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Falmouth, Cornwall

Historical Description

Falmouth, a town, a municipal borough, a seaport, and a parish in Cornwall. The town stands on the W side. of the estuary of the river Fal, a short distance above its mouth, 11½ miles by railway S by W of Truro, and 65½ WSW of Ply-mouth. It has a station on the G.W.R. 306 miles from London. It dates from only 1613. Its site in 1600 had only two houses-an ale-house and a smithy-but was observed by Sir Walter Ealeigh, at a visit he made to the adjacent mansion of Arwenack on his return from the coast of Guinea, to be eminently suited for a great port, and was recommended by him as such to the council on his return to London. A small village began then to be formed on the site, and took the name first of Smithwick or Smithick; but even this, in 1613, had only 10 houses. A plan was formed in that year by Sir John Killigrew of Arwenack, the proprietor of the site, to raise the place to the importance of a town. Building operations thence went on, raising upwards of 150 houses within the next 30 years; an act of parliament was passed in 1652 making this place a head port in lieu of Penryn, a royal proclamation went forth in 1660 requiring it to be thenceforth called Falmouth, a charter was issued in 1661 investing it with the privileges of a corporate town, and the enterprises of trade steadily increased the number of houses to nearly 350 before the year 1700, and to upwards of 500 before the year 1750. The harbour, by its capaciousness and excellence, has ever since continued to render the town prosperous, and it gave perfect shelter in 1815 during a severe gale to a fleet of 300 vessels, several of them of large size, but was the scene in the previous year, at a point not far from the town, of the disastrous shipwreck of the " Queen" transport, when 195 invalids on board perished. Yet, though Falmouth can lay no claim to antiquity, some place near it appears to have been a seat of population in the Roman times. The editors of the Mag. Brit., 1738, say, " In old time a town which the ancients called Voluba stood on the river Fal, but that being destroyed long since, another is risen in its room at a little distance, which retains something of the old name, and is called Falmouth or Volemouth, which is a spacious and excellent haven, altogether as noble as Brundusium in Italy, and rivalled by Plymouth only, made by the falling of the river Fal into it.'' Borlase, in his " Antiquities of the County of Cornwall," states also that a large quantity of Roman coins, nearly all of the emperors Gallienus, Carinus, and Numerian, were found on a branch of the harbour.

The town stands on a peninsula, which terminates in a bluff point, crowned by Pendennis castle, at the entrance of the haven. It partly extends along the beach and partly ascends and occupies an adjacent eminence. It consists chiefly of one continuous line of streets, upwards of a mile in length, but includes thoroughfares branching inland from the main line, and has at each end, and on an eminence, handsome and commodious dwellings, which commands a dear view of the estuary. It has of late years undergone much improvement, and it shows in its recent portions a pleasant and tasteful aspect. Flushing and Little Falmouth, opposite to it, on the further shore of a branch of the estuary, are a sort of suburbs. Its climate is so mild that many exotic plants in the gardens of its suburbs flourish perennially in the open air, while orange trees and lemon trees grow against the garden walls, and bear abundance of fruit. An obelisk in memory of Sir Peter Killigrew stands opposite the Manor House of Arwenack. Pendennis Castle stands 198 feet above sea-level, occupies a considerable area, includes a circular tower, erected in the time of Henry VIII., and enlargements of the time of Elizabeth, is fortified on two sides by bastions and connecting curtains, is defended on the other sides by works conformable to the contour of the ground; is protected also by outlying batteries, contains magazines, storehouses, barracks, and accommodation for the lieutenant-governor; gave shelter in 1644 to Queen Henrietta Maria when embarking for France, and in 1646 to Prince Charles when embarking for Scilly; stood a siege of six months by the forces of the parliament, and then kept the royal standard longer in the breeze than did any other fort in England. The chief public buildings in the town are a town-hall, a market-house, public rooms, a custom-house, the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society's hall, a drill hall, a meteorological 'and magnetical observatory, a proprietory school, a dispensary, a merchant, seamen's hospital, widows' almshouses, a workhouse, and a public hospital, given by Mr Passmore Edwards. A free library was erected in 1894. A public garden at Berkeley Vale, about 7 acres in extent, was laid out and presented to the public in 1877 by the Right Hon. The Earl of Kimberley, K.G. The market-house was built by Lord Wodehouse. The public rooms form a handsome edifice. The Polytechnic Society's hall contains portraits and busts of scientific men, and belongs to an institution which was founded in 1833 for promoting science, art, and manufacture, and which holds annual exhibitions, and has published many volumes of transactions. The church of King Charles the Martyr was built in 1662-3. It is a plain building of granite, and contains some good monuments, and is in good condition. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Truro; net value, £877 with residence. AH Saints' Church was built in 1889 as a chapel of ease to the parish church. There are Roman Catholic, Wesleyan, Congregational, Primitive Methodist, and Bible Christian chapels.

The harbour, which is one of the finest in England, is 1 mile wide at the entrance between Pendennis Point and St Anthony's Point, has a lighthouse on the latter point, is slightly obstructed, a little inward from the entrance, by the Black Rock, which is covered by the tide, but pointed out by a beacon, has a fine deep channel on each side of that rock; ramifies into several creeks, one of them going between the town and Flushing; ascends about 4 miles between picturesque hilly shores to the influx of the fluviatile Fal; has an average breadth of about a mile, but a breadth at the town of about 2 miles; possesses a spacious anchorage opposite the town in Carrick Roadstead, with a depth of from 12 to 18 fathoms; has commodious docks and quays at the town, and has been so much deepened in its approaches to these as to afford access to the largest steamers in all states of the tide. New dry and floating docks were constructed in 1884. The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port in 1893 was 124 (20,999 tons). The entries and clearances each average f700 (265,000 tons) per annum. The customs revenue in 1893 was £1606. The export trade consists chiefly in China clay, China stone, granite, tin, and fish. The-import trade consists chiefly in grain, flour, timber, coal, manure, tin ore, bones, phosphate, rock, potatoes, and iron. Steamers to many foreign ports call at Falmouth, and steamers go from it to Dublin, Liverpool, Plymouth, Southampton, Portsmouth, and London. Fishing, boatbuilding, and trades connected with the business of a port are carried on. Markets are held on Saturdays. The town has a head post office, five banks, two good hotels, and publishes two weekly newspapers. Its railway joins the Cornwall at Truro, and was opened in 1863. The town is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors. In 1892 the borough was enlarged to include the parish of Falmouth and part of the parish of Budock, and at the same time divided into four municipal wards, viz., Smithick (population, 3920), Arwenack (2584), Trevethan (3220), and Penwerris (2941). Acreage of the civil parish, 617; population, 6925; of the ecclesiastical, 11,662. The borough returned two members to parliament until the passing of the Redistribution of Seats Act in 1885, when the number was reduced to one. The parish comprises 651 acres of land and 255 of water. The manor belonged- formerly to the Killigrews, and belongs now to the Earl of Kimberley. The climate of Falmouth is very salubrious, and is consequently now much frequented as a winter resort.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyCornwall 
Ecclesiastical parishFalmouth King Charles the Martyr 
Poor Law unionFalmouth 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Falmouth from the following:


Online maps of Falmouth are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Cornwall papers online:

Visitations Heraldic

We have a copy of The Visitations of Cornwall, by Lieut.-Col. J.L. Vivian online.

RegionSouth West
Postal districtTR11
Post TownFalmouth