Plymouth’s Origins and Layout

The Tamar Bridges

Plymouth's Origins and Layout


To understand Plymouth better it’s worth knowing something about its geography and background.

The city as we know it today is situated between the mouths of two rivers – The Tamar and The Plym, which meet up in Plymouth Sound, a bay protected from the elements of the English Channel by a Breakwater.

The city of Plymouth is actually made up of four separate towns – Plymouth, Stonehouse, Devonport and Plympton.

In medieval times Plymouth was just a small farming and fishing settlement, Stonehouse was of no significance, and Devonport didn’t even exist. Plympton, on the other hand, was one of the four influential stannary towns of Devon involved in the production of tin (the others being Tavistock, Ashburton, and Chagford).

Paradoxically, it was tin that was Plympton’s downfall due to sediment from the mining industry silting up the River Plym. Plympton’s loss was Sutton’s gain however, as being at the mouth of the river it didn’t suffer the same problems, and as if to reinforce its importance, Sutton changed its name to Plymouth.

Trade increased, and by the 16th century Plymouth became Devon’s most important naval port as well. As the Royal Navy grew so did the need for bigger and better facilities, and during the 18th century new docks were built at Stonehouse and Plymouth Dock, which changed its name to Devonport in 1824.

In 1914 Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport combined together to form the single county borough of Plymouth, and in 1928 it was awarded city status.

Plympton (along with Plymstock) was incorporated into the city boundary in 1967, and although Plympton St. Maurice is still at the heart of old Plympton, extensive modern development has turned it into a rather nondescript suburban dormitory town.

The River Tamar emerges from the ground about 6 miles from the North Cornish coast and almost makes Cornwall an island as it forms virtually the whole boundary between Devon and Cornwall.

Two bridges cross the Tamar from Plymouth into Cornwall. The modern road bridge and Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s famous railway bridge.


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