Tag Archives: WW2 bombing

The Beginnings Of The Original Plymouth, Devon England

Previously, I wrote about the ancient Plymouth Gin Distillery located in Plymouth 1 in that story, I mentioned that Plymouth had been attacked, raided and ruled by many others many times.

Here is an account of only a fraction of some of the various raids, uprisings, invaders and wars that is the tumultuous history of Plymouth.

Plymouth is located in the South West Peninsula of England and consists of the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset. It is the furthest South and West of all of mainland England.

Map of The South West Peninsula

In 1866 a cave was discovered containing the bones of animals that no longer live on these islands. The bones included the lion, hyena cave bear, rhinoceros, and human remains. So man lived in this district as far back as the early stone age.

Most local finds in and around various areas of Plymouth have been of the Bronze Age, such as mirrors, daggers spearheads and coins up to 150 BC. In an area of Plymouth called Stonehouse, a burial chamber known as a kistvaen or kist was found. The name means a ‘stone chest’ 2

This is known as the Drizzlecombe Kistvaen Dartmoor, Devon

There are many kistvaens in the large area of the Dartmoor National Park just outside of Plymouth. However, the majority of the known Dartmoor kistvaens were opened at some time in the past, and whatever they used to hold is missing. The idea that ancient tombs might contain valuable items is a very old one; one of the first mentions of searching kistvaens in Devon dates back to 1324.

Location of Dartmoor National Park

We can tell that Saxons settled in the Plymouth area because of the names of places ending in ‘Ham, Ton, Leigh, Worthey and Stock. In fact by 926 AD Saxons ruled the whole of Devon. There is an unusual place name are in Plymouth that was once a Saxon lane. In the Doomsday Book of 1086, it was called Heche Bockland and the Saxons had a church there. By 1385 it was known as Ekebokland which over the centuries has evolved into ‘Eggbuckland’ which, as a child, often produced a smirk…

After the Normans conquered England William the 1st gave the Saxon Manors to his Norman Knights and in 1085 had a list made of all the estates in the country and this was called ‘The Domesday Survey’ – the Middle English spelling of “Doomsday Book”.

The Great Domesday Book Held at Kew Gardens, England.

By 1376 we first hear of a Mayor whose name was Maurice Bard. in 1377 the population of Plymouth was 7,000 and by this time, Plymouth was playing an important part in Naval affairs supplying ships for the fleet and was a busy port.

When King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539 the priories had to surrender the tithes of Eggbuckland to the king. The present church is a stone building that dates from around 1420/30 called St. Edward. Its Parish registers date from 1653.

The Anglican church of St Edwards Church Road, Eggbuckland Plymouth Devon 3 Photography by Chris Downer

During the 14th Century, the South coast was attacked on several occasions by French pirates with many attacks on Plymouth, which caused a decline in trade and prosperity. Again, raids and attacks took place in 1377, 1400, and 1403. The most famous of all was the 1403 attack from the Bretons. They sent 30 ships and 1200 men at arms who came and anchored as the townsmen of Plymouth fired cannons at them but they landed and burnt 600 houses and plundered.

Later in the same year, an English fleet crossed to Brittany landed 4,000 men and laid waste to a large area. We seem to have had an uneasy relationship with the French ever since!

The famous seaman, Sir Francis Drake was born in 1541 near Tavistock, just outside Plymouth and was the eldest of 12 children. In 1581 Elizabeth I knighted him and the same year he was appointed Mayor of Plymouth. He was second-in-command as a Vice Admiral of the English fleet, in the victorious battle against the Spanish Armada, in 1588.

Sir Francis Drake
Portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger 1591

Early in July 1620 two vessels ‘The Mayflower’ and ‘The Speedwell’ set sail from Delfshaven in Holland. They were refugees who thought it would be safer in America. Both vessels reached Southhampton, but after leaving the Speedwell sprang a leak and they had to put into Dartmouth for repairs. Again, they set to sea but once more the Speedwell started to leak and so they put into Plymouth. On the 6th of September, 1620 the Mayflower left Plymouth with 102 pilgrims aboard and reached Cape Cod on the 9th of November 1620. The rest, as they say, is history.

In 1642 the civil war started in Plymouth. Most of the counties were Royalists whilst the towns were Parliamentarians. Plymouth, which was surrounded by Royalist country was the key to the West.

It had a harbour it was strongly walled and there was a fort on the Hoe. The word “Hoe” is derived from old English and appropriately means High Ground.

(This year, Facebook banned the word ‘Hoe” assuming it meant something else!) 4

The Royal Citadel on Plymouth Hoe

The Royalists asked the whole town to surrender but they refused, and so, on Sunday, December the 3rd, there took place ‘The Sabbath Day Fight’ The townsfolk rallied from all the neighbouring strongpoints and drove the enemy down a steep hill and into a creek. The rear guard of the Royalist Cavalry was thrown into confusion and the creek was full of drowning men and horses. This was the primary battle but not the end of the siege.

At one time, the King himself came down to Plymouth with 15,000 men but still the town held out. in 1646, the siege was eventually raised. During it, 8,000 people died in Plymouth from various cases a number greater than the normal population.

The Baroque main gate of the Royal Citadel. Note the date 1670 above the arch

Today, the following notable units are based at the Royal Citadel.

The Royal Artillery, Number 3 Commando Brigade and the 29th Commando Regiment 5

Centuries later, World War Two came to Plymouth. My grandfather saved the newspaper cuttings below. They are not too clear but give an idea of before and after a bombing raid on the city.

In the beginning, there were many small daylight raids. As the nights lengthened, these took place at night and in 1940, there were fairly heavy raids on December 29th and January 13th, 1941.

The caption reads: “The city centre as it was. Tomorrow, we propose publishing a photo of the same scene as it appears after most of the buildings have been smashed by enemy action”
The caption reads: “The City Centre as it is. Yesterday, we published a photograph taken from the Guildhall Tower of Plymouth’s shopping centre. Poignant contrast is this picture, taken from the same angle showing the destruction caused by enemy raiders during the Plymouth blitzes”

The worst raids took place in March and April 1941 and on the second of these raids in April, 106 high explosive bombs were dropped, 26 people were killed, 60 houses were completely destroyed, 400 were badly damaged and 2,000 were slightly damaged.

During those raids, the city centre was methodically destroyed in seven continuous nights of bombing. Plymouth lost all of its chief public buildings including the Guildhall, and the council chamber was wiped out.

In the last three years of the war, numerous raids were made. Plymouth lost its large stores and shops, 39 churches including its ‘Mother Church’ St. Andrews in the city centre, 20 schools, a theatre, eight cinemas, six hotels and nearly 30,000 homes completely uninhabitable and although many more raids took place, none were as bad as in 1941.

Although it took decades to rebuild today Plymouth is a vibrant holiday destination and describes itself as “Britain’s Ocean City” It has many holidaymakers visit and there is plenty to see and do. Plymouth boasts some spectacular scenery, a bustling town centre and some delicious dining options.

There is The National Marine Aquarium, The University of Plymouth, the Marine Biological Association, and the Blue Marine Foundation plus the City Centre and the Drake Mall. In addition, for any adrenaline junkie or marine life enthusiast, there are plenty of adventures to be had!

Plymouth Hoe view. with Smeaton’s Tower.

Smeaton’s Tower in this photo was built by an engineer named John Smeaton, constructed of Cornish granite and cleverly dove-tailed together. It has been a Grade 1-listed building since 1954.

It is open to visitors who can climb the 93 steps, including steep ladders, to the lantern room and observe Plymouth Sound – pictured – and the city. 6

Plymouth is now a modern city shaped by its past and steeped in history.

SOURCES

(1) https://genealogyensemble.com/2022/06/29/a-history-of-plymouth-gin/

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dartmoor_kistvaens

(3) Thttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Edward%27s_Church,_Plymouth.jpg Photograph by Chris Downer

(4) https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/plymouth-news/facebook-apologises-removing-posts-rude-4928078

(5) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Citadel,_Plymouth

(6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smeaton%27s_Tower

The Huguenot of England, Part 2

French Persecution of the French Huguenots

At the end of the 17th century, 60,000 to 80,000 Huguenots settled in the South West of England and were known as Britain’s first refugees.

The ‘Currant Examiner’ of September 1681, contains this quote that resonates today:

Plymouth Septem. 6. This day came in hither a small bark from Rochel, (La Rochell) with thirty nine poor Protestants, who are fled for their Religion: They report that five or six Boats more full of these poor distressed Creatures parted from those parts at the same time; and we hear that one of them is already put into Dartmouth. [1]

As I read the piece it appeared that the refugees were, in fact, heading towards Plymouth, where for centuries, the Devon ports were very familiar just as the Devon mariners were familiar with the Channel Islands and the continental seaboard.

This article continues my story of the Huguenot of England and in particular, South West Devon. https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/04/25/the-huguenot-of-england-part-1/

Bristol, Stonehouse, Plymouth, Thorpe-le-Soken Parish Registers of the English Huguenots

What prompted my interest in Huguenots? Well, I was searching online for places to visit on my next trip ‘home’ when I came across a reference to the Artist Dennis Severs’ house. The website told me: “Dated from approximately 1724, Dennis Severs had purchased a house at 18, Folgate Street, next to Spitalfields in East London and there, he created a time capsule of a Huguenot silk weaver family from 1724”. [₂]

I had no idea what a ‘Huguenot’ was so I decided to find out. I took a trip around the internet and discovered some interesting tidbits.

For instance, the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland (Yes! we have a society!) tells us that the Huguenots were known as Britain’s first refugees and goes on to say “there are many inhabitants of these islands who have Huguenot blood in their veins, whether or not they still bear one of the hundreds of French names of those who took refuge here – thus bringing the word ‘refugee’ into the English language” Who knew? [3]

They were actually welcomed to England by King William III in a Declaration.

Dr William A. Pettigrew, Reader, School of History, University of Kent wrote:

As King William III’s Declaration above makes clear, a distinguishing feature of this migration was the explicit state support it received. Six months after William of Orange had landed to take the throne of England The Declaration was printed in London in April 1689. William had long supported the plight of the Huguenots. His support was not altruistic because he understood the assistance this powerful group of refugees could offer him in his war with the French King who had persecuted the Huguenots – Louis XIV. The Declaration offers the historian a useful insight into the official government approach to the Huguenot arrival.

The Declaration clearly shows how William expected the English to welcome Huguenot refugees because of a presumed empathy with them born of the shadow of state persecution extended by William’s predecessor, James II”

Here’s one Huguenot refugee’s success story from the Independent newspaper.

For 270 years after 1724, a Hampshire paper firm, Portal had – literally – a license to print money. In 1685, Henri de Portal and his brother, Pierre Guillaume were terrified refugee children, smuggled out of France in wine casks and sent on a perilous sea journey. It took the young Portals from Bordeaux to Southampton. Henri opened his mill in Whitechurch in 1712. Within a decade he had found his fortune through a banknote paper contract”. [4]

Although I was born and raised in Plymouth, England, I was very surprised to learn that the Huguenot and Walloons settled in my hometown and Stonehouse.

Kathy Chater in her book “Tracing your Huguenot Ancestors” states: “One of the major problems researching Huguenots in Devon is the impact of the bombing of the Exeter record office during the Second World War when many documents were destroyed. All the wills, for example, have been lost, although a project to reconstruct them is underway. However, it seems that even before this the records of the two Exeter Huguenot churches had disappeared”[5]

This could be one reason that I had no idea that Huguenots lived and worked in my part of the country. I wonder, is there a possibility of Huguenot ancestors in my family? Another avenue to explore!

Our ‘Mother Church’ in Plymouth is called St. Andrews and is designated a minster which is “A church that was established during Anglo-Saxon times as a missionary teaching church, or a church attached to a monastery”. [6]

An interesting note concerning St. Andrews Church is this:

Plymouth and East Stonehouse: A nonconformist congregation formed in Plymouth 1681, and closed c1762, the remaining members joining the Batter Street Presbyterians. Some records of their children are listed as ‘births of dissenters’ in the Plymouth St Andrews and the East Stonehouse Anglican registers. A conformist congregation was formed in 1681 in Plymouth, from which an East Stonehouse congregation split off in 1691. These congregations used St Andrews Church and first its Chapelry at East Stonehouse and then a Church (with separate registers) there. The Plymouth and East Stonehouse congregations merged in 1785 and were dissolved in 1810. For details of the extant pre-1840 registers see under Church Records in the respective parish pages. [7]

Some churches allowed Huguenot worship outside of normal C of E services. (C of E means Church of England) and St Andrew was one of the main parishes in Plymouth that has registers where the Huguenots recorded baptisms starting at the back of the register.

This has been a very interesting journey and learning experience about a group of people who lived worked and died in my part of the World and of whom I knew nothing – until now.

SOURCES

http://www.huguenotsofspitalfields.org/the-huguenots-of-dartmouth.html [1]

https://www.dennissevershouse.co.uk/ [2]

https://www.huguenotsociety.org.uk/history.html [3]

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-week-the-huguenots-count-among-the-most-successful-of-britains-immigrants-10330066.html [4]

Book “Tracing your Huguenot Ancestors” by Kathy Chater Page 38“ [5]

virtuallinguist.typepad.com/the…/the difference-between-a-minster-and-a-cathedral.html [6]

http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/DEV/ChurchHistory/Huguenot [7]

NOTES

These books on the Huguenot of South West England are of interest.

Bracken, C.W. The Huguenot churches of Plymouth and Stonehouse. Trans. Devon. Assoc. 66, (1934) pp.163-179.

Currer-Briggs, Noel and Gambier, Royston. Huguenot Ancestry, Phillimore & Co. (2001) 160 pp. [ISBN: 1860771734]

Lart, Charles E. The Huguenot Settlements and Churches in the West of England, Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London, vol. 8, (1901-4) pp.286-298.

Lart, Charles Edmund. (ed.) Registers of the French Churches of Bristol, Stonehouse, and Plymouth. Huguenot Society of London pubs. vol. 20. Spottiswoode and Co. (1912) [Includes Plymouth baptisms 1733-1807; marriages 1734-1740; burials 1733-1734.]

Peskett, Hugh. Guide to the Parish and Non-Parochial Registers of Devon and Cornwall, 1538-1837, Torquay, Devon and Cornwall Record Society; extra ser., v (Printed for the Society by The Devonshire Press) (1979).

Pickard, Ransom. The Huguenots in Exeter. Trans. Devon. Assoc. 68, (1936) pp.261-297; 76, (1944) pp.129-131.

Rogers, Inkerman. The Huguenots of Devonshire, Bideford, Gazette Printing Service? (1942). [BL DSC L70/1555]

Smiles, Samuel. The Huguenots: Their Settlements, Churches, and Industries in England and Ireland, (1972) 448 pp. [ISBN: 0806304979]2