Devonport, Plymouth

Coordinates: 50°22′37″N 4°10′34″W / 50.377°N 4.176°W / 50.377; -4.176
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Devonport skyline
Devonport is located in Devon
Location within Devon
OS grid referenceSX455547
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtPL1
Dialling code01752
PoliceDevon and Cornwall
FireDevon and Somerset
AmbulanceSouth Western
UK Parliament
List of places
50°22′37″N 4°10′34″W / 50.377°N 4.176°W / 50.377; -4.176

Devonport (/ˈdɛvənpɔːrt/ DEV-ən-port),[1] formerly named Plymouth Dock or just Dock,[2] is a district of Plymouth in the English county of Devon, although it was, at one time, the more important settlement. It became a county borough in 1889. Devonport was originally one of the "Three Towns" (along with Plymouth and East Stonehouse); these merged in 1914 to form what would become in 1928 the City of Plymouth. It is represented in the Parliament of the United Kingdom as part of the Plymouth Sutton and Devonport constituency. Its elected Member of Parliament (MP) is Luke Pollard, who is a member of the Labour Party. The population of the ward at the 2011 census was 14,788.[3]


Plymouth Dock[edit]

View of Plymouth Dockyard in 1736 (by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck).

In 1690 the Admiralty gave a contract to Robert Waters from Portsmouth to build a stone dock at Point Froward on the east bank of the Hamoaze at the mouth of the River Tamar. Plymouth Dock, as Devonport was originally called, began around 1700 as a small settlement to house workers employed on the new naval base that was being built around Waters' dock.[4] By 1733 its population had grown to around 3,000,[5] and by 1801 it was already larger than both the nearby towns of Plymouth and Stonehouse together.[6]


By 1811 the population of Plymouth Dock was just over 30,000 and the residents resented the fact that its name made it sound like an adjunct of Plymouth. In 1823 a petition to King George IV requested the town should be renamed, and suggested "Devonport". The king agreed to the change of name, which took effect on 1 January 1824.[7][8] To celebrate, the town built Devonport Column next to the recently completed guildhall; both were designed by John Foulston.[2] Devonport was first incorporated as a municipal borough in 1837 under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.

In July, 1849, the first outbreaks in what became a cholera epidemic arose on Union Street which connected Plymouth to Devonport, and were initially attributed to blockage of several house drains during construction of a new Millbay railway station.[9][10] Devonport became a county borough under the Local Government Act 1888. In 1914 the county borough of Devonport was abolished, when it and the neighbouring urban district of East Stonehouse were absorbed into the county borough of Plymouth.[11]

Dockyard defences[edit]

Plymouth Dock, 1765: the town is shown encompassed by the ordnance wharf and dockyard to the west, by the defensive 'lines' and square barracks to the north and east, and by Mount Wise to the south. NB North = left.

In the mid-eighteenth century a defensive earthwork was constructed around the town and dockyard. Within these dockyard 'lines', six square barracks were built between in 1758–63 to accommodate the garrison of troops required to man the defences.[12] A series of redoubts were also constructed, forward of the lines, in the 1770s, including that at Mount Pleasant (of which there are substantial remains).[13] In the early nineteenth century, the dockyard lines were strengthened with stone ramparts and armed with guns, and the adjacent ditches were deepened. These defences became largely redundant with the building of a series of Palmerston Forts around Plymouth in the second half of the nineteenth century. Much of the open land forming the glacis beyond the lines became Devonport Park in the late 1850s.[14] Three of the six small barracks were replaced in 1854-6 by the sizeable Raglan Infantry Barracks, designed by Captain Francis Fowke (who later designed the Albert Hall); today only its gatehouse remains (and that in a derelict state), the rest having been demolished in the 1970s.[15]

Mount Wise[edit]

Mount Wise: the modern viewing platform and mast atop the old redoubt

The high ground south of the town is called Mount Wise. Enclosed within the town ramparts, it was given its own redoubt in the 1770s, with eight guns and two mortars protecting the coastal approach to the dockyard. In earlier times, a gun wharf had been established on the quayside here to the south-east; the gun wharf was removed (and re-established at Morice Yard alongside the Dockyard) in 1724, but the area remained dominated by the armed forces up until the present century. From the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century both the military Governor and naval Commander-in-Chief of Plymouth were accommodated in large houses on Mount Wise (in Government House and Admiralty House respectively).[16] In 1805 a Royal Laboratory (an outpost of the Woolwich Arsenal) was established just north-west of the redoubt; small-arms ammunition and explosives were manufactured here, until the compound was converted into barracks accommodation (Mount Wise Barracks) in the 1830s.[17]

21st-century Devonport[edit]

During the millennium decade, Devonport received government New Deal for Communities funding of £48.7 million; this enabled an extensive Regeneration programme to be carried out. Since 2009, the investments have begun to transform Devonport – physically, socially, demographically. Where once the area was run-down, depressed, and classified as 'deprived' in many categories, the 21st-century Devonport is beginning to achieve the city’s vision of … "The recreation of Devonport as a distinct place in modern Plymouth; a vibrant self sustaining community; a place of real quality, variety and interest, the pride of residents, attractive to visitors and a model of 21st Century living, working and playing."[18]

The Admiralty's release of several land plots in Devonport has assisted the Regeneration project. One ex-MoD area, where new homes will be available from 2011, is the Admiralty House site at Mount Wise. Although there are pockets of regeneration work remaining to be completed, the waterfront district of Devonport is becoming one of the desired residential areas of the city of Plymouth.[19]

In 2011, the Devonport Heritage Trail was introduced, complete with over 70 waymarkers outlining the route.[20]


Devonport has its own shopping street, a railway station, a swimming pool, park and a sports ground, The Brickfields. Since 2003, it has been the home of Plymouth Albion, the city's Rugby Union club located near Plymouth City College.

Devonport is also home to the Devonport Playhouse, a theatre located in the former Methodist Central Hall in Fore Street. The space was purchased and converted into a performance venue by the Plymouth Theatre Company back in 1987.[21] It is a popular venue with the local Amateur Dramatic companies, choirs and dancing schools in Plymouth especially, since the closure of the Athenaeum in central Plymouth.[22]

UTC Plymouth is a university technical college (UTC) which opened in September 2013 near Devonport Park. The UTC is situated on the former site of Parkside Community College,[23] which closed in August 2008 due to falling enrolment.[24]

The Torpoint Ferry service across the Hamoaze (River Tamar) operates from Devonport to Cornwall.

Devonport Naval base/Dockyard has, over the years, been known as "Guz" by naval ratings. There are various explanations for the nickname: the Royal Naval Museum says it is short for Guzzle and refers to Devon cream teas.[25]

Engraving circa 1825 of John Foulston's Town Hall, Column and Egyptian Revival Library
Devonport's town hall and column in 2008

  • R. F. Scott (1968-1912, Antarctica) British naval officer and explorer, born Devonport, led the heroic but ill-fated second expedition in 1910 to reach the South Pole. [26]
  • N. T. Carrington (1777–1830), schoolmaster and poet.[27]
  • Charles Mathews, theatre manager and comic actor, lived here for several months before his death in 1835.
  • Leslie Hore-Belisha, 1st Baron Hore-Belisha (1893–1957) was born in Devonport. In the 1945 general election he stood for the seat as a National Independent candidate, but was defeated by Michael Foot. In 1954 he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Hore-Belisha, of Devonport in the County of Devon.
  • Ralph Alger Bagnold (1896–1990) was born here. He was a pioneer of desert exploration, and was the founder and first commander of the British Army's Long Range Desert Group. He also made significant contributions to the scientific understanding of desert structures.
  • Guy Burgess (1911–1963), one of the Cambridge Five spy ring that betrayed Western secrets to the Soviets before and during the Cold War, was born here.

Charles Darwin spent two months in Devonport from October 1831 waiting for the weather to improve so that HMS Beagle could begin its journey to South America. The ship finally left on 27 December and Darwin later wrote that those two months were "The most miserable which I ever spent".[28]


  1. ^ Upton, Clive; Kretzschmar, William A. Jr. (2017). The Routledge Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English (2nd ed.). Routledge. p. 351. ISBN 978-1-138-12566-7.
  2. ^ a b Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner (1989). The Buildings of England – Devon. Harmondsworth: Penguin. pp. 674–675. ISBN 0-14-071050-7.
  3. ^ "Ward population 2011". Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  4. ^ Gill (1993), pp. 168–169.
  5. ^ Gill (1993), p. 173.
  6. ^ Gill (1993), p. 201 gives the figures as: Plymouth – 16,378; Stonehouse – 3,807; Dock – 23,787
  7. ^ "Town Hall, Plymouth Dock, 26th Dec. 1823". Royal Cornwall Gazette. Truro. 3 January 1824. p. 3. Retrieved 13 August 2023. ...his Majesty has been graciously pleased to comply with the prayer of the said petition, and to direct that, on and after the 1st day of January next, the town of Plymouth-Dock shall be called and known by the name of Devonport...
  8. ^ Gill (1993), p. 203.
  9. ^ Hamilton, Dr. W. (1850). On the Vital Statistics of the Borough of Plymouth, in The London Medical Gazette Vol. XI. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans. p. 614. (online at Google Books)
  10. ^ Cholera in its Relations to Sanitary Measures, in The British and Foreign Medico-chirurgical Review. London: Samuel Highley. January 1851. p. 23. (online at Google Books)
  11. ^ "Local Government Board's Provisional Order Confirmation (No. 18) Act 1914" (PDF). The National Archives. Retrieved 30 December 2023.
  12. ^ Douet, James (1998). British Barracks 1600-1914. Swindon: English Heritage.
  13. ^ Historic England. "Scheduled Ancient Monument listing (1021287)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  14. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1001657)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  15. ^ Historic England. "Grade II listing description (1386244)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  16. ^ "Plymouth Maritime Headquarters (Mount Wise)". Retrieved 21 November 2015.
  17. ^ "Devonport conservation q" (PDF). City of Plymouth. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 August 2016. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  18. ^ "A framework for Change" (PDF). Plymouth City Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
  19. ^ "Devonport Online".
  20. ^ "Devonport Heritage Trail". Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  21. ^ "Plymouth Theatre Company :: Devonport : Plymouth :: Plymouth's Independent Theatre Company". Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  22. ^ Limited, TicketSource. "The Wind in the Willows at The Devonport Playhouse". Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  23. ^ "UTC Plymouth | University Technical College Plymouth | Parkside School Plymouth". Archived from the original on 20 April 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  24. ^ A joint statement by Plymouth City Council and Parkside Community College Archived 9 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ "Pompey, Chats and Guz: the Origins of Naval Town Nicknames". Royal Naval Museum. Archived from the original on 8 August 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  26. ^ "Captain Robert Falcon Scott".
  27. ^ "N. T. Carrington's poems". Copac. Retrieved 13 December 2009.
  28. ^ "Darwin in Plymouth". Plymouth City Council. Retrieved 29 August 2012.