About Elizabethan House

The Elizabethan House is currently closed for restoration. Find out more about the restoration of the House here.

A New Street

Black and white print of an ink drawing showing a sketch of a street scene. The buildings are of stone with timber frame windows and gabled roofs.
Plymouth prospered during Elizabethan times thanks to the exploits of sea captains, merchants, fishermen and privateers. It was a time of expansion and exploration. In 1584, Mayor John Sparke approved the development of a new street on the Barbican to accommodate the men whose work and livelihoods were based around the harbour. It was called Ragg Street, after Plymouth’s connections to the international cloth trade.

The street stretched from Castle Street and its taverns, up towards the market, church and townhouses of the wealthy. Prominent people such as Sir Francis Drake, William Parker Sir John Hawkins, and visitors to Plymouth such as Pocahontas, probably walked up this street on their way to town, avoiding the muddy paths of the quayside.

A House of History

32 New Street was built just before 1600. It was a timber framed structure, with one wall of Plymouth limestone. Most likely built by the comfortably well off merchant Richard Brendon, the house was let as rooms or “chambers” for the first 200 years of its life. It was home to merchants and businessmen who wanted a space to work and rest in the heart of the bustling port.
Black and white photograph showing a woman wearing a broad rimmed hat and coat, standing in an opened window of a timber framed building.

In the Victorian era, the House was home to fishermen, watermen, washerwomen and dressmakers. By this point, New Street and the Barbican had become heavily overcrowded slums and were affected by disease and hunger. The area was said to be one of the worst affected in the country. In one year 32 New Street had 58 recorded occupants. In 1919, it was part of the Addison Housing Act’s slum clearance programme. By 1926 the owner, Mr Leaman, sold the house under a compulsory purchase order. Architect A.S.Parker spotted a newspaper article tendering for its demolition in 1926, which led to a four-year conservation campaign involving Nancy Astor and the newly formed Old Plymouth Society. This saw the house open as a furnished period house museum in 1930, when it was given the name “Elizabethan House”.

The House Today

Today, the House retains many of its original features. Its structure and layout are largely unaltered with six rooms on three different floors, white lime washed plaster walls, bare wooden floors and oak beams, along with a central newel post or ‘ships mast’. It also has a garden, on three levels, which was previously completely covered by a series of tenements. It is the ultimate representation of the city’s maritime, architectural, economic, social and political history.

The House in the Future

We hope to transform the Elizabethan House, leading visitors through an immersive, theatrical experience of visuals, sounds and smells. The vision is to create an authentic and meaningful visitor experience which connects history with the contemporary and provokes curiosity about Plymouth’s history and its place in the world. Visitors will meet past owners and residents of the house including an Elizabethan merchant, a Georgian businessmen and a Victorian washerwoman, discovering the history of the people, the house, the Barbican and Plymouth.