Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 04, 2017
Webpage updated: March 30, 2020




The affairs of Old Plymouth were largely run from the Guildhalls until HRH the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, opened the Guildhall Square complex of buildings on Thursday August 13th 1874.   The Guildhall itself was on the southern side of the Square but opposite was an equally fine building housing the Municipal Offices.

The pre-war Municipal Offices at Plymouth.

The Borough of Plymouth's pre-War Municipal Offices in Guildhall Square.
From a postcard.

Inside the main entrance in Guildhall Square was a set of tablets indicating the way to the various local government departments.  To the right were the offices of the borough treasurer.  Stairs led up to the town clerk's office, a committee room and the office and board-room of the Plymouth School Board.  Another flight of stairs led down to the Mayor's Parlour, which was decorated with old maps, engravings and paintings of Plymouth.  One of the latter was an original portrait of Sir Francis Drake.

Beyond was the Council Chamber itself, decorated almost entirely in carved oak.  The mayor sat at one end, on a raised platform covered with a canopy.  In front of the mayor was a seat for the town clerk and in the centre of the room were two desks for a newspaper reporter and any other borough officers.   Down either side of the Chamber were rows of cushioned seats for the 48 aldermen and councillors, each with its own desk.  Above was a spacious gallery for the public, on the front of which was a large clock donated by William Moore who was to become Mayor for the next three years. 

Beneath the four large stained-glass windows was a door out on to a small gallery overlooking Guildhall Square, from which proclamations could be read and each new Mayor introduced to the population.  All this was overlooked by a life-sized statue of Drake on the apex of the Council Chamber.

The remainder of the building, towards Saint Andrew's Church, was taken up with the offices of the borough surveyor and the water surveyor, while above them were rooms used by the Chamber of Commerce and the Plymouth Debating Society.   Here, too, were rooms apparently used as living quarters by some of the Corporation officials.  At the Bedford Street end of the building visitors exited (or entered, of course) through a door in the Eagle Tower, which took its name from a massive sculpture that surmounted the spire.

In the Eagle Tower was a light which illuminated the clock of Saint Andrew's Church for the benefit of pedestrians passing by.

The Municipal Offices were burnt out during the first nights of the Plymouth Blitz in March 1941 and like the neighbouring Guildhall and Saint Andrew's Church ended as a shell of its former glory.  Unlike the other two buildings, the Municipal Offices were destined not to be rebuilt.

On August 2nd 1947 the City Engineer was given the authority 'to proceed forthwith with the construction of the east/west road [i.e. Royal Parade] and with the layout of the road junction of the east/west and north/south axis [Armada Way]'.  But the Offices were in the way of the new easy-west road and on September 15th 1947 the Council required their demolition 'at an early date'.   Work started almost immediately and on November 17th 1947 the City Engineer requested the removal of the Civic Flagstaff from Rooker's Garden in Guildhall Square.   This was later re-erected at Derry's Cross.

As a conclusion to the rebuilding of Plymouth after the Second World War, Plymouth's local government functions were moved to a new Civic Centre in 1962.