History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Connections with Sir Francis Drake and Katherine of Aragon
The story of Plymouth Minster is a mix of ancient roots and modern tumult. The origins go back to the 8th century, when a small group of Christian settlers set up a religious community on a hill overlooking Sutton Harbour. They built a farmhouse, and a small church nearby. The church later became what we know as St Andrews, and the community is no longer called Sutton, but was combined with neighbouring villages to form the town of Plymouth.
The right to appoint the vicar of the church was later granted to the Prior of Plympton, which was founded by King Edgar in 961AD. The earliest record of a named priest dates to shortly before the year 1100AD, during the reign of William II.
In 1390 a south aisle was added to the chancel by John Edenes, but beginning around 1430 a new north aisle in Perpendicular style was begun. Around 1460 the beautifully decorated west tower was built. This was a joint project between the town of Plymouth, which gave the materials, and a merchant named Thomas Yogge, who paid for the labour. Yogge also paid for a new Lady Chapel on the north of the church. With all the 15th century work carried out on St Andrews, what we see today is almost entirely Perpendicular in style. In 1501 Katherine of Aragon, on her way to England to marry Arthur, Prince of Wales, landed at Plymouth after a difficult voyage across the Channel. She went in state to St Andrews to give thanks for her safe arrival.
One of Plymouth's most famous sons, Sir Francis Drake, had rather a more pleasant arrival. He sailed back into Plymouth from his successful voyage to Nombre de Dios on Sunday, 9 August, 1573. When news of his arrival reached St Andrews there was a service underway, but the congregation left the church and sped to the harbour to welcome Drake home.
St Andrews was restored in the early 19th century by John Foulston, and again in 1875 by the ubiquitous Sir George Gilbert Scott, but it was the final restoration that shaped the Minster we see today.
For indeed, this fine church has risen, like a phoenix from the ashes. From 1942-1949 it was a 'garden church', a roofless space with regular outdoor services during the summer months. After the war a new restoration project was undertaken under the direction of architect Sir Frederick Etchells, and St Andrews was re-consecrated on St Andrew's Day, 30 November, 1957. Finally, in 2009 St Andrews was officially named a minster church, and it is the largest parish church in Devon.
The oldest intact part of the Minster cannot be found inside the church at all, but to the north, where the late 15th century building known as Prysten House stands, relatively untouched by time despite the destruction meted out on the main church building. Prysten House, also known simply as The Abbey, was built by the Priory of Plympton as a lodging for the priest serving St Andrews and the nearby church of St Katherine upon the Hoe. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries the building was sold into private hands, and was used for a time by a grocery company. In 1919 it was repurchased by the church as a hall and chapter room for church administration.
The American Connection
The main entrance into Prysten House is known as the Door of Unity, in honour of the close connections between Plymouth and the United States. The mst obvious connection, of course, comes from the fact that the first 'Pilgrim Fathers' sailed from Plymouth, but there is another, lesser known connection, symbolised by the simple white memorial set into the wall of Prysten House. The memorial is to Captain William Allen and midshipman Richard Delphey, American sailors killed in action during the closing stages of the War of 1812. The sailors were serving with an American ship that engaged with a British naval vessel outside Plymouth. Delphey died in the battle, while Allen survived for a brief time and was treated by a British surgeon named George Magrath. Both Magrath and the people of Plymouth treated the Americans kindly, and naval troops stationed in Plymouth buried the pair at St Andrews with full military honours. In 1930 a permanent memorial was set up by the American organisation, 'Daughters of 1812', with an inscription gving thanks for the 'humane and chivalrous action of the English people'.
Visiting Plymouth Minster
When I visited St Andrews a very friendly volunteer guide attached himself to me and explained the history of the site and pointed out interesting bits of the building. He told me that when the German bombs hit in 1941 he was a small child, living only a few blocks away. He recalled the noise, and plaster falling off the ceiling of his bedroom. In a very matter-of-fact voice he told me that his uncle was killed in the bombing. He didn't show any anger or resentment, he just told me what happened, and recalled how the streets were filled with rubble after the bombs had stopped. Clearly, though the church has been restored and is now a beautiful, spacious building, filled with light, the memory of those terrible events and the aftermath of the bombing have left their mark on the people of Plymouth. It is hard to visit a church like Plymouth Minster and not be moved.
About Plymouth Minster
Address: Royal Parade, Plymouth, Devon, England, PL1 2AD
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: In the heart of Plymouth, on the eastern side of Guildhall Square. Served by many bus routes to Royal Arcade. Paid parking within a short walk. Usually open daylight hours.
Website: Plymouth Minster
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Merchants House Museum - 0.1 miles (Museum)
Elizabethan Gardens - 0.3 miles (Garden)
Royal Citadel - 0.4 miles (Historic Building)
Mount Edgecumbe House and Country Park - 1.9 miles (Historic House)
Saltram - 2.7 miles (Historic House)
Antony House - 3.9 miles (Historic House)
Wembury Old Mill - 4.3 miles (Historic Building)
Rame Head Chapel - 5.3 miles (Historic Church)
Nearest Accommodation to Plymouth Minster:
Nearest Self Catering Cottages
Nearest Bed and Breakfasts
Plymouth (Plymouth Mayflower)
Tourist Information Centre
Plymouth Mayflower Centre
3-5 The Barbican
Tel: 01752 306 330
Fax: 01752 306 333