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A Brief History of Mutley Plain

Photographs supplied by City of Plymouth Library & Information Services

The historic environment is one in which we all live. In fact evidence of the past surrounds us every day. The challenge is to find the place of the past in this, our present.

Although much of Mutley's history exists today in its Victorian buildings, the area's past also lies in documents, records, photographs, newspapers, directories and maps. There is also a modern history of Mutley in the minds of all those who have passed through the Plain.

Lime trees on Mutley Plain

Geography has shaped the Mutley we know today. On the historic main route in and out of the city, Mutley became known as 'the meeting place' and, by 1591 even shaped the course of water supplies into the city. Drake's Leat (a ditch 17 miles long, 6 feet wide and 2 feet deep) brought fresh water from the moors through Mutley Plain itself and into the city.

Until the mid-1800s however, Mutley was largely open countryside. The buildings of the Plain and houses beyond are largely Victorian developments and design. As the housing area expanded in the 1850s-1870s, so did the services of transport, education and commerce.

Historic photo of Mutley Station

Although Mutley train station had been built in 1849, the area saw horse-drawn trams by 1872 and electric ones by the turn of the century.

The area's Baptist (1869) and Methodist (1881) churches were speedily established on the Plain itself and both dominated the area until the late 1970s.

Plymouth College was established in 1880 and following a history of educational establishments in Mutley (including Plymouth High School for Girls), Hyde Park School opened in 1904.

Mutley also began to develop as a shopping centre in this period. By the 1930s local firms such as Wheelers, Hardings, Park's Pharmacy and Goodbodys were already well-established.

Historic photo of Mutley Pain showing shop awnings

With the onset of war, the Plain rapidly became the city's only shopping centre with some companies even trading from local houses.

From the 1950s until today, Mutley has continued to play its historic role in local commerce, transport and education. As such, the Plain preserves its past with the ever-changing present.

Jo Loosemore City Museum, November 2001


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