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MARKET TOWNS OF DEVON (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Plymouth in 1840

PLYMOUTH, a seaport, corporate, and market town in Devonshire, 192 miles in a direct line west-south-west of St. Paul’s, London, and 216 miles from the General Post-Office, London, by the South-western Railroad to Basingstoke, and from thence by mail-road through Whitchurch, Andover, Amesburv, Wincanton, Ilminster, Exeter, and Ashburton. It is the easternmost of the three towns which lie on the north shore of the Sound. The others are Stonehouse and Devonport.

Plymouth was originally inhabited by fishermen. By the Saxons it was called Tameorworth ; after the Conquest it was called Sutton (i.e. South-town), which name is retained by an inlet of the Sound, Sutton Pool, on the shore of which the town is partly built. In the time of Edward I the northern part of the town, built on the land of the priory of Plympton, was distinguished as Sutton-Prior, and the southern part, built on the estate of the Valletorts, as Sutton-Valletort. In the reign of Henry VI these names were superseded by that of Plymouth, which the town still retains.

Plymouth was attacked by the French in the reign of Edward III, but without success. In the reign of Henry IV the attempt was repeated, and the town partly burnt, but the castle and the highest part of the town were not taken. In 1438, in the reign of Henry VI, the town was incorporated by charter, and walled in ; but it is supposed to have been a borough by prescription at an earlier period. On the dissolution of the monasteries, the lordship of the town and other immunities of the priors of Plympton were granted to the mayor and corporation. In the reign of Elizabeth a new charter was bestowed on the corporation on the solicitation of Sir Francis Drake, who further benefited Plymouth by bringing water to the town from Dartmoor by a winding channel twenty-four miles in length.

In A.D. 1579 and 1581 the town suffered much from the plague. In 1588 the Sound was the rendezvous of the fleet destined to oppose the Armada; and in 1596 of the fleet destined to attack Cadiz. In 1626 the plague again broke out, and carried off two thousand persons.

In the civil war of Charles I the town, which had embraced the parliamentary side, was besieged by the royalists under Prince Maurice, but held out until relieved by the earl of Essex (1643). It was soon after attacked by the king in his march into Cornwall, and subsequently blockaded by Sir Richard Grenville, but both attempts failed of success.

The town of Plymouth is on the north side of Plymouth Sound, between the two great arms of that harbour, Catwater on the east, and Hamoaze on the west, but at some distance from both. The small inlet of Sutton Pool is close to the town on the east side, and Mill Bay, another inlet, not far from it on the west. On the point at the entrance to Sutton Pool is the citadel, and to the north of this lies the town, consisting of a number of streets, of which the older are irregularly laid out, while those of modern date are on a more regular plan.

The limits of the borough comprise the two parishes of St. Andrew and Charles the Martyr, having a joint population, in 1831, of 31,080 : part of each parish, lying beyond the corporation boundary, is not included in this statement. The older streets are narrow and ill built, and some of them steep. Up to the commencement of the present century little had been done in the way of local improvement, but since that period great improvements have been made.

Building has been extensively carried on ; many handsome houses have been built in the suburbs, a new and handsome road formed to connect Plymouth with Stonehouse, and several additions made to the public buildings. The town is well lighted with gas; the supply of water is under the direction of the corporation, and is still furnished by Sir F. Drake’s channel or ‘leat;’ it is received in three large reservoirs, one of them belonging to government, and distributed by iron pipes. There were formerly many public conduits, but having become nuisances, they have been gradually removed; the last six in 1826. The surplus water turns several mills belonging to the corporation.

St. Andrew's church is a spacious structure of ancient foundation and varied architecture, having a square embattled tower. In 1825 its interior was repaired and embellished at an expense of upwards of £4,469, but the original order is preserved ; it possesses a fine organ, will seat 2,500 persons, and is lighted with gas. Charles church was begun just before the civil war of Charles I, but was not completed until after the Restoration, when the exuberant loyalty of the period led to its dedication to king Charles the Martyr. It is a neat building, with a square tower and well proportioned spire. There are two chapels-of-ease, one in each parish, besides three other episcopal places of worship, viz. a mariners’ church, a chapel in the citadel, and a licensed room on the Hoe. There are besides chapels for Baptists (two), Independents, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Quakers, Wesleyan, Warrenite, and Bryanite Methodists, and other dissenters, and a Jews’ synagogue. The foundation-stone of a new church in St. Andrew’s parish, to be called Trinity church, was laid a few months since.

There is a splendid hotel, with an assembly-room, and a theatre adjacent to it, both erected by the corporation at a heavy expense. The custom-house, the royal baths, the new hospital, the Athenaeum, or building of the Plymouth Institution, the public library, the Freemasons’ Hall, and the Mechanics’ Institute. are also worthy of notice. The Guildhall is an irregular structure, comprehending the central watchhouse and the town prison. The grammar-school is a substantial stone building.

The harbour of Plymouth comprehends the Sound and its various arms. About fourteen miles south stands the Eddystone lighthouse, built in 1759, on a reef of rocks stretching north and south 100 fathoms, and forming a slope to the south-west. The Sound is a considerable inlet of the English Channel, three miles wide at the entrance from Penlee Point on the west to the opposite headland on the east, and extending inland about three miles to the citadel and town of Plymouth. On the western side of the Sound is Cawsand Bay.

The coast all round, except just at the village of Cawsand on the west, and at the inlets of Mill Bay and Sutton Pool on the north, is rocky and abrupt, and the rocky island of St. Nicholas (sometimes called Drake’s Island) rises out of the water not far from the north shore. The estuary of the Tamar forms the harbour for the ships of war, and is called Hamoaze ; it opens into the north western corner of the Sound.

The estuary of the Plym or Lara forms another harbour, chiefly used for merchant vessels, and in time of war for transports, captured vessels, &c., and is called Catwater ; it is capable of containing 1,000 sail of such vessels. Here is also a wet and dry dock suited to the building of 74-gun ships. Catwater opens into the N.E. corner of the Sound, and has at its mouth the rocky promontory of Mount Batten, opposite Plymouth. It is not so deep as Hamoaze.

Sutton Pool is a tide-harbour, also used by merchant vessels ; and an act of parliament has just been obtained for the erection of a pier in Mill Bay, for the accommodation of the largest class of steam-ships at all times of the tide (1840). This pier has been determined on in consequence of the great number of steamers which now frequent the port. The harbour of Hamoaze is four miles long, and has a depth of water of fifteen fathoms at ebb tide ; there are moorings for nearly one hundred sail of the line. The dock-yard [DEVONPORT] is on Hamoaze.

The harbour was long exposed to the heavy sea which rolled into the Sound with gales from the southward, and great damage was at, various times done. To remedy this a breakwater, or dyke, formed of loose stones, was commenced in 1812 ; it runs across the middle of the Sound, having a total length of 1,700 yards, or nearly a mile, viz. 1,000 yards in the centre, which runs in a direction nearly from east to west, with a continuation of 350 yards at each end, turning more to the north, and forming a considerable angle with the direction of the centre. The efficiency of the breakwater as a protection to the harbour has been proved in several severe gales which have occurred since its commencement. The harbour is defended from hostile attack by the citadel of Plymouth, by the fortifications on the island of St. Nicholas, and by various other batteries.

The population of Plymouth, as well as of the adjacent towns of Stonehouse and Devonport, has increased very much during the present century, as appears from the following statement: -











Stoke Damerall Parish (Devonport)





East Stonehouse










If we take the increase of the ten years 1821-31 as the basis of our calculation, we may estimate the present population of Plymouth at nearly 40,000 ; that of Devonport (which has not of late increased so fast) at 36,000 ; and that of Stonehouse at 12,000 : making a total of 88,000. The trade of the town is important, as appears by the custom-house returns for the year 1839, which amounted to £90,000. Besides the business arising from the dockyard at Devonport and the connected establishments, considerable trade is carried on with the West Indies, the Baltic, and the Mediterranean, and coastwise with London and other places ; and there is an active fishery, especially of whiting and hake. The imports are timber and West India produce ; the exports, manganese to Scotland, wool to Hull, and lead to London and Bristol. There are an extensive sail-cloth manufactory, a sugar refinery, a glass-house, a very large soap factory, and a starch factory. Granite, slate, limestone, and marble are quarried in the neighbourhood. The limestone or marble of the Oreston quarries, on the shore of Catwater, opposite to Plymouth, was the material chiefly employed for the breakwater. Near these quarries is a beautiful iron-bridge of five elliptical arches over Catwater, built at the sole expense of the earl of Morley. In 1834 a floating steam-bridge was established across the Hamoaze between Devonport and Torpoint, which crosses regularly every quarter of an hour, and conveys the mail-coaches, carriages, horses, and passengers without the least delay or inconvenience. This communication has proved the greatest benefit to the neighbourhood. A railroad, to the extent of 24 miles, connects Plymouth from Sutton Pool to Prince Town, near the prison of war on Dartmoor. There are markets on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday ; and two yearly fairs.

The town-council consists of 12 aldermen and 36 councillors ; the borough is divided into six wards. Quarter-sessions and petty-sessions (twice a week) are held ; and there is a court, entitled the mayor’s court, or the borough court, for the trial of civil actions. The yearly revenue of the corporation, arising from tolls at the markets and fairs, from the rents of the mills, the royal hotel, the theatre, and other property belonging to the corporation, and from the water rents, is about £6,700. There is a heavy debt. The borough prison, when the inspectors made their second Report (dated 1836), was inadequate for its purpose and under bad management.

Plymouth returned members to parliament in the reigns of Edward I and II ; and again in the reign of Henry IV, since which time it has regularly sent two. The mayor is the returning officer. The boundaries of the borough for parliamentary purposes were slightly enlarged by the Boundary Act. By the Reform Act, Devonport, with which Stonehouse was incorporated, was formed into a new parliamentary borough, returning two member. The numbers of voters registered for Plymouth in 1834-35 was 1,571 ; in 1835-6, 1,776 ; for Devonport at the same periods, 1,870 and 2,083.

The living of St. Andrew is a vicarage, united with the chapelry of Pennycross, of the clear yearly value of £920 ; together with the patronage of the perpetual curacy of the chapel-of-ease, the clear yearly value of which is £148. The living of Charles is a vicarage, the clear yearly value of which is £612.; the value of the chapelry in this parish is £100 per annum clear.

Among the educational institutions of Plymouth were, in 1833, in the parish of St. Andrew, the Orphans’ Aid School, .an endowed institution for the maintenance and education of orphans born in the borough, in which were 8 orphans ; the Benevolent Institution for clothing and educating 60 girls; a grammar-school, partly endowed, with 50 boys ; a new grammar-school, with 33 boys, instituted originally as a proprietary-school ; 41 other day or boarding and day schools; an infant-school, since given up, with 87 children, and numerous small schools for little children. There were also three Sunday-schools. In Charles parish were an endowed school, with 80 boys and 80 girls ; Dame Hannah Rogers’s Charity, with 52 girls ; a Lancasterian school, with 176 boys and 120 girls ; a day and Sunday school, with 6o girls, called the Household of Faith ; fifteen other day-schools, and two Sunday-schools. The whole number of children under instruction in the two parishes was returned at about 3,200, besides those in the Sunday-schools.

There are a Mechanics’ Institute ; the Plymouth Institution for the promotion of arts, science, and literature ; the Natural History Society of Devon and Cornwall ; a public library containing more than 6,000 volumes ; baths, and a theatre. Races are annually held in a meadow near the town, and a regatta in the Sound. There are an hospital for merchant seamen, a public dispensary, an eye infirmary, and several other charities. There are prisons for prisoners of war at Mill Bay, capable of containing 3,000 men.