The following description is lifted directly from [Courtney 1878]. This was written by Louise Courtney based on notes made by her father, J. S. Courtney. It must be read in the context of that date.


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Half a Century of Penzance

IN September, 1823, I came from Falmouth to Penzance. The only mode of travelling at that time was by mail coach or van. The first was very dear, and the second very slow; consequently when the distance was not long anyone who was able walked from one town to another. At that time the mail coach from Penzance to London went by way of Helston, Falmouth, Truro, and through the middle of the county to Launceston. Letters for Truro and the intermediate districts were conveyed by mail cart. Until after the Hayle Causeway was built (about 1825) the most frequented road to Camborne was through Goldsithney, Relubbus, Gwinear, etc.

In 1825, and for many years after, the houses at Chyandour were very small and dilapidated. The two large houses now occupied by Mrs. Trevithick and Mr. Milton were built about this time; the granite house next to Mrs. Trevithick’s was for many years one of the best lodging houses in this neighbourhood. On the other side of the road opposite the granite house was a good-sized garden, now taken away to make room for the railway. Between these houses and Penzance were on the right hand fields, and on the left a hedge; seaward of the hedge the ground sloped down to the beach.

Penzance town began about the corner of what is now the Railway Hotel; the road was very narrow, just allowing two carts to pass abreast. On the right hand, as the traveller entered the town, was an old dilapidated tan yard, belonging to a Mr. Cunnack, and on the other side some of the pits belonging to the tannery. The tan yard extended nearly to John’s Place (there was only one house between), but at this time I believe it was not worked. The property was afterwards bought by the Messrs. Bolitho, who sold it again in building plots, when the town purchased a slip of the land to make the road wider. From John’s Place to Causewayhead there was but one opening, that which is now called Wood Street. The houses in Market-jew Street with few exceptions were small, and there were no shops of any consequence until you came to the Market Place: north of Market-jew Street there was not a house in Penzance, excepting two in the Back Lane (Bread Street), until you came to Causewayhead, then commonly called Caunsehead.

About the middle of the north side of Market-jew Street, in a house on the site of which Mr. Cunnack, the ironmonger’s shop is built, used to live three maiden sisters named Read. They were due attendants at church; at such times the eldest always came out first, then the second-born, and lastly the youngest. In this order they walked to church, and in the same order they returned. The arrangement of their tea-table was also very peculiar, each sister having a separate tea-pot. Two of them, Joan and Ann, left a sum of money, the income of which was first to be applied to the keeping in order of the family vault, then a certain sum to the clergyman, churchwarden, and sexton of St. Mary’s. The balance of Joan Read’s legacy to be given in bread to the poor on Christmas Eve; that of Ann Read’s in money or otherwise at the discretion of the trustees. Rather further up on the same side of Market-jew Street was the Old Poor House, formerly an Alms House, built in 1660 by Francis Buller, of Shillingham, whose initials were on the front of the house. The front was of granite, of the peculiar kind called Ludgvan stone: some of the stones of the old building are worked into the front of the house that was built on its site. This house was used for a long period as the Poor House, and from twenty-five to thirty-five people received shelter in it. In 1826 it ceased to be the Poor House. Sometime after, the corporation rased it to the ground, and granted a lease of the site for building at £10 : l0s. a year to Mr. H. W. Runnalls, who built thereon two shops now occupied by Mr. James Runnalls and Mr. Kinsman (the second-hand bookseller). The shop occupied by Mr. J. S. Harvey, chemist, was formerly a dwelling-house belonging to the family of Sir Humphry Davy, and was for many years the residence of his sister Miss Kitty Davy, who died there. She at one time lived in a cottage at New Town Lane, on the south side of Market-jew Street. Sir Humphry Davy according to some accounts was born in a house nearer the Market, torn down since 1825, and the shop now occupied by Mr. Oppenheim stands on its site.

The Terrace in Market-jew Street has been much changed since I came to Penzance; it has been cut back and the road widened. Formerly there was a gradual slope, leaving a narrow cartway on the south side: at one time there were trees planted from the Market House until nearly opposite Jenning’s Lane, but they were all gone before my arrival,—indeed the last trees were cut down in 1805. The iron railing on the Terrace is a recent improvement.

On the left hand of Market-jew Street after passing a few old houses one came to Neddy Betty’s Lane, now very much altered and made into Albert Street. At the eastern corner of this lane was an old thatched house, the remains of Betty’s Inn, kept at one time by Edward Betty, from whence came the name of the inn and the lane. At this house the corporation in former times occasionally refreshed themselves. On the opposite corner of Neddy Betty’s Lane was the Long House (so called in the deed of conveyance); both these buildings remained for nearly forty years after my coming to Penzance. From the appearance of Neddy Betty’s Lane it seemed to have been at one time the eastern entrance to the town. A little further up the street was the Independent or Congregational Chapel, on the same site that it now occupies, though it has undergone many alterations. This chapel was built in 1807; before that time the Independents had a chapel which stood on the open space between the present building and the street. In 1825 Mr. Foxell was minister, and this post he held for more than forty years: his portrait is in the Penzance Library, of which institution he was for some years librarian. For nearly a century after the Independents were established here their minister resided with the Pidwell family; this custom was discontinued when Mr. Foxell married Miss Borlase, though Mr. Samuel Pidwell, one of the representatives of the family, still continued to be a great supporter of the chapel. Close to the Independent Chapel came an opening leading to New Town Lane, why so called I could never find out. In this lane were two pretty cottages, one for many years inhabited by Mr. Foxell, the other by the Misses Kitty and Mary Davy, sisters of Sir Humphry Davy; and in this cottage they must have been living at the time of their brother’s death. The building of the Gas Works and the formation of a Ship-building Yard (now the Foundry) destroyed the beauty of this spot. That part of Market-jew Street on the west side of New Town Lane is described in an old deed as Street Mihale. The next thing of interest on this side of Market-jew Street was the Prince of Wales Inn; this inn is part of a large house formerly the property of the Beauchamp family. The next opening was Jenning’s Lane: when first I knew it the left-hand side was entirely built, but there were some vacant spots on the right. At the bottom of the lane was an old dissenting chapel; this was rarely used, and is now a store-house. In the beginning of this century Public Baths were erected close to the beach; they were then open to the sea, but now, when the quay is so enclosed, the building is perfectly useless as a bathing establishment: at no time indeed were they much used. The eating-house in Market-jew Street, at the right-hand corner of Jenning’s Lane, was formerly the house of the Tonkin family, now represented by the Rev. John Tonkin. A short distance up the street was the old portico or balcony of the Star Hotel, under which there were generally to be found two or three people gossiping: this balcony was removed about 1860. There was another at one time in Market-jew Street in front of the “Ship and Castle,” but this had gone before I came to Penzance. These balconies or projecting rooms were very common in Penzance. Besides those named there was one in Chapel Street, the supports of which were knocked down by an ox wain which had become unmanageable, and another was in the Green Market. Of these, says the Rev. C. D. Le Grice,

“Of porticos that used to meet
More than midway in the street,
Forcing horsemen, gigs, and chaises
To whirl through crinkum, crankum mazes,—
Or heavy pent-houses, which frowned
A shadowy horror on the ground,—
No trace remains, but all are bare
And smooth as cheek of lady fair.”

Close to the balcony of the “Star” was a horse block or epping stock. In 1825 the Wesleyan Quarterly Meetings were held in this hotel, and the preachers often dined there. Next came New Street, a thoroughfare that was very little used; there were houses on the left-hand side of the street nearly all the way to the bottom, but on the right were many vacant places. All the populous courts on the left have been built since 1825. On the same side near the bottom was Capt. Cundy’s lodging house, at that time the best in Penzance; this house still stands, but has been much altered, and is now occupied by Mr. Frank Cornish.

Now came the Market Place,—most of the shops were in this quarter. The Market House was a low oblong building with pent-houses on the north and east sides, but it was not sufficient for the trade of the town, and several of the butchers had stalls in the street, placed against the shop now occupied by Mr. F. J. Clarke, the draper, and the two houses above. The upper part of the Market House was used as a corn chamber, in which a large quantity of corn was exposed for sale on market days; and at the west end of this chamber was the Guildhall. At the east end of the Market House was a vacant covered plot where on Thursdays the Pig (carcase) Market was held: this open space was a great thoroughfare, and in it stood the stocks. East of all came the house where Sir H. Davy served his time and made his earliest experiments. Soon after I came to Penzance this house was occupied by Mr. Eva, painter and earthenware dealer, and on market-days he used to expose his wares on a narrow pavement in front of his shop. There was a low shop or two at the north-east end, and some rooms let to John Thomas, conveyancer, usually known as the French king. In a corner in the middle of this group was run up a very narrow house commonly called the bird cage. In the Market House was also the town prison, then called the clink. All these were taken down in 1835, when the New Market was begun under the superintendence of Mr. John Pope Vibert. On market-day many stalls stood around the Market House. The space on the south side was covered by the shoemakers’ stalls and the fisherwomen with their cowals, barely leaving room for a cart to pass: they claimed this as a right until the mayoralty of Mr. J. N. R. Millett, who, in 1839, by sheer force compelled the former to go to the Pork Market. The shoemakers were so numerous that they had a special benefit society, called “The Shoemakers’ Club.” In 1839 there were in the market from thirty to forty stalls, and some would hold over two hundred pairs of boots and shoes: of all these only two remained in 1875. On the north were curriers’ stalls, with leather to sell to the country people for repairing their shoes; at the south-east were the women with butter and eggs; fish stalls with fresh and salted fish, and jars of train oil for supplying lamps used in cottages, were on the pavements both on the south and west. In the corner by Mr. Care’s (then Mr. Small’s) shop stood a dyer, ready to take the knitted woollen stockings to be dyed black and returned in a week or two, having also with him a well-filled basket of worsteds of all colours for knitting and mending purposes. In the spring, trays full of grass seeds were sold by men who were guiltless of any farming knowledge; whilst in front of one at least of the drapers’ shops sat near the door, occupying good part of the pavement, an old woman selling the hessian which formed the coverings of the bales of drapery,—the said bales themselves often completely filling up the footways on both sides of the street near to what is now called Queen Square. This does not half exhaust the different articles exposed for sale on market-day; it seemed as if everyone who had goods to sell, and did not keep a shop, availed himself of this opportunity of coming before the public. Occasionally in the midst of this scene would appear a pack of mules laden with copper ore, threading their way through the crowd and sometimes being a little restive.

Several of the houses in the Market Place dated from 1614, when the corporation purchased from Mr. Daniel a three-cornered plot of ground, on a portion of which the Old Market was built. All these houses have disappeared or been so altered as to show nothing of their former condition. The last to be modernised was the fifth from the Green Market (north side), now in the occupation of Mr. F. J. Clarke, draper; this was one of the largest houses in the town, and when built had an extensive orchard on its eastern side. At the corner of Market Place and Causewayhead was a low shop occupied by Mr. Branwell; this was taken down about 1829, and while being rebuilt the business was carried on in a wooden shed in the Green Market.

On the south-west corner of the Market Place stood as at present a draper’s shop, then occupied by Mr. Broad; this house was rebuilt not long before 1825. At one time there was an old inn on this site, and a granite doorway belonging thereto is built into some of the back premises. Turning towards Chapel Street, still keeping the same side, were some old shops which were purchased by Mr. R. Coulson. In 1827 he built on part of their site what was then considered a very fine shop, but some of the old premises were not torn down for several years after, when Mr. John Coulson, a druggist and grocer (a combination of trades not uncommon in Penzance), built thereon a shop for himself. Both these houses are now united, and form the premises of Messrs. Victor.

At the west side stood what was at one time Common’s Hotel, the hotel of the town; but before my coming to Penzance it had been converted into two shops. There was a level platform in front of this building, terminating towards Chapel Street in a flight of steps: on this platform the gentlemen and tradesmen of the town used to meet and discuss the news. While occupied as the hotel, the band of the old volunteer corps played in front of it. At one time this was the mansion of the Tremenheeres. The platform and the shops were pulled down about 1832, and on the ground stand the premises of Messrs. York and Cornish. Next below was the shop of Mr. John Harvey, druggist; he had not long succeeded his father, who had carried on the business for nearly half a century. The Harvey family still continue to be druggists, and are the oldest in the town, dating from 1772; they are with one exception the only tradesmen who have followed the same occupation for three generations,—the other being the Branwell family. The outside of this building dates from about 1822, but inside the shop remain the old beams in their original state. A year or two after my coming to Penzance Mr. John Harvey became famous as the author of the Canorum Conclave, a very clever and amusing satire on the Wesleyans, who at that time moved the purchase of an organ for their chapel. One of the oddities of the town, Dick Rostrum, was for many years employed by the Harvey family. Many jokes were played on this man, and sometimes the tables were turned on the jokers. When asked by two gentlemen who took him each by the arm whether he was a rogue or a fool, he replied, “I believe I’m betwixt the two,” to the amusement of those standing by. This probably gave rise to the saying, “Betwixt and between, says Dick Rostrum.”

At the corner of what is now Queen Square stood the shop of Mr. Molyneux, draper; this had been a very fine private house at one time, occupied by Mrs. Treweeke, the leader of fashion in Penzance. It was converted into a shop not long before my coming to the town. This was the first instance in Penzance when the lower part of a house was taken away, leaving the upper part standing. It was successfully done by Messrs. James and Edward Harvey, the immense weight being kept up by large girders supported by iron pillars: the operation attracted considerable attention, and the result was the finest shop in the west. The original plan has since been largely changed; at present the shop is in the possession of Mr. Prockter, chemist. A large garden belonged to this house, though not adjoining it, on a portion of which is built the chapel in Parade Street.

From Market Place one passed into the Green Market, some idea of which may be gathered from a view by Skinner Prout, taken in 1828. All the houses in this place have either been rebuilt or much altered. At the corner opposite Messrs. Branwell’s was a shop with a projecting upper story, supported by pillars, which stood some time after the other old houses had gone. Next came the Three Tuns Inn, a long low house with a balcony over the entrance; this was torn down about 1831. At the north-west corner was the Shoulder of Mutton Inn, an extremely low thatched house, and by the side of it, forming part of the entrance to what is now called Bromley’s Square, was the prison of the manor of Conorton. This prison was a most wretched place. In 1775 it was visited by John Howard, who found one prisoner in it in a most distressing state. A description of this visit may be found in Brown’s Memoirs of John Howard. The last person confined here for any length of time was a man from St. Just, and while in the prison a bed was lent to him by a Mrs. Crocker, whose son gave me this information.

The manor of Conorton with many privileges extended from Gwithian, or perhaps farther, around to the Land’s End and Mount’s Bay,—in fact it included nearly the whole of West Penwith. Before the County Court came into existence the lord of the manor held a monthly court for the trial of small cases of debt, trespass, etc., not criminal. This court was for a long time presided over by Mr. Aaron Scobell, solicitor, as the lord’s deputy. The manor of Conorton was for many years held by Mr. Francis Paynter, of Penzance, solicitor. Every butcher in Penzance used to pay annually, at Christmas, to the bailiff of the manor of Conorton a marrow-bone or one shilling; this custom was continued until about thirty years ago.

The granite-fronted house in Bromley’s Square, which seems so strangely out of character with the other buildings, was at first approached from Alverton Street, and was considered a very respectable residence; this entrance was blocked up some time before 1825 by the building of the house now occupied by Mr. Hobley, confectioner.

At the west side of the Green Market where Mr. N. J. Hall’s shop now stands was a large brick house; this house has been much altered and reduced in size, and made narrower to give more room to the entrance to Alverton Street. At one time Mr. Barnaby Lloyd kept a draper’s shop on these premises. A grove of fir trees called Barnaby Lloyd’s Grove, which stood until a few years since at Madron Well, was planted by him.

On the south side stands the one house which has not changed since 1825,—the Commercial, formerly the Fire Engine Inn. This inn was not called after the engine employed to put out fires, but after the steam engines used in mines, which were at first commonly called fire engines.

In 1825, and for many years after, a great part of the Green Market was occupied by stalls of vegetables. Until about 1820 it was the Cattle Market. The pigs for sale were tied to the old cross which then stood where the stone cross is let into the ground. On market-days Mr. Barnaby Lloyd used gallantly to escort his lady customers across the place. On some market-days the space at the west end was filled with earthenware, offered for sale by travelling dealers from the potteries; these men usually stopped at the “Shoulder of Mutton.” An auction for all sorts of odd things was often held near the same place, whilst an itinerant knife grinder would occupy some convenient corner. I do not remember this man’s name, but he was ambitious of having a very long word painted on his machine to announce his trade. This word puzzled me, and I enquired what it meant the man said he did not know, but it was the longest word that could be found—the word was ‘Honorificabilitudinitas.’ He was also a corn doctor, and one of his patients informed me that he was a very skilful operator. From this and the account of Market Place it will be seen that in 1825 the Penzance Markets contained “a little of everything and something more.”

The cross since I have been in Penzance has twice changed its place: in 1825 it stood in the Green Market, then it went to the side of a house at the bottom of Causewayhead on the west side, and finally to a recess at the west end of the Market House. I have been told by the Rev. C. V. Le Grice that when the cross was removed from the Green Market the following inscription, perfectly legible, was found near its base:—“Hic procumbant corpora piorum.” It has been supposed that the cross at one time stood on the top of a pyramidal pile of steps like the one in Buryan church-yard; in this case the inscription would be on a level with the kneeling suppliant.

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