Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: August 08, 2017
Webpage updated: May 28, 2021




The headquarters of the Marine Biological Association overlooking Plymouth Sound.
The Royal Citadel to the right of it.
From  a postcard.

The Marine Biological Association was formed in 1884 and Plymouth was chosen as the site for its laboratory and aquarium because of its rich flora and fauna. They readily accepted the site under the Royal Citadel offered by the War Department as it was possible to maintain direct salt-water contact.

A closer view of the Marine Biological Association's building.
From a postcard.

Construction of the building commenced in 1887 and the world renowned headquarters of the Association was opened on Saturday June 30th 1888 by Professor (later Sir) W H Flower (1831-1899), director of the Natural History Museum and president of the Zoological Society.  The ceremony was also attended by the Prime Warden of the Fishmongers' Company, Sir James Clarke Lawrence, a past Lord Mayor of London, as well as Mr Robert Bayly (1839-1901) and Mr John Bayly (1804-1893), of Plymouth, both governors of the Association.  After the ceremony a luncheon was held at the Grand Hotel.  

At that time there were 80 trawlers working from Plymouth averaging 43 tons.

A tank room on the ground floor became the first Plymouth Aquarium in 1888.  It was serviced by underground reservoirs that held up to 100,000 gallons of seawater, which was  continually being cleansed and pumped back into the tanks.  Initially there was no charge for entrance to the Aquarium on weekdays and Bank Holidays (it was closed on Sundays, of course!) but this changed over time as its popularity increased.  Fishermen always had free entry.

The building, which was constructed of Devon limestone, was extensively damaged during the Second World War, its position on the seafront being rather prominent, and initially it was proposed to await a new building rather than have this one repaired.  As it was envisaged that this plan would be a long time coming, it was eventually decided to repair the building an reopen the Aquarium to the public.  With new specimens having been collected by the Association's own fishing boat, the "Sabella", skippered by Captain W J Creese, and the motorboat ""Gammarus", skippered by Mr William Searle, who had been connected with the Laboratory for over fifty years, the Aquarium was duly reopened by the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Mr Isaac Foot, on November 5th 1946.

As this facility grew in popularity after the end of the War, it was redesigned and improved and re-opened again in June 1959.

The Marine Biological Association's website gives access to detailed descriptions, drawings and photographs of the facilities that existed in the old building.

The Aquarium was closed in 1998 when the National Marine Aquarium was opened.