Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: October 08, 2021
Webpage updated: October 08, 2021





Fore Street, Plympton Earle, with the Guildhall on the left.
Note the workmen and the horse and cart.
Messrs F Frith and Company.

Otherwise known as number 42 Fore Street, Plympton.

Mr J Brooking Rowe FSA FLS (1837-1908), author of "A History of Plympton Erle", published in 1906, thought that perhaps Plympton's first Guildhall was erected in the thirteenth century, shortly after receiving Baldwin de Redver's charter.

The ancient and imposing frontage of the Plympton Guildhall, Plympton Saint Maurice.

The ancient and imposing frontage of the Plympton Guildhall, in Plympton Saint Maurice.
From a postcard.

In 1602 Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) granted the Town a Royal Charter which stated that 'the borough town of Earls Plympton should remain forever a free borough town with a corporation consisting of Mayor, Bailiff and Burgesses.   As it turned out, "forever" lasted for only 365 years.

In 1692 the Mayor was empowered to hold a Civil Court in the Guildhall every Monday.  

The present building bears the date 1696 and the arms of Sir George Treby (1688) and and Sir Thomas Trevor (1692).  Both were Members of Parliament for the Borough, with Sir Thomas Trevor replacing Sir George Treby when the latter was made Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in 1692.  Upon the death of Sir George, Sir Thomas succeeded him as Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.

Considerable alterations were made to the building at the end of the 17th century, when two lock-ups were added and the roof closed up with a ceiling.  In 1788-89 the building was altered and improved at a cost of 256 10 shillings.

Mr Rowe described the Guildhasll prior to 1862 as: 'It had a high opened timbered roof, and occupied very nearly the space covered by the present large hall.  The upper (north) end was raised, and there was a dais with seats for the mayor, or presiding officer, and the bailiff and aldermen, approached by a low flight of steps.  Below this bench was an enclosure, with a desk for the town clerk or clerk to the justices, and a table with seats around it for others attending.  This was raised above the level of the ground.  Then came, at a little lower level, an open space, unseated, separated from part just described by a bar, for the general public.  This was paved or pitched, the upper parts having a wooden floor.  There was oak panelling around the walls.'

During 1860 the Aldermen and Councillors decided to stop electing a Mayor and the Guildhall, along with other Plympton Corporation property, was conveyed by deed to a group of trustees.  The building by then was by all accounts in a very poor state and as neither the Corporation nor the trustees had the money to renovate it, a limited liability company was created, with a capital of 500 in 1 shares.  Only 450 shares were taken up but with the addition of 50 from the members of the Corporation and the trustees and other smaller donations from members of the public, the Company was soon able to employ a Plymouth architect to draw up plans.

The renovation was carried out in 1862 and involved doing away with the court, the lock-ups and some smaller offices on the ground floor, leaving only the Council Chamber and the granite arcade intact.  Rooms for a caretaker were added to the front, which was brought out to the same line as the house next door.  A large hall capable of seating 300 people was erected at the rear, complete with musicians' balcony.

It was during this renovation work that the old and rather dilapidated Sedan chair that had been kept at the Guildhall disappeared.   The old bell from the turret would have gone the same way had it not been rescued by Mr J Brooking Rowe.  The town stocks were removed to the Grammar school for safety but disappeared from there when the master's house was being rebuilt in 1870.  The three Borough maces were removed to the Church and placed in the charge of the churchwardens.  It was at this time that a self-portrait of Sir Joshua Reynolds, displayed in the Guildhall, was sold to the Earl of Egremont for 150.

After about forty successful years in use as a concert hall and meeting place, during which a small dividend was paid to shareholders, it eventually hit repair problems again in 1902.  The Company had no money so it was decided to forfeit the lease but unfortunately the trustees were all dead by now.  A new scheme was devised with the sanction of the Charity Commission and the property was conveyed to new trustees appointed by the Plympton St Maurice Parish Council.  The renovation work was completed in 1903.

The top photograph shows that the Police Station stood to the west of the Guildhall until it was replaced in 1937 by the new Police Station and Courthouse in the Ridgeway.