The History of Sutton Harbour

Ever wondered about the history behind Sutton Harbour? We thought we’d take you back in time and let you know a little bit about the history of this magical place that led to the birthplace of the modern city of Plymouth.

In 700AD Anglo Saxon mariners settled and created a small fishing community which they called Sutton (South town). They came by sea, as travelling by land was difficult and dangerous at that time, and landed close by the coastal churches of Revelstoke, Newton Ferrers and Wembury. They built fishing boats and mended their nets from the harbour and it was from these humble beginnings that Sutton Harbour began to grow. Thanks to the money earned through trade over the centuries, Sutton Harbour became one of the three largest fishing ports in England. 

The iconic Mayflower steps at Sutton Harbour are where the Pilgrim Fathers are believed to have set sail from England aboard the Mayflower in 1620. Some of the Pilgrim Fathers are said to have lodged at ‘Island House’ before leaving on their epic voyage to a new world in North America. Today, this is the Tourist Information Centre, a late 16th century building overlooking the harbour. There is a plaque on the outside of the building that lists the names of these courageous pilgrims who left these shores to help create a new nation.

Sutton Harbour has many more claims to fame. It is also where Sir Frances Drake organised his fleet to attack the Spanish Armada, as well as where Sir Francis Chichester landed after completing his epic solo voyage around the world in 1967. There are many ferry and boat trips offered from near the Mayflower Steps where you can explore Plymouth’s historic coastline and waterways for yourself.

If you prefer to explore on foot, you can take a walk through history on the one-mile Harbour Heritage walk which circles around Sutton Harbour and the Mayflower museum. Or see the sights from two wheels and take advantage of the two National Cycle routes right on Sutton Harbour’s doorstep.

Sutton Harbour and The Barbican are the heart of Plymouth’s heritage with the oldest buildings and the greatest number of historical stories. The Barbican is a vibrant place of cobbled streets, narrow lanes and more than 200 listed buildings, many of them Tudor and Jacobean. Plymouth suffered badly in WWII and it’s remarkable that so many old buildings survived the intensive bombings. It now offers a cosmopolitan atmosphere with its eclectic mix of restaurant cuisine, bustling pubs and cafes, amidst its picturesque scenery – it really comes alive at night!

The main street of Southside Street is home to the world famous Plymouth Gin Distillery. This building dates back to the early 1400’s and is a former monastery inhabited by Black Friar Monks. You’ll now find the street filled with antique stores, galleries, boutique shops and cafes – it attracts thousands of visitors each year. 

Sutton Harbour is perfectly placed to make the most of what Plymouth has to offer with its unparalleled historic landmarks, maritime history and lively waterfront culture. See the latest Sutton Harbour events here