PENZANCE, the most westerly town in England, is a seaport, municipal borough and union town, in the parish of Madron, and situated on the north-west side of Mounts Bay, 326 miles from London, 130 from Exeter, 10 from the Land’s End, 18 south-west from Redruth, 47 south-west from Bodmin and 27 south-west from Truro, and the western terminus of the Great Western railway (West Cornwall section), and is head of a county court district, in the Western division of the county, hundred and petty sessional division of West Penwith, rural deanery of Penwith, archdeaconry of Cornwall and diocese of Truro. The name of the town, Pen-sans, is said to signify the “Holy Headland,” a chapel having formerly stood on the point which now forms the base of the Old Pier. In later days this place was denominated “Buriton,” a corruption of the name “Borough Town.” The barbican cellars, near the quay, indicate the site of the former castle. In July, 1595, a party of Spaniards landed at Mousehole, about three miles distant, and having laid waste that village and Newlyn, attacked Penzance and ravaged it by fire and pillage: in 1646 the town was sacked by Fairfax.

The town extends about a mile east and west, nearly the same distance north and south and is divided into two wards, the east and the west. The railway station is at the east end of the town, and through trains run from Penzance to the metropolis. A steamer leaves twice a week in winter and three times a week in summer (except May and June, when there is a daily service) for the Isles of Scilly: the distance to St. Mary’s, Scilly, is about 40 miles, and the average passage 4 hours.

Penzance was appointed to be a port Jan. 20, 1882, and the limits declared to commence at the western side of the Lizard Point, in the parish of Landewednack (being the western limit of the port of Falmouth), and to continue in a westerly direction round the Land’s End, and thence in a north-easterly direction to a place called Chapel-an-Gotha, in the parish of Perranzabuloe, and described in the Ordnance map as Chapel Rock (being the western limit of the port of Padstow), extending seaward to a distance of three miles from low-water mark from the coast within the said limits. Fishing boats are distinguished by the letters P.Z.

The western arm of the pier, built in 1772 and extended in 1812, is constructed on a vein of felspar porphyry, which at low water is exposed to view: a roadway, viaduct and swing-bridge, connecting the southern and northern portions of the harbour, were completed in 1881, and a floating space of 3½ acres in extent, with a depth of water over the dock sill of 21ft. was completed in 1884; upwards of £100,000 has been expended on the harbour. A lighthouse stands at the extremity of the southern extension, exhibiting a dioptric light of the fifth order, at an elevation of 33 feet above high water at ordinary spring tides, and showing a bright red for 80 degrees of the circle when there is a depth of 15 feet of water at the pier head (which occurs for quite eight hours out of the twelve), and when less than that depth displaying green instead of red. A black ball is exhibited by day when there is 15 feet depth of water at the pier head.

Penzance was first incorporated 9 May, 1614, which character was confirmed in 1663 by Charles II. who constituted it an assaying or “coinage” town for tin, a position which it continued to hold till 1838: other charters have since been granted, and by the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835, the Corporation, acting also as the Urban Sanitary and Port Authority, now consists of a mayor, six aldermen and eighteen councillors. The borough has also a commission of the peace and a separate court of quarter sessions.

St. Mary’s ecclesiastical parish was formed March 24, 1871, from the original parish of Madron; the church, rebuilt in 1834, is a large building of granite in the Perpendicular style, consisting of chancel, nave of five bays, aisles and a lofty embattled western tower with pinnacles, containing a clock and a fine peal of 8 bells, hung in 1865: the east window is stained and there are several memorial windows: a handsome serpentine font was placed in the church in 1874, and in 1885 a carved stone reredos was erected to commemorate the jubilee of the church, and was subsequently extended after designs by Mr. Harry Hems, of Exeter; the sculptured figures include the four evangelist, and the angels St. Gabriel and St. Raphael, to whom an earlier chapel was dedicated: there are 1,800 sittings. In the churchyard stands a mutilated ancient cross, supposed to have been connected with an earlier chapel, and on a pedestal is placed the capstone of the spire of the previous church. The register of baptisms and burials dates from the year 1789; marriages and earlier records are incorporated with the registers of Madron. The living is a vicarage, gross yearly value £450, in the gift of the Bishop of Truro, with approval of the vicar of Madron for the time being, and held since 1860 by the Rev. Philip Hedgeland M.A. of Pembroke College, Oxford, and prebendary of Exeter.

St. Paul’s ecclesiastical parish was formed March 22, 1867 from the chapelry of Penzance in the parish of Madron; the church, in Clarence street, built in 1843, at a cost of £5,000, defrayed by the late Rev. Henry Batten, is an edifice of granite in the Early English style, consisting of chancel, nave, transepts, west porch and a western bell cote containing one bell: the pulpit and communion rails are carved out of solid blocks of granite: the stained east window was presented at a cost of £400, and there is also a memorial window to the Rev. Henry Batten, and all the other windows are stained: the porch, erected in 1886, is a memorial to Miss Emily Borlase Bolitho: there are 200 sittings. It is now (1893) proposed to commemorate the Jubilee of he church by the addition of a north aisle and transept at a cost of £2,000, from designs by Mr. I. W. Trounson F.R.I.B.A. architect. The register dates from the year 1867. The living is a vicarage, gross yearly value £250, with residence, in the gift of Mrs. Henry Batten, and held since 1883 by the Rev. Jedediah John Hunt.

St. John the Baptist’s is an ecclesiastical parish, formed Feb. 14, 1882, from that of St. Mary; the church, at the top of Trewartha terrace, is a building of moor stone, with granite dressings, in the Early English style, erected in 1881 at a cost of £7,000, and consists of chancel, nave of four bays, transepts, aisles, east and west porches and has one bell: there are sittings for 600 persons. The register dates from the year 1881. The living is a vicarage, gross yearly value £320, in the gift of the Bishop of Truro, and held since 1883 by the Rev. Edward Townend M.A. of Exeter College, Oxford.

The Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, in Rosevean road, is a large edifice of granite, in the Decorated style, erected in 1847, with a western turret containing one bell: the altar and the reredos of granite, serpentine and marble, was presented in 1869 by Sir Paul Molesworth bart: there are 500 sittings.

There is a Jewish synagogue in New street.

The Baptist chapel in Clarence street was built in 1836, and has 600 sittings. The congregational chapel, Market Jew street, was built in 1807, and will seat 450 persons. The Bible Christians chapel, High street, built in 1879, is now (1893) being enlarged at an estimated cost of £1,000, under the direction of Mr. I. W. Trounson F.R.I.B.A. architect. The Primitive Methodist chapel, in Mount street, erected in 1839, has 550 sittings. The Wesleyan Methodist chapel, Chapel street, erected in 1814 and enlarged in 1864, is a building of granite, with a portico of the Doric order, and has sittings for 1,800 persons. The Free Methodist chapel in Parade street, is a structure of granite, rebuilt in 1889 at a cost of £2,500, from the designs of Mr. Oliver Caldwell, architect, with a school room in the basement: there are sittings for 750 persons.

The Salvation Army barracks in Queen street, established in 1881, will seat 1,600 persons.

The Cemetery, about half a mile from the town, is in the parish of Madron; in 1854, 3A. 2R. 17P. of land was acquired at a cost of £1,100; the cost of inclosure and building two mortuary chapels and a lodge amounted to £1,800: in 1886 2A. 4P. of land was bought at a cost of £259 5s.; cost of laying out £190 15s.; the cemetery is under a burial board of nine members.

The Public Buildings, in Alverton street, begun in 1864 and completed in 1867 from the designs of the late Mr. John Matthews, then surveyor of the town, cost nearly £13,000, exclusive of furnishing, and are built entirely of granite, in the Italian style: the east wing is occupied by the Corporation offices proper. The insignia of the Corporation comprise two maces, a mayor’s chain and badge and a borough seal: the maces of silver, are 19 inches in length and form a pair; the shafts are elaborately chased and divided by projecting bands, and the foot knops bear the cognizance of the town, “the head of S. John Baptist in a charger,” and the name of Thomas Grosse, mayor, 1670; the heads display the national emblems crowned, and above these a circlet and cresting; on the flat tops are the royal arms of the Stuarts: the mayor’s chain and badge, purchased in 1871, at a cost of £142, is of gold, and consists of a series of plain but massive links, the centre link bearing a shield of the arms of Cornwall:—“az. 15 bezants,”" with the motto “One and all;” from this depends a circular badge of gold and enamel, charged with the town arms and the legend “Pensans Anno Domini 1614:” the borough seal has the same arms and inscription: the mayor and other members of the Corporation wear black gowns, trimmed with velvet; and the sergeants-at mace red gowns, laced, and three-cornered hats.

The centre block of the Public Buildings comprises a large concert hall, known as “St. John’s hall,” seating 850 persons and containing a fine organ, and a smaller or lecture hall, seating 300: chess and whist clubs, a debating society, masonic lodge and other societies meet here: the west wing is devoted to the purposes of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, founded in Feb. 1814, by the late John Ayrton Paris M.D. some time president of the Royal College of Physicians, who died 24 Dec. 1856, and Mr. Ashurst Majendie, aided by the nobility, gentry and mine agents of the county; it now ranks amongst the most distinguished scientific institutions in the kingdom, and has a museum containing an excellent and extensive collection of geological and mineralogical treasures and a good library. The Natural History and Antiquarian Society, founded in 1839, occupies rooms in the east wing of the Public Buildings; the collection is chiefly of local interest, being especially rich in ancient querns and funereal urns. The Institute, established in 1848, has also reading and lecture rooms in the Public Buildings on the right side of the principal entrance, and on the opposite side is the Penzance News Room: in the courtyard in front is a fountain, the basin of which, nearly 12 feet in diameter, is cut out of one block of granite.

The Penzance School of Art, established in 1852, was removed in 1880 to new premises at the top of Morrab road: the building is of granite and has a highly ornamental frontage with dressings of terra cotta. A wing was added in 1888 and used as an Art Museum, but has since been purchased for £900 by the Town council, and a Free Library is now (1983) being formed with the assistance of a bequest to the town by Octavius Allen Ferris esq. late of Highgate, London N, who left a similar amount to the towns of Truro, Falmouth, Redruth and Camborne, as a nucleus towards the formation of free libraries: the library, which is on one floor, will contain lending and reference departments and a news room, and has been fitted at an cost of £350; Thomas Bedford Bolitho esq. M.P., D.L., J.P. has presented 1,000 volumes, and the first catalogue will contain a list of 5,000 vols.: Mr. Charles Henry Benn is librarian. A further addition to the main building is occupied by the Mining and Science Schools, opened 7 Oct. 1890, at a cost for building and fittings of nearly £1,900: on the ground floor are the technical instruction hall and the lecture theatre, used at present as a school of cookery: upstairs are chemical lecture rooms, class rooms and a laboratory filled with working benches &c. for 24 students, furnace room for metallurgical work, balance room &c.: Mr. Harry Cavendish, associate of the Royal School of Mines, principal. Here are also premises occupied by the Cornish Camera Club, comprising a dark room, studio and enlarging rooms for the use of members; visitors are also allowed the use of the rooms on payment of a small fee.

The market House and old Town Hall, erected in 1837, is a building of granite in a quasi-Doric style, standing at the top of Market Jew street, and has a central dome, on the ground floor, is a spacious and well regulated meat market, and above is a large chamber used as a corn market; Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and market days; but the chief market is held on Thursday. The poultry, butter and fish markets are in a large building in Prince’s street. Cattle markets are held on the third Thursday in January, February, April, July, August, October and December. A fair is held on Corpus Christi day and the two days following.

In the Market place is a round-headed cross, 5 feet high and about 2 feet wide, with this inscription: “Hic procumbunt corpora piorum.”

The head quarters of A Company 1st Volunteer Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry are in the Corn Exchange, Market House buildings: her is No. 7 Company of the 1st Cornwall (Duke of Cornwall’s) Volunteer Artillery, Western Division, Royal Artillery, the head quarters of which are at Causeway Head.

A battery has been constructed at Chyandour to represent the fighting deck of an ironclad, and is intended for the gunnery instruction of the Naval Reserve attached to the Penzance district; there is one 6in. breech-loader with Armstrong mountings; two 5in breech-loaders with Vavasour mountings and two 1in. 4-barrel Nordenfeldts, besides one 64lb. m.l.-rifled gun for target practice; a drill shed, 60 feet by 30 feet, also a shed for two 9lb. field guns.

The public baths, on the western esplanade, were built at a cost, including site, of £5,000, and opened in July, 1887. A swimming bath, 75ft. by 28ft. was constructed in 1889; an 18in. earthenware pipe which runs 350ft. into the sea, enables the swimming bath, which is below the low-water mark, to be filled without pumping.

The Queen’s hotel, the largest on the esplanade, contains nearly 100 bedrooms; the Western and Union hotels afford every comfort to visitors and there are numerous temperance hotels, of which Perrow’s and Paul’s are the principal.

Penzance may be described as generally prosperous and the trade is increasing.

The principal trade of the town consists in the importation of coals, timber, tallow, hemp, iron, corn, flour, bale goods and groceries, and the exports are tin, copper, fish, serpentine, granite and leather: the pilchard fishery is also carried on to a considerable extent in the adjoining villages of Mousehole and Newlyn, where the fish are cured and exported in shiploads, chiefly to Italy; large quantities of fruit, flowers, potatoes and other vegetables and the produce of the mackerel fishery are dispatched hence by rail, amounting in the course of a year to upwards of 5,000 tons of potatoes, about 8,000 tons of broccoli and 9,000 tons of mackerel and other fish: large quantities of flowers, amounting to 450 tons yearly, are now exported from the Scilly islands, and the trade is rapidly increasing.

The shipping trade and the fishing industry are the main supports of Penzance. Shipbuilding is carried on on a limited scale. A new dock has been completed since 1884, which greatly increases the facilities for discharging and shipping cargo. The consolidated Tin Smelting Co., formed in 1891 by the amalgamation of Messrs. Bolitho, Sons and Co., the Trereife (R. R. Michell and Co.) and Carvedras (Messrs. Daubuz & Co.) Cos. Truro, is now the largest company of this kind in the West of Cornwall, and have a tin-smelting works at Chyandour, near Penzance, and are very largely interested in the mining and fishing industries of West Cornwall, as well as being the principal bankers at Penzance. There are some large flour mills at Penzance and Gulval, the principal being those of Messrs. George Bazeley and Son, Messrs. R. M. Branwell and Sons, and Messrs. Bodilly and Co. The Gulval Ice Co. has a store at Newlyn; and there are several foundries and saw mills.

The West Cornwall Infirmary, established in 1874, and the Dispensary, an older institution, dating from 1809, now form one establishment in St. Clare street: a new wing was added in 1887 at a cost of £1,000, the joint donation of Edward Thomas and William Bolitho esqrs.: there are 18 beds and 2 cots. During 1892 there were 124 in-patients and 1,826 out-patients: the institution is supported by voluntary contributions and is efficiently conducted.

The Infectious Diseases Hospital in Rosevean road was established in 1879, under the Urban Sanitary Authority, and during the past 14 years upwards of 30 patients have been treated.

The Dennis Charity, amounting to £48 yearly, is distributed in bread and money.

In 1889 Morrab House, with its grounds of four acres, situated on a gentle slope within view of the sea, were purchased by the Town Council at the cost of £4,000, and tastefully laid out from plans by Mr. Reginald Upcher with sub-tropical plants, flowering shrubs and flower beds: two ponds have been made and stocked with gold fish and in each are fountains. The house now contains the Penzance library, removed from the Public Buildings and comprising nearly 20,000 volumes and many pamphlets; the books include the Dawson collection of autographs and portraits, consisting of 24 volumes and a rare collection of the dramatists of the Elizabethan period and Restoration: attached is a reading room for the use of subscribers.

Penzance has lately (1893) been constituted a meteorological station; a rain gauge, thermometers &c. are placed in the Morrab gardens; barometers at the Public buildings and sunshine recorders on the dome of the Market house.

Sir Humphry Davy kt. and bart. was born in this town 17th Dec. 1778, and died at Geneva, May 29, 1829: a fine marble statue of the great philosopher, chemist, and author, was erected in 1872, at a cost of about £600, in front of the Old Town hall, not far from the site of his birthplace, the sculptors being Messrs. Wills, of Euston road, London: the statue, which is 8 feet 8 inches high from the pedestal, is designed after Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait, painted for the Royal Society, and now at Burlington House, and represents Sir Humphry in the well-known costume of the portrait, with the right hand resting on a safety-lamp: the pedestal, about 10 feet high, is formed of the finest blue Lamorna granite.

Mounts Bay is a large expanse of sea bounded by Tol Pedn Penwith on the west, and the Lizard on the east, and is noted for its invariably mild and equable climate: the principal feature in the bay is St. Michael’s Mount, which will be found fully described under a separate heading [not included in this transcript].

There are many delightful walks around Penzance; and the locality is generally recommended as a place of residence for invalids suffering from pulmonary complaints.

During the season Jersey cars run to Gurnard’s Head, Logan Rock and Land’s End.

The area of the township is 401 acres of land and 850 of water; rateable value, £46,008; the population of the borough in 1881 was 11,194; and in 1891, 12,432.

More about Penzance

More from Kelly’s 1893