Plymouth to reopen Elizabethan House museum

£2m restoration will finish in 2020

Plymouth City Council is to restore the Elizabethan House at a cost of £2m.

The historic property in New Street, which is currently closed, will be re-opened as part of the city’s celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower in 2020. It had been operating as a museums but was declared unsafe and closed in 2016.

Now the council will restore the building to “provide a community, education and leisure facility of significant national standard.” As part of a Mayflower trail, with links to the Mayflower Museum.

The council hopes the 2020 Mayflower events will support the growth of marine and related industries, tourism and the culture of the city, and raise its global profile and reputation.

It is contributing £1.3m towards work on the Elizabethan and Merchant’s Houses from a £5m fund for Mayflower 400 projects.

The Elizabethan House signified the prosperity of the port city, and in 1584, Mayor John Sperkes approved the development of a new street on The Barbican to accommodate the men whose work and livelihoods were based around the harbour. The first recorded occupant of the Elizabethan House at 32 New Street was William Hele who bought the property from a merchant called Richard Brendan in 1631 for £150. During the rest of the 17th and 18th centuries the house had a number of different occupants, most notably around 1746, the London Company of Merchant Ventures who were developing and exploring the fishing grounds of Newfoundland.

Today, the Elizabethan House is a rare surviving example of its time and still retains many of its original features. Its structure and layout are largely unaltered with seven  rooms on three floors, white lime washed plaster walls, bare wooden floors and oak beams which may have been salvaged from a ship, and a central newel post which was once a ship’s mast. The house has been built with local materials including limestone, slate and oak and the furniture contained within it reflects the original functions of the different floors (working and cooking on the ground floor, entertaining and dining on the second floor and sleeping and privacy on the top floor).

The kitchen at the house has been revamped and now contains recreated cooking and eating equipment and furniture. The items on display have been chosen thanks to information from archaeological finds particularly from excavations at Castle Street and Lambhay Street (1959 to 1969) and an inventory of the estate of Humphry Gayer, a merchant who lived during the same period as William Helle and who probably knew and socialised with him.

In January the Elizabethan House it was awarded a development grant of £142,000 as part of a £656,100 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund. Another £110,000 is coming from Historic England, the Coastal Revival Fund and the Pilgrims Trust.



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