A Brief History of Plymouth

Plymouth stands between moorland to the north and the English Channel to the south, and is flanked by the river Plym to the east and the river Tamar to the west. The Tamar also forms a natural border between the city in the county of Devonshire, and the county of Cornwall.

The origins of Plymouth can be traced back to Saxon times, more than a thousand years ago, and its history very much reflects its maritime location. Farmland on a small peninsula at the mouth of the river Plym, referred to in the Domesday Book in 1086 as Sudtone, meaning South Farm, developed into Sutton Harbour, the hub of medieval Plymouth. The earliest record of cargo leaving Plymouth dates from 1211, and for the next two centuries trade through Plymouth flourished, particularly during the 100 Years War with France.

Plymouth's importance both as a community and a port accelerated during this period. In 1254 its town status was recognised by Royal Charter, and in 1439 Plymouth was the first town in England to be granted a Charter by Parliament. Trade with other English regions, the Baltics and Northern Europe expanded, whilst fortifications were built up to repel repeated French incursions.

During the next three centuries Plymouth established its reputation both as a centre for voyage and discovery, and for its military importance. Transatlantic trade originated with William Hawkins in 1528. His son John laid the foundations of an organised naval force.