713: it is supported by subscription, and affords instruction to one hundred boys, of whom forty are clothed; and; sixty girls, of whom twenty are clothed. The public school, conducted on the plans of Mr. Lancaster and Dr. Bell, is supported by subscription, and affords instruction to three hundred boys and girls; the master has a salary of £70 per annum: the committee of management assemble monthly, and the school is opeft to public inspection twice a week. In Princes-square is the subscription classical school, a neat Doric building. In Dame Rogers' school forty-five girls are clothed, maintained, and educated. Here are also a school of industry, chiefly supported by the Society of Friends, and a Presbyterian school for fifty girls. A Misericordia Society was established in 1794. The Merchantmen's hospital is for. the relief of maimed or disabled seamen, and for the widows and orphans of such as are killed or drowned in the merchants' service. St. Andrew's almshouses are for the reception of twelve poor widows, who receive two shillings and sixpence per week each; behind these are others belonging to the workhouse. Charles' almshouses, built in 1679, are capable of containing forty persons, who receive a weekly allowance from the parish. In 1703, Col. Jory erected a building for twelve sailors' widows, each of whom now receives a monthly allowance of twenty-five shillings. The public dispensary was erected, in 1807, in consequence of a bequest of £1000 by C. Yonge, Esq.: it is gratuitously attended by two physicians, surgeons, &c. Here is also an eye infirmary, supported by voluntary contributions. The workhouse was established by act of parliament in 1708; it is under the management of a body corporate, entitled " the Governor and Guardians of the poor's portion in Plymouth." The guardians are fifty-two in number, the mayor and recorder being among them j the remainder are chosen annually, six from the aldermen, six from the common council, twenty from the parish of St. Andrew, and eighteen from thfe parish of King Charles the Martyr. The right of voting is obtained by paying at the rate of sixpence per month to the poor, and the election takes place in May; the establishment includes, besides the wards for the paupers, school-rooms for boys and girls, a bridewell, infirmary, &c; the principal governor has the right of committing offenders to the bridewell for a period not exceeding seven days. The remaining charitable societies are, for lying-in women, for reclaiming dissolute females, and for the relief of the sick poor generally. This is the birthplace of Sir Thomas Edmondes, a distinguished statesman and political writer, born in 1563; of the gallant admiral, Sir John Hawkins, who died in 1590; and of Jacob Bryant, a learned antiquary, who was born in 1715, and died in 1804. Plymouth gives the title of earl to the family of Windsor.