We’ve team up with Chris Robinson (chrisrobinson.co.uk), local Plymouth Historian to bring you an accurate account of the history here on the Plymouth Hoe.
The Plymouth Hoe
Plymouth Hoe, one of the finest public open spaces that any city could hope to boast; commands spectacular views that are little changed from the time Drake played bowls here, waiting for the Armada, through when Pilgrim Fathers bade farewell to their homeland, to the time tens of thousands assembled here to welcome Francis Chichester back from his historic solo round the world trip.
Even the Hoe itself (the name means ‘high ridge’) has changed little in over 100 years. Laid out as a park in the 1880’s, it was during that decade that Smeaton’s Tower was reconstructed here; that the Drake and Armada memorials were unveiled and Plymouth Pier was built.
Apart from colonnaded Belvedere, which was created in 1891, the gradual improvement of the bathing facilities between 1912 and 1935, and the opening of the Dome in 1988, there have been very few major changes.
- Smeaton’s Tower It was erected on the Eddystone Reef 1756-59, Replaced by Douglass’s Lighthouse in the 1880s after the rocks upon which Smeaton’s Tower were deemed to be unsafe. Work on re-erecting the original on a new plinth on the Hoe began in October 1882. Between 1860 and 1895 and then again in 1937 through to decimalisation, a depiction of the lighthouse appeared on the back of the English Penny.
- Octagonal Look Out This was built sometime around 1870 for the benefit of shipping firms, who, in the days before radio communications, could watch from here for mail steamers making their way towards the Sound. Arrangements could then be made as soon as possible for tenders to be made ready to meet the boats and whisk the postbags and important passengers onto waiting trains in Millbay.
- Plymouth Dome Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II was the first official visitor here in 1988, when Plymouth celebrated the 400th anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. However the building was not opened to the public for another few months. It closed almost 20 years later.
- Tinside Pool Improved swimming facilities were created here in several stages between 1913 and 1935, culminating with the opening of the Hoe Lido here on 2nd October 1935. It’s apparently called Tinside because earlier, impromptu changing facilities were in a corrugated iron hut. There was also a wooden shack used for changing on the western side of the rocks and this was known as Shacky Pool.
- Colonnaded Belvedere Located on this site of the old bull-ring, and above it, the camera obscura … and at the head of what is the site of Plymouth Pier (which pre-dated it) the Belvedere was completed in 1891 towards the end of a decade that saw massive changes on the Hoe as it was transformed from farmland with grazing cows and sheep, to an attractive landscaped garden area.
- Waterfront Restaurant In 1967 this was the home of the Royal Western Yacht Club and as such it was where Sir Francis Chichester first stood on terra firma at the end of his epic solo circumnavigation of the globe, the first ever to be completed by a lone sailor.
- Grand Hotel It was from the balcony of the Grand Hotel that eighty-year-old Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone addressed an estimated crowd of 100,000 in 1889 – the hotel then was just ten years old. Built by John Pethick, who also provided the base for the relocation of Smeaton’s Tower, it recently endured a major fire and is now being redeveloped as apartments.
- Viking Stone Commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of the last Viking raid up the Tamar, this stone was presented to the City by representatives of five Scandinavian countries to demonstrate the friendship and good faith that now exist between England and Scandinavia. The Rhune –stone itself was made by Danish sculptor Magnuss Krugh Anderssen and was unveiled in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Plymouth and Magnuss Magnusson who delivered a speech on the story of the Vikings in Britain.
- Astor House No.3 Elliot Terrace. Lady Astor had come to Plymouth in 1908 with her husband Waldorf to fight what would be an unsuccessful by-election. In 1910 however he was successful and sat as MP until the death of his father, Lord Astor, in 1919. Waldorf tried to relinquish the hereditary title to no avail and so Lady Nancy Astor stood in his place and become the first woman to take her seat in Parliament. During the Second World War the couple, who conferred numerous buildings and bequests upon Plymouth, also served the city as Lord and Lady Mayoress.
- Sensory Garden A relatively new addition to the attractions on the Hoe is the ‘Sensory Garden’ just in from the top of Lockyer Street. Designed with the blind in mind, it features a wide variety of planting and fragrances.
- Hoe Bowling Club Despite the tradition linking Plymouth Hoe with Drake’s celebrated, pre-Armada game of bowls on 19th July 1588, the city was slow to spawn formal bowling clubs. The Hoe Club was opened here in 1908, five years after the formation of the English Bowling Association.
- The War Memorials There are many war memorials on the Hoe, the most impressive being the First and Second World War Naval Memorial. The original WWI obelisk has identical counterparts in Portsmouth and Chatham, although Sir Edward Maufe’s WWII extension, while similar to the Portsmouth memorial, accommodates the natural slope.
- Cross on the Hoe Set into the ground this modest memorial is so discreet that it is easy to miss but the event in commemorates was witnessed by some 10,000 servicemen and thousands more local civilians. After numerous poorly paid and hungry naval personnel had been executed at Plymouth Dock, three Irish marines (two Catholic and one Protestant), were executed here for mutiny on 6th July 1797. A fourth was spared and given 1,000 lashes instead.
- Norrington’s Fountain A representation of Rebecca of the well, given by Charles Norrington, a former Mayor of Plymouth, in memory of his wife, the fountain, unveiled in 1881, was intended to provide a source of drinking water for boys and girls playing on the Hoe.
- Boer War Memorial Made of red and green Swedish granite and honouring those who lost their lives in the war in South Africa at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
- Royal Citadel Built on the Hoe in the late 1660s on the orders of Charles II straight after the Restoration of the Monarchy and following in the wake of Plymouth’s successful resistance to the three-year Royalist Siege of the town in the Civil War.
- Hoe Café & Garden Built as a part of the general landscaping of the Hoe Park in the 1980’s, the former caretaker’s lodge now serves as a bar/restaurant. Sitting alongside it are the small but delightful formal gardens famously painted by the celebrated English artist Stanley Spencer in 1955 – the city fathers had hoped for something that better reflected its rise from the ashes.
- Drake’s Statue Unveiled on the Hoe on 14th February 1884, it was one of the first man-made additions to the attractions of the Hoe Park. The day was observed as a general holiday across the Three Towns and an estimated crowd of 20,000 (including 3,000 schoolchildren) flocked to the Hoe. A replica of the celebrated Boehm statue in Tavistock which stands closer to Drake’s birthplace, it is not thought to be a good likeness of the great seafarer.
- Armada Way Armada Way was created as a walkway from the railway station to the Hoe and was a key part of the post-war Plan for Plymouth, drawn up by Sir Patrick Abercrombie and Plymouth’s city engineer James Paton Watson. A beacon was set up and lit in 1988 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the sighting of the Spanish Armada.
- Hoe Shelter Moving to Plymouth in the sixties, to run a guest house with her husband John, Beryl Cook (1926-2008) immortalised many aspects of life on Plymouth Hoe as she saw it. From ample-figured gathers at Tinside, through large ladies playing bowls on the Hoe, to sailors flirting with girls in the shadow of Smeaton’s Tower, her humorous images captured the spirit of the area, while the paintings themselves made the Hoe landlady internationally famous.
Historic Photos of the Plymouth Hoe
Kindly provided by the South West Image Bank Archive. These photos date from 1890s – 1960s