Mention Penzance and “The Pirates of Penzance” comes to mind and for sure the Barbary Pirates were still snatching the good citizens of Penzance well into the seventeenth Century, yet explore the solid town of Penzance today and you will find a solid matron of a town, rising above the harbour. Penzance is more of solid, middle of the road, type of dowager, compared to the fashionable thirty something of St Ives but explore and you will find a rewarding companion in the sleepy granite streets, still echoing with memories a whisper of the Medieval town, the seafaring pirates and smugglers and the solid dignity of a former stannary town shaped by the Cornish Tin Industry.
Explore the streets of Penzance
So today my blog will guide you through some of the historic streets, harbour and Promenade of Penzance one of the early destinations of The Penwith Tour that explores West Cornwall.
Park on the old harbour but don’t take the pedestrian crossing into the modern shopping precinct, instead walk along to the slipway that flanks Penzance dry dock and you will find Chapel Street, the original main street from Medieval times and an eclectic mix of architecture to admire.
Here the time worn granite pavements clamber steadily up the hill from the harbour and to this day they conceal a labyrinth of smugglers tunnels.
Stop to explore The Admiral Benbow, filled with ships artefacts gathered from the sea by a former landlord and displayed over five floors. The Admiral Benbow had its own smugglers gang The Benbow Brandy Men and they must have known John Carter the head of the Prussia Cove smugglers just across the bay who was often troubled by the excise men from Penzance. Once when his good were seized by the Penzance excise men he went and reclaimed them in dead of night because “he had his customers orders to fulfill!” They knew it was him because Honest John only took what was his from the wharehouse
A few steps away the atmospheric Turks Head waits and each has their own smugglers tunnels leading back down to the sea.
History touched Chapel street again, when the first news of Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar was announced in the assembly rooms at the Union Hotel, conveyed by local fishermen who met HMS Pickle on her way to Falmouth
Market Jew Street
Turn right at the top of Chapel Street for a great view down over Market Jew street – a late medieval extension to Penzance, with imposing terraces accesses on the higher side by narrow granite steps set at regular intervals, to encourage pedestrians to sprint out of the way of the occasional passing car.
At the top of Market Jew streets with views out across the low lying land around Mounts bay a statue of Humphrey Day presides backed by an impressive domed building built on the site of the former Corn Exchange. This most famous son of Penzance – inventor of Laughing Gas, the Miner’s safety lamp amongst so many other things was a former president of The Royal Society.
You’ll find a sign post with directions just outside of Lloyds bank at the back of this building but if you retrace your steps up the hill and turn right into Causeway Head
The town people would have originally walked up through Causeway head for their water but these days expect to find a selection of small independent shops climbing up through this pedestrian precinct.
Look out for Mounts Bay Trading a labyrinth of Cookware, eastern artifacts, craft goods and clothes from the “labels” on the left and contemporary Lighthouse Gallery further up the hill.
Look out for the brown signs for “Penlee house” this will bring you to Morrab Road, where the broad road and fine old houses speak of another era and on the right hand side you will find Penlee House, set in an elegant garden, with a permanent display of Penzance and Newlyn School artists plus carefully chosen ever-changing exhibitions.
Walk down to the bottom to explore the peaceful lushness of Morrab Gardens a sub tropical oasis set between town and sea.
Penzance Harbours and Promenade
The first tidal harbour conceals the deeper, working harbours beyond so cross the Ross Bridge and explore the Albert Pier and lighthouse.
In the mornings and evenings the Scillonian docks here after plying to and from The Isles of Scilly before exploring the working harbour complete with Pirate ship “The Bag o’ Rags”. Several pleasure boats have their offices just beside the Ross Bridge – why not book a fishing, bird watching or wild life cruise with Marine Discovery or The Mermaid
Traffic does occasionally come to a halt in Penzance when the Ross Bridge is raised to let boats in and out of the dry dock.
Walk on beyond the harbour to Penzance Promenade stretching out towards Newlyn and still redolent of the era of fashionable sea side holidays, complete with Art Deco Lido – the salt water Jubilee Pool
I hope you’ve enjoyed a taste of exploring old Penzance – just get away from the tourist routs and you will find fine Georgian Squares from the Penzance’s heyday when Tin Mining boomed and she was a major Stannary Town; scratch a little deeper and the smugglers and pirates fade into the shadows of her streets and the silky depths of the sea lapping her harbours.
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