The Lookout was built in 1870 to keep watch for liners and mail ships coming in to Plymouth Sound. A watcher, sat inside with a telescope, would send a message down to Millbay Docks or the Barbican that a liner was arriving, and they’d send the boats out to collect the mail or passengers. If the mail came from the US it used to get dropped off at Millbay Docks, which had its own railway station, to be taken elsewhere.
The shape of the building has not changed at all. Once radio communications began the need for the lookout was gone. At some point it was taken on by the police, and it was a police box for the bobby on the beat until the 1970s. The building was then handed back to the council, and from then on we’ve been told it was an ice cream parlour and a deckchair place, although the managers can’t find evidence for that in any of the many photos they’ve received!
They took the building on in 2015. It had been boarded up for many years, and there were no roof or windows. They opened the café in Easter 2015 under a scheme put forward for derelict buildings in the city.
The café operates mainly as a takeaway, but they also have evolved into a community hub with kids’ toys outside. They have a large collection of old photos of the area throughout history, which they often put on display outside, depending on the weather. At last year’s Plymouth History Festival the 1st Depot regiment camped outside for two days, and the café served traditional Devon food – venison pasties and potage.
Dave Morrish says he’s learned lots about Plymouth’s history since he started the café.
It’s been the stupid little things that I never knew which have really got me, and people’s personal stories. Two sisters who lived on the Barbican all their lives were looking at pictures of the fishing trawlers, and started talking about when they delivered the fish, and how much trouble they got in when they secretly added a penny to it!