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Penzance, Cornwall

Historical Description

Penzance, a market-town and a municipal borough in Cornwall. The town was formerly a chapelry of Madron parish, but is now divided into the three separate parishes of St Mary, St Paul, and St John. St Paul's parish is SW of Madron. The town stands at the head of Mounts Bay, and has a station on the G.W.R., 320 miles from London, 10 NE of Land's End, and 26 SW of Truro. It has a post, money order, and telegraph office. Population of the municipal borough, 12,432. Acreage of the civil parish, 337; population, 12,383; of the ecclesiastical parish of St John the Baptist, 4668; of St Mary, 6461; and of St Paul, 1311. Penzance derives its name, signifying " holy headland," from a chapel of St Anthony which stood on a point adjoining the pier; is conjectured to have had a castle on a site above the Barbican, near the quay; was burnt by the Spaniards in 1595, and plundered by Fairfax in 1646; was a coinage-town from the time of Charles II. till 1838, when the tin dues were abolished. It was The birthplace of Davies Gilbert and Sir Humphry Davy. It received a charter of incorporation from James I. of date 1614, and it is governed by a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors. It is a quarter sessions borough, has a coastguard station, and port; enjoys a charming climate, delightful environs, and good bathing appliances; attracts large numbers of strangers, both as summer residents and as visitors of hundreds of rich scenes and interesting antiquities for miles all around it. It presents, both in itself and in combination with Mounts Bay and St Michael's Mount, a very picturesque appearance. The town consists chiefly of several well-built streets, meeting in a market-place, and has been greatly improved in recent years. There are two esplanades-one of them the best in the W of England, 23 feet above the railway, overlooking all Mounts Bay, and which has been lengthened 300 feet and otherwise unproved. There is a head post office, four banks, several good hotels, a town-hall and corn market, an ancient market-cross, public hall, police station, custom-house, pier, assembly and billiard rooms, public baths, and a good swimming bath. There are three churches and several dissenting chapels, Penzance Library, established in 1818, containing over 20,000 volumes, a free library opened in 1893, a literary institute, a geological society and museum, a natural history society and museum, a science and mining school, a school of art, a free school, almshouses, and charities.

The market-house was erected in 1838, and is a granite structure, with tetrastyle Ionic portico and a dome. The public buildings were built in 1865-67, are of fine granite in the Italian Renaissance style; have a frontage of 122 feet in length; and contain a guildhall, municipal offices, newsrooms, geological museum with a good library, natural history and antiquarian society museum, and concert and lecture halls. The Morrab Gardens, 4 acres in extent, is in the centre of the town, and another recreation ground of 6 acres has been acquired in the N part of the borough. The harbour has two piers, was formed at a cost of about £60,000, comprises 20 acres of water area from 12 to 25 feet deep, and 2700 feet of quayage, and has a lighthouse showing a dioptric light, 33 feet above high-water mark; a roadway, viaduct, and swing-bridge, connecting the northern and southern 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 21 feet, was completed in 1884. Altogether about £100,000 has been expended on the harbour.

St Mary's Church was rebuilt in 1832, is in the Later English style, has a lofty tower to which a good peal of bells was added in 1865, and contains u. handsome serpentine font. The living is a perpetual curacy in the diocese of Truro; gross value, £450. Patrons, the Bishop of Truro and Vicar of Madron. St Paul's Church was built in 1843 at a cost of £5000, and is a building of granite in the Early English style. It was enlarged in 1894. The living is a perpetual curacy in the diocese of Truro; gross value, £260. St John the Baptist's is a building of moor stone in the Early English style, and was erected in 1881. The living is a perpetual curacy; net value, £200. Patron, the Bishop of Truro. There are Wesleyan, Congregational, Methodist, and Bible Christian chapels. The Roman Catholic Church of The Immaculate Conception is a large granite edifice in the Decorated style, and was erected in 1843. The town has an infirmary and fever hospital. A handsome marble statue of Sir Humphry Davy was erected in 1872 in front of the old town-hall.

Markets are held on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; great markets on third Thursday in January, February, April, June, July, August, October, and December. Fairs are held on 25 March, Thursday after Trinity, Thursday before Advent, and 8 Sept. A large trade is carried on in the import of timber, iron, tallow, hemp, and other commodities, and in the export of potatoes, early vegetables, fruit and flowers, pilchards, and tin. The shipping trade and the fishing industry are the main supports of Penzance. There are some tin-smelting works, foundries, flour and saw mills. Steamers ply regularly to Scilly, Liverpool, Falmouth, Plymouth, and London. The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port in 1895 was 60 (10,000 tons). The entries and clearances each average 1800 (230,000 tons per annum). The workhouse is in the rural part of Madron parish, and has accommodation for 400 persons.

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 
Civil parishMadron 
Poor Law unionPenzance 

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

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Penzance from the following:


Online maps of Penzance 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 districtTR18
Post TownPenzance