Active Archives

Active Archives

This gallery illustrates key episodes in the history of Plymouth using the gems of our archival collections.

Enter the gallery through an Elizabethan doorway and transport yourself into the influential local seafaring community of the sixteenth century. Come face to face with Queen Mary through Plymouth’s oldest original and illuminated charter, dated 1554.

Here you can also learn the history of the Elizabethan House still in existence on New Street, aptly, one of Plymouth’s oldest streets. Using documents from the Archive collection you can discover the names of former residents and piece together the history of this important house.

From more recent history, find out how the city was destroyed in the Second World War and was then rebuilt to a radical new plan. Stop to imagine what life was like for Plymothians during the war through objects such as the baby’s gasmask and an incendiary bomb. Find out if your house or street was damaged or destroyed during the war by using the interactive Bomb Book which records the location of every high-explosive bomb dropped on the city. The human cost of the air-raids is recorded in the harrowing civilian roll of honour which lists the names of all local people killed in the city.

Our local history is also told through the evolution of Union Street, originally constructed to link Plymouth by road to Stonehouse and Devonport. Once an open marshland, the origin of this iconic and famous street is profiled through our archive, art and natural history collections.

Your research

Beyond showcasing Plymouth’s history, the Active Archives gallery provides you with resources to begin or continue your own research.

The large interactive map table contains hundreds of historic maps which chart the growth of the Plymouth and the surrounding area from the sixteenth to twenty-first centuries. Explore the city through a series of key buildings and localities or use the map table as a comprehensive resource to access three key series of Ordnance Survey Maps, including town plans, dating from the 1890s to 1930s.

Part of the Local Studies collection is housed in this gallery, enabling deeper research into aspects of local or family history. Use our selection of local directories, reports, and newsletters to help reveal the history of your house and local community. The collection is wide-ranging and covers many subjects of local history, such as the expansion of the railway through to histories of individual parishes, buildings and people.

To continue your own exploration you can access the Archive collection available from The Cottonian Research Room.

More permanent galleries

Mammoth Gallery | Discover | The Box Plymouth


Naval Figureheads | The Box Plymouth


100 Journeys | The Box Plymouth

100 Journeys