Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: January 07, 2019
Webpage updated: January 07, 2019




A circus is, well, circular.  It is round.  When roundabouts in roadways were first introduced they were known as "traffic circuses".  It has therefore always been assumed that Drake's Circus, as it originally was known, but Drake Circus, as it later became, was the entire block of buildings between Old Town Street, to the left, and Tavistock Road, to the right.  In fact, that was not the case at all.  The name only applied to six shops facing southwards down part of Old Town Street.  Hardly a circus!

In the above photograph that means the two with white windows shades and all those visible on the right.  All the remaining shops in the block were in either Old Town Street, to the left, or Tavistock Road, to the right.

Drake's Circus was created as a part of street improvements at the junction of Ebrington Street and Tavistock Road.  What is in this picture Tavistock Road, where the bus is, was originally Garden Street and this was widened into a new road between 1900 and 1903.  Furthermore, both roads were two-way until circa November 1926, when the Borough Council made them one-way as an experiment.  This was evidently very successful because they were still one-way streets the twenty-five years later.  Traffic went out of town up Old Town Street and came in to town down Tavistock Road.

The six shops had so many different occupiers over the decades.

1 - 1920 - Messrs W Stidston's cafe;
1 - 1935 - Plymouth Corporation Electricity Department showrooms;
1 - 1953 - Messrs Wiseman's Wholesale Warehouse Company Limited, travel goods;

2 - 1920 - Messrs W Stidston, bakers and confectioners;
2 - 1935 - Messrs H W Sambells Limited, baker;
2 - 1953 - Messrs Le Brasseur Surgical Manufacturing Company Limited;

3 - 1920 - Messrs Chapman, outfitters;
2A and 3 - 1935 - Messrs Le Brasseur Surgical Manufacturing Company Limited;
3 - 1953 - Ms Anne Stephens, florist;

4 - 1920 - Messrs Chapman, outfitters;
4 - 1935 - Messrs South Western Dry Cleaners Limited;
4 - 1953 - Ms Anne Stephens, florist;

5 - 1920 - Messrs Hender and Son, fruiterer;
5 - 1935 - Mr A S Hearl trading as Vosper's, florist;
5 - 1953 c- Ms Anne Stephens, florist;

6 - 1920 - Mr J C Hug, bookseller;
6 - 1935 - Mr Frederick George Woodley, tobacconist.
6 - 1953 - Messrs Albert Pengelly, The Tobacnist.

Drake Chambers, the offices over the shops, were generally occupied by insurance firms like the Refuge Assurance Company limited, the Caledonian Insurance Company, the Provident Clothing and Supply Company Limited, credit drapers, and the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society, but in 1953 there were also a watchmaker, an engraver, and a jeweller, not to mention Messrs Harding and Sons Limited, house furnishers in temporary post-war accommodation.

To Plymothians the most famous thing about Drake Circus was that it was the home of the Guinness Clock, and before that, for even older Plymothians, an illuminated Bovril advert. 

The Drake Circus block shown in the last photograph above, which was taken in the 1950s, was demolished in September 1968 and replaced with a new shopping centre on two levels.  Her Royal Highness the Princess Anne officially opened it on November 16th 1971.  That block has now been replaced as well.