A bit of history
Penzance owes its name ('holy headland' from the Cornish pen and sans) to the small rocky headland to the south of the harbour (the Jubilee swimming pool stands there now) and the chapel which once stood just inland (on or close to the site of the present church).
The settlement of Penzance would have been not a great deal more than this for much of its history until the sixteenth century, Mousehole being the principal harbour on Mount's Bay before then. Following its burning by the Spanish in 1565, much of the infant town had to be rebuilt and it was not long before it was incorporated as a borough.
The oldest part of the town centred on the port. Chapel Street, the oldest street in Penzance, leads down to the old harbour, alongside St Mary's Church which has replaced the ancient chapel.
The old harbour, shown in the second photo inside, is largely dry except at high tide. The staircase you can see leads up to Chapel Street, which it meets just alongside the Admiral Benbow (see the Restaurants tip)
This beautiful house was built by the Branwell family in 1865 and purchased by the town of Penzance as a war memorial in 1946. It was completely refurbished in 1997.
It contains the town's museum and art collections, and an extensive collection of Cornish history and memorabilia. There are regular exhibitions of Cornish artists or with Cornish themes.
When the house was built, Morrab Road did not exist, and the very extensive park bordered on what is now Morrab Gardens, then the Morrab House Estate, the home of Charles Campbell Ross MP.
The beautiful park was laid out with many rare and tropical plants. The family were friendly with the Dorien Smiths who still live at Tresco Abbey, on Tresco, Isles of Scilly. Photographs exist in their family albums showing the Branwells in the now famous Tresco Abbey gardens.
The house is open in the summer from 10am to 5pm (last admissions 4.30pm). Admission 3pounds, children free, and admission free for everybody on Saturdays. Check the website for the winter opening hours.
- Museum Visits
The Jubilee pool
There have been a number of jubilees around lately, but the Penzance Jubilee Pool commemorates the Silver Jubilee of King George V. It was built on the sea front on the site of a gun battery than protected the harbour against the French during the Napoleonic wars!
The large pool is tidally filled with fresh seawater and holds nearly 25 thousand gallons of water, which are treated to ensure safe bathing quality. Originally designed by the Borough Engineer who compared its shape to that of a seagull seen alighting on the water, it was completely overhauled in 1992. The pool and paddling pool for small children is a survivor of Art Deco design.
It is intended as a Lido, besides bathing it offers sheltered seating against the south west wind which is usually blowing at Penzance. Suntrap terraces, a good café and marvellous views over the Bay mean that non swimmers find it a very pleasant place to relax.
Penzance Town Trail
If you want to explore the town, you can't do better than to follow the Penzance Town Trail. This takes you on a circular route through the town, tracing its story through buildings and historical remains, rounds and medieval crosses, churches, chapels, farm towns and shops.
There is a guidebook which describes the 16 waymarkers.
The Penzance Town Trail Guidebooks are available from the Tourist Information Centre, Penzance Town Council Offices, Penlee House Museum and Gallery, and various local shops.
Historic Chapel Street
Perhaps Penzance's most interesting street is Chapel Street. Running between the town centre and harbour area the street is an eclectic mix of buildings, with each one having its own story.
It is also the centre of Penzance's restuarant and bar scene.
From top to bottom some of the more noteable buildings are:
The Egyptian House
Built in 1835 for John Lavin, a local mineralologist, the building was built at a time when there was a bit of craze for all things Egyptian. The actual design of Penzance's Egyptian House is very similar to an 1812 museum in Picadilly, London
The Union Hotel
A fairly unremarkable looking late Georgian building on the outside, the Union is historically important. It is where the victory of the Battle of Trafalgar and death of England's naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson, was announced
The Turks Head
A little further down the street on the same side as the Union is the Turks Head pub. It is apparently the oldest pub in the town, which when considering how many pubs there are in Penzance is actually quite significant. It also has a long standing reputation for serving quality pub food
The Admiral Benbow
Named after Admiral John Benbow, this pub is famed for being in the opening scene of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, Treasure Island.
It is instantly recognisable, if not by the overtly nautical, cottagey styling, but by the life size smuggler taking aim from the roof
- Arts and Culture
Located close to the promenade, just behind the library, this pleasantly decorated park is tidy and quiet. It is also chock full of cool sub-tropical flowers and plants. There is a bandstand for summer concerts and lots of places to sit and picnic or play frisbee. Definitely worth visiting if you are in the mood for lazing around under a palm tree reading a good book or eating lunch. Close by is Penlee Park, a larger park with tennis courts, flowers, and fountains.
- Family Travel
Stroll Around The Harbour
If you're in the mood to stretch your legs you can walk freely around Penzance's harbour and check out the yachts and other vessels docked there, including the Scillonian, which makes regular trips to the isles of Scilly. You'll also find some nice views of the bay and the town itself. Hungry? Let your legs lead you toward the bus stop and stop into the Bus Stop Cafe for some hot chocolate or a cheap fried egg with a rasher of bacon. A pleasant way to spend an hour or two.
- Sailing and Boating
- Budget Travel
Use The Free Internet At The Library
There are a few internet cafes in Penzance, but there's no need for them, at least not for visitors. The local public library has free internet access on 14 terminals, available for one half hour at a time - just enough time to check email and do your essentials. We never needed to use a cafe, and never had to wait long for one of the computers at the library. Save your money for the fun stuff!
- Arts and Culture
- Budget Travel
Live like an Egyptian
Well, not quite. I was trying to crowbar in a Bangles reference but that's about the best I can do. Anyway, you'll find the Egyptian House on Penzance's Chapel Street, the oldest street in the town. A mineralogist named John Lavin built it in the 1830s to house a geological museum. It was abandoned for years before being restored some 25 years ago. It's a curious, flamboyant building which somehow doesn't look completely out of place. It didn't appear to be open when we were there, and information about it on the web is scarce.
Stoll the little streets
looking back towards the water
There are nice little shops to visit along the winding streets. I enjoyed a needle work shop and some small book stores.
- Book now for big savings!
- Hotels.com Outstanding choice of hotels all over the world at fantastic prices.
- Save money, Book now!
- Booking.com Excellent choice, Low rates