They travelled in canoes to trade their wares with Europe. One family made a home in the caves around Cattedown, with spectacular views of the 'English Channel' valley. Around 10, years ago, the Ice Age ended and the climate slowly changed. Sea levels rose again, steadily at first.
A new sea formed — the North Sea far to the north-east of Britain, its waters lapping against a natural dam formed by a series of ridges somewhere between Dover and Calais. The early hunters moved their settlements to new coastlines. With a warmer, wetter climate, the scrublands surrounding Britain became woodlands.
The family at Cattedown now hunted smaller game amidst the forests of birch and pine, and gathered nuts, eggs and shellfish. They adapted, survived and thrived. Around BC, the seas suddenly rose again. Some say Norwegian glacial lakes burst their banks and flooded south. The natural dam near Dover collapsed under the weight of water and the North Sea erupted into the valley below.
A tsunami of unimaginable proportions engulfed southern Britain. The torrent destroyed everything in its path, flooding the valley and forming the English Channel. A forest at Bovisand, near Plymouth, drowned. The swirling maelstrom of water battered the steep hills, carving out a new coastline and forming estuaries around the rivers Plym and Tamar.
And so Plymouth was born, in the midst of devastation, eventually to become one of the most famous deep-water harbours in the world. To the human population of the time, it was a catastrophe. Hundreds if not thousands died — a whole society living in the 'English Channel' valley drowned, their river settlements submerged and their remains swept away into the deep Atlantic Ocean.
What of the hunter-gatherer family who for so many generations had made their home in Cattedown?
800 years of English history in 20 easy trips
In a local journalist and antiquarian called R. Worth discovered caves in Cattedown, which is now a headland between the river Plym and the harbour. The caves contained the remains of fifteen Homo sapiens that were around 5, years old, along with the bones of hyenas, wolves, deer, mammoth and woolly rhinoceros which were up to 30, years old. Sadly these remains, once kept safely at the Athenaeum in Plymouth, were all but destroyed in another period of devastation for Plymouth — the Blitz of the Second World War — though the few charred pieces that survived are now on display at the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery at North Hill.
It is astonishing to imagine what the remaining skull there in its glass case in the museum must be thinking — to have survived millennia, an Ice Age and a deluge, only to be bombed by the Germans. No one will ever be certain what actually happened to these fifteen people in Cattedown. Perhaps they were drowned as they slept. Perhaps they survived the deluge, living on the high ground, and were buried in their time on the shores of the old world.
For many years after the deluge, ancient man would ride out into the Channel in small boats to drop tributes into the water — a memorial to their ancestors and an old world they would never see again. As the few survivors stood on the new coastline, they knew their world had ended. Gazing out over a vast new sea, they realised that to trade or even to communicate with the rest of the known world, they were going to need bigger boats.
According to legend, two giants once fought a bloody battle to the death on Plymouth Hoe, a battle that would determine the future of England. The first giant was called Gogmagog, 20ft tall, leader of the native giants, defending his Stone Age homeland against the invading Britons. The second was Corineus, 7ft tall, a chief among the Bronze Age invaders.
The day before, Gogmagog's men had launched a sudden and murderous assault on the invaders, ripping them to pieces with their bare hands.
GENUKI: Plymouth, Devon
Recovering from their initial shock, the surviving Britons rallied and used their superior agility and weaponry to wipe out the marauding giants, leaving only Gogmagog alive, wounded and in chains. They dragged the fallen Gogmagog to Plymouth Hoe, where Corineus challenged Gogmagog to a fight to the death.
The Britons' champion lifted Gogmagog onto his shoulders and, taking a few last heavy steps to the cliff, hurled the giant over into the water, where his body was dashed and broken on the rocks below. It is the blood of the giant, it is said, that made the rocks around Plymouth turn red. In medieval times, two giant figures called Gog and Gogmagog were carved into the chalk on Plymouth Hoe, and they remained there for centuries, tended by the city's council, until the building of the Citadel on that site in the late s. During the excavation for the Citadel's foundations a huge jawbone and teeth were discovered, of a size that suggested that they could only have belonged to a giant When the saxons invaded the South West of England, sometime in the late seventh century, they discovered a ruined stone house on the shores of Plymouth Sound, on the edges of the salt marshes that once infested that area.
In a strange stone building was re-discovered during engineering works to raise Stonehouse Bridge, near Newport Street.
The ancient building comprised a series of rectangular chambers or crypts, each containing the burnt remains of human bodies. The stone house was likely to have been a Roman crematorium. In AD , Vikings successfully raided Plymouth, stealing precious metals and coin, attacking all who stood in their path. Ordulf's Minster at Tavistock was burned to the ground before the Vikings made their daring escape.
The victorious Saxons subsequently established the east bank of the Tamar River as the border dividing the Saxons and the Celtic Cornish. The two populations once lived and worked together throughout the south-west peninsula, but the Vikings tore them apart.
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Evidence of Roman settlement in Plymouth is sparse. A hoard of Roman coins was found in , probably the pay for soldiers, while small artefacts have been discovered all around the Plymouth Sound, at Plymstock, Mount Batten, Millbay and Sutton Pool, including a small statue of Mercury, the god of trade. What evidence there is suggests a small Roman outpost, administering Celtic tin and copper production.
The South West was very muddy back then, and the Romans were renowned for their aversion to mud, so they didn't venture much past Exeter if they could help it. Rome fell and the Saxons arrived in Plymouth to discover the strange house made of stone. The Romans built their crematoria like Roman villas — literally a house of the dead built beyond the walls of their settlements.
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The Saxons found the ruined Roman house of the dead on the edge of the marsh very ominous indeed, a morbid fascination that ultimately led to the founding of the village named Stonehouse on the shores of Plymouth Sound. Stonehouse is closely associated with the word Cremyll, with Cremyll Street leading towards Devil's Point headland, and the opposite headland called Cremyll sometimes pronounced 'crimble', though the origins of the name are obscure.
Cremare is the Latin for 'to burn up'; perhaps the grisly crematorium inspired the name? A burial mound from the Bronze Age was discovered in Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, dating back to BC, obviously the burial site of someone very important.
Blood and Betrayal: King Philip’s War
Bronze mirrors, daggers and coins have been discovered on the opposite headland, at Mount Batten, suggesting a long period of Bronze Age settlement. In the Normans conquered England and all the Saxon manors around Plymouth changed hands — at the point of a sword. The Norman Barons viciously suppressed a Saxon rebellion, and then established a line of great stone castles along the South West peninsula to control the Saxon population. The Saxons had already established a range of south-facing defences around Plymouth harbour to repel any raids from the sea, extending the previous fortifications of the Britons, the Celts and the Romans.
However, the Normans confused the local Saxon lookouts by attacking by land — a cry of 'they're behind you! The main settlement was then at Plympton, where the Saxons' Priory governed all tin mining and local administration, and it was probably this 'plym-town' that gave the nearby river its name rather than the other way around. His soldiers kept hot oil and coal ready on the castle's battlements to be hurled down on any rebellious Saxon monks, and so Plymouth fell under the absolute control of the Normans.
Some years later, Baron Baldwin de Redvers made the mistake of supporting Empress Matilda in her battle with her cousin King Stephen over the English throne, and in retaliation King Stephen razed Baldwin de Redvers' fine castle to the ground.
With de Redvers out of the way, another Norman family — the Valletorts, based at Tremarton Castle on the other side of the Tamar — moved in to claim the land around Sutton, which infuriated the monks at Plympton Priory. Pirates and privateers! Hell holes for Boney! The disgusting true story of Plymouth's Napoleonic prison ships! Find out inside! Death aboard the Titanic! Blitz, bombs and Plymouth men's battles on Omaha Beach! Plymouth has one of the darkest and most dreadful histories on record. Beginning with the discovery of the bones of cave men and rushing through French attacks, outbreaks of leprosy and the plague, Civil War sieges and deadly Spanish ships, disasters, demolitions and the enormous death tolls of the Plymouth Blitz, it will change the way you see the city forever!
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