Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: January 24, 2019
Webpage updated: January 24, 2019




Plymouth had been surrounded by a wall from the early part of the fifteenth century at least but it is thought to have been of little significance.  When one Robert Adams was sent from London in 1591 to enquire into the defences of the town it was barely mentioned.

He designed a complete system of defence for the town, as far as it went, and in 1592 sent a report to the Privy Council in London recommending that a wall be built around the town from an existing wall and tower on the Hoe, as far as a quay belonging to a Mr Sparke at Coxside.  The eastern part of the town he left out, regarding Sutton Pool as a sufficient defence.  However, he did advise placing a boom across the entrance to the Pool.

The only reference to the eastern part of the town was to the steeple on attached to the Carmelite Friary, outside his wall, and which he suggested should be pulled down to avoid giving any advantage to an enemy.

Evidently nothing happened as in February 1593 the Mayor, John Sparke, petitioned that the wall might be built because the townsfolk had heard that the Spanish intended to burn the town the next summer.

The wall was started and was reported as going on well in May 1593.  Work must have been slow, however, because in August 1594 Queen Elizabeth asked the Earl of Bath who the contributors to the work were and why they had not given enough.

Martyn's Gate was the boundary of the existing wall, on the western shore of Sutton Pool.  This gate lay at the junction of Green with Briton Side, one arch leading from Bilbury Street into Green Street and the other into Briton Side.  The old wall ran up the line of Green Street and it is said that the Reverend Doctor Hawker, vicar of Charles Church, made it the foundation of his vicarage wall.   The gate was seen as the Old Town boundary, the residents on the outside being known as Briton Boys, which was corrupted to Burton Boys and gave their name to a pub in Briton Side.  There was an annual battle between the lads from either side of the gate.

No further work appears to have been done to the wall until the Civil War, 1641, when the townsfolk lengthened it in preparation for the forthcoming siege.  They carried the wall through the Friary Garden, around the Friary itself, to the north east corner of Sutton Pool, thereby enclosing the ground that Robert Adams left outside his wall.

R N Worth in his "History of Plymouth" describes its route: The wall in its complete state ran from Coxside round Friary Gardens, across Whitefriars (now Tothill) Lane, thence to the head of Gasking Street; nearly east and west through the gardens behind Hewer's Row, by the north side of Ham Street, through the gardens on the south of Park Street, to the head of Old Town Street just below Drake Street, up to the entrance of Saltash Street (where traces were recently discovered beneath the pavement on the west); westward along Dove's Court, the cottages next to the Ebenezer Chapel boundary, called in the deeds 'townwalls', and retaining the exact line; across what is now the Market, to the Globe Hotel; thence through Westwell Street burial ground and across Princess Square to the head of Hoe-Gate Street, and so round the Castle to Sutton Pool at the Barbican.

After the Siege was raised and the wall fell into disuse, it gradually disappeared as the town grew.