History Centre collections

Five historic collections will join on one site.

The South West Film and TV Archive and the South West Image Bank, together with the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office will join the historic collections which belong to the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and the Local Studies Library, on one site.

The detailed vision, form and the name for the centre is now being worked through with the partners, their staff and volunteers, all of whom hope to deliver a first class legacy project, of which all of Plymouth can be proud.

South West Film and TV Archive

SWFTA is the official Film and TV archive for the south west of England. All of their outstanding collections will be brought under the management of the Plymouth History Centre.

The unique collections include the news and programme libraries from Westward Television and TV South West, together with footage which dates back to the late Victorian era.

Supported by a large team of volunteers who catalogue, copy, digitise and manage the footage, SWFTA hopes to make more of the footage, more available to more people.

One of the most exciting aspects of the History Centre will be the combination of many rich and cultural collections brought together under one roof.

South West Image Bank

SWiB image of Southside StreetSWiB is currently the custodian of some 170 individual collections and close to one million negatives dating back to the 1870s. The archive collectively exists as the largest body of photographic records in the region.

Most of these collections are in original format ranging from glass plates, transparency negatives and slides. Included are images depicting the immediate post-war development of the city; the Western Morning News Archive with some two million images relating to civic events, transport, people, places and culture; and collections from local businesses of the past such as Dingles and Tecalemit Archives.

Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery

The Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery currently holds over 1 million artefacts, these include the Cottonian collection – works of art from all major European schools, the largest collection of Plymouth porcelain in the UK and the largest collection of human remains from a single prehistoric site in Europe from Cattedown.

With limited capacity to display and make these collections available to the public, the museum is excited by the prospect of the History Centre. Along with making their unique collections more available to the public and celebrating the rich and varied history of the city, they hope to celebrate Plymouth’s historical figures and pioneers like Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Francis Drake and Lady Astor whose achievements have a national and international significance.

Contemporary Art

As well as history and heritage, the new Centre will become a location where culture vultures and art lovers alike will flock to experience new art exhibitions, see high quality touring shows and explore Plymouth’s own collections. Plymouth City Council’s Arts and Heritage Service has always had a strong commitment to contemporary art and the development of the History Centre will enable this to continue on an even bigger and grander scale.

As a member of the Contemporary Art Society (CAS) which was formed in 1910, and as the recipient of private donations, Plymouth’s art collections include paintings and works by artists such as Alfred Wallis, a Devonport born painter, fisherman and scrap merchant most commonly associated with St Ives; David Whittaker, an artist based in Newquay whose powerful artwork is understandable when put into the context of the artist’s own gender dysphoria, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, a London-based artist nominated for the Turner Prize in 2013, included in British Art Show 8, and currently celebrated in a major exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries, London.

The Museum and Art Gallery also has textiles by Ann Sutton, who is known, internationally, for her innovative work, glass by leading British artist Stephen Newell, ceramics by Sutton Taylor who is inspired by the landscape around him and woodwork by Anthony Bryant who creates work which stretches the potential of the material to its furthest limits.

In recent years the Museum and Art Gallery’s exhibition programme has already featured widely recognised shows such as ‘British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet’ (2011), the UK’s most ambitious and influential exhibition of contemporary British art and ‘Sinopticon: Contemporary Chinoiserie in Contemporary Art’ (2012) which featured the work of 13 different international artists including Turner Prize winners.

The Museum and Art Gallery has also developed a strong track record for commissioning contemporary art and craft, often with the support of Arts Council England and other externally funded initiatives.

The service’s latest contemporary art commission is called ‘Heavy Rock’. It was produced by Plymouth-based artist, Keith Harrison and is part of the New Expressions programme.

Plymouth and West Devon Record Office

The Plymouth and West Devon Record Office holds 4,000 separate collections, dating from around 1190 through to the present day. This includes collections which are held on behalf of a group or an individual and others which have been given to the record office to hold like the civic and parish records of Plymouth.

As the principal archive repository within the Plymouth and West Devon area, the record office exists to collect and preserve historical records of the area and to promote and encourage their use by all who want to study them.

This ranges from individuals looking to explore their family history, to researchers looking for more information that will further their historical studies of a person, place or a location within our area.

Plymouth Local Studies Library Collection

View of Royal ParadeThe local studies library collection is currently accessed via Plymouth Central Library. It contains material that relates to Plymouth and the surrounding area and includes over 35,000 volumes and major country periodicals such as Devon Life and The Local Historian. Local residents and trades can be traced in copies of the Plymouth Directory and the entire GRO directory of births, deaths and marriages can be searched here from 1837 to almost current.

The local image collection is a well-known resource and complete collections of local specialist journals are useful for local, family and archaeological interest. Also of special interest are the theatre collections and the Baring-Gould collection of manuscripts of local folk-songs.

To help the History Centre tell the rich and varied history of the people of Plymouth, this collection is invaluable. It also includes newspapers dating back to 1721 and maps going back to 1643.

Devonport Naval Heritage Centre

Figurehead gallery at Devonport Naval Heritage CentreThe Devonport Naval Heritage Centre records the development of The Dockyard and Plymouth’s pivotal role in supporting the Royal Navy through major conflicts since 1300, including two World Wars. Through its collection of over 100,00 artefacts in eight galleries covering 2,500 square meters of displays, interactive experiences and pictorial interpretation the drama of the close relationship of Devonport, the Royal Navy, The Dockyard and the people of Plymouth can be explored. It is open for tours by appointment. Open Days are held at various times throughout the year and there are regular public visit sessions during the summer months too. The Plymouth History Centre hopes to be able to take loan items from the centre once it is open and will benefit greatly from having access to this historic collection.