The area around Sutton Harbour is known locally as The Barbican and is a magnet for both visitors and locals alike.
This is the oldest, and most atmospheric, part of the city and, as you’ve probably already guessed, its name comes from the fortified entrance that once protected the castle on Lambhay Hill.
Both have long since disappeared, but the area is still the historical core of old Plymouth where many maritime adventures started from and returned to, including the Mayflower.
The area was the haunt of Drake, Hawkins, and Raleigh and the layout of the streets hasn’t changed that much since. It’s apparently got the largest concentration of cobbled streets in England and over a hundred listed buildings.
The houses were originally built for wealthy merchants (I prefer to call them privateers), but as time moved on they became slums. The Elizabethan House in New St which is open to the public, housed over fifty people at one time, although a house further up the street housed sixty, and they’re not large houses by any stretch of the imagination.
Eventually of course many of these buildings had to be demolished, and I’d like to be able to tell you that they were replaced with something better, but I’m afraid I can’t.
The Barbican still has plenty of character – and characters – who wander up and down Southside St (home of Plymouth Gin) and Quay Rd seeking out one of the many old pubs that do a thriving trade here, especially on a Friday and Saturday night.
One of these characters was the well-known artist, Beryl Cook whose local was The Dolphin, a pub that’s never changed ever since I’ve known it.
Another artist associated with the Barbican was Robert Lenkiewicz, a controversial painter, but very much a part of the local scene. His work was shunned by the London art establishment, but he was very popular with the local public. His topics were not to everyone’s taste, but he was a gifted artist and left behind a legacy of some public wall art in the Barbican, which shamefully, was left to deteriorate and has all but disappeared.
The Barbican is a part of Plymouth that every tourist should visit. In the daytime it’s a great place to wander around, maybe have a cup of tea at Cap’n Jaspers or see what marine life occupies the National Marine Aquarium, but the evening brings out a different crowd when the pubs, restaurants and nightclubs attract a different type of wildlife.