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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Plymouth 2 Civic Square

In part two I am now in the Civic Square which is in transition and under siege. One side of the square is barricaded around the office block awaiting renovation, with abstract multi coloured hoardings to keep people out of the site and diagonally opposite, the Law Courts are besieged by a police cordon as they were expecting possible trouble due to a high profile sentencing. This means half of the Civic Square had limited access.

The rest of the square forms part of the Grand Axis starting at Plymouth Hoe running north to the railway station. This is Armada Way, and here it forms a sort of park with reflecting pool between all the Civic Buildings. I am going to concentrate on the Council Suite, a low level building, bridge linked to the tower, mentioned in part one, and The Guildhall diagonally opposite. The original planned Concert Hall was shelved and the site used for the Law Courts as they brought their own funding, thereby cutting costs.

I managed a couple of shots of the Law Courts with a long lens looking over the police cordon. This is the distinctive frontage with coloured glass. Placed over the concrete tracery is an abstract metal representation of the Coat of Arms of the City of Plymouth.

Here is a more traditional version showing the key elements. The Arms were officially recorded in 1620. The supporting lions were added in 1931 since Plymouth had been designated a city in 1928 after two smaller towns were added. The green cross or Saltire represents St. Andrew, Patron Saint of Plymouth. There were originally four towers on the town's fortifications.

The crest above represents Devonport the Royal Naval Dockyards, with a Maritime Crown and a Lion's paw holding aloft an anchor. Devonport was the most important Navy Docks in the British Empire. The Lions also sport Maritime Crowns from which hang Roundels with Boar's Heads, the symbol of the Mount Edgcumbe family on the opposite bank of the Tamar which was originally in Devon.

The motto is TURRIS FORTISSIMA EST NOMEN JEHOVAH or The Name of the Lord is the Strongest Tower. Aside from the biblical reference the motto echoes the towers in the arms.

The Civic Suite forms the smaller building in the foreground attached by bridge to the office tower. Designed by Hector Stirling and completed by Jellicoe, Ballantyne and Coleridge.

The designs were based on Lever House, New York. The tower was originally intended to be clad in glass like the Lever Building but this was later changed to two tone concrete panels which proved it's undoing in the maritime climate.


The balcony could do with a bit of attention, a clean and some new paint wouldn't go amiss.

These look like the original lights in the main reception area on the first floor.

The entrance to the Civic Suite, below, with it's coffered ceiling and elegant oval cross-section columns which when seen from the front appear too slender to support the weight above. A clever deception.

It is worth noting the date that it opened. A mere 17 years since the end of the war. Almost exactly 60 years ago as I write this on the Queens Platinum Jubilee weekend.

Prince Philip had an incredibly strong connection to Plymouth, having been appointed Lord High Steward on 18 March 1960.

The position of Lord High Steward goes back to 1491 and since 1762 has always been a member of the Royal Family, beginning with Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of York.

Four Princes of Wales have held the office, resigning when they became George IV, Edward VII, George V and Edward VIII. There have also been two royal dukes, the Duke of York and the Duke of Sussex and Prince Albert the Prince Consort. 

Originally a position with legal responsibilities, in modern times it has become a ceremonial role with the holder having a right to the ‘Wand’ of the Lord High Steward (which is on display at the Council House) and the Duke of Edinburgh was anecdotally known to request the wand whenever he visited Plymouth.

Frankly if I was Lord Steward and one of the only privileges was having a wand I would also request having it when I visited. It isn't many jobs that bring a wand with them. Having said that I do happen to own a wand or two, who doesn't.

The panels were Devon aggregate. This section is south facing and has had some repair work done to prevent further damage.

This is a side view of the Council Chamber with the adjacent Theatre Royal Car Park.

The decorative columns were coated in Murano Glass tesserae from Italy. Plymouth is a maritime city exposed to the westerly Atlantic weather. Seen above, water has penetrated the mosaic decoration and then frozen. This wall is the southerly wall exposed to the worst of the weather. Exactly the same decoration seen below is on the north wall and is still intact, protected from the worst of the weather.

The walls around the base were riven Delabole Slate. Ashburton Marble was used in the interiors along with etched glass by John Hutton.

This is a close up of a panel on the tower. Once again a south facing wall.

The tower was topped off with a public restaurant and viewing terrace.

This is the view north from the square along Armada Way.

Diagonally opposite the Civic Suite and next door to the Law Courts is the Guildhall. It very nearly didn't make it. This area was heavily bombed during the war and the entire Guildhall roof and interiors were lost. As part of the grand Plymouth Plan it was proposed that it should be knocked down and replaced but one vote on the Council swung the decision. As a consequence it was brought back to life with 1950's flourishes making it a unique building. Here you can see the later addition on the top of the tower.

This building is the fifth Guildhall in Plymouth which seems a little careless to say the least especially as bar a single vote there was very nearly a sixth. As this one is part Victorian and part 1950's let's call it five and a half. The foundation stone was laid in 1870 and designed by Norman and Hine of Plymouth with artistic direction by Edward William Godwin in the Gothic Revival style and built by Messrs Call and Pethick.

If you have been paying attention you will recognise the Coat of Arms here, this time in Gothic style. It has slight differences to the later version as at this time Plymouth was still not a city.

The building contained both the Assize Courts and the City Treasurer's Office. Here is a reference to the Court showing the scales of justice. The figure on the left holds the mirror of truth while the figure on the right pleads for mercy. The Treasurer's Office is now a restaurant, "The Treasury", with a beautiful interior. I recently chose a table in there and when I sat in a rather antiquated old leather chair I was informed that it was the Treasurer's original chair.

This is the original West end of the building which was chosen for the new main entrance when it was modernised. The wave arch over the entrance is typical 1950's.

"All the new elements were distinctly modern and this was proclaimed in the new entrance with it's undulating, coffered canopy, while the drama was reserved for the lobbies and Great Hall where Hector Stirling created one of the best and richest interiors of the 1950's. The floors were white terazzo with white marble walls, mahogany joinery and bronze doors. The stair in white marble with quilted blue leather handrail studded in bronze. "

"Three chandeliers hung from the ceiling symbolising the three towns of Plymouth"

"The curved plaster ceiling was decorated with The Labours of Hercules by David weeks."

"The Great Hall was panelled in Cuban mahogany."

The Guildhall was opened by Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. The viscountcy was created in 1946 for the military commander Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, commemorating his crucial victory in the Second Battle of El Alamein (23 October–3 November 1942) in the Egyptian town of that name, which sealed the fate of Rommel's famed Afrika Korps.

Around the interior of The Great Hall are panels inscribed with the names of people presented with the "Freedom of the City". This panel is one of the most recent for the Olympic diver Tom Daley.

The Freedom of the City is an honour bestowed by a municipality upon a valued member of the community, or upon a visiting celebrity or dignitary. Arising from the medieval practice of granting respected citizens freedom from serfdom, although today the title of "freeman" confers no special privileges.

Tom Daley OBE, son of Plymouth, is a British diver and television personality. Specialising in multiple events, he is an Olympic gold medallist in the men's synchronized 10-metre platform event at the 2020 Olympics and double world champion in the FINA 10-metre platform event, winning in 2009 at the age of fifteen, and again in 2017.

Below is a good quiz question with a trap if you are not careful. Nancy Astor was the first woman MP to take her seat in the British Parliament. The first woman MP in Britain was Constance Markievicz. Nancy Astor was American and Constance Markievicz was Polish and they both have very interesting back stories. Although Constance won the first seat she could not take it, because she was in prison but also because she represented Sinn Fein, whose policy was not to sit in the British Parliament.

Nancy Astor was the MP for Plymouth Sutton, a seat which she won in a by-election after her husband succeeded to the Peerage after his father's death. It is not possible to have seats in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Nancy came on a tour of Britain and fell in love with the country deciding to make her home here. The Astor's had also moved here and set up home but in an aristocratic style.

"The windows contain painted glass by FH Coventry depicting scenes from Plymouth's history."

I chose my two favourites for this post. The first shows Victory Day but also has a background of the new Plymouth in the form of the Civic Tower. The top windows show a flotilla of boats in Plymouth Sound.

The second shows The Blitz of Plymouth. Firefighters from the NFS are battling the flames as buildings collapse around them. Searchlights play across the night sky and explosions flash like stars, while a single bomber flies overhead.

The NFS was created in August 1941 by the amalgamation of the wartime national Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) and the local authority fire brigades (about 1,600 of them). It existed until 1948, when it was again split by the Fire Services Act 1947.

The NFS had full-time and part-time members, male and female. Its uniform was the traditional dark blue double-breasted tunic, and it adopted the peaked cap worn by the AFS. The peaked cap was retained by fire services after the war.

When they were on duty, but in the frequent long stretches between calls, many firemen and firewomen performed vital wartime manufacturing work, in workshops in the fire stations or adjacent to them. This was entirely voluntary, but since many of the wartime personnel had worked in factories before the war it was work with which they were familiar and skilled.

War service meant considerable risk, and members of the NFS were called to attend the aftermath of German bombing raids and coastal shelling from France, or often whilst these attacks were still ongoing. Casualties were inevitable. At peak strength the NFS had 370,000 personnel, including 80,000 women. Wikipedia

Detailed information on the buildings from Historic England.

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David Nurse
David Nurse
Jun 09, 2022

Enjoyed the post. Loved the first image.


Unknown member
Jun 04, 2022

Some really interesting perspectives and angles. I really like the entrance and the way you captured it.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Jun 04, 2022
Replying to

Thanks. That's most of the 20th century stuff so moving on next to the really old historic parts of the city.

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