Sir Francis Drake (1540–96) was a man with a dashing image that belies a complex reality. To Tudor England he was a hero, explorer and adventurer. To his Spanish counterparts he was ‘Drake the master thief’. He was also involved, albeit briefly, in slavery when he sailed with his relative, John Hawkins, the first English captain to ply the triangular ‘slave trade’. In 1580 Drake sailed into Plymouth aboard the Golden Hind, having become the first man to circumnavigate the globe. His vessel was full of treasure looted from Spanish colonies, securing him the favour of Queen Elizabeth I and the money to buy Buckland Abbey, 9 miles north of Plymouth, near Tavistock. Eleven years later, Drake (legend has it) calmly insisted on finishing his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe, despite the advancing Spanish Armada. The first engagement happened just off Plymouth, the second at Portland Bill; eventually the Spanish fleet was chased to Calais and attacked with fire ships. Many escaped but were wrecked off the Scottish coast. Drake died of fever in 1596 while fighting in Spanish territories in the Caribbean and was buried at sea off modern Panama. His statue, which looks more dignified than piratical, stands on Plymouth Hoe.
Art on the Barbican
Plymouth’s Barbican, with its scattering of galleries, is a place to track down works by two very different Plymouth painters. The representational artist Robert Lenkiewicz (1941–2002, www.robertlenkiewicz.org), likened by some to a modern-day Rembrandt, was the son of European Jewish refugees. This brooding, eccentric philosopher was a fixture of the Barbican for decades and developed a special bond with alcoholics, drug addicts and homeless people, often offering them a meal and a bed for the night. The painter also, notoriously, embalmed the body of a local tramp. Lenkiewicz’s murals still dot the Barbican. The Elizabethan Mural, the biggest and also the most peeling, sits in the Parade, alongside his former studio.
In an utterly different artistic vein, Plymouth-based Beryl Cook (1926–2008, www.berylcook.org) was renowned for her cheerful depictions of brash, large ladies sporting unfeasibly small clothes. Her exuberant, almost comic-book-style artwork features a dizzying variety of Barbican scenes, and a popular local game is to try and spot (in the flesh) the type of characters that people her paintings. To get an insight into this breezy, slightly saucy world head for the gloriously unreconstructed Dolphin for a pint. Cook immortalised this Barbican institution in several paintings (one hangs just to the right of its fireplace), famously often sitting on one of the well-worn settees as she gathered material for her work.