Archives insight: Devonport 200

Archives insight: Devonport 200

1 January 2024

Did you know 1 January 2024 marks the 200th anniversary of the town of Dock (or Plymouth-Dock) becoming known as Devonport?

The Box holds a printed notice of the successful outcome of an 1823 petition to King George IV by the inhabitants of Dock and parishioners of Stoke Damerel. The King “directed that on and after the 1st Day of January, 1824, the Town of Plymouth-Dock should be called and known by the Name of Devonport…”

Local historian C W Bracken stated in 1931 that the reasons for the change of name were population growth (Dock had over 33,000 inhabitants in 1821 compared to around 22,000 in Plymouth), its importance in Naval operations; and a growth of civic pride boosted by John Foulston’s newly built town hall in Ker Street. All these encouraged people to petition the King for a “change of name which should no longer indicate subordination to Plymouth.”

A more pragmatic reason offered by the Royal Cornwall Gazette of 3 January 1824 (available online via the British Newspaper Archive) was that “many letters were daily mis-sent in consequence of being directed to Plymouth instead of Plymouth-Dock!”

Bracken goes on to state: “There was delirious excitement in the newly named township. Every home was decorated, officials and commissioners went in procession reading the proclamation from point to point, a medal was struck, poems were written, public feasts held, and general rejoicings prevailed.”

570/113 Petition relating to the change of name from Dock to Devonport. Courtesy of The Box, Plymouth.

The petition shown above is one of over 20,000 documents relating to Devonport’s history held at The Box. A selection of these will be on display on the mezzanine of the Active Archives gallery from later this month until the end of June 2024. Later this year, from October-December 2024, a much larger display of photographs, maps, plans and other Devonport-related items will be on show in the Bridge and Active Archives galleries. We’re hoping these will be co-curated with members of the community and show how Devonport has changed and developed over the last 200 years.

Devonport became a parliamentary borough in 1832 and received its borough incorporation on 13 October 1837. It received its right to hold a separate court of sessions (law court) on 30 June 1848, and its coat of arms on 6 November 1876. In 1914 the boroughs of Plymouth and Devonport and the urban district of East Stonehouse were united by Act of Parliament into one larger town. This became the City of Plymouth in 1928. Despite the amalgamation the original ‘three towns’ continue to have strong separate identities and residents are proud of their long histories.

Extract from 1819/2, grant of arms to Devonport, 1876. Courtesy of The Box, Plymouth.

One of the most beautiful items on display from January to June 2024 will be the grant of arms to the town of Devonport in 1876. The crest, pictured above, shows a naval crown, an anchor and two dolphins, reflecting the town’s strong connections to the sea. Its motto was “Prorsum semper honeste” which means “Ever forward in uprightness”.

So, join us at The Box this year to find out more about our amazing local history. Don’t forget, you can carry out your own research in our Cottonian Research Room on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Thursday and Friday afternoons and the last Saturday of each month.

Claire Skinner, Archivist