Architect: John Foulston (1821-1824)
Book: John Foulston, The Public Buildings of the West of England (1838)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library
Plymouth has been a key British naval base ever since the fifteenth century. The large dockyards were greatly extended in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries during the wars with France. The town of Devonport was developed around these dockyards. By the early nineteenth century, Devonport was important enough to merit being given its own civic centre, a project given to talented architect John Foulston (1772-1841).
Between 1821 and 1824, Foulston built a collection of buildings sampling the styles of major cultures since antiquity. Some were Classical- such as the terraced houses with Roman Corinthian columns, the Greek Doric town hall and a great Doric column. Others were more exotic - including an Egyptian library and an Indian chapel. Indian architecture became more widely known with the growing British presence there in the eighteenth century. After Napoleon’s campaign there between 1798 and 1801 Egypt became a popular source for architectural ideas.
The remarkable Devonport ensemble, shown in this engraving by Foulston (1838), no longer exists. Partly destroyed in the twentieth century through a combination of World War Two bombing, and neglect, now only the column, town hall and library – the Odd Fellows Hall – survive. Among the most remarkable of their date, the Devonport buildings deserve to be better known, and appreciated.