Looe Street Arts Centre

Looe Street Detectives unearth hidden histories of Plymouth Arts Centre in 70 year celebration exhibition

Looe Street Detectives
Sara Bowler
Friday 2 February – Saturday 17 March
Private View: Thursday 1 February, 6-8pm. Sara Bowler will be in conversation with Plymouth Arts Centre’s Artistic Director Ben Borthwick at 7pm

Artist Sara Bowler is investigating the hidden histories of Plymouth Arts Centre’s location in Looe Street, for a new exhibition opening in February 2018.

The Looe Street Detectives are a group of local residents, led by Sara, who are exploring the influence of Plymouth Arts Centre over the past 70 years, and the people who have lived, worked in and visited the site throughout the last 500 years.

Visitors are invited to explore the activities and lives of the previous occupants of Looe Street, and their impact on the wider world.

The exhibition will contain a large timeline on which people are encouraged to share their own memories and anecdotes.

Plymouth Arts Centre’s current location was once part of The Virginia House Settlement, a social welfare centre set up by Nancy Astor in the 1920s.

Looe Street Detective Pat Green, who has family connections with the area, said: ‘Virginia House played a very important part during the Blitz as a shelter for those who had lost their homes, my family being one of the many families.

‘My mother went onto the roof there and watched Plymouth burning with me in her arms.’

Plymouth Arts Centre was one of seven arts centres set up around the country in 1947 with funds from the newly established Arts Council of Great Britain.

The artist, Beryl Cook had her first exhibition at Plymouth Arts Centre in 1975.

Other artists who have held exhibitions in Plymouth Arts Centre include Patrick Heron, Tracey Emin, Allen Ginsberg, Tom Raworth, Peter Greenaway, Ralph Steadman, Vong Phaophanit, Richard Deacon, Andy Goldsworthy and Sir Terry Frost.

Many emerging artists have exhibited in the galleries and gone on to become household names.

The Looe Street Detectives have discovered that Joyce Grenfell, comedian, actress and niece of Lady Astor, visited Plymouth Arts Centre in 1950 to promote her film, The Happiest Days of Your Life.

The Detectives have also unearthed fascinating insights into the people and events that made up this part of Plymouth through the centuries.

38 Looe Street was once part of a pub called The Pope’s Head, which was frequented by Thomas Dunckerley, the illegitimate son of George III. Dr Samuel Johnson and Sir Joshua Reynolds also visited the inn in 1762.

Research is central to Bowler’s artistic practice. She investigates how evidence of former use and occupation of places resonates through time.

Drawn to ordinary looking places – buildings, streets, fields – she is curious about their histories, wondering what has happened there and what evidence remains.

This exhibition is the third incarnation of the Looe Street Detectives project begun in 2013.

The show will be accompanied by film screenings in the cinema referencing Plymouth Arts Centre and other organisations connected to the site and will be supported by a programme of activities and talks, including from local historian, Chris Robinson.


Events Programme
• Archive Film Screenings in the Cinema

In conjunction with the South West Film and Television Archive, there will be a series of screenings of historical films that document the Plymouth art scene in days gone by. There will be clips shown just before all films shown in the cinema in March.

• Lunchtime Talk: PAC To The Past
Wednesday 7 February, 1pm – 1:30pm, FREE
Join one of the Looe Street Detectives, Anne Corry, for an in depth talk about the research techniques and facts uncovered by our detectives about the history of the area surrounding 38 Looe Street.

• Lunchtime Talk with Chris Robinson, Local Historian
Saturday 10 February, 1:30pm – 3pm, FREE
Plymouth historian Chris Robinson will give an illustrated account, with drawings, maps and photographs, of Looe Street and its immediate neighbourhood.

• Family Friendly Workshop with Maddy Hearn.
Saturday 17 February 1:30-4:30pm. £5 per family.
Participants are invited to make a concertina bookwork of personal images and accompanying texts to form a personal narrative.

Sarah Bowler | Facebook | Twitter: @SaraBowler2

Plymouth Arts Centre | Facebook | Twitter: @PlymArtsCentre | Instagram


(With generous support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.)



(from a press release)