Home Park stadium - the early years

Central Park was designed and laid out around most of the existing features including the Home Park stadium.  They have all been a big influence on the park’s subsequent development but none more so than the football stadium and its resident football club. 

When Argyle moved into Home Park in 1900 from their previous ground at Marsh Mills, it was a level field surrounded by an oval banked racetrack and a wooden grandstand on its southern side where the Mayflower stand is today. 

Sketch plan of the Home Park recreation ground and its surrounds before 1900

It had been constructed 8 years previously as the Plymouth and Devonport Recreation Ground in a commercial venture by a Plymouth builder, Alfred Richard Debnam.  His aim was to attract professional league association football and provide a track for cycle races. However, the ground was also used for whippet racing and athletic events, and Devonport Albion rugby football club played there between 1893 and 1894.

Soon after becoming tenants at Home Park, Argyle repainted the grandstand and resurfaced the banked track.  The football club was managed as a branch of the Argyle Athletic Club, which pitched its publicity on a national scale with cycle, motorbike and athletic races staged for valuable prizes to attract the best competitors.     

Home Park Bank Holiday Sports 1902. The start of a motor bicycle race.

After the 1903-04 football season, supporters complained of having no shelter on the ground’s north side so a small wooden stand, known as the ‘flower-pot stand’ was erected for 1,000 spectators.  Those left in the open had to stand on the banked track and they found it particularly painful on their calf muscles although children were not so affected.

Home Park, Devonport end, Saturday 10th February 1912.  The flower-pot stand is to the right. The crowd are standing on the banked track. (Western Daily Mercury – British Newspaper Library).

In 1925, Plymouth Corporation bought the land from the Right Honourable John Townsend, Baron St Levan, and became the football club’s landlord. 

In 1928, Edward Prentice Mawson, the park’s designer, was moved to comment in his report to the Hoe and Parks Committee that the Home Park ground left much to be desired from an aesthetic point of view. His recommendations included putting the buildings into “thorough repair, eliminating if possible all advertising signs and painting them with a less glaring colour than red oxide.”    

Argyle gained promotion for the first time during the 1929-30 season and Home Park was to be fundamentally altered before they played their first match in Football League Division Two (now known as the Championship).  As soon as the season ended, work started on building a stand over the Devonport end (on the west side of the ground with the Outland Road car-park behind it), whilst the original wooden grandstand was demolished and replaced by a much larger, pitch-length, modern grandstand. The old, banked racing track was made into terracing and brought closer to the playing field to form a more rectangular aspect. In all, the capacity of Home Park was almost doubled.

The newly erected steel structure of the replacement grandstand with Mutley beyond. Piled in front is the wood of its predecessor being sold off to buyers (Western Morning News, 27th June 1930 – British Newspaper Library).

The grandstand was built of steel and covered in corrugated iron.  It had all the necessary club facilities underneath and cost £11,000 paid for by Argyle.  Outside the stadium at the same time, work was underway to build the new Central Park.

The new Devonport end stand was intended to be partly from material yielded from the demolition of the original wooden grandstand, but it was found not to be fit for purpose. Instead, it was similarly built steel-framed and covered with corrugated iron, costing £1,700 and paid for by the Supporters Club and donations. It was big enough to hold 7,000 spectators.

The 1904 flower-pot stand survived the changes although it caught fire and was partially destroyed in 1933.

1933 aerial view of Home Park showing much change to the ground and the former farmland around it, open as Central Park since 1931. The repaired fire-reduced flower-pot stand sits next to the covered Devonport end. Running along the southern side is the grandstand (it looks to be even longer than the current 1951 built grandstand). The banked racing track has gone, increasing the terracing. The Central Park pathways show many spectators making their way, in eager anticipation of watching Argyle play Manchester United in the first Football League Division Two fixture of the 1933-34 season. Most of the 26,936 crowd went home happy, Argyle won 4-0. (Western Independent, 27th August 1933 – British Newspaper Library).

The remodelled ground and the team’s success on the field drew large crowds of supporters during the 1930s.

Devastation struck in March 1941 when the 11-year-old grandstand was destroyed by German bombs during the Blitz in March 1941.  The flower-pot stand disappeared during the war although it is not known whether it was damaged at the same time or demolished subsequently.  The Devonport stand survived the war unscathed. 

In stark contrast to the crowded matches of the last decade, the eleven-year-old grandstand was destroyed by German bombs during the Blitz, in March 1941.

We are grateful to Roger Walters for providing the material for this article and also for a more detailed account which can be read here.