Plymouth began as fishing village. It belonged to the Prior of Plympton. (A prior was the head of a priory or small abbey). In the early 13th century the prior turned the village into a town by starting a market there. In those days there were very few shops so if you wanted to buy or sell goods you had to go to a market. Once a market was up and running in Plymouth merchants and craftsmen would come to live and work there and it would grow into a town. In 1254 Plymouth was given a charter. (A charter was a document granting the townspeople certain rights).
In the 13th century friars arrived in Plymouth. Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach and to help the poor. The Dominicans were called Black friars because of the colour of their costumes. There were also Carmelites in Plymouth, known as White friars, who lived in a building by Friars station and Franciscans, or Grey friars, who lived in Woolster Street.
In the Middle Ages wine from France and Spain was imported into Plymouth. The town also benefited from a law of 1390, which said that pilgrims who travelled abroad must leave from either Plymouth or Dover.
Medieval Plymouth played a role in the many wars between England and France. Because of this Plymouth attacked by French soldiers several times. The worst attack came one day in August 1403. The French sailed across the Channel and landed north of the town. The French marched into Plymouth and occupied the area around Exeter Street. The English fought back but were unable to dislodge the French, who stayed overnight.
The next day the French sailed away but only after burning much of the town. (This was easily done as most of the buildings were of wood with thatched roofs). Afterwards part of the town was called Breton Side. After this disaster Plymouth was soon rebuilt and began to flourish once more.