10 Fascinating Facts About Historical Plymouth, UK

Known as Britain’s Ocean City, Plymouth has a truly noteworthy heritage. But how much do you know about this port city and the important part it has played in both British and World history? Here are our top nine fascinating facts about the UK’s seaside city of Plymouth:


boats sailing in the Plymouth Sunset

1. The Pilgrim Fathers Left From Plymouth

Back in 1620, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth docks, headed for the New World. Those aboard the ship went on to establish the second English colony in what later became the United States of America.


Smeaton's Tower lighthouse in Plymouth, UK

2. The Smeaton Tower was a Breakthrough in Lighthouse Design

The Eddystone Lighthouses have sat off the coastline of Plymouth for centuries, but it was Smeaton’s Tower, the third and most notable of the lighthouses, that has proven the most significant. Celebrated civil engineer John Smeaton created the tower, based on the shape of an oak tree, and it went on to inform lighthouse design for years to come. It now sits on Plymouth Hoe as a memorial to its designer.


Plymouth Gin Distillery in Plymouth, UK

3. The Plymouth Gin Distillery is Oldest in England

Formally home to a monastery, the Plymouth Gin Distillery opened in 1793. Also known as the Black Friars distillery, it is the oldest working gin distillery in England. Gin enthusiasts can take a tour of the distillery to see the traditional equipment used, before tasting the distinctive Plymouth Gin itself, which is still made on site today.


Porcelain made in Plymouth, UK

4. Britain’s Porcelain Industry Began in Plymouth

Local pharmacist, William Cookworthy, became the first person in Britain to work out how to make hard porcelain having found china clay in Cornwall. Porcelain had previously been imported from China. But Cookworthy founded a works in Plymouth for the production of ‘Plymouth Porcelain’ in 1768, kick-starting the industry in this country.


New Palace Theatre in Plymouth, UK

5. The New Palace Theatre Hosted World-Famous Acts

Although it is now closed and in disrepair, the historic New Palace Theatre has quite the prestigious past. Over the years it saw acts such as Laurel and Hardy, and Charlie Chaplin, perform on stage. Quite the coup for a city outside the likes of London and Manchester!


Plymouth Devonport naval base

6. A Port of Great Importance in Wartime

Plymouth was an important strategic city during both world wars. The port was an entry point for troops from across the Empire during WW1. And in the Second World War, Devonport naval base was the headquarters of Western Approaches Command until 1941, as well as being an important embarkation point for US troops for D-Day. Due to Plymouth’s status as a major port, it became a target during the Blitz. The city’s partially destroyed Charles Church stands as an official, permanent monument to the bombing the city suffered in the war.


Plymouth Synagogue, the oldest in the English-Speaking World

7. Home to the Oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue in the English-Speaking World

A Grade II listed building, the Plymouth Synagogue was built in 1762 by the local Jewish community, who until then had met in private homes or rented rooms to worship.


Pelé scoring a goal in Plymouth, UK

8. The Day Pelé Came to Plymouth!

In 1973 the city’s local football team, Plymouth Argyle, hosted a friendly match against Brazilian side Santos FC, one of the best clubs in the world at the time. Their line-up featured world-renowned player, Pelé. And despite the superstar scoring a penalty, shockingly it was Plymouth Argyle who won!


Sir Francis Drake of Plymouth, UK

9. Sir Francis Drake Was Born in Plymouth

The famous sea-farer captained many notable voyages. From 1577 to 1580, he led the second circumnavigation of the world, becoming the first person to solely captain the entire expedition. Then in 1588, Drake was second-in-command of the English fleet as they fought against the Spanish Armada. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1581.


Plymouth University

10. Even the University has a Sea-Faring History

Plymouth University was originally the Plymouth School of Navigation, which opened in 1862. In 2012 staff, students and local residents celebrated the institutions 150th anniversary. The university is now ranked amongst the top 2% in the world.

But it’s not just the past that is so important to Plymouth, thanks to a great deal of investment currently pouring into the city. With the scheme ‘A Vision for Plymouth’ well under way; the city is seeing the regeneration of derelict buildings as well as newly designed public spaces for local people to enjoy. This in turn has helped encourage a blossoming economy, attracting a growing population of young professionals and students. So it’s fair to say the future looks bright for Plymouth too!


Want to know more about what makes Plymouth a great place to invest? Read our article, Why Invest in Plymouth.

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