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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Plymouth 1 Royal Parade

I have wanted to do a photo walk around this part of Plymouth for about a year and I never give up. A friend had asked to come photo walking with me so this seemed like the time and place.

I used Google Maps and Google Earth to work out a route that took in quite a lot of history and a great variety of architecture. The full walk featured, Brutalism, Festival of Britain, Late Fifties Beaux Arts, Gothic and Elizabethan. Quite a mix.

For practical reasons my photo walks usually entail a multi storey car park as an opener. This is for a few reasons. The first of which is my penchant for multi storey car parks, and the second is I have to park somewhere and the third is that paying to park in one gains you access to the roof and all that offers in potential views over the city.

Penchant - A strong or habitual liking for something or tendency to do something. Late 17th century: from French, ‘leaning, inclining’, present participle of the verb pencher .

Leaning or inclining, is what I often do when taking photos. Even lying down on one occasion to get as close to the ground as possible, which led to some concerned responses from bystanders who thought I was unwell. I had to explain that I wasn't unwell, just a photographer.

This first part of the walk essentially makes a half circle around an office block from the West back view to the East front view, taking in part of the fifties rebuild of heavily bombed out Plymouth. This is the stairwell in the car park taking us up to the roof whereupon we nearly got arrested before even leaving the building.

Many of the fifties buildings that will feature have been under appreciated and uncared for during most of their lives. Now mostly protected there are various plans to repurpose and restore them. I have heard many people describe Plymouth City Centre as a concrete wasteland, little realising the lengths that were gone to, to in fact create quite the opposite result. What people presume to be concrete is invariably Portland Stone, often decorated with hand carved motifs and lavished with exotic materials, like hand made Murano glass tiles from Italy. Hopefully this set of posts will open people's eyes to a new appreciation of what a box of jewels lies here in their "Ocean City".

This is the roof of the car park, below, and when we emerged through the stairwell door we didn't realise that just out of view on the split level upper layer was an active police operation which we had stumbled into. Suddenly I heard a voice asking how we had got on the roof. Being wary of sounding facetious I said "Well we just drove up a few levels, parked, paid and walked up the stairs. "Weren't you stopped by security?" No. "Are you Press?" Well at this point what do you say, we hadn't taken our photos yet and we didn't want throwing out. Best policy, always tell the truth. "No, we are amateur photographers and we wanted to photograph that unlikely looking office block that has seen better days" Police man now assuming we are harmless lunatics says "Oh, OK well as long as you stay this end and don't come near the cordon you are fine." It was a drone flying operation. They were expecting trouble due to the sentencing of a high profile criminal at the magistrates courts a street away. Great timing eh?

So here it is. The former Civic Offices for Plymouth council. Now empty and forlorn and awaiting some sort of rescue. This is the back and the other side it fronts the 1950's Civic Square.

Plymouth was severely bombed by the Germans during WWII and I am sorry but I am not going to be politically correct like the BBC these days and say it was bombed by The Nazis. As long as Britain is going to be held up as the worst slaving nation in history after we led the world in abolishing slavery then it was the Germans who actually did bomb Plymouth flat. I don't hold grudges and I have had many pleasant visits to Germany and met many very nice German people but history cannot be rewritten, negating actual history and denying facts is where extreme danger lies.

Plymouth had a plan on a massive scale. It was "A Plan for Plymouth" by Patrick Abercrombie. The plan was published in March 1944, before the war had been won but after massive devastation had already been caused, and the city centre was to become a series of precincts surrounded by a gyratory traffic system, a very radical proposal. Abercrombie erased the whole of the old city centre road network and drew a grand axis through them from the Naval Memorial at the Hoe, North to the Railway Station.

Plymouth Hoe - Plymouth Hoe, referred to locally as the Hoe, is a large south-facing open public space in the English coastal city of Plymouth. The Hoe is adjacent to and above the low limestone cliffs that form the seafront and it commands views of Plymouth Sound, Drake's Island, and across the Hamoaze to Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall. The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon word hoh, a sloping ridge shaped like an inverted foot and heel.

He declared it "a vista for public enjoyment to be enriched by the landscape architect's and gardener's art.

Some of this will be seen in the Civic Square in a later post, which formed part of this Grand Axis. Crossing the axis were a series of streets running east-west, one of which was Royal Parade, and between them were allocated the different functions of the precincts.

Government and offices in the North, shopping in the centre, and Civic Centre, hotels and residential in the South adjacent to the Hoe. In the East was the Barbican Harbour labelled "Historic Plymouth" while to the West was industry with a stadium and Marine Pavilion. At the northern extremity was the Railway Station and Bus Station with Cultural Centre East of it, adding to the existing Museum, Art Gallery, BBC Studios, Health Centre and Public Baths.

This brick cube is the upper half of the Theatre Royal.

Only St. Andrews, The Guildhall and Prysten House were preserved from the old city. They will feature later. Newly added were the Municipal Offices with Council Chamber, Law Courts, the restored Guildhall, banks, Theatre Royal, cinema and a market. The scale of old Victorian Plymouth was swept away to be replaced by something much grander The original plan foresaw the Guildhall being removed as it had been bombed out but a vote in council won a reprieve by one vote only.

So this part of the walk starts behind the Civic Centre, now vacant, and next to the Theatre Royal, the brick structure behind Derry's clock tower. These shots are taken from the top floor of the car park. Then we follow part of the Royal Parade, leading us into the Civic Square, our first glimpse of the Grand Axis.

Later we walk East to the Barbican and Historic Plymouth before circling back around South of The Bastion and along the edge of Plymouth Sound onto the famous Hoe and back North to where we started.

Derry's Clock Tower (or Derry's Cross) (below) is a free-standing clock tower in the city of Plymouth, England. The clock and the nearby former bank are the only buildings to survive the Blitz and post-war development in the immediate area.

On 1 May 1975, English Heritage listed the clock tower at Grade II for its architectural and historical importance. Built in 1862, it was intended as a personal gift for the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward and Princess Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia, the daughter of Christian IX of Denmark. The clock tower was a gift from William Derry (1817–1903), the Mayor of Plymouth between 1861–62.

She got six names while my father got three. He hated his three so much that his three sons got only one.

The plan to zone the new city was seen as vital to simplify development and to help all the bodies concerned to achieve the plan. Plymouth was the only city in Britain to complete it's audacious post-war plan, which makes this part of the city all the more important historically.

Plymouth Athenaeum, below, is a society dedicated to the promotion of learning in the fields of science, technology, literature and art. The Athenaeum building, located at Derry's Cross in Plymouth City Centre, includes a 340-seat auditorium and a local interest library.

Designed by Walls and Pearns 1958 - 61, in what became termed "Festival Style" after the Royal Festival Hall in London. The Athenaeum was structurally innovative too, using a revolutionary steel space frame to span the auditorium.

The Royal Parade is book ended by two large traffic islands, one at either end. This is Derry's Cross the Western end of Royal Parade. It features several of the Plymouth Plan projects. Many of these buildings have been altered and even defaced by subsequent owners over the intervening years. How elegant that Deco tower would look without the modern telecommunications equipment piled on top.

These neighbours are Radiant House and Anglia House. Radiant House, on the corner of Union Street and Derry's Cross roundabout, was built for the South Western Gas Board as offices and showrooms. The architects were Messrs Whinney, Son and Austin.

Constructed of Portland stone, the ground floor was comprised of shop-fronted showrooms while on the first floor was a tea lounge, a projection room, a demonstration theatre, a reception hall and offices. There were five floors in all, each with a plentiful supply of "flower balconies". The main entrance, with balconies over, was facing up Royal Parade and was surmounted by a clock tower.

Radiant House was officially opened in 1954.

The new Co-operative House was built in four phases on the site at Derry's Cross and Royal Parade between 1950 and 1958 and was opened in 1952. The Co-op moved out and it has since been recently converted to a Premier Inn.

The pre-war Royal Cinema, below, was retained, its Portland stone façade an anticipation of the strongest element of the new city’s palette. Becoming the Drake Cinema on Derry’s Cross, it projected a large model of the Golden Hind into the streetscape.

Thanks to digital editing I was able to clean the front of the Co-op building of all it's later vandalism. Below is the current version covered in carelessly added systems, while below that is the digitally enhanced version showing what it's clean lines originally looked like.

In 1951 the Plymouth and South Devon Savings Bank moved into two temporary Nissen huts in York Street. A site at Derry's Cross was then secured, below, for its new head office but there was a national shortage of steel and construction was delayed. It was finally opened by Lord Mackintosh of Halifax, the national leader of the savings movement, on Tuesday April 24th 1956.

Nissen Hut - A Nissen hut is a prefabricated steel structure for military use, especially as barracks, made from a half-cylindrical skin of corrugated iron. Designed during the First World War by the American-born, Canadian-British engineer and inventor Major Peter Norman Nissen, it was used also extensively during the Second World War and adapted to the similar Quonset hut in the United States.

Dingles department store (below) as it used to be known, was designed by the veteran modernist architect Thomas Tait, who was also a consultant on the wider Plymouth Plan. Although the symmetry of the 1943 plan was dispensed with, the two buildings either side of Armada way on the north side of the Royal Parade set the tone for the style and size of the flagship Royal Parade buildings. Monumental, steel-framed, classically-styled and faced in Portland Stone. Abercrombie and Paton Watson’s Plan for the monumentality of the vision, enabled by the wide roads was realised and augmented by the squat towers on each of the two buildings and repeated elsewhere, the height and scale of which were carefully controlled across the scheme.

A recent addition to the Royal Parade is "Messenger", a large statue created by the Cornish artist Joseph Hillier, depicting a female actor crouching in preparation to run onstage. It was commissioned by and installed outside the Theatre Royal, in 2019 in preparation for the city's Mayflower 400 celebrations.

Balancing the Dingles Store above was Pearl Assurance House below placed on the opposite corner on the Royal Parade.

Pearl Assurance House, on the northern side of Royal Parade between Armada Way and Courtenay Street, was the local office of the Pearl Assurance Company Limited, which was founded in Whitechapel, London, in 1857. The entrance to their offices was at Number 50 Royal Parade, over which the Company crest was displayed.

Work started on the building in August 1950 but was held up by heavy rain. Water had been found in a fissure of the rock upon which the foundations were being laid and the fissure had to be filled in and bridged with reinforced concrete.

The Foundation Stone was laid in the partly finished building on Tuesday October 16th 1951. The chairman of the Company, Mr G R L Tilley, performed the ceremony in the presence of the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Plymouth, Alderman and Mrs Randolph Baker. Prior to laying the stone the chairman was presented with a trowel and mallet by Mr Alec F French, the architect, and Mr A E Malbon, the contractor. Copies of the day's newspapers, coins of the realm and other souvenirs were placed in a canister beneath the Stone. Along with the seventy or so invited guests, the group afterwards dispersed to the Grand Hotel for refreshments. Pearl Assurance House was officially opened on January 9th 1953 and was occupied in that year.

The pearl motif is still evident on this feature above the main doorway.

Now we break off from Royal Parade to briefly look around the Civic Square on Armada Way. We come around to the front of the civic offices which are currently inaccessible, surrounded with multi coloured hoardings.

The Civic Centre that was to define the square was opened in 1962. Designed by Hector Stirling and brought to life by Jellicoe, Ballantyne and Coleridge, the tower block was put in conversation with the Guildhall’s own tower. It was an unapologetic modernist moment in the Beaux Arts plan, clad in glass and Devon granite aggregate panels with Delabole slate facings at the base.

Information from, Wikipedia, and original plans from

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David Nurse
David Nurse
Jun 09, 2022

This is an interesting post. Loved the narrative and enjoyed the photos, but I agree with Camellia its a dreadful building.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Jun 09, 2022
Replying to

I am outnumbered.😊


Unknown member
May 31, 2022

While I like the angles you picked and the information you provided, I am not impressed with the building. It looks very, very cold and uninviting.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
May 31, 2022
Replying to

Sorry you don't like the buildings, I love them as they are very understated and I think will come to be much more appreciated if they can be restored to their former glory. It is hard to imagine now what effect they must have had after a war and all the massive destruction that Plymouth faced. It really was a brave new world sweeping away the dark twisting Victorian streets for grand avenues like these.

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