The British Empire and its effect on Plymouth

Durnford Street

Durnford Street was the main thoroughfare of Stonehouse, the smallest of the three towns. It was where the well to do were based but it also developed significant military infrastructure of its own. Here you can see the Royal Marine Barracks's Entrance opening out onto Durnford Street.

Troops from the Royal Marines had been stationed in Plymouth and its neighbour, Plymouth Dock, since the formation of the Corps in 1664. Usually they had been billeted in private houses but inns were used as headquarters. Troops were frequently paraded on the Barbican, in front of the Customs House, on a piece of ground still today known as The Parade.

America's War of Independence created a tremendous increase in the number of troops and it was soon felt that a more permanent and suitable home should be found for them rather than have the men billeted as far away as Modbury and Tavistock. Being maritime troops, it was, of course, necessary that this new base should good access to the sea. At Stonehouse the Royal Navy had completed a new hospital in 1762 and a few years later the bridge across Stonehouse Creek was built, thus giving easy access to Plymouth Dock. Stonehouse seemed like an ideal place for a barracks and a site close to Mill Bay was chosen. There was only one other building in the vicinity, the Longroom, which was a popular location for balls and other forms of entertainment.

The barracks were started in 1781 on land bought from Lord Mount Edgcumbe. The design followed a pattern used elsewhere in Britain, notably Chatham, and comprised three accommodation blocks around a parade ground. The fourth side, to the west, consisted of only the Guardroom, the parade ground being separated from Barrack Street by railings. The north block accommodated the junior officers, the south block was home to the senior officers, while the men and NCOs were housed in the much larger east block. The Commandant's residence was at one end of the south block. The barracks were first occupied in 1783.

By 1803 the Longroom had fallen into disuse so negotiations were started in order to purchase the site for an extension to the barracks to free-up the barracks at nearby Millbay. There was a general fear of invasion by the French forces under Napoleon Bonaparte and once again the military forces had been increased to combat this threat. The Longroom site was subsequently acquired from Lord Mount Edgcumbe for the sum of '4,450 and in 1805 a wooden barracks was built, the original Longroom becoming a new Officers' Mess.

Tension was once again increased during the 1850s with the war in the Crimea. To provide extra accommodation the east block was extended northwards, which provided 28 more rooms of 30 beds each. This was completed in 1859. The work did not end there, however, and much other building went on, including, in 1861, the razing and rebuilding of the north block, and in 1862 the conversion of the Racquet Court into the Globe Theatre.

In 1867, the new west block was completed, giving the barracks a fine entrance on what was by now Durnford Street. This provided accommodation for six senior officers as well as offices for the Plymouth Division. Finally, a Divisional School was added in 1871, fronting upon Caroline Place.

Stonehouse Barracks has witnessed several important ceremonial occasions. In 1951 HRH the Duke of Edinburgh presented new colours to the Division and in May 1955 Plymouth honoured the Corps by granting it the Freedom of the City.

Empire in Your Backyard: Plymouth Article

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by Stephen Luscombe