Foulston’s ‘picturesque group’ also included Devonport Column, the Egyptian style Oddfellow’s Hall and Mount Zion Calvanist Chapel (now lost).
Originally called Plymouth Dock, Devonport was independent from the town of Plymouth. At one point, the population of Plymouth Dock had actually outgrown that of the town of Plymouth. The docks and the presence of the Royal Navy had turned Devonport into a bustling town, rich in workers, officers and money!
To reflect the town’s growing importance the people of Plymouth Dock petitioned to King George IV to have the name of the area changed to Devonport. The confidence and success of Devonport in this era was reflected in the architecture of its buildings.
The town’s wish for recognition, and a new name, was granted in 1824 and Foulston was commissioned to build Devonport Column as a commemorative monument to the founding of Devonport as an independent town.
Completed in 1824, Foulston’s Guildhall was the heart of historic Devonport. The Guildhall acted as the municipal centre of the town: The Main Hall was the location of the Magistrate’s Court and featured removable fixtures and fittings so it could be transformed for social events such as dances and celebrations. The Mayor’s Parlour was home to the Lord Mayor of Devonport, whenever he was in residence for regular court hearings and weekly magistrate meetings.
Crime and punishment is a theme you can trace throughout Devonport Guildhall. Down in the underbelly of the building you will find the cells – used as holding cells for those attending court hearings in the hall above and as overnight confinement for cases of ‘intoxication’ and ‘aggravation’. At the rear of the building there was also a police station, home to the Devonport Borough Police Force. Police were still resident at Devonport Guildhall after the unification of the three towns and remained based out of the building until the early 1960s.
Also worth note is the Guildhall’s mortuary, featuring four walls of top to bottom period tiling, now protected for their historic significance.
Despite an incredibly prosperous time in the 19th century, Devonport’s fortunes changed when the three towns (Devonport, Stonehouse and Plymouth) joined to create the city of Plymouth. Following the amalgamation Devonport Guildhall slowly became unfit for purpose as larger and grander buildings were erected throughout the new city. It was neglected and fell into disrepair.
Over the years, many tried to salvage the building. The best attempt came in 1986 when it was refurbished and re-opened; housing the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Devonport Library, a playgroup, cafe and sports hall. However, the sheer size of the building meant that it couldn’t be sustained and cared for, and it was eventually closed once more.
Preservation prevailed and in 2009 the Real Ideas Organisation (RIO) was awarded a £1.75 million Community Assets Grant and began the careful and painstaking restoration of Devonport Guildhall to its former glory. RIO worked closely with Plymouth City Council, HM Government and the former Devonport Regeneration Community Partnership to ensure the Guildhall was renovated with the local community in mind and is now a thriving social enterprise and community hub. The main hall still hosts events, celebrations and dances, but the police station is now RIO’s office and the cells contain exhibits of artwork, not prisoners! And the morgue with its pretty period tiles is now the cute and quirky home to our artisan baker Toby, who cooks up delicious homemade treats in the Column Bakehouse to feed visitors and to cater to events within the building.
Built in 1824 by architect John Foulston, Devonport Column was erected to celebrate the founding of Devonport as an independent town.
Grade I listed, the Doric Column was completed in 1827 and has an internal staircase of 137 steps leading to a 124ft high public viewing platform. During the 19th and early 20th century the Column was a popular attraction, offering unrivalled views across the city and the Sound for just 1 shilling. Today 1 shilling would be worth around £3.50, so when you pay your £2.50 to visit the Column, you will be paying considerably less than those who visited over 185 years ago!
Devonport Column was closed to the public from the start of the Great War in 1914 until 1920. During WWII it served as a post for fire watch duties – one policeman at the top and another at the bottom to relay messages.
Public access was restricted in the late 1950s for safety reasons and it was finally closed in the 1990s.
Following the regeneration of the adjacent Devonport Guildhall (2009/10), RIO secured a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £685,000 to restore the Column and bring it back into community use. Work began in 2012 and the Column was formally opened in May 2013. It is now one of very few commemorative columns that the public can still visit.
A new self-guided audio tour has been launched, enabling customers to tune in and learn all about the history of the Guildhall and Column.