A Tour of Elizabethan House, Plymouth

I was kindly invited to attend a guided tour of Elizabethan House before its reopening, however all views are completely my own. Thank you to The Box, Plymouth for inviting me. 

You'd think, after a lifetime of visiting Tudor houses around the country, that by now I'd be used to it. But nope, I boarded the 7.05am train to Penzance on a cloudy Monday morning with sparkling eyes (it wasn't just the coffee) and butterflies in my tummy. 

Elizabethan House, used with permission

Elizabethan House dates to the late 1500s and is reopening after a £1.7m refurbishment following a 5-year closure. It's just off the Barbican Waterfront, on New Street's narrow, cobbled path. At the time it was built, residents of Plymouth would have known a bustling port with ships' masts piercing the sky and traders offloading cargo as the seagulls squawked above. Sir Francis Drake was a regular and just two decades later they would have waved off The Mayflower as it set sail for the New World.

Elizabethan House, used with permission

I was led by head curator Hannah Pooley into the building, up the steps and through the door, up a spiral staircase and into the first room. The rooms aren't full of glass cabinets with labels but sympathetically arranged with trinkets and props that help tell the story of the house, and there's a different story in each room. Each room builds a picture of the house's history, from the late 1500s to the early 1900s. 

Elizabethan House, used with permission

Visits to the house are by a tour, which takes around 40 minutes - and you're encouraged to touch anything that doesn't move. Walls, plaster, floorboards - the door frames we were told were 400 years old and I couldn't resist brushing my hand across them as I walked through. I am that weirdo that touches old doors and walls anyway but to touch a doorframe that was built by Tudor hands and witnessed all the different residents of the house over four centuries was pretty amazing. 

Elizabethan House, used with permission

The experience is certainly immersive - and at a few points, I found it quite emotional. The story is told through the 'voice' of the house - a friendly spirit that introduces you to each room. The house was originally rented rooms, rather than a family home and so, as Hannah pointed out, it's unfortunate that we don't have traces of many of these tenants. But there are some, and their stories are told beautifully. We learn about the building of the house, the financial trouble of one of the tenants through a puppet show beamed onto the wall, and a reminder of nineteenth century women's history and the rules of marriage. There are stories of poverty, hope, of sailing off onto The Mayflower for a new start in 1620. And of the saving of the house, so that we can enjoy it today. While the shows are playing, you're welcome to wander around, gaze out of a sixteenth century window at the views that residents would have had or peek at old maps and documents. The guided tour casts light on the stories of the lace-workers, sailors, launderesses, wig-makers and undertakers that lived here. Historic England tells us that three Plymouth Mayors lived here, including privateer William Parker, who was a friend of Drake's. Could it be possible that Drake walked through these timber-framed doors? 

Hannah explained to us that the house has been restored using many old techniques - and you can tell. The team here really have done astonishing work, researching and bringing back to life the people that had been lost to history and restoring the house so authentically. 

Elizabethan House combines modern technology while still keeping an authentic feel about the place. I honestly forgot about the outside world for 40 minutes and felt as if I'd travelled back in time, and what better measure of an historic experience is there than that? I even managed a sketch of the building while I was outside. 

Elizabethan House Sketch, © Jo Romero

Elizabethan House Sketch © Jo Romero

I'd really recommend a visit to Elizabethan House. Yes, it's quite small and not in a very prominent position. But it gave me a sense of something that modern museums with their display cases never have: a walk around a 400-year old house, with the stories of the residents  - and therefore of Plymouth itself - beamed onto the walls and through speakers, their energies  somehow still buzzing within its walls. 

Thank you so much to The Box, Plymouth for inviting me. 

You can find Elizabethan House at 32 New Street, Plymouth, Devon PL1 2NA. 

What3Words location: tiny.prop.engage

The house is a short 20-minute walk from Plymouth Railway Station - just follow the signs to The Barbican and you'll see New Street just off the marina. Find out more at the website and book your tour - the house opens to the public on 20th July. 

Have you visited Elizabethan House? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below... 

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You might also like The Murky World of Elizabeth's Pirates, A Tudor Breakfast or Sketching Historic Buildings