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TO tell the tale of Plymouth in a small book has
been by no means an easy task. A longer
book would have been in some ways much easier ;
there is such abundant wealth of material that the
most rigid selection and rejection have been necessary.
There is also a difficulty in giving each period its
true proportion, neglecting none in favour of
another ; and the necessity of recording many facts,
yet uniting these in a stream of readable narrative.
It will be clearly understood that this is not
intended as a guide-book, and that it omits much
which the ordinary guide-book would give. Many
particulars about the dockyards, the naval and
military institutions, the commercial activities,
must be sought elsewhere. The endeavour here has
been to view the Three Towns as a unity from the
commencement, though it was only the year 191 4
that saw their final union ; and it is hoped that no
reader will detect any local prejudice or preference.
The fact that the book is published in the Tercen-
tenary year of the Mayflower's sailing, has added a
desire that some readers across the Atlantic may
find this story of Old Plymouth acceptable. With



regard to its authorities, Worth isjxiuchjthe best for
the general reader to turn to. Whitf eld's book is
delightful to read, but a little unsystematic in
arrangement, and its facts often need verification.
For the scholar, the Transactions of the Plymouth
Institution are valuable, and there are many other
. sources of detailed information, controversy, re-
' search, to be found in the local libraries.



I. Introductory ... ... ... ... ... i

II. Origins, Mythical and Historic ... ... 6

III. Early Development ... ... ... ••• '4

IV. Sea-Dogs of Devon ... ... ... ... 22

V. The Armada ... ... ... ... ••■ 33

VI. The Mayflower ... ... ... ... 39

VII. Civil War and Siege ... ... ... ... 4 6

VIII. From One Revolution to Another ... ... 56

IX. The Birth and Growth of the Dockyards ... 65

X. The Napoleonic Wars ... ... ... ... So

XI. The Nineteenth Century and After ... ... 88

XII. Churches and Public Buildings ... ... 99

XIII. Notabilities ... ... ••• ••• ••• io 9



Imjex n 7



THERE is no doubt that, while Bristol may be
styled the capital of the West of England
in its broader sense, Plymouth is the capital of what
we term specifically the West Country. By the
West Country we understand the region that was
formerly known as " West Wales." Its boundary,
for a long time, was the vSomerset Avon on the north-
east, and the forest of Selwood in the south ; but
this district, still left to the native British, became
restricted later. It was occupied by the Celtic tribe
of Dumnonii, whose name is probably connected with
that of Devon. Dorset, occupied by the Durotriges,
certainly belonged to this region of surviving inde-
pendence for some time ; but we do not now think
of it as belonging to the West Country, though it
has many kindred features. The West Saxons
gradually pushed their border to the Tamar, and at
least nominally gained possession of Cornwall ; but
in this far west they settled for the most part as
colonists rather than as conquerors. Devon never
became thoroughly Saxonised ; Cornwall still less
so. The people of this region are a blend of pre-Celt,
(Tvernian or Iberian), Celt, and Teuton, with some
possible survival of earlier descent still ; and it is
this admixture that gives the West Country its






special characteristics—its romance and myth and
mystery. Though there must be some such blend
in other parts of Britain, the proportions are dis-
similar ; visitors to the West will quickly recognise a
difference in the people, their features, their customs,
their ideas, from those of East Anglia or Yorkshire
or the Midlands. Plymouth as a gathering-place of
the inhabitants from both sides of the Tamar, is in
many ways typical ; it is both Devonian and Cornish.
The people of these counties, though they have their
rivalries and their prejudices, acknowledge a general
kinship ; a Devonian is less a " foreigner " to the
average Cornishman than is a visitor from farther
" up-country."

There are some towns that are comparatively
simple and single in their history— that is, they have
developed from a unity. Such towns, in the west,
are Exeter and Bristol. Plymouth is complex and
composite. To this day we often speak of it as the
" Three Towns," and its original growth was from
something more disunited still ; for early Plymouth,
apart from Stoke Damerel and Stonehouse, consisted
of three different Suttons. There were individual
interests and"4nfluences in connection with each of
these, in the days before private rights and aims had
learned to be subordinated to corporate organisation.
The story of Plymouth is a notable example of the
growth of unity from distinct, if not antagonistic,
elements ; it shows a process of centralising and
consolidation. Here, as elsewhere, we find that the
growth of towns by the sea has been comparatively
modern ; in the early ages and later, closeness to the
coast did not make for security. The more ancient
towns are to be found at some distance from the
mouths of their rivers ; early population thought of
safety first, and of land-commerce rather than of


maritime. Exeter for instance, though still nomin-
ally a port, has had to depute its shipping-business to
Exmouth ; Bristol has been driven to establish it,
chief port at Avonmouth. Ten centuries sinces
Tavistock and Plympton were of greater consequence
than Plymouth, which then consisted of only a few
shoreward dwellings ; and Plympton indeed claims
to have been

" a borough town
Whon Plymouth was a furzy down."

When the coast fishermen gradually developed
into sailors, adventurers, privateers, strong enough
to defend their homes and to attack those of other
people, nearness to the sea became an advantage ;
seaports grew in size and importance ; navies were
built ; the inland settlement had to take a second
place, lacking in general any means of rapid increase.
While Plympton and Tavistock decayed, or at least
remained stationary, the Suttons grew and felt a
need for union ; the days of England's naval growth
brought larger demands and larger population ;
Stoke became Plymouth Dock, and then assumed
the prouder title of Devonport ; and at present we
see all the elements, once separate, and in some
degree mutually jealous, combined in a single great
unity. The Suttons have become Plymouth ; the
Three Towns have become one large town of imperial
value and significance. It has only been the working
of chance that has given the name of Plymouth to
this flourishing naval, military and commercial
settlement that glorifies the mouths of the Tamar and
the Plym. Fowey was once greater than Plymouth ;
Dartmouth was greater, at a time when Chaucer
said, of his typical " ship-man,"

" For ought I woot he was of Dertemouthe."



Such is the Plymouth which has many daughter-
towns throughout the English-speaking world ; such
is the Plymouth of which the American novelist
W. D. Howells has written his impressions so charm-
ingly, thinking of it as " the first of the many
places in England where the honre-wearied American
might spend his last days in the repose of a peaceful
exile." He had always thought fondly of the
Plymouth in his own New England, and he was ready
to find a " potential hospitality " in its mother ; so
much so, and so cheaply to be attained (in those pre-
war days) that he delighted himself by selecting many
a desirable residence on the Hoe and elsewhere, where
he would have liked to establish his resting-place.
" This is the Mother Plymouth, sitting by the sea,"
said another American, Elihu Burritt. But Plymouth
has changed even since the novelist came to it ; all
England has changed. What the future will bring
may add much of value to its records, but at present
we are concerned with its history from the time of the
infant Sutton to that day when a tremendous conflict
called for all its resources and its manhood, summon-
ing it to be a rally-place for the whole West Country,
in no civil strife this time, but a stern defence of
honour and liberty.

Grant Allen said that Plymouth might rightly
be regarded as the true capital of the " Cornu-
British race." It is more than that, for many
differing strains have gone to mould its prosperity ;
but in a special measure Plymouth is the metropolis
of Devon and Cornwall alike. It contains more
Cornish-folk than any single town in the Duchy ; and
the Duchy can actually claim a portion" Of its glory,
a share of its finest river, the fair banks of Saltash, the
beauties of Mount Edgcumbe, the heights of Maker
and of Rame. In a sense it is the great ferry -town


between Devonshire and the extreme west, though
the ferrying is now chiefly done by rail across the
magnificent Royal Albert Bridge. It is the happy
fate of the traveller to-day that he cannot pass into
one of the most delightful regions of England without
gaining a panoramic view of Plymouth and its waters.
However often seen, this view can never pall ; and
thus Plymouth leaves a bright memory, a desire for
closer knowledge, even to those who merely pass it
with a fleeting glimpse of its beauty and its national


IN a very real sense Plymouth is the creation of its
rivers, which have endowed it With its fine
harbourage. These great cleavages in the South
Devonian formation, (consisting chiefly of slates,
mixed with limestones) are due mainly to water
action, but much has clearly been done, here at the
coast, by volcanic forces ; and to these things we can
give no date. The district has revealed something
of early man and of extinct mammalia, but not to
the extent that has been done by Brixham and
Torquay. We cannot say when man first gazed
across the waters of the Sound. It is myth, not
history, that first dares to enlighten us. That
delightful old chronicler or romancer, Geoffrey of
Monmouth, has told us a story of early Britain that
has every merit except authenticity ; and his story
was supported by quite recent tradition in Plymouth.
Geoffrey, whether translating from Welsh or Breton
sources as he asserted, or inventing and building on
racial legend, tells us that Brutus the Trojan, great-
grandson of ./Eneas, being banished from his country
throughthe inadvertent slaying of his father, travelled
through Europe and eventually came to Britain. He
landed at Totnes, a name that once attached to a
larger district than that of the town so named. The
inhabitants were giants, and caused him a deal of
trouble. One of these, Goemagot, his companions


being disposed of, was reserved for a special wrestling-
match with the Trojan champion Corineus, who is
fabulously supposed to have given his name to
Cornwall. It is notable that wrestling has always
been remarkably popular in the West Country. The
struggle took place on Plymouth Hoe, from which
the triumphant Corineus hurled his opponent into
the sea, at a spot subsequently known as Lam-
Goemagot, later as the Lambhay, where the Citadel
now stands. The older name is interpreted as
" Goemagot's Leap."

" Upon that loftie place at Plinmouth call'd the Hoe
Those mightie wrastlers met."

Naturally enough, the name Goemagot has been
confused with the Biblical Gog and Magog ; possibly
it is really a corruption of those words. Long since,
the citizens of Plymouth shewed their faith in the
tradition by carving two gigantic figures in the turf
at this spot, which figures remained till blotted out
by the erection of the Citadel. At this place also
was formerly a dolmen, or holed stone, now unhappily
destroyed. Plymouth is not rich in prehistoric
remains. We can dismiss the giants as a common
exaggeration, but Brutus himself may not be entirely
mythical. There is a certain reaction at the
present time against former wholesale and scornful
incredulities. Old racial legends are receiving more
respectful attention, and are not so often despised as
sheer inventions. It is recognised that early myth-
makers and chroniclers did not so often concoct
gratuitous falsities, as misremember and misreport.
There may be a core of truth in this supposed invasion
of West Britain after the break-up of Troy. We may
leave it as a possibility.

It is clear that there was at one time a considerable
population on the shores of this noble harbour ; many


pre-Roman remains have been found in the Oreston
district, articles in bronze, earthenware and brass,
including many Celtic coins. The Roman occupa-
tion also left traces ; though as a matter of fact no
Roman road of importance led beyond Exeter.
There was a station named Tamara which has been
identified with Tamerton ; the mouth of the river is
claimed as the Tamara Ostia of Ptolemy ; and it has
been thought that Staddon may be the early-named
Stadio Duentia. This last was a pre-Roman settle-
ment ; the gold and silver coins found near Mount
Batten, and the cemetery exhumed in the same
district, are British, not Roman, and the objects
found in the graves belong to the Bronze Age. They
give a striking conception of early British culture ;
the bronze mirrors are quite artistic and ornate.
It cannot be certain that they were of native con-
struction, but it is probable ; the coins undoubtedly
were. Other traces of pre-historic civilisation have
been found on both sides of Tamar-mouth. Kist-
vaens have been found also, one between Plymouth
and Stonehouse, another, with a remarkable burial-
urn of black ware, beneath an old house in Stillman
Street. Apparently there was a cromlech or hang-
ing-stone at Hingston, now Cattedown ; Hingston
is simply a reversal of Stonehenge. Of Roman
remains, many coins of different dates have been
discovered, and there is a doubtful mention of a
Roman galley, found while making an excavation ;
but more notable are the figure of Mercury found at
Hooe, near Plymstock, and the burial-ground un-
earthed at Stonehouse. This last has been presumed
to indicate the presence of a Roman villa, which might
have given birth to the name of Stonehouse ; but
the point is not quite clear. In any case, it is now
evident that the Plymouth district, if not the town



itself, can claim a considerable antiquity of habita-
tion ; it is anything but a mushroom of modern

It is just possible that the Hamoaze retains the
name of " Hamo's Port," as mentioned by Geoffrey
of Monmouth, which was certainly not Southampton ;
but before reaching this conclusion we must make
sure of Hamo himself, which is not easy to do. We
may at least believe that the Plymouth of that day
was a fairly important settlement, and was one of
the ports to which Phoenicians came for tin. " It is
uncertain whether the early mentioned Tamer-
weorth was Drake's Island ; many parts around the
Tamar were sufficiently insular to warrant the
name ; but it is at least sure that the Tamar should
have given its name to modern Plymouth rather
than the Plym. Yet after all, the birth of Plymouth
was at the mouth of the Plym, not*' the Tamar.
Plympton certainly and Plymstock probably were of
earlier consequence than the tiny settlement known
as Sutton, which is all that we can trace of the present I
Plymouth in Domesday. Traces of old Teutonic
" mark ' tenure, and of " landscore fields " have
favoured the idea that this outlying corner may have
been settled by Saxon invaders from the sea at an
earlier date than the general Saxon conquest. In
the Domesday record Sutton, standing on the site
of the* easting Old Town, is credited with seven
inhabitants only, while Plintone, the present Plymp-
ton, has thirty-five. Other manors named are
those of Stanehos, (Stonehouse) ; Stoches, (Stoke
Damerel) ; Modlie, (Mutley) ; Contone, (Compton) ;
and Bocheland, (Buckland). Plympton, with its
well-endowed Priory, was the predominant power
in the district ; and this brings us to a consideration
of the name. The Plym has been fortunate in gain-



ing precedence over the Tamar, just as the Dart won
precedence over other important rivers in naming
Dartmoor ; but it is only the passage of time, and
the growth of the Tamarside population, that has
made the name something of a misnomer. It is
impossible to speak conclusively as to the origin
of the name Plym. Some, taking Plintone as the
earliest form in which it appears, and remembering
that Plymouth itself was formerly spelt Plinmouth,
have regarded it as a corruption of pen-lin, head of
the creek or inlet. The distance of Plympton from
the river does not contradict this ; the water once
flowed to its walls ; and the name of the Lynher
suggests a local use of the word lin, (Irish linn,
Welsh llyn) . Other derivations have been surmised ;
the Rev. S. Baring Gould conjectures that the word
is actually pre-Celtic, adding that there is a river
Pelym in Siberia. The river itself rises on Dartmoor,
near the Dewerstone ; it receives the Meavy at
Shaugh Bridge, from whence in its course to the
Laira and Catwater it has been known as the Cad.
The whole question as to these names is controversial,
and must be left open.

Why the place was named South Town does not
appear certain ; but as the earlier settlement was a
little space inland, and the more thriving Sutton
was close to Sutton Pool, this southern portion may
have given its name to the whole. The Old Town
was Sutton Valletort or Vawter, so called when it
passed from the Crown to the Valletorts, a family
still represented at Mount Edgcumbe ; the later
and more prosperous was Sutton Prior, rising on
land gifted to the Plympton Priory ; there was also
a tithing known as Sutton Ralph or Raf , named from
a Ralph Valletort. All this is a little confusing.
The Stoke Damerel of Domesday, (Stoke d 'Albemarle,


as belonging to that family) was more important than
Sutton, having twenty-five inhabitants ; but it
remained a mere country village till it began to
acquire value as Plymouth Dock. Stonehouse had
one inhabitant only, but we must remember that
women and children were not usually included in
these enumerations. We have to regard Plympton
Priory as the nurse and patron of the infant Ply-
mouth. This monastery, established long before
the Conquest, became very wealthy, and was
probably the oldest religious foundation westward
of Exeter if we think only of such foundations as
derived from the conversion of the Saxons. Celtic
Christianity could boast many churches and monastic
settlements of far earlier date, though not apparently
at the mouth of the Tamar. St. Germanus had
been at St. Germans, and probably one of the Celtic
Budocs at St. Budeaux ; St. Petrock had left his
name in the South Hams, and St. Rumon at Tavis-
tock but the immediate neighbourhood of Plymouth
has no Christian memories of an earlier than Saxon
period. Both Plympton and Tavistock had thriving
religious houses long before we hear of any church
at Sutton ; and as those were days when monastic
interests frequently outstripped secular, Sutton Prior
rapidly gained premier position under the care of
the Plympton monks. But details are not plentiful.
The growth of the place depended mainly on fish
and sea-faring. Although the name Plymouth was
not officially adopted till the charter of 1440, it had
long been stealing into use under such forms as the
thirteenth-century Plimmue and Plinemuth ; and
we may conveniently adopt it in speaking of times
before there is actual warrant for doing so. The
spelling of those old days was delightfully uncertain,
and Worth says that he traced as many as 300


variants in the spelling of Plymouth . As it is usnal
to estimate a seaport's position by the size of its
contribution to Edward III.'s siege of Calais, it is
interesting to note that Plymouth sent 26 ships
' while London sent only 25 and Bristol 22. Fowey,
Yarmouth, and Dartmouth came before Plymouth
in this respect, Fowey ranking first of all with 47
vessels and 770 men. To compare the present
naval importance of these places gives a striking
impression of time's ironies. There was good reason
behind the zeal of these western ports ; Plymouth
itself had already begun to suffer from French

(incursions. In 1339, seven years before the Calais
expedition, a party™ of French burned such vessels
as they could get at, and landed to fire the town.
They were repulsed by the townsfolk under the
veteran Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon, whose
family, still surviving at Powderham on the Exe,
was of almost royal importance and won a European
reputation. There were other and more serious
invasions later, the worst of which occurred in ,,1403
when the Sieur de Chatel landed with a party of
Bretons and did immense damage, burning 600
houses and carrying away many of the inhabitants.
Briton or Breton Side, in the neighbourhood of the
present Exeter Street, long preserved the memory
of this disaster. All the western ports were suffering
more or less in this manner, but it must be confessed
they did not suffer tamely, and they gave frequent
provocation. Whatever might be the relations
between kings and governments, there was generally
a fierce interchange of compliments between the
south of England and the northern coasts of France,
with constant piracy on the sea and attacks on land —
a school of hard hitting and rough morals. Leaving
the moral question on one side, it was a fine discipline.


and the nation owed much to it in later times of

But Plymouth's possibilities as a naval base had
been realised earlier than by Edward III. His able
and courageous predecessor Edward I. had ordered
" Plimue," together with Dartmouth and Teign-
mouth, to furnish a ship and men for his expedition
against Bruce in 1302 ; and the same thing happened
six years later. But France was the more usual
enemy, here in the south, and the port was constantly
active during the energies of the third Edward, with
his son the Black Prince. Hither the latter brought
his army, to sail against France, and, being delayed
by weather, was entertained at Plympton Priory ;
and here when the fleet returned in 1357, were landed
the captives from Poictiers, King John and others.
In 1400 a French expedition intended to aid the
brave Owen Glendower was driven by storms into
Plymouth, and, being in strong force, succeeded in
burning the ships and some houses, with considerable
injury and bloodshed. But it was the invasion of
1403 that hit Plymouth hardest, and delayed its
rise. It was already a place of some size at that

rdate, and had been represented in Parliament since
1298. In 1377 it figured as the fourth town in the
kingdom, only surpassed by London, York and
Bristol, with a population, as recorded for taxation,
of 4,837. Proportionately, it was therefore of
greater size and importance than it is even to-day.
As soon as England began to depend on her navy,
this consequence was assured ; and as long as Britain
retains her naval position, it is sure of continuance.


THE first market granted to Plymouth belongs
to the reign of Henry III., with an extension
of rights in 131 1 ; and it seems doubtful which of
the Suttons first enjoyed it. Apparently Sutton
Valletort had already gained independence of
manorial authority ; but Sutton Prior was still tied
to Plympton. Discontent with clerical lordship,
civil misrule and dissension, and a desire for more
definite corporation, rose to a head in 1411 ; a
petition was presented that the Suttons and a portion

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Online LibraryArthur Leslie SalmonPlymouth → online text (page 1 of 8)