Plymouth History Festival


Plymouth’s annual celebration of local history is back for the sixth year in a row and runs from Saturday 5 May to Sunday 3 June. More than 100 events are taking place across the city and beyond in a wide range of venues and locations.

As well as uncovering different aspects of the city’s heritage, a number of events explore the themes of ‘War’, ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Health’, marking important anniversaries linked to the founding of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the establishment of the NHS, the formation of the RAF and the Representation of the People Act.

Special Events

Local Studies Day kick starts the festival on 5 May at the Roland Levinsky Building on the University of Plymouth’s campus. The event features a range of speakers and is a great chance to learn more about our maritime, social and archival heritage.

A number of other special events are also on offer throughout the festival. See the fantastic Saloon at Saltram House which has recently undergone conservation, or sign up for a Stand Up Paddleboard tour and take in some of Plymouth Sound’s most historic sites from the water.

The Devon Family History Society are on hand at the Plymouth Athenaeum on 9 May and the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office on 14 May to help people with their family history research. The Marine Biological Association hosts a special Open Morning on 12 May. There will also be a unique opportunity to go on board its research vessel the RV Sepia.

Enjoy a loud afternoon of cannon fire, rifle displays and more at Crownhill Fort’s popular Firepower Day on Friday 25 May or a Tea Dance at the Liner Lookout on 27 May.

Learn how women from the South West have contributed towards activism in its many forms with the Rebellious Sounds Archive listening booth on Floor 5 at House of Fraser from 26 May.



Music and Performance

Music fans can listen to a string quartet recital on 9 May, organ recitals on 16 and 23 May and a piano recital on 30 May at St Andrew’s Church. Dreadnought South West’s new play ‘The Cause’ takes place at the Barbican Theatre on 10, 11 and 12 May and imagines a meeting between suffrage leaders Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett.

Step back in time through music and words at the Lutheran Church for ‘A Day in the Life of Plympton’ on 14 May. If plays, poems, monologues and prose are your thing, you’ll be pleased to know that The Playwriters are hosting a series of events which are open to all at the Noah’s Ark. The events are inspired by the themes of this year’s festival and take place on 16, 18, 23 and 25 May and 1 June.

Take part in an evening with the Dartington Morris Dancers on 18 May at Plympton St Maurice’s London Inn. See noble knights and ladies of the court in action with the Age of Chivalry’s ‘Medieval Weekend’ at Plympton Priory on 19 and 20 May. The Medieval theme continues during the evening of 19 May with a Folk Concert at St Mary’s Church featuring instrumental music from Devon, Dartmoor and beyond.

The Music and Performance element of the History Festival programme rounds off on 31 May and 1 June with the open-air performance of the third in a series of plays about the Mayflower passengers at the Belvedere on The Hoe.


Talks are usually a cornerstone of the History Festival and this year is no exception. Festival-goers can enjoy presentations on topics as wide ranging as civil engineering, department stores, the Victorian era, the importance of Dartmoor Tin and the Plympton Stannary, kosher food, the history of the Marine Biological Association, the history of taking water from the moors, the Mayflower, U-Boats, mysterious incidents that have occurred at St Andrew’s Church, the evolution of hospitals in Plymouth since the advent of the NHS and the Plymouth Proprietary Library.

Some of the many people connected with Plymouth throughout history are also included from pirates and smugglers to William Cookworthy and the Quakers, and the Brock and Nathan families to scholar John Kitto.


If you like putting on your walking shoes and discovering a bit of history as you go there are plenty of guided walks to take part in.

‘Walks with History’ will guide people around the Royal William Yard, Mount Batten, Ford and Keyham, Devonport, the Royal Naval Hospital and the Tamar Bridge.

‘Hidden Heritage’ lead a series of walks that explore how the different areas of the city were affected by the Blitz.

Other walks take in Ford Park Cemetery, Central Park, Burrator and Drake’s Leat, Barne Barton and the Royal Citadel. A ‘Stardate 1768’ walk at Mount Edgcumbe highlights the significance of Captain Cook’s voyages.


Guided tours are another key part of the History Festival programme and this year there are audio tours of the Old Jewish Cemetery on offer as well as tours of the Synagogue, St Andrew’s Church, the Prysten House, Devonport Naval Heritage Centre and Mount Edgcumbe Masonic Hall.

There’s a range of opportunities to discover more about Plympton St Maurice’s fascinating history with tours of the town itself, Plympton St Maurice Church, Plympton Priory Site and St Mary’s Church which dates from the 12th century.


Family Events

The annual Pirates Weekend on 12 and 13 May and Lord Mayor’s Day on 26 May promise lots of family fun with nautical and dinosaur-themed activities. Why not take the children along to Devonport Park on 20 May for a Children’s Treasure Trail created by the Devon Family History Society, or Buckland Abbey where a new Drake-themed trail will be available from 2 June?

Exhibitions and Displays

Discover 175 years of the history of St Michael’s Church, Devonport on 12 May. See World War One artefacts connected to Plymouth’s Jewish congregation from 14 to 17 May at the Synagogue.

Learn more about the rich history of Plympton on 15 and 16 May at Plympton St Maurice Guildhall and on 19 and 20 May at St Mary’s Church.

Find out what life was like in Plymouth during the final years of World War I and the formation of the RAF at Ford Park Cemetery until 17 May. This exhibition will then be replaced with one that looks at 70 years of the NHS from 19 May. See works by young people that document their views about Barne Barton at the Tamar View Community Centre on 21 May. The Marjons Archives host an exhibition about 1960’s Plymouth on 24 May and students who served in the First and Second World Wars on 31 May. An exhibition at the Liner Lookout from 26 to 28 May puts the focus on Plymouth’s military history.

See new works by British painter Rose Wylie at Plymouth Arts Centre and Plymouth College of Art until 30 May or some of the many images collected by the 5th Earl of Morley at Saltram House.

An interactive exhibition about public health and personal choice curated by staff and students from the University of Plymouth’s School of Law, Criminology and Government is on display at Devonport Guildhall until 2 June.

‘The World Encompassed’ opens on this date at Buckland Abbey and celebrates Sir Francis Drake’s famous circumnavigation of the globe. There’s lots to see at House of Fraser throughout the festival too.

The ‘Lighthouses, Bridges and Breakwaters’ display is on Floor 4. ‘Plymouth – From Destruction to Construction’ can be viewed on Floor 5. ‘Maker Memories’ is on display on Floor 5 until 23 May.

For full details pick up a brochure from the Tourist Information Centre on the Barbican, the Community Hub space on Floor 5 of House of Fraser plus other outlets across the city.

You can also find the full programme online at