Plymouth History Festival @plymhistoryfest #phf19 4th – 31st may


Following the success of last year’s celebration of all things historical, Plymouth History Festival is set to return to the streets, parks and historical buildings of the city. Whether granting access to normally hidden areas or shining new light on familiar sights, its speakers, tour guides, workshop leaders and performers are ready to delight residents and visitors alike from 4 to 31 May.

Now celebrating its seventh year, the festival boasts a wide range of activities, many of which explore the themes of ‘Empowerment’, ‘Journeys’ and ‘The Great Outdoors’ this year. Important anniversaries linked to the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s first voyage, the women’s suffrage movement, health and wellbeing will be recognised alongside the usual focus on the city itself. Check out the website at for further details and booking information.

Local Studies Day

As always, the festival kicks off with Local Studies Day on 4 May – a full day of events celebrating Devon’s community, social and archival heritage. Speakers and specialist exhibitors will gather in the Roland Levinsky Building at the University of Plymouth for this popular event. This year the day has been organised by members of the local heritage community. They’ll also be available throughout the day to talk about their work

Historic Plympton Festival

Visitors to Plympton’s animated corner of the festival from 13 to 19 May will be treated to exhibitions about the St Maurice conservation area and Plympton’s rich history, tours of Plympton St Maurice, Plympton Priory Site and the Parish Church of St Mary, and a May Fair. Evening events include ‘Educating Plympton’, told in words and music by Sylvia Guthrig, and an evening with the Plymouth Morris Men who’ll present a lively array of songs and dances.

Living History

Age of Chivalry will be honouring all the themes of this year’s History Festival over the weekend of 18 to 19 May at Plympton Priory Site, with medieval characters recounting the stories of pilgrims, princes, noblemen and ladies.

Number 1 Depot Company will also be getting in to character. On 4 and 5 May they’ll be demonstrating the daily life of a detachment of 1890s artillery gunners, including military signalling, arms displays and demonstrations of how to fire a travelling field gun. See them in action from their 9-man bell tent outside the Liner Lookout Café on the Hoe.

Exhibitions and Displays

Over the course of the festival Royal Adelaide Art and Yoga will be housing exhibitions examining Stonehouse’s ‘100 Homes Project’, while The Athenaeum will be throwing open its doors for an exhibition that tells the story of its fascinating 200-year history. See images from Devonport Dockyard’s past at the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre, sample the ‘Outdoor Experience Collections’ at the University of St Mark and St John’s Archive and lament the mishaps of some of the people buried in Ford Park Cemetery who died in accidents involving trams, cars, trains, bicycles, fires and even lions


Producer/director Rob Giles and Professor Kim Stevenson present, discuss and screen ‘How Do You Fix A Town Like Plymouth?’ at the Plymouth Arts Cinema at Plymouth College of Art on 7 May. This biographical film depicts the life and times of Plymouth’s youngest Chief Constable, Joseph Sowerby (1892-1917), and the respect he attracted by tackling drunkenness, crime and bad behaviour.

Food and Drink

On 25 and 26 May, the Liner Lookout Café invites you to sample two historical treats: the Original Plymouth Pasty, taken from a recipe that dates back to 1510, and a Medieval Pottage Stew served with bread and cheese. The Café also hosts an exhibition of old photos of the Lookout and the Hoe on 11 and 12 May.


More than 25 talks are packed into this year’s festival, with diverse subjects ranging from 17th century British Civil Wars at sea to Nancy Astor’s take on the Suffragette movement. The line-up can be browsed via the festival website or brochure, and includes titles like ‘Rising From The Ashes’, ‘The Kosher Kitchen and Mikvah’, and ‘A General History of Ears’!


Family Fun

Most of this year’s events are child friendly, but some of them are also especially for your little ones. Young historians can shiver their timbers and yo ho ho with the motley crew at Pirates Weekend on 11 and 12 May, solve clues to win badges on a treasure trail around Devonport Park on 19 May, and find out what was happening on the day they were born at the Central Library’s ‘History Explorers’ event on 24 May.


Why not take a stroll in the company of some of the city’s finest history experts? Locations for guided walks this year include Central Park, Devonport and Devonport Park, East Stonehouse and Plymbridge Woods. Many of this year’s walks have exciting themes, such as the  ‘Lotions, Potions and Devotions’ tour on 9 May which will explore treasures from Park Pharmacy’s world of natural remedies.

The ‘Murder, Mystery and Mayhem’ walk round Ford Park Cemetery on 5 May will give an insight into the gripping and gruesome lives and deaths of its inhabitants. And if that sounds a bit too sobering, why not sing up a storm with Devonport Park Community Choir along the 2-mile ‘Singing Pub Crawl’ trail on 19 May, which will stop at all the pubs listed in the 1950s ditty ‘An Old Devonport Poem’.


‘Keeper of the Light’, a 10-30 minute performance inspired by the Eddystone lighthouses, will be debuted throughout 24 May, including entry to Smeaton’s Tower. St Andrew’s Church will host a variety of musical performances including an organ recital and string quartet. The Noah’s Ark pub will hold writing workshops and performance evenings based on the themes of this year’s festival.


Representatives from the art world will be demonstrating the impact of historical events on their work at various points during the festival. On 7 May artist Helen Snell will talk about her ‘Neogeographies’ project, a direct response to the extraordinary prints and images that documented Captain Cook’s three voyages during the 1700s. On 21 May, Bridgette Ashton will discuss her 2018 work ‘Worth’s Folly’ which commemorated the discovery of Plymouth’s Cattedown Caves in 1886.


Prepare to sneak a peek inside Plymouth’s hidden and not so hidden gems at a range of locations including Mount Batten Tower, Saltram House, the new Bridging the Tamar Visitor and Learning Centre, the Minster Church of St Andrew, the Old Jewish Cemetery, Prysten House, Plymouth Synagogue, Royal William Yard and more.

Join In!

The festival offers a wealth of support to those interested in their own place in Plymouth’s history. There will be drop-in workshops on researching family history using online and library archives at the Efford, Central, Crownhill and Devonport Libraries, with a special workshop for children at the Central Library on 24 May.

On 18 May the Lesbian Voices of Plymouth Oral Archive project invite you to Quaker House to help create a lesbian timeline encompassing events of global, national, local and personal importance.


‘Lest We Forget’, the nationwide campaign to preserve memories of the First World War (1914-18), will also be coming to libraries across the city throughout the month. You are invited to bring diaries, letters, photographs, memoirs, objects or stories about your family’s experience in the war to these digital collection days where they will be recorded and added to an online collection.

All the events in Plymouth History Festival are open to the public, but as some require booking in advance it’s worth getting hold of the brochure or heading over to the website at for full details.

You can also follow the festival on Facebook and Twitter using @plymhistoryfest – and don’t forget to tag us in your event photos using #PHF19. We’ll see you there!