The Plymouth Athenaeum

Plymouth Athenaeum

The Plymouth Athenaeum, located in Plymouth, England, is a society dedicated to the promotion of learning in the fields of science, technology, literature and art.[1]

The Athenaeum building, located at Derry's Cross in Plymouth City Centre, includes a 340-seat auditorium and a local interest library.[2]


Founded on 17 October 1812 as the Plymouth Institute, it was soon renamed the Plymouth Institution.[3] The first meetings took place in Catherine Street and later Frankfort Street Art Gallery.[4]

Architect and founding member of the Institution John Foulston (1772 – 30 December 1841), who had won a competition to design the Royal Hotel and Theatre group of buildings, designed the building that would become the permanent home of the organisation.[5] The foundation stone of 'The Athenaeum', which had a Greek Doric-style facade, was laid on 1 May 1818.[6]

The Devon and Cornwall Natural History Society, formed in 1838, amalgamated with the Plymouth Institution in 1851. The Mechanics' Institute in Princes Street closed in 1899 and a merger with the Plymouth Institution took place.[7]

Foulston's original 'Athenaeum'[8] was destroyed during The Blitz in 1941,[9] resulting in the loss of the Insititution's library, art and museum collections.[10]

The Institution was renamed The Plymouth Athenaeum when it moved into its present building on 1 June 1961, which is located on almost the exact location of its pre-Blitz home.[11]


Before the Blitz, the Athenaeum library was home to more than 10,000 volumes on topics including science and natural history dating back to the early years of the society in the early 19th century.[12]

The library was restored as part of the rebuilt Athenaum in 1961 and is a full member of the Association of Independent Libraries.[13]

Lectures and Talks

During its history, The Plymouth Athenaeum has played host to a number of high-profile lecturers, speakers and guests. These included broadcasters John Snagge and Edgar Lustgarten, Church of England envoy Terry Waite and artist Robert Lenkiewicz.[14] On a more local level, a regular contributor was local historian and academic Mr F S Blight (also a Plymouth headmaster). His presentations included Hail & Farewell to Devonport 1951, Popular Art in Plymouth 1953, Stoke & Morice Town 1951, Captain Tobias Furneaux 1952. All these talks were released as printed booklets.


The rebuilt Athenaeum building included a theatre,[15] which housed productions and shows until its closure in 2009.[16][17]

Performers who took to the stage at the Athenaeum included actress Maggie Steed and poet Pam Ayres.

In 1971, with the co-operation of the British Film Institute, a film theatre was created with the construction of a projection room on the roof. Present at the opening night were Malcolm McDowell, Bryan Forbes and Nanette Newman.[18]

The Beatles

On 13 November 1963, the English rock band The Beatles played at the ABC Cinema, next to the Athenaeum. The band were rushed in and out of the Athenaeum to avoid the crowds of screaming fans gathered outside the cinema.[19] They returned to play the ABC Cinema on 29 October 1964, and were escorted through a tunnel which connected the Athenaeum with Westward Television, who had been filming them from the Lyneham Inn, on the outskirts of Plymouth. At the end of the concert, and following a short delay, the band were driven away from Westward's studios.[20][21]


The Athenaeum celebrated its bicentenary in 2012 with an open week of activities and the publication of a book charting its 200-year history.[22][23]

Notable members

Stamp collector Stanley Gibbons, architects John Foulston and George Wightwick, writer and educationalist Derwent Coleridge, Conservative M.P. for West Somerset and later Liberal M.P. for North Devon Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 11th Baronet, actor James Hayward, newspaper publisher and politician William Saunders and electrical engineer Jonathan Nash Hearder.


  1. ^ "The Plymouth Athenaeum Library". Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  2. ^ "The Plymouth Athenaeum Library". Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  3. ^ "Plymouth 1793 to 1816". Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  4. ^ The Plymouth Athenaeum 1812 – 2012, Athenaeum Publishing 2012
  5. ^ Jenkins, Frank (1968). "John Foulston and His Public Buildings in Plymouth, Stonehouse, and Devonport". Journal of the Society of Architectural
  6. ^ Devon (Pevsner Buildings of England) by Nikolaus Pevsner (Author), Bridget Cherry (Author, Editor) Cherry & Pevsner 1989, p.664.
  7. ^ The Plymouth Athenaeum 1812 – 2012, Athenaeum Publishing 2012
  8. ^ Historic Buildings: Plymouth Institution, Devon & Cornwall Natural History Museum, IR 34/726, The National Archives, Kew
  9. ^ "Athenaeum, Plymouth - Theatre Tickets, whats on and theatre information". Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  10. ^ The Plymouth Athenaeum 1812 – 2012, Athenaeum Publishing 2012
  11. ^ "Plymouth Athenaeum, The". Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  12. ^ The Plymouth Athenaeum 1812 – 2012, Athenaeum Publishing 2012
  13. ^ "The Plymouth Athenaeum Library". Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  14. ^ The Plymouth Athenaeum 1812 – 2012, Athenaeum Publishing 2012
  15. ^ "The Plymouth Athenaeum Theatre - The Theatres Trust". Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  16. ^ "Plymouth Athenaeum theatre will close in July - West Briton". West Briton. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  17. ^ "Days left for Plymouth Athenaeum Theatre". Plymouth Herald. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  18. ^ The Plymouth Athenaeum 1812 – 2012, Athenaeum Publishing 2012
  19. ^ "Live: ABC Cinema, Plymouth". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  20. ^ "The Beatles 50 Years Ago Today". Beatles Radio. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  21. ^ "In at the birth of history's big ideas". Plymouth Herald. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  22. ^ "History of city centre venue is published". Plymouth Herald. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  23. ^ "Plymouth Roofers". Saturday, 3 December 2016

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