About the Plymouth Barbican Trust

The Plymouth Barbican Trust (formerly Association), a charitable trust, which looks after some twenty historic properties in the old quarter of the city of Plymouth, was one of the first bodies of its kind to be formed and to date has been one of the most successful.

It was founded by a nucleus of young, primarily mid-thirty year-old Second World War veterans who, returning to Plymouth after military service, were dismayed to find their badly bomb-damaged home town being further destroyed by a desperate City Council.

The City Fathers, anxious to speed up the process of re-housing the local population (thousands of homes were destroyed in the Blitz of Plymouth), were happy to take government subsidies even in cases where it meant demolishing Tudor and Jacobean properties that had survived the war. As part of a ‘slum-clearance’ programme these particular buildings were deemed to be no longer suitable for habitation.

In the ten years or so following the end of the war the Corporation were responsible for pulling down more sixteenth and seventeenth century houses in Plymouth than had been destroyed by the Luftwaffe.

A number of people, many ex-servicemen back in civvy street working as solicitors, surveyors, accountants etc. (and supported by various women, including former Devonport MP, Lady Nancy Astor), challenged this destruction and after numerous press articles, meetings and campaigning conducted through the Press, the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Old Plymouth Society, the Plymouth Barbican Association was formed.

The City Council agreed to make buildings in historic New Street and Looe Street available provided that they weren’t used for accommodation and provided that the Association could provide financial guarantors for £100,000 – a massive sum in 1957.

Happily – and perhaps surprisingly from the City Council perspective – those guarantors were found in the shape of: Jim Woodrow (managing director of Blight and White steel fabricators); Humphrey Woollcombe (solicitor); CP Brown (director of Brown, Wills and Nicholson food wholesalers) and Gerald Whitmarsh (accountant).

Over the last fifty years the Association has gone from strength to strength, their property portfolio has increased, all of the buildings have been refurbished, some several times, and all of them kept in line with modern practices and building legislation.

In 1970, as part of the Mayflower 350th Anniversary, the Association created the delightful Elizabethan Gardens at the back of their New Street properties (open free to the public all year round).

The South West Image Bank was set up by the Plymouth Barbican Trust in 2007 in celebration of their own 50th Anniversary, and, again as part of their 50th Anniversary, they commissioned ‘Plymouth’s Historic Barbican’, a 176-page picture-laden tome chronicling the preservation and salvation of the Barbican’s historic buildings over the last 150 years.

The book, written by Plymouth historian Chris Robinson, who is also a Director of the Trust, was launched in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Plymouth and all of the directors, including one of the original founding members of the Trust, Peter Stedman who sadly passed away in 2009.

Happily the City Council now embrace almost all of the ideals of the Plymouth Barbican Trust and the future for the area would appear to be secure, however, without the efforts of the PBA it would undoubtedly have looked very different today – essentially it would have become a 1950s housing estate with just a handful of old buildings – a far cry from the enchanting mix of ancient properties that line the greatest area of cobbled streeting in Britain.


Further Links:

- About SWiB
- The SWiB Team
- Policies/Credentials
- Feedback
- Acquisition and Preservation
- Cataloguing and Scanning
- Digital Restoration
- SWiB Outreach and Learning
- Access and Enquiries


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The Plymouth BARBICAN Association Limited
Charity Registration No. 203774
Company Registration No. 593444


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