The North and South of the town

So far has been chiefly taken up with old Penzance on its east and west sides; the north and south streets now come under notice.

The north side of Penzance, Caunsehead (now Causewayhead or North Street), is very different now to what it was in 1825. In that year all the trading part of Penzance disappeared soon after passing Messrs. Branwell’s corner. The houses from that corner up to Back Lane (Bread Street) have been entirely rebuilt. The London Inn and the houses as far as the “Duke of Cumberland” were only erected about 1820–1822; they were built on an old garden bounded towards the street by a thorn hedge, and on the site of a ruined building called by the neighbours “the castle.” The London Inn was in 1825 kept by Mr. Stephen Weaver, who was also a teacher of music and dancing, a dealer in music and musical instruments, was licensed to let out post horses, and contractor for conveying prisoners to Bodmin. The “Duke of Cumberland” for many years after it was built stood apart.

At the top of Causewayhead on this side was the Cattle Market, an unenclosed space; just above, on a corner plot, a man named Bellman built what was then called a large house; it was considered so far out of town, and so exposed, that for many years it was known as Castle Windy, or Mount Whistle. The row of houses between Castle Windy (Clare Villa) and Union Terrace were built about the time I came to Penzance;—beyond these houses were fields.

On the left-hand side at the bottom of Causewayhead, opposite Bread Street, was an old inn called the Royal Oak, and close to it was the town shoot, the water coming from the reservoir at the top of the street. This shoot was removed about 1830; the water then and until the erection of the present corner shop in the Green Market, passing through jets built up close to the side of the house. The old shoot took up a large piece of the breadth of the road. Between this and the reservoir, on the same side of the street were some small houses, and then came fields.

York House was commenced in 1825 by a Mr. Pope, who had been in New York and accumulated much money. He died before its completion, and left it to one of his relatives, Mr. John Pope Vibert, who carried on the work. The Rev. C. V. Le Grice named this house “The Vatican.” Its first occupant was Mrs. Rogers, widow of John Rogers, Esq., of Penrose. Chapel St. Clare was merely a cottage in 1825; some parts of the old building still remain at the back of the present house.

Chapel Street (the best street on the south), described in old deeds under the name of Our Lady Street, as leading to the chapel of St. Mary, was for many years the most important in the town, and even when I came to Penzance might be described as the court end. On the left-hand side of the street, near the top, was the house wherein Mr. Price, the father of Sir Rose Price, had lived. In 1825, and for some time before, it had been the residence of the Giddy family, a name which occurs frequently amongst the mayors of the town. On the death of Sir Rose Price, in 1834, his son, Sir Charles, had the fine old house torn down, and on its site and the gardens belonging thereto are built Prince’s Street, the Prince’s Market, and the two houses in Chapel Street next above the Union Hotel.

In Prince’s Street was also built a new room to supersede the Assembly Rooms, but, though often used for concerts and exhibitions, it did not altogether succeed, and now after sundry changes it is the Billiard Room of the Penzance Billiard Club. In 1825 the Union Hotel, originally the house of the Hitchens family, of Poltair, was the hotel of the town; behind it was the Assembly Room, etc., built by subscriptions 1791. The balls—they had winter balls then in Penzance—were always in this room, which for the size of the town might with its pendant glass chandeliers be justly called handsome. One of the rooms in the hotel had a very good ornamented ceiling. In the yard over the stables was the Penzance Theatre; of course there was rather a flavour of the stables, but in other respects it was tolerably suitable for its purpose. I remember once seeing an American negro perform Othello at this place; the elder Kean also paid Penzance a visit, and played on these boards. The Fisher Company who played at Penzance, Falmouth, etc., early in this century, had many good performers amongst them; some in after years becoming metropolitan stars. Incledon the famous singer, a native of St. Keverne, sometimes sang in this company. The stage end of the theatre was afterwards made into the Masonic Hall, and the auditorium was converted into a Billiard Room. The front of the Union Hotel has been taken down, and the house much altered since I first saw it.

On the same side of the street, not far from the Union Hotel, was Custom-house Lane, so called from the Custom-house having been there at one time. Before 1825 it had been in two other places—Quay Street, and the back of that street where it still is. Opposite the Wesleyan Chapel was an old inn, the Turk’s Head, about 1820, and for some years after, kept by Holloway, father of the famous pill manufacturer. Behind this inn was the old Concert Room of the town. Concerts were given in Penzance by local performers long before the close of the last century. Dr. Giddy was for many years their president. They had a very good musical library,—two complete sets of overtures and symphonies, and very many books of trios for two violins and violoncello. When Dr. Giddy died there was a cessation of these meetings. An unsuccessful attempt to revive them was made in 1827, and in 1840 the Penzance Harmonic Society was formed, giving concerts during each winter for about five years. After that, the organist of St. Mary’s, Mr. Viner, gave a series of subscription concerts for four years; and for the last twenty the Penzance Choral Society has been doing good work in keeping up the standard of musical taste in Penzance.

But to return to Chapel Street, the granite-fronted house just below the “Turk’s Head” was in 1825 the residence of Mrs. Carveth; the entrance was then in the middle of the house, and was reached by a flight of steps thrown from the street across the area. The house below it was a lodging house, and in it Skinner Prout lodged when he first came to town, in 1827. Next came what is now Abbey Street, then I think known as New Street Slip: the house at the bottom was called by its present name—The Abbey—before 1825, a title which is said to have originated from the house having been at one time inhabited by two maiden ladies who lived very secluded lives. The brick house in Chapel Street immediately after Abbey Street was built by the Oxnams. In 1825 it was occupied by General Tench, who wrote a book on New South Wales, where he was stationed. The front door was approached by a double flight of steps, removed some years after; the building is now divided into two houses. This property came into the hands of the Rev. Thos. Vyvyan, who, about 1834, sold a portion of the garden attached to it, and on the ground the National Schools were erected; the garden was still further curtailed by the building of the New Connexion Chapel. Next came some small houses, and then the houses opposite the church, which have not been altered since 1825; this latter part was known as the Church stile. The large granite-fronted house now in the occupation of Mrs. Coulson was built by Mr. Ben Batten many years after I came to the town.

Beginning again at the top of Chapel Street the first thing of interest was the brick house nearly opposite the Union Hotel; this house was at one time the residence of some of the Tremenheere family. It must have taken the place of another and older building. In the back may still be seen a fine old wainscotted chamber, known as the Mayor’s Parlour; and in the front rooms two good carved chimney pieces. In 1825 this house was I believe inhabited by a Mr. Branwell, whose son built an office in the adjoining lane for his business as a solicitor. From that circumstance it was called Chancery Lane,—a name it still bears. Between this lane and the Wesleyan Chapel scarcely any alterations have taken place for the last fifty years.

The Wesleyan Chapel, built in 1814, has undergone many alterations and been considerably enlarged, the colonade in front of the building is a very modern addition. The chapel is now one of the largest in the county. Next came the two houses occupied by the Wesleyan ministers, and then back from the street in a paved court stood the remains of the residence of the Gwavas family. One of the members of this family was famous for his knowledge of the old Cornish language. The last bearer of the name died in North Parade about thirty years ago. On the site of these three houses the Wesleyan Schoolroom now stands. The two brick houses adjoining the schools were in 1825 one large house; it was for a long time uninhabited, and was believed to be haunted.

Several old houses in Penzance had this reputation, and the belief in ghosts was almost universal amongst the lower classes. One special legend was “The Heavy Coach.” This mysterious vehicle, drawn by headless horses, drove through the town in the middle of the night with a heavy rumbling noise. No one in modern times ever saw this coach, though some old folks say they have heard it. This particular house was haunted by Mrs. Baines, who was condemned to spin black wool into white. This ghost delusion was I have heard kept up for some time by Captain Carveth, who lived nearly opposite, and operated with a magic lantern. However, after many changes, a portion being at one time let for a cooperage, the house was then divided, and the lower half bought by Mr. Richard Pearce, many times mayor of Penzance, who resided therein; and the upper part taken for the Penzance Dispensary, an institution founded in 1809, principally through the influence of Mr. Hoare, a gentleman from London, at that time living in Penzance.

Next came Vounderveor Lane, which was originally the only carriage road from Penzance to Newlyn, Paul, Mousehole, etc. The word lane is superfluous,—vounder being the Cornish for road, and veor meaning great. Vounderveor is therefore the great road; in this road is is now the School of Art, established in 1852; its first meetings were held in the Temperance Hotel, Prince’s Street. On the other side of the lane was a large low stone house with a very massive chimney abutting at one end, then came a house occupied by the Penzance Dispensary; when this institution was removed to another part of the same street, this house was known as the Old Dispensary. Both these buildings were bought by Mr. Richard Pearce, and on their site are two new houses facing Chapel Street, while a third stands on part of their garden at the entrance of Regent Square: a narrow strip of land was sold to the town council in order to widen Chapel Street. After this came the large stone house at that time the dwelling place of the Dennis family, who lived here for many years after 1825; it has been altered in appearance by the insertion of new windows. On the garden opposite the front door stood an old carpenter’s shop.

The block of brick houses adjoining the church are very nearly the same as they were in 1825; for a long time they were known as Rotterdam Buildings, tradition having said that they were built by money obtained from Dutch prizes taken by a Penzance privateer. The back doors opened into the church-yard, and until the new church was built access could be obtained to them at all hours. The Post-office was in one of these houses, nominally kept by Mr. N. Phillips, but really by his wife and her assistant, Miss Swain. On Mr. Phillips resigning, Miss Swain became his successor, remaining for a time I believe in the same house. She then migrated for a short period in Alverton, but soon returned to Chapel Street, first to the house formally occupied by the Gwavas family, and afterwards to the house next above the “Turk’s Head.” In Chapel Street, in 1825, were the two banks of the town—Messrs. Batten, Carne, and Carne, and Messrs. Boase, Grenfell, and Boase. The Messrs. Bolitho were at Chyandour until 1834. The Church, a little low building with a spire but no tower, came much more out towards the street than the present one. The principal thoroughfare for passengers to the Quay was up a flight of steps at the corner of Rotterdam Buildings, and round the south side of the church to another long flight of steps opposite Quay Street. The church-yard was open at all times, and was a favourite spot with old sailors, etc., from the Quay, who used to sit in the sun on the tombstones, or on the wooden seat in the porch, which was a warm sheltered corner for the old men; the boys from the neighbourhood also used this place as a play ground, and many good games of marbles have been played there. The view from the church-yard towards the east has not much changed, but the completion of Regent Terrace has altered it in that direction. In the autumn of 1825 when the first steam-boat came into Penzance, I stood with many others in the church-yard watching its approach. Although the church-bell figures in the corporation account, it was not used in 1825 for calling people to worship; that was done by the town crier, Mr. Sampson Reynolds, who was also the clerk, he went through the streets every Sunday ringing his bell as he walked: his course began with the house of the mayor, and ended with the church. As most of the church goers were known to the old man. his round was not of great length, being the upper part of Market-jew Street. the Green Market, a little way up Causewayhead, Alverton, and finishing with Chapel Street. The Rev. C. V. Le Grice held the living of St. Mary’s in 1825; on his resigning he was succeeded by the Rev. Thomas Vyvyan. Immediately after, the old church was pulled down, and the new one begun in its place. The architect was Mr. Hutchens, at that time resident in Plymouth, but originally from the Land’s End; and the clerk of the works was Mr. John Pope Vibert. The new church of St. Mary’s was opened in 1835 by the Rev. C. V. Le Grice and his old clerk Mr. Sampson Reynolds; Dr. Wesley presided at the organ, and some choristers from Exeter Cathedral came with him. The anthem selected was “When the Son of Man shall come in His glory.”

The organist of the old church was Miss Jaques, but after the erection of the new organ a public competition was held for the post of organist, and Mr. Viner, of Bath, was selected from the competitors. The theme he chose for the display of his musical abilities was the Portuguese hymn “Adeste fideles,” with variations.

Quay Street and the houses about the Quay have very little altered since 1825, but commercially it is quite a different scene now to what it was at that time. Then, and for many years after, all the merchandize was loaded and unloaded at the Old Pier, and thence came to the town through Quay Street and Chapel Street; now the greater part of all the trade is carried on at the Albert or New Pier. The Old Quay has been largely extended since 1825, and the road running between the Dolphin Inn and the sea was made on reclaimed land in 1838.

The high wall seaward was designed by Mr. John Pope Vibert. During its erection it was two or three times washed down; it was built with the object of preventing the spray of the sea from breaking so heavily over the Dolphin Inn. Near the Old Pier head was a pile of porphyry rocks called Carn Jenny, pieces of which were much prized by carpenters and others who used it to sharpen their tools; this rock was blasted when the new extension was built. At Sandy Bank, then literally a bank, were some old cottages pictured by Skinner Prout about 1830; the place where boats are moored at the Battery is Cribben Zawn. For centuries a fair has been held at the Quay on Midsummer-day. In 1825, and for many years after, it was very largely attended, and the crowd was so great that you could only get along by much exertion. Two of the chief attractions at this fair were the large quantities of strawberries that were exposed for sale, and the going out for a short cruise in the fishing boats. This was familiarly known under the name of “a penorth of sea.” At this fair, until within the last few years, the public-houses at the quay remained open all night. The stalls began just below the church, and were on each side of Quay Street, leaving a very narrow thoroughfare in the middle the shows were grouped on the Quay. This fair has latterly diminished in importance, and is now but thinly frequented.

I remember one thing of interest about the Quay. In 1829 or 1830 there was a rising of the tinners at St. Just. They marched to Penzance, and seizing a cargo of barley that happened to be in the Quay, brought the whole on shore; but on being assured that the corn should not be sent out of the district they were satisfied, and returned quietly to their homes.

Before going to any other part of Penzance it may be well to mention the New Pier, although it did not exist until long after I came to the town. The Old Quay, in 1825 the largest in Cornwall, could never afford sufficient accommodation, and the shipping was much exposed to the gales from the south-east. Another pier was therefore after much consideration determined on. The foundation stone was laid with great ceremony on July seventh, 1845, and it gradually progressed with little delay from bad weather or other causes. Early in September, 1846, I believe on the first of the month, the Queen and Prince Albert visited Cornwall. They came to Penzance, and the Prince landed on the Pier, then not completed; it was resolved on that account to call it the Albert Pier. Mr. Edward Bolitho was the mayor on that occasion. The outer end of the Pier differs very little from its original design; a breakwater stood for some years near the end at right angles to the Pier, but this was found to be filling the Harbour with sand, and was removed. The part of the Quay near the shore has been altered for the railway terminus, and by the wharves carried around under the town. This Quay affords so much accommodation for discharging and unloading, is so conveniently near the Railway, besides sheltering the ships from the south-east, that it has taken away a great deal of business from the Old Quay. During the rejoicings consequent on laying the foundation stone, a dreadful murder was committed in Rosevean Road, by a man named Ellison; the murdered person was a Mrs. Seaman with whom he lived. After the New Pier was completed, a piece was added to the Old Quay, known as the New Extension.

Besides the four principal Streets of Penzance, there are some other places that deserve to be mentioned. The small open space at the top of Chapel Street, now called Queen Square, in 1825 had no such name, but was considered to be a part of Parade Street. The Globe Inn at the corner of this square and New Road, a very old licensed house, had at the beginning of this century railings at the front and side. New Road, or Queen Street, was opened to make a more direct route to Newlyn than that through Vounderveor. In the New Road was the old Wesleyan Chapel, vacated when the large one in Chapel Street was built, and soon after occupied by a Baptist congregation. After some other changes it is now converted into warehouses.

In 1825 the Penzance Grammar School, of which the Rev. George Morris was the master, stood at the bottom of New Road: the Grammar School for a short time ceased to exist, and in that interval the corporation sold the premises to Mr. James Pentreath, who converted them into a dwelling house which he named Penhale House, the house at the head of the moor. On the opposite side at the bottom, were some very low small houses which remained for a great many years after I came to Penzance, but are now gone; and in their place stands the National School for boys, which was completed in 1872. Soon after passing the Grammar School was the entrance to Regent Terrace; this, as its name implies was begun to be built during the Regency at the latter part of the reign of George the third. For many years it consisted of about a dozen houses, and the east was garden ground. In 1836 the other houses were commenced, and in 1839 they were finished. Behind Regent Terrace was a green field up to 1806. I remember the late Mr. John Matthews, many years surveyor of the town, showing me at the end of the preceding year the proposed plan for building Regent Square. In that field all the Sunday School children of Penzance and the neighbouring villages took tea I think in 1835, at a festival in memory of the first establishing of Sunday Schools. In front of Regent Terrace was South Terrace, known in 1823 as Captain’s Row, almost every house being then inhabited by captains of vessels. When I first came to Penzance these were the only houses built close down to the sea.

Again returning to the town,—at the top of Chapel Street was the entrance to Parade Street; on the left-hand side was a large brick house, in 1825 occupied, I believe, by Mr. Beard, town clerk, and publisher of the Penzance Charter. This house, like many others, was said to be haunted; but whether the ghosts saw a long way ahead, and were afraid of the coming lawyers, I cannot tell at any rate of them by the nothing was seen people who lived there many years prior to its becoming the offices of Messrs. John and Rodd. Westward from this house was an opening leading to a building used early in this century as a Baptist Chapel, but before I came to Penzance turned into a carpenters’ shop. St. Mary’s Terrace and Place were not built for some years after 1825, indeed the lower houses of the terrace have been built within the last dozen years. After this opening was a cottage or two, and then the Jordan Baptist or Octagon Chapel. The noted “Boatswain Smith” preached at this chapel when first I came to the town; soon afterwards he left Penzance and remained away some years, but ultimately returned and died in Jordan House (Wesley Villa). The Commercial Buildings which now stand at the left-hand corner of Parade Street were built very soon after 1825; in them were the Penzance Library (founded in 1818 through the instrumentality of Sir Rose Price and Dr. Forbes, a physician, who practised for some time in the town), Savings Bank, and Commercial News Room. The Library was here for nearly forty years, until its removal to the Public Buildings; the Savings Bank is still in this place. The Commercial News Room was established in 1826, and existed for many years, but has now quite disappeared, and its place is supplied by the Penzance Institute. On the right-hand side of Parade Street there was nothing of any importance; the chapel is comparatively of very recent date.

The houses at the South Parade were just the same as they are now, but they had an uninterrupted view towards the sea and Newlyn. Between these and Newlyn there were but three houses,—Redinnick House, built by Mr. Edistone, but inhabited in 1825 by the Rev. George Morris, master of the Grammar School; the cottage at the Minney; and a hovel, it could hardly be called a cottage, close to what is now Wherrytown. In front of South Parade was the pathway leading to Newlyn; on each side was a high thorn hedge, and the passengers could not see the lower part of the houses: where this lane ended was a flight of steps, and then came fields. Not far from the South Parade was the North; this was begun in 1815, and finished in 1826. The Geological Museum, founded in 1814 principally through the exertions of Dr. Paris and Mr. Ashhurst Majendie, occupied the first floor of the large house in the upper half of the Parade. Mr. Davies Gilbert was the first president of this Society. In rooms in the same house were the Gentlemen’s News Room (now in the Public Buildings), and the Penzance Library. The Geological Society and the Gentlemen’s News Room occupied this house for just half a century; the Library was there a few years, when it was removed to the Commercial Buildings.

Park Corner, Union Street, and Buriton Row have not altered since 1825. At Buriton Row lived when I first came to Penzance, and for many years after, Captain Thomas Curtis, the man who first worked the Wherry Mine. Parade Passage, first commonly known as Clerk’s Row, from the number of clerks living there, was not a passage, as the road terminated with the last house. The opening leading from the east end of North Parade to Market Place, Harvey’s Ope, was a narrow, crooked, dark, and dirty place; it has been widened and made straighter. This I think finishes the whole of Penzance as it existed when I first knew it.

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