Social History

The social history collections cover many aspects of life in Plymouth, the surrounding area and beyond. There are around 5,000 items dating from the 1600s right up to the present day.

They reflect the domestic, working, religious and social life of people who have lived in, worked in or visited the city and those that still do. The collection is intended to show the continuing development of life in and around Plymouth right up to the present day.

There is a wide variety of objects from Victorian jelly moulds to 1950s gas cookers and from gramophones to a personal stereo.

Thanks to our Stories from the Stores project, we have been able to improve our documentation of this collection, even identifying objects in some cases thanks to the help of the public! Not all records are online yet, but here are just a few more examples of what we have in the collections:

Domestic and family life

Brightly coloured games boxThere are pots and pans, bottles and kettles, toys and games, beds and bed warmers, various tins including biscuit tins and chocolate tins, candle snuffers and sugar cutters, fixtures and fittings, prams and a dog cart. We also have some photography equipment.


Personal items

Red seal impressionThese include collectible items such as snuff boxes, walking sticks and writing seals.  We also have spectacles of various shapes and sizes, make-up, razors and a range of lotions, potions and creams.


Community life

Wooden mace with crestHistoric events are mostly represented by souvenirs of one kind or another, including a 1902 coronation mug and a fragment of bomb that fell on Cattedown in 1941. Some of Plymouth’s clubs and societies are represented by badges, trophies, banners and pole heads. There are also school uniforms, church carvings, fire insurance marks and staffs of office.

Local businesses and trades

Old fashioned radioWe have televisions and radios made by Bush (later Toshiba) that was based in Plymouth for 50 years, several items from a local barber’s shop run as a family business throughout the 20th century, packaging from local businesses, carpentry tools for making barrels and a large collection of printing blocks.

Coins and medals

In total there are around 4,500 coins, tokens and medals in the collection.


We have an excellent collection of British coins dating from around 1000AD, including many silver pennies minted in Devon and locally found gold coins. There is a good collection of coins from Commonwealth countries, plus some coins from the rest of the world. Additionally there are several Roman coins.


Trade tokens were used in place of official small change from the 1600s to the early 1800s. We have a particularly good collection of 17th century and 18th century trade tokens from Devon.


There are many different types of medal in the collection including military medals, prize medals and commemorative medals (mostly struck to mark significant local or nationally celebrated events). There is a large array of school attendance medals and some more unusual medals presented to local people, such as an 1815 award from Pope Pius VII and the first ever Albert Medal, awarded to Samuel Popplestone for a sea rescue.