Falmouth (King Charles the Martyr)

FALMOUTH (King Charles the Martyr), a parish, and the head of a union, in the E. division of the hundred of Kerrier, W. division of Cornwall; comprising the sea-port and incorporated market-town of Falmouth, which possesses exclusive jurisdiction, 54 miles (S. W.) from Launceston, and 267 (W. S. W.) from London; and containing 7695 inhabitants, exclusively of a portion of the parish of Budock, which extends into Falmouth. The name of this place is derived from its situation at the mouth of the river Fal: the origin of the town may be dated subsequently to the year 1600, but long before that period the haven was well known, and resorted to by ships bound for British ports, being considered one of the most secure and commodious in Great Britain. The earliest historical mention of it occurs in the reign of Henry IV., when the Duchess Dowager of Bretagne landed here on her arrival in England, to celebrate her nuptials with that monarch. Until 1613 there was only a single house of entertainment for seafaring persons, with a few fishermen's cottages, on the site of the pre sent town; at which period John, afterwards Sir John, Killigrew began to build several houses, and met with much opposition from the corporations of Penryn, Truro, and Helston, who united to petition King James against the work, stating the evil consequences they anticipated to their own interests, should a town be built at Falmouth harbour. The matter was referred to the lords of the council, and by them decided in Killigrew's favour; the buildings therefore proceeded rapidly, and the town became a place of great trade. Soon after 1670, Sir Peter Killigrew, Bart., constructed a new quay, and procured an act of parliament to secure certain duties; and the subsequent establishment of the postoffice packets to Lisbon, the West Indies, &c., contributed much to the increasing prosperity of the place. In its infancy the town was called Smithick, under which appellation it is mentioned in a resolution of the house of commons, in January, 1653, appointing a weekly market; the first record that bears the name of Falmouth is the charter of incorporation, dated 1661. It was made a separate parish in 1664, having up to that period been a part of Budock.

The town is agreeably situated on the south-western shore of that branch of the harbour stretching to Penryn, and consists principally of one street, which, under different names, extends about a mile in length; it is paved, well lighted with gas, and amply supplied with water. The buildings in general are modern, and have a neat appearance; behind are rising grounds that overlook the harbour and town. At the entrance to the harbour are the castles of St. Mawes and Pendennis: the latter, which is on the western side, being built upon a peninsular eminence two miles in circumference at the base, and standing upwards of 300 feet above the level of the sea, has a very majestic appearance; it is fortified, and contains barracks, with storehouses and magazines. The public reading and news rooms, a handsome building with an arcade of six noble columns in front, were opened in 1826. Hot and cold sea-water baths have been established, with every requisite accommodation. Falmouth, from its advantageous position, is one of the principal ports in the west of England, and superior to any as a rendezvous for outward and homeward bound fleets. The port has for many years carried on a very considerable foreign trade; it was one of the first in the western counties to which the privileges of the Bonding act were extended, and is the only tobacco port in the counties of Cornwall and Devon: its jurisdiction extends from Helford river, westward, to the Dodman Point, eastward. The imports are from America, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Russia and the north of Europe, the Mediterranean, France, and Ireland; and a great quantity of pressed pilchards is sent to Italy, besides which, the principal exports consist of the produce of the tin and copper mines and manufactories: there is also a trade with Jersey in fruit and cider. A quantity of mining apparatus and hardware has been exported to the Brazilian and Mexican mines. Several regular trading-vessels from London, Bristol, and Ireland, bring large supplies of grocery and ship chandlery, and take in return to London, &c., a quantity of tin. The number of vessels of above fifty tons' burthen belonging to the port, is 67, and their aggregate tonnage 6585. Falmouth is supposed to have become a station for post-office packets to the West Indies about the year 1688: the establishment, till very lately, consisted of 29 ships, chiefly men-of-war brigs, and 4 steam-boats employed on the Lisbon and Mediterranean duty; but, at present, packets only sail to Madeira, Brazil, and Buenos-Ayres. At Falmouth and St. Mawes was formerly a very extensive pilchard-fishery, 14,000 hogsheads having been exported hence in one season; but from the decrease of fish, little has been done for several years past. There is some employment in ship-building and rope-making. An act was passed in 1845 for improving the harbour; and in 1846 an act was obtained for a railway hence to Plymouth. Markets are held on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, for butchers' meat, fish, and other provisions; and there are fairs on Aug. 7th and Oct. 10th, for cattle. The market-house was built in 1813, at the expense of Lord Wodehouse, and has a fountain of spring water in its centre.

By the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., cap. 64, the town and parish were incorporated with the ancient borough of Penryn, for parliamentary purposes. The municipal body of Falmouth, by charter of incorporation granted by Charles II. in 1661, consisted of a mayor, aldermen, burgesses, recorder, and other officers; but, by the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the government is now vested in a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors: the number of magistrates is two. The recorder holds a court of quarter-sessions: there are petty-sessions weekly; and the county justices meet at the Green Bank hotel once a month, on Thursday, to hold a petty-session for the eastern division of the hundred of Kerrier. The powers of the county debtcourt of Falmouth, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Falmouth. A neat and convenient gaol was erected in 1831, at a cost of £400. The rural district of the parish comprises by admeasurement 656 acres, of which 255 are arable, and the remainder pasture, plantation, and garden-ground. The living is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £3; net income, £688; patron, the Rev. W. J. Coope. The church, built soon after the Restoration, and dedicated to the memory of Charles I., "King and Martyr," was made parochial in 1664, by act of parliament. A handsome chapel was erected at the north-west end of the town, within the parish of Budock, in 1828; and a church in the early English style was built in 1842, by subscription, aided by a grant from the Incorporated and Diocesan Societies: it has 400 sittings, of which 245 are free. There are places of worship for Baptists, Bryanites, the Society of Friends, Independents, Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians, a synagogue, and a Roman Catholic chapel; also a classical and mathematical school for 100 boys, established in 1825. A branch of the Merchants' hospital for the relief and support of disabled seamen belonging to the port of London, and the widows and children of such as are killed or drowned in the merchants' service, was established about 1750. The Widows' Retreat, an almshouse containing ten small rooms, was erected in 1810, at the expense of Lord Wodehouse, and Samuel Tregelles, Esq. A dispensary was established about the year 1807. The poor law union of Falmouth comprises ten parishes or places, and contains 21,654 inhabitants. Near Pendennis are the remains of an intrenchment made by Cromwell during the civil war. Falmouth confers the title of Earl on the family of Boscawen, of Tregothnan.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.