PLYMOUTH is immortal in the annals of mankind forever. To stand on Plymouth Hoe is to see the finest spectacle on our English coast, and to feel the thrill of something eternal in our race. From the great heights of Devon the waters gather into two rivers which find their way to the sea and enfold in their arms this wondrous place that ever since we sailed the seas has meant so much to us. Drake and the Mayflowerit is enough; we have only to let our thoughts run back to the wonderful years when Drake was coming in and the Mayflower was going out. The news that Drake was home emptied the church and left the parson preaching to its pews; the news that the Mayflower was sailing made little stir on that September day, but its journey made a stir in the world which changed the course of history for all time:
O dear Plymouth town, O blue Plymouth Sound, O where in the world can your equal be found?
She is the mother of cities, and her children are gathered far and wide. They have given her name to forty Plymouths in four corners of the earth. Her fame befits her splendour, for every traveller knows that she is beautiful to see. Her name is on all our tongues, for it belongs to history. Her memory lives with all who have passed this way, for the spectacle of this town with three communities in one, this city that rises on a rock 150 feet above the waves, is one of those few sights of the world that men do not forget. Like the Statue of Liberty, the Pyramids, or the Dome of St Paul's, Nature has made her wonderful to see, and man has made her unforgettable.
Down in the narrow streets of Old Plymouth, which climb up and down with unexpected vistas and are lined by ancient houses still beautiful to see, we are in the footsteps of the bold seamen who laid the foundations of the Empire which the citadel, the arsenal, and the dockyards have been planned to defend. This seafront has a broken line of rocks, walls, forts, creeks, fleets, and shipping. Great vessels from many ports anchor daily in the Sound, which is alive with tenders plying to and fro carrying passengers and mails. Fishing boats of every kind and size crowd about the quays in early morning, bringing their abundant harvest of the sea to be delivered to the markets by road and rail.
Here life has been going on since the days before history. There were settlers here then, and it is known that the Phoenicians traded with them for tin. After them the Romans worked the tin mines and fished in these waters, and after the Romans the Saxons settled here. It was about 13 centuries ago, and they fought a great battle with the Danes at one end of the Sound. The little settlement of fisherfolk grew in numbers, and we know from written records that in Saxon days they built St Andrew's Church, which has grown until today it dominates the Guildhall Square, and is one of the architectural sights of the city that has grown up round it. The church was centuries old when the town was given a charter for a market, and it was a town with generations of history that claimed representatives in the first English Parliament. In due course they sent to represent them that man of courage Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who founded our first colony, and that man of daring Sir John Hawkins, who founded the infamous traffic in slaves. With them as a Devon man came Francis Drake, whose dazzling spirit illumined his life whether he was busy as Mayor of Plymouth or singeing the King of Spain's beard; he gave the city its water supply, and dressed the corporation in scarlet robes.
As if such men are not enough, Plymouth has the Mayflower and the Pilgrim Fathers written across its page of history, and she remembers that Captain Cook sailed from here on that immortal voyage which found Australia and claimed it for the flag. They are jewels in her crown; and yet there is another memory here which nothing can destroy, for this is the home of the most poignant hero of our race since our own century began, Captain Scott. From age to age life has been marching on round Plymouth Hoe.
This was the throbbing pulse of England during the naval wars against France and Spain till that summer's day when "Castille's Black Fleet" was sighted from the Sound and the English captains finished their game of bowls, ran down the hill, and took their ships to beat the Spaniards, made England mistress of the seas, and founded the world power that was to be hers for centuries. This place where we stand was the beginning of it all. Still on pleasant summer evenings we may find men playing bowls on the same green sward where Francis Drake was playing bowls in 1588 with Walter Raleigh, Martin Frobisher, Richard Grenville, John Davis, and Lord Howard of Effingham. Men have looked out on great spectacles in this vast expanse of Plymouth Sound in front of us. They have stood here and seen the Bellerophon in the Sound with Napoleon on board, a captive on his way to exile. They have seen Garibaldi coming as a guest of the free land which was glad to hail the man who gave the Italian people the opportunity of freedom. They have seen Catherine of Aragon come and the Mayflower go. Within these waters have been seen hosts of heroes, pageants of kings, and all the moving scenes of men coming and going through four bitter years of war. But we may think that after all these generations the vision that comes to mind as we stand on Plymouth Hoe is of a game of bowls.
The Hoe itself, a lofty plateau overlooking the Sound, with Cornwall one one side and Devon on the other, is a noble height of 40 acres of lawns set with flower beds sloping towards the city behind, with the ocean 50 yards below flowing into a basin three miles long and three miles wide, and a water area at high tide of 4500 acres. In front are these wide waters, below is the old harbour with quaint steps and narrow streets and curious houses round about it, behind us is the town with its towers and steeples, and on each side are the rivers, while all about us on the green Hoe (where archers and wrestlers were wont to measure their strength and skill and townsmen would flock in other days to see men hanged), is a group of stately monuments speaking of Plymouth and its heroic past.
We are drawn as if by a magnet to the heroic figure of Drake himself, outlined against the sky and looking out to sea, erect, alert, and bold, ready for a new adventure. He is looking from his ship on the scene of his homecoming, with rich plunder from the Spanish main, one Sunday in 1567, when the people ran out of church to welcome him; on the scene of his homecoming long afterwards, when he called from the deck of the Golden Hind to know if Queen Elizabeth was still alive. Except for a portrait in the Mayor's Parlour, a painted window in the Council Chamber, and another window in the Guildhall, this statue is Plymouth's only monument of Drake, and it is a copy of the original standing a little way from the farm on which he was born at Tavistock. It is by Sir Edgar Boehm, and shows Drake holding his compass and lightly touching the globe he spanned. It was unveiled in 1884 before 40,000 people by Lady Eliott Fuller-Drake, a descendant of Sir Francis who had his drum in her keeping, and she sat during the unveiling in a chair made from the timbers of the Golden Hind, now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The Armada Memorial close by was set up on the third centenary of the great victory. It is by Charles May, and is decorated with the arms of towns and cities which sent ships or supplies for the fleet, the stone column being crowned with a figure of Britannia on the summit, and the bronze tablet in front bearing the words, He blew with His winds and they were scattered.
Almost dwarfing the Armada Memorial is the great central monument of the Hoe, the Naval War Memorial, rising in white stone 100 feet high, and seen far away by ships in the Sound. It is by Sir Robert Lorimer, and in the style of the naval monuments at Chatham and Portsmouth. Four bronze figures at the top of the column stand for the four winds of Heaven and hold aloft a copper globe. On each of the four deep buttresses supporting the great base is a lion, and on bronze panels between the lions are scenes of naval actions in the war, the names of 7000 officers and men of the Plymouth Division who were lost at sea, and these words:
In honour of the navy and to the abiding memory of those ranks and ratings of this port who laid down their lives in defence of the Empire and have no other grave than the sea.
We wend our way from the Old Plymouth round about the Barbican to the New Plymouth round the Guildhall Square. Here is an imposing group of buildings unsurpassed in the west of England for dignity and grace. For the most part it is 19th century, but presiding over it is the stately medieval tower of St Andrew's Church, the loveliest thing in the town. The four great buildings line the square: St Andrew's east and the Post Office west, with the Town Hall on the north and the Guildhall on the south, these two blocks with a frontage of over 200 feet facing each other.
But it is as the starting-point of the Pilgrim Fathers that this spot is sacred to our race, the consecrated ground of the Enghsh-speaking peoples on both sides of the Atlantic. The first Puritan pilgrims left here for America in 1607, four years after Queen Elizabeth died, and in 1620, four years after the death of Shakespeare, the frail little Mayflower here brought its load of humanity for shelter against the storm. When they reached the shores of the New World they called their landing-place New Plymouth in grateful memory of the way they were "kindly entertained and courteously used by divers friends there dwelling." The Mayflower stone is set in the pavement of the Barbican, laid there in 1891 when descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers paid tribute to their memory on this last bit of England their feet had trod. In 1934 the Mayor of Plymouth (Sir Frederick Winnicott) gave the city a stone gateway to set up as a record of that deathless memory, and it stands by the stone as a White Gateway to the Ocean.
The thrill of history has not departed from this ancient place, for here it was that Captain Cook sailed to Australia, opening out for our race the possibilities for that unknown land across the world, and one of our ships that sailed out to Arctic regions in search of Franklin sailed from here. In our own time (in 1921) Sir Ernest Shackleton called here on his last voyage in the Quest. There is a tablet which tells us of another fateful voyage, not a departure, but an arrival; it records that the seaplane NC 4 landed here on May 31, 1919, after the first Atlantic flight from Newfoundland to England.
The King's England, Devon
(1938) by Arthur Mee. An original copyright transcription by CuriousFox, extract edited for identification purposes.