Few streets in Plymouth are older, or even as old, as the Barbican’s New Street. It appears to have been largely developed by John Sparke, a much-travelled Elizabethan whom Crispin Gill describes as “Plymouth’s first speculative builder” and the “the first Englishman to mention either the potato or tobacco”.
The first documentary reference to the street appeared in 1584 when it was recorded that there was trouble with surface water coming down from “Mr Sparke’s new streate”. However it does appear that the street was not then called New Street, indeed up until 1746 it appears to have been known as Rag Street (until recently old Barbican folk referred to the Castle Street approach which runs out of the top of New Street, as “The Rag” or Castle Rag”). Furthermore the top – Hoe – end of the street once housed the fourteenth century Greyfriars Monastery and for a time the thoroughfare was known as Greyfriars or “Gray Fryers” Street.