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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Plymouth 4 Prysten House to Harbour

I ended Part 3 at Prysten House. From there I zigzag through some old narrow streets and alleys descending to the harbour.

En route was this set of windows at Mount Edgcumbe Masonic Hall. It dubs itself "a cornerstone of masonry" so they obviously have a sense of humour and are in to puns. But in case you are not into puns here is puns 101.

Cornerstone - An important quality or feature on which a particular thing depends or is based. Or, a stone that forms the base of a corner of a building, joining two walls. As in what Masons do.

While we are at it.

101 - 101 (pronounced ONE-oh-ONE) is a slang term for the most basic knowledge in some subject, as in "boiling potatoes is cooking 101".

En Route - Just more French stuff to make it sound posh because French is posh.

It's prononuced On Route as in on the way to, not to be confused with En Croute which just means covered in buttery pastry, like a pasty, which we will come to later, but don't ever ever ever refer to a pasty, Cornish or Devon as Boef En Croute.

The original masonic hall was destroyed by enemy action in March 1941 and a new Mount Edgcumbe Masonic Hall was built in Citadel Road. So we are still looking at post war rebuilds.

Anyway after the slight detour (also French) from the en route let's get back to Prysten House. There is an area in front of Prysten House where you are surrounded by a fascinating melange of buildings. As luck would have it, when I Googled the meaning of melange so I could be more accurate on your behalf I was met with the following example.

Melange - A mixture, often of incongruous elements. "a mélange of architectural styles" which was an improvement on the other suggestion of "a melange of tender vegetables".

What I am about to show you is definitely more architectural than vegetable. Prysten House was built by a Plymouth merchant Thomas Yogge. It is the oldest surviving merchant house in Plymouth having stood since 1498. Indeed it stood here during the Blitz while everything around it burned. The scale of the house hints at the huge wealth potential from maritime trade and the power and influence that bought. Merchants houses normally stood on the harbour front but Yogge chose to build his in the heart of what was then the medieval town centre right next door to St. Andrew's Church. Maybe Mr. Yogge saw it as being one step closer to heaven.

The church had been there since the 12th century but was rebuilt in the 15th and Yogge and his family were big supporters of the church. They personally paid for the great tower (Part three) in 1490.

The building also houses a fine well which gave rise to the street's name. Wells containing fresh water were vital to the growth of a town like this and there were many others nearby. At this time Plymouth was a relatively small port not expanding much until the era of the Mayflower trip to the new world when the towns population swelled in thirty years from 2000 to 7000. Over the years various modifications have taken place blocking off windows and doors.

Heritage and preservation being what it is, these changes are now considered important architectural features and you would never be able to alter them. This begs the question, what people will see in another 500 years regarding changes made to this house. There won't be any from now on because the house is now a captive of it's heritage protected status.

Opposite Prysten House is the Magistrate's Courts built like a castle in similar stone to the surrounding ancient buildings. It is on an island surrounded mostly by old or ancient buildings. This means it's scale could have dominated the area but for some clever reason it does not, it subtly drops back into the landscape giving no hint from any one angle as to how big it actually is.

It's multi faceted exterior with different angles and materials, camouflage it's bulk and echo elements of it's medieval neighbours.

Skirting around it you come to another ancient gem at the rear, simply called The Merchant's House, St Andrews Street.

This is the former home of Captain William Parker who sailed in the fleet of Sir Francis Drake. He was a merchant, property developer and politician. It is believed he once Captained the famous ship the Mary Rose. Parker served as Lord Mayor of Plymouth from 1601-1602.

He launched raids against the Spanish in the Caribbean, but his big break came in 1601 when he captured a pair of treasure ships laden with 10,000 gold ducats. On his return to Plymouth, he was elected Lord Mayor, and he used the profits from his ventures to remodel an older house on this site into a fashionable timber-framed house suitable for a respected gentleman of the town.

He helped promote the Plymouth Company to colonise North America and took an active interest in the Virginia Colony. He died in 1618 on a voyage to the East Indies.

St Andrews Street was a busy thoroughfare in 13th century Plymouth and it originally carried on straight through at this point where the row of bollards is, with the Magistrate's Court on the right now blocking the way. It will probably remain forever cut off at this point, being named after the church it no longer reaches.

I like a good architectural contrast and this is certainly one. How different could two buildings be. I like the echo of the panes of glass repeated from one in small scale to the other in larger scale. Appropriately next door to the home of the great seafarer is the Maritime College.

Between the house and the Court is a glimpse of the spire of the Baptist Church which I want to have a closer look at on another trip. The interior seems well worth a visit. Designed by Louis Soissons and partners in 1956 and part of the big Plymouth Plan.

Merchant's House is the finest surviving example of an Elizabethan house in Plymouth. There are seven rooms, and each room is themed to represent a distinct time period in Plymouth's history. Themes cover such topics as transport, commerce, and WWII, with a room set aside to recreate the Blitz experience. One of the rooms has been turned into a replica Victorian schoolroom.

Highlights of the historic objects on display include a 17th-century carved mantelpiece, a Victorian dollhouse, and a collection of 19th-century shop signs made with real gold paint. See objects connected with the justice system, like manacles used to detain prisoners and a ducking stool. The front room, where the family would entertain important guests, still features its huge original fireplace.

From this nestle of adjoining buildings the route now follows several old and narrow lanes crisscrossing the city and offering a mix of different architecture with diverse contemporary uses, until we emerge at the harbour. These parts of the city mostly escaped the devastation and therefore give a feel of what the city once looked like pre-war.

This is one of my favourite photos of the day, jam packed with shapes, angles and wires.

Opposite Hoe Gate Street is the old Hoe Gate Dairy, now a row of student frequented fast food eateries. In Hoe Gate Street itself, stood the last remaining City Gate. It was the last to be removed, in 1863. Strenuous efforts were made to preserve Hoe Gate, which had become the property of a Mr T W Fox. However, he could not be persuaded and sold the materials for £44.

That was the grand sum in today's money of about £2600. It would have bought 220 days of skilled labour or eight cows.

I don't know what the opposite of a memorial is, whereby you could commemorate someone for negative anti-social behaviour so they could always be ill remembered by all future inhabitants. Maybe a commemorative wrecking ball with the name TW Fox on it. placed where the last town gate once stood.

Hints at military or at least navy presence are never far away.

In Hoe Gate Street is this island of tranquillity saved from demolition a long time ago. This pedestrianised garden terrace is called Hoe Gardens and the blue plaque reveals it as the birthplace of Captain Walker, renowned Royal Navy Commander during the "Battle of the Atlantic".

Walker was the most successful anti-submarine warfare commander during the Battle of the Atlantic and was known more popularly as Johnnie Walker (for the Johnnie Walker brand of whisky). Walker received his own command in October 1941, taking control of the 36th Escort Group, commanding from the Bittern-class sloop Stork. The escort group comprised two sloops (including Stork) and six corvettes and was based in Liverpool, the home of the Western Approaches Command. Initially his Group was primarily used to escort convoys to and from Gibraltar.

Walker's first chance to test his innovative methods against the U-boat menace came in December when his group escorted Convoy HG 76 (32 ships). During the journey five U-boats were sunk, four by Walker's group, including U-574 which was depth-charged and rammed by Walker's own ship on 19 December. The Royal Navy's loss during the Battle for HG 76 was one escort carrier, Audacity, formerly the German vessel Hannover; one destroyer, Stanley, and two merchant ships. This is sometimes described as the first true Allied convoy victory in the Battle of the Atlantic. He was given the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on 6 January 1942, "For daring, skill and determination while escorting to this country a valuable Convoy in the face of relentless attacks from the Enemy, during which three of their Submarines were sunk and two aircraft destroyed by our forces".

We were invited in for a look by one of the residents who was very friendly and chatty. It was a haven of quiet right in the centre of the city.

On the left, below, are the "Seasalt Apartments", built by Bunnyhomes in 2016.

Set on a historic site amidst 16th and 17th century townhouses, Seasalt, our now fashionably urban City Collection apartment building, is a striking example of German architecture (from the ‘New Objectivity’ movement) with its iconic sawtooth design. Echoing Ernst May’s ‘zicksackhausen’ blocks in Frankfurt, it was designed by the same architects responsible for the city’s Civic Centre, now Grade II listed.

Everything about Seasalt has been lovingly considered to create bunnyhomes that are built to last. We’ve breathed new life into an unloved building, now classed as a non-designated heritage asset for its architectural interest, creating a whole new community in this buzzing heart of the city.

In case the buildings are not a good hint, we are now in New Street. New in the 16th century at any rate. Today New Street shows off some of Plymouth's oldest buildings, not least of which is today called The Elizabethan House. That is not it's original name of course because all the houses were Elizabethan back then.

The plan for the street was announced by the Mayor in 1584 and it contained Merchant's Houses in the "modern style". None of your zicksackhausen here. These had such features as "fireplaces and large glazed windows". Who wouldn't want such new fashionable extras, like glazed windows. No more of those holes in the walls that let the snow in.

In the 1970's some gardens were planted at the back of the properties in the Elizabethan style where you can view the rears of the buildings and see how they were built on narrow burgage plots. At number 32, is the Elizabethan House itself. It was built just before 1600 and is now the best example of an Elizabethan property in Plymouth. It has remained virtually unchanged.

By the 1850's New Street was a slum, think Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist. Up to 58 people occupied a single property and disease was rife. In the 1920's all of these properties very nearly got flattened. It's hard to believe today.

There were large local protests, not least by the local MP Nancy Astor, who is mentioned in part Two.

Number 32 was restored as a museum and opened in 1930. Almost a hundred years later, it's ironic that part of it's history is in being a museum about it's own history.

Welcome to Himalayan Spice one of Plymouth’s best kept secrets located at Plymouth’s Barbican ,31 New Street, next to the famous historic building Elizabethan House. We are well known as one of the best Nepalese & Indian Restaurant/ Takeaway in Plymouth.

We love providing a delightful dining experience to our customers in 16th Century Building.

Here is The Island House, reputed to be one of the houses where passengers from the "Mayflower", known as "The Pilgrim Fathers" were entertained ashore prior to their departure for America on the 6th September 1620. One thing we do know for sure, is that this is where they got their ice cream.

The Dolphin Hotel is a pub on the Barbican in Plymouth, England. The building, which is known as either the Dolphin Inn or Dolphin Hotel, is a Grade II listed building. It is notable as the setting of several of the artist Beryl Cook's paintings.

The three storey building was constructed in the early 19th century, although it may contain fabric from an earlier structure. The front has white stucco with plaster reliefs of dolphins. The pub is associated with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, some of whom stayed at the hotel on their return from exile in Australia in 1838, when a Mr Morgan was the landlord. It is a no-frills unmodernised pub famous for its cask ale, draught Bass served straight from the barrel. More on the Tolpuddle Martyrs in part four.

The Navy Inn is allegedly HAUNTED. Landlord John Buckley says a ship captain with a tricorn hat walks the halls of the pub. Rumour has it the spooky figure once shot a young girl to death in the cellar. There have both been sightings of both. One group of ladies on a hen night 10 ago years at The Navy Inn took a picture which they say includes a reflection of the tragic lady with blood pouring down her face.

While we are now at the heart of the rough tough harbour area where in times past drunken sailors would have roamed the dark alleys and the Navy Press Gangs would have collected them up as crew, it is also today a mix of tourism and contemporary nightlife. Colourful, and loud, with crowds pouring out of the pubs onto the waterfront and the smells of the fishing fleet and the fast food assaulting your nostrils. A great place to find a tucked away seat outside, nurse a pint of cider and watch the world go by. If the hunger pangs hit, there is never far to go to find a pasty. Even the Cornish variety.

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Unknown member
Jun 11, 2022

Bunnyhomes???🤣🤣🤣 Love that word. Never heard it used in this context but I'll take it. Love the textures you have captured in this series. You have a little from every "feel" possible. Nice set 😊

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Jun 12, 2022
Replying to

Yes, I was surprised by the name, very quirky. They give a story about how the name came about on their website.

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