The History of Plympton St Maurice


A map from 1795

The Police Station in Fore Street next to the Foresters pub. Note the policeman is wearing the Australian Style hat that was used at the time

The Old Guildhall, still present today.

Plympton St Maurice was originally called St Thomas, although when the name changed was uncertain, but it changed between St Maurice and St Thomas several times before St Maurice became more generally used. It was much smaller than St Mary being only 200 acres, however it was very much more prosperous due to the Tin trade, and has a lot more interesting early history.

The town became a borough in the 12th century, and from 1259 elected two members of Parliament. It was designated a Stannary Town in 1328, and miners from Southern Dartmoor were required to bring their ingots to a tin court in Fore street for testing and weighing. One of the Major reasons for this was the deep river which came up to the foot of the Castle. This allowed ships to take the Tin straight from Fore Street to their destinations world wide. During the 13th and 14th century, Plympton St Maurice was bigger than Plymouth and far more important as a port. There is an old ryhme which states that "When Plympton was a Busy Vale, Plymouth was a fuzzy dale". However the life blood of Plympton soon became it's poison, as the Tin Mines on Dartmoor produced a lot of silt which was was down stream, this caused the river to silt up, and took away the port. There is little evidence of the fact that there was a port here nowadays, except for the street names and the mooring points around Fore Street. The whole area of Valley road, which includes several football pitches lies on top of what was water 600 years ago.

St Maurice prospered in those early days, and the first school in Devon was built there, Plympton Grammar School, in a building that is still in a very good state of preserve. It was in the Rectory of the school that the Artist Sir Joshua Reynolds was born in 1723

Sir Joshua Reynolds

Plympton's most famous son, he became the first president of The Royal Academy, and was knighted by George III. He was a great artist, and amongst the most famous produced in England. He always maintained his links with Plympton, being the MP for the town, and the Mayor in 1773. He was also a member of the Stannary Parliament, which met on the Crockern on Dartmoor to discuss Tin Mining issues, and was probably several hours ride away in those days. He died in 1796

There were also three other famous Artists from St Maurice in the 18th Century. James Northcote (1746-1831) was a pupil of Reynolds. Charles lock Eastlake (1793-1865) also became president of the Royal Academy and was the First Director of the National Gallery in London. He painted a really famous portrait of Napoleon on the Bellerophon when the boat was moored in Plymouth. Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) was a close friend of Wordworth and Keats, (who both wrote about him), and was a leading figure in 19th century art. All three attended the Grammar School in Longbrook Street.

The constituency was deemed to be a rotten borough by many in London, which is given some credibility by the fact that Sir Christopher Wren was MP for a while, without visiting the town!

The Grammar School had to change when education became a right for all. It moved from it's premises in longbrook Street to Seymour Road in St Mary in 1937.

The Old School at the turn of the century

The Castle

Plympton Castle has had a fairly torrid history. It stands on what was probably the country's earliest British settlement. A contingent from the castle helped repel the Danes at Wembury in 851. Little resistance was offered to William the Conqueror, and It was under seige by the Sherriff of Devon under the reign of Henry III. It is unsure as to when it was actually put into the state of ruin it now stands, although it is probably due to the seige of Baldwin de Redvers by the Sherriff. However it is recorded that it was a ruin in the 16th century.

Fore Street

Fore Street

Fore Street was the main street of commerce in Plympton, with nearly every building being either a shop or a municipal building. The Guildhall was at the centre of the street, and the Police Station and Post Office were also here. The local Market was held in nearby Longcause Road, and many grand houses were situated nearby, including that of the Trebys a very prominent local landowner. (George Treby was actually Lord Chief justice of England). It was also the centre of power within the town, but was greatly in decline after the river silted up. Plympton st Maurice lost it's MPs after the reform act of 1832, and soon fell into financial difficulties. The last Mayor was elected in 1859, and was was administered by a parish council until 1967, when it became part of Plymouth along with St Mary.


Shoppers in Fore St at the Turn of the century

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