by Alan Kimber

The Plymouth Judo Club is the oldest established club in the West of England, and one of the oldest in the country dating back to the very early nineteen fifties when the very word judo seemed mystical and frightening. A group of individuals met at an evening class the old Plymouth Public School for boys with an instructor from the marines. When these evening classes finished some of the players decided to form a club, so they moved to the Devonport Guildhall and shared a hall with the local youth club. This only lasted a short time before a move to the Good Shepherd hall opposite an old police station in the Octagon area of Plymouth, which they shared with the youth club from Devonport who came with them. This was a reasonable hall as it had a wooden floor whereas the next move to the basement of Little St. Peters Church Hall in Cecil St. had a concrete floor & with coir mats (which were the old square coconut mats) to practice on was somewhat daunting and hard. A 3rd Dan international called Doug Young came from London to do a grading on one occasion at these premises in 1953.

It was after this that one of the members, a Len Collins found the Virginia House premises and went to see the house warden a Mr. Steve Howson who agreed to let the club have half of the middle floor in one of the blocks. He was impressed with the way the judo club was operating that he allowed them to take over the whole floor with a room for changing and another for an office. The mats were now a thin 1” rubber under a canvas. For several years this was OK but then it was decided to put a wooden frame around the edge of the mat area, fill it with sawdust and stretch a canvas over it. This would be the somewhat hard mat to land on for several more years until the club could afford the new type of rubberised mats when the sawdust was removed.

The move to Virginia House enabled the club to become well established & was to be their home for over thirty years. During this time, the club went from strength to strength with both a senior & junior section that was the envy of the whole of the South West winning countless county, area & national honours.

With the coming of the ferry to Roscoff from Plymouth a good relationship with clubs in Brittany was established in the seventies and a club and family exchange went on for many years.

In 1988 came the biggest upheaval in the clubs history when they had to leave Virginia House as it was being redeveloped and there would be no place for judo in the new premises. After much searching of the city for somewhere to operate from, the club found and moved into their new council owned premises in Embankment Lane, Prince Rock, in the August of 1988. A lot of work was needed to convert what was the old canteen facilities for local schools where the meals were made and then taken out to the schools for lunchtime. This work was undertaken by club and committee members until the work was completed.

The new club was now able to boast a large practice area with male and female changing rooms with showers and toilets – something unheard of at the old premises, as the nearest water was outside in the yard. A coffee & soft drinks bar was installed along with an office. The club was then officially opened on 14th April 1989 by Dame Janet Fookes M.P. who had given her full help and support from the beginning and she was able to get the rateable value and consequently the rates payable considerably reduced which enabled the club to become established once again and the remaining club funds were used to send coaches away on various coaching and first aid courses to upgrade and update their skills. Our own annual Plymouth Open Judo Championship were for a number of years an established fixture.

The club prospered at Embankment Lane site for the next twenty years then in November 2008 we were told we would have to vacate the building due to the planned road reconstruction that was due to start soon.

We were sold a piece of land for £1 by the council in compensation but although we got planning permission for our own dojo it was found that the cost of connecting to all the services on top of the build cost was going to be too expensive so eventually the council took the land back from us.

We then took up residency on 21st November 2010 in a unit in Faraday Mill where we stayed for six years until the complex was bought out and the rent put up to a level we could not afford, so we had to think about the next move.  It was decided to take the senior section to the Hybrid MMA centre and the juniors to the Brickfields sports centre.

After having to close the club due to the Covid pandemic in March 2020 the club was able to restart in May 2021, with the senior class joining the junior class at the Brickfields Sports Centre making the club as one again.