Foulstons Famous Buildings Part 2


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Foulston’s Famous Buildings Part 2

In 1810 Plymouth Corporation held a competition for the design of a new theatre, hotel and assembly rooms at the bottom of George Street. The competition was won by John Foulston, who built a neo-classical block of buildings. The foundation stone was laid by the Mayor Edmund Lockyer in September 1811. Foulston's buildings formed a frontage of 268 feet (82 m) facing George's Place that was dominated by a portico with 30-foot (9.1 m)-high ionic columns. The theatre was on the west side of this portico, with the hotel and assembly rooms on the east. Foulston used thick walls to separate the auditorium from the foyer, corridors and the hotel next door to minimise the risk of fire damage. The whole inner structure was built of cast and wrought iron for the same purpose, and Foulston believed it was the only fireproof public building in the country. The new Theatre Royal opened in 1813 and could seat 1,192. It had a spacious vestibule, dress and upper circles, upper boxes, a pit and a gallery. The receipts for the opening night show of As you Like It, followed by a farce, Catherine & Petruchio amounted to over £150. Sadly by 1820 the theatre had earned the title of the Theatre of Splendid Misery, blamed mainly because of dwindling audiences. During its 126 year life it suffered many fires too and underwent extensive renovation work. In 1930 it was sold to a cinema company who demolished the building and built a cinema in its place, bearing no resemblance to Foulston’s grandeur.

The early nineteenth century saw the great days of Devonport too. Shades of its faded glories can be seen all around Kerr Street. Built during the early 1820s Devonport Guildhall, with its bold Doric portico grandly surmounted by a figure of Britannia, sits at the top of Ker Street to impress the travellers from Plymouth. Foulston was the architect who created these wide Georgian streets and today they are probably the finest examples of architecture the' city. Near Devonport Guildhall is one of Foulstons freaks, the Oddfellows Hall, built in the Egyptian style which was fashionable for a short time. Today it is one of the best examples in the country of this rare and short-lived style. There is an identical building in Penzance, too.

Approved in 1828 and designed by John Foulston, the Royal Union Baths opened to the public in 1830. These baths rivalled the Pump Room in Bath and at that time were only the second kind of building to be built for this purpose in the country. The first set of baths being in Liverpool. Foulston’s preferred Classical style made an imposing building and attracted people from all walks of life to visit. The baths provided public amenities which Plymouth has never possessed since. Sea water was brought in pipes from The Sound near Rusty Anchor and the discovery of a mineral spring proved to be a valuable asset. From a depth of 360 feet welled up a supply of water impregnated with salts of magnesium, lime, soda and iron. With its two swimming baths, six plunge, nine hot, douche and shampooing baths, its coffee and newsrooms, the Union Baths provided Plymouth with a social and remedial centre. The baths were situated near to where Bath Street is today, just off Union Street. Sadly on account of the Great Western Railway wanting to have their terminus at Millbay, the baths had to be demolished in 1849.

After his retirement, Foulston created a set of watercolour drawings of some of his buildings, which are now in The Box. He became a fellow of the British Architects Institute in 1838, and in the same year published "The Public Buildings of the West of England", a book that included plans and drawings of many of his buildings .

In his later years he created an elaborate water garden at his home Athenian Cottage in Mannamead Road, and he was wont to drive round the streets of the town in a gig disguised as a Roman war chariot. He died at his home and is buried in St Andrew's new cemetery in Plymouth.
Note "The Box" is the Plymouth Museum.