Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: November 13, 2019
Webpage updated: March 29, 2020




The Young Men's Christian Association was founded in 1844 by Mr George Williams, a partner in the drapery business of Messrs Hitchcock and Rogers situated in Saint Paul's Churchyard, London.  By 1855 there were Associations all over Europe and the British Colonies and the first international conference was held that year in Paris.  He was knighted in 1894 in recognition of his work.

The Plymouth YMCA in Cobourg Street.
From a postcard.

It was Mr Alfred Rooker who brought the YMCA movement to Plymouth, when he called a meeting on Monday January 17th 1848 to discuss the matter.  Mr Rooker also instigated the Devonport YMCA.

The original premises in Plymouth were in Frankfort Street but in 1872 it was moved to Union Street and then again, in 1880, to Bank Street.

On Wednesday October 5th 1887 Mr Williams visited Plymouth to open the new YMCA building at 14 Bedford Street, on the corner Westwell Street.

Earlier that day, at around 11am, he had attended the first conference of the newly-formed south western district.  This was held at the Saint Andrew's Hall and brought together representatives from Bristol, Exeter, Sidmouth and Totnes in the east and Redruth and Penzance in the west.  Then at 2pm they all gathered at the entrance to the new building to witness the opening ceremony.  After the singing of the hymn "All People That on Earth Do Dwell", accompanied by Mr H Gratton Guinness on the silver trumpet and Mr Roberts on the harmonium, there were prayers and speeches.  The chairman told how the site had been purchased for 3,750 and Messrs Snell and Reed had been engaged to design the new building.  The foundation stone had been laid in January by the Lord Bishop of the Diocese.  Many local tradesmen were thanked for their support, Messrs Page and Son, in particular.  A Mr Goulding had presented the clock, Mr Reed had given the plate glass for the windows on the second floor, and Mr J Kinton Bond had donated many engravings to adorn the rooms.  Mr Williams was then presented with an engraved key, the gift of Messrs Searle and Son, of Bedford Street, and the building was duly opened.

The following year, the Plymouth YMCA took over the Kitto Institute in Stillman Street.

Sometime after 1880 a branch of the Plymouth Association was opened at Laira, on the south side of Old Laira Road between Gordon Place/Railway Cottages and Alvington Terrace.  It was certainly in existence by 1897 but was closed by 1935.

During the Great War the Association opened a Servicemen's hostel at numbers 100, 101, and 102 Union Street, Plymouth.  This afterwards became the United Service Men's YMCA and Institute, of which Mr George Ashton Hender was the secretary.  This was well placed as next door was Mrs Florence Mortimer's refreshment rooms.

Her Royal Highness the Princess Helena Victoria officially opened the new YMCA building at 104 Old Town Street on the afternoon of Tuesday December 7th 1920 in the presence of the Mayor of Plymouth, Mr W S Knight.  At a luncheon held in Goodbody's Cafe before the ceremony, it was revealed that the old Bedford Street premises had been sold  for 20,500 and the new building had been purchased at a cost of 11,400.  Only one third of the new premises had been put in order and that had already cost 23,000.  However, the residential home was at 13 Lockyer Street, where Mrs Stockwell was the matron.  They also ran the Kitto Institute in Palace Street.  Mr T D Johnston was the general secretary at that time.

During the night of Saturday March 8th 1941, the YMCA's air raid shelter at Lockyer Street got hit and killed 26-years-old Doris Ilka Southern, who was resident at 5 Alfred Place, nearby.  She was the wife of Sergeant Edward Southern of the Royal Artillery.  Also perished during that incident were their 15-months-old sons, Anthony Martin Southern and Michael Abraham Southern and four-years-old daughter, Ann Elizabeth Southern.  The boys were presumably twins.

But a more destructive incident took place during the first night of the Plymouth Blitz, Thursday/Friday March 20th/21st 1941, when the whole of the City Centre was set ablaze.  The Association's headquarters in Old Town Street was destroyed, the last man to leave the burning building being the general secretary, Mr Thomas D Johnstone.  The residential hostel in Lockyer Street was hit and the following lost their lives:

Staff -

Florence Ainsworth, aged 51;

Minnie Catherine Cook, 18;

Beatrice Sarah Hart, 25, of 115 King Street, Plymouth;

Mona Hayne, aged 25;

Winifred Pearl Lawrence, 28, whose mother lived in New Street, Plymouth;

Residents -

Gerald Wilmot Laity MIEE, aged 20, from Saint Ewe, near Mevagissy, Cornwall;

Ivor George McKinley, 21, the son of George William and Edith Emily McKinley of 13 Copeland Avenue, Peckham, London;

Robert Francis Turquand-Cobby, DCM and Croix de Guerre with Palm, aged 45, the husband of Ruth Esme Turquand-Cobby, of 43 Belmont Road, Saint Andrew's Park, Bristol.  His death is recorded as March 21st 1941.

Visitor -

James Kelly Cook, 54, and Harriet Ermyntrude Cook, 52, the parents of Minnie Catherine Cook, above.  They staying at an apartment in 5 Alfred Place, Citadel Road.  The YMCA also record the death of a Mary Cook(e) during that raid;

Elsie Vivian Taylor, 30, the wife of Mr C L Taylor, of 13 Lockyer Lane;

It is not clear whether these people were resident in the hostel, or were in the YMCA's shelter, or just happened to be in the area of the YMCA when the bombs fell.

For the remainder of the War the YMCA was housed at Peverell Park Villa, the home of Mr Henry Hurrell JP, in what was then Tavistock Road at Peverell Corner.  It fitted in well with the Doctor Barnardo's Home next door at Welby and the Saint Gregory's Church of England Home for Waifs and Strays at Highbury, on the corner with Ham Lane.

During the Second World War the YMCA along with some 30 other organisations operated mobile canteens, some of which ventured out on to Dartmoor to search out those taking shelter away from the City.  It was reported by the Western Evening Herald that to ensure a steady supply of milk to the City, farmers were calling their cows to milking much earlier than they used to.

After the War, in June 1946, they took over the Hoe Mansions and the Cobourg Memorial Hall in Ebrington Street.

During the 1950s Plymouth City Council let Boxhill House at Pennycross to the YMCA for use as a youth centre.  This also became the home of the revived 15th Plymouth (YMCA) Scout Troop in 1959.

The new YMCA in Cobourg Street was opened by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh on Wednesday May 14th 1958.  It had 102 bedrooms and the restaurant boasted waitress service.  The upper four storeys were let to the Legal and General Insurance Company.

A room at the Plymouth YMCA.

A room at the YMCA.
From a postcard..

The restaurant at the Plymouth YMCA.

The restaurant at the YMCA.
From a postcard..

When the old Kitto Centre in Stillman Street was demolished by the City Council in 1970 as part of the reconstruction of the area, the YMCA were allowed to demolish Boxhill House to make way for a sports centre, which was opened in 1974.  It was replaced by the present Kitto Centre in 1990.

Women were allowed to join the YMCA from 1971 onwards.

It is believed that the Young Men's Christian Association vacated the building in Cobourg Street on or about September 1st 2006.  It was demolished in 2014/15.

The incorrectly-named "Beckley Point" (it should be Beckly Point as it is named in memory of Mr John Henry Beckly and Mr William Edwin Beckly, both prominent citizens involved with the Methodist Church and the Young Men's Christian Association in Plymouth.) was built on the site.