Additions since 1825

SINCE 1825 many new streets and terraces have been built. I have said before that South Terrace was the only row immediately in front of the sea. In 1826 Marine Terrace was begun, and was at first inhabited by masons, carpenters, and small tradesmen; the idea of lodging houses in such a locality would at that time have been considered absurd. The Mount’s Bay House, Queen’s Hotel, and Mineral Shop adjoining the hotel are much more recent, having been erected within the last twenty years. A Mr. Burt built the middle part of the Baths about 1840; there was then no Promenade in front of it, and the house stood at the edge of the high-water mark. The Baths were afterwards much enlarged by Mr. Norton. In 1825 a great part of the present Promenade consisted of a succession of sand hills, covered at intervals with a short green turf, hence the name of the Western Green: the Promenade as it now stands was not completed until 1844. All the rows of small houses at the back of Marine Terrace, and going further east—Coulson’s Terrace, Coulson’s Place and Buildings, have been built within the last fifty years.

Continuing along the Promenade, in a field where the lower part of Cornwall Terrace and the Queen’s Hotel now stand, was held in 1829–30 the last wrestling match, on a large scale, in Penzance. At the bottom of Cornwall Terrace (right-hand corner) stood the Folly; this was the remains of a pleasure garden which was surrounded by a brick wall, and some portions of it existed until a few years since; even now there may be seen adjoining the field and facing the Promenade, part of a small house with some ornamental brick work. The wall around the garden was decorated in the same way as this little house. I cannot say who was the original builder of the place, but in 1760 an Algerine crew who were wrecked near the Battery Rocks were kept there for some time in quarantine, as the inhabitants of Penzance feared the plague. This was the South Folly, to distinguish it from another building known as the North; the latter I believe stood in Causewayhead, where is now the London Inn and some other houses, but all traces of it disappeared before I came to the town. A large pear tree which once stood in the garden of the North Folly was when cut down given to the owner of the Duke of Cumberland Inn, who had it made into a kitchen table.

Cornwall Terrace has been built in three distinct blocks,—first in 1827 the small houses in the middle, then those nearer the sea, and lastly the upper part. The top house long stood detached, and on its garden about 1860 were erected the larger houses of Cornwall Terrace.

At the west of the Promenade is Wherrytown. In the beginning of this century Captain Curtis started a Mine at this place, but it soon ceased to be worked, and for nearly thirty years was idle, until in 1836 it was resumed by a company. After a year or two it was again stopped; the mine buildings were utilized by Mr. J. J. A. Boase, the owner of the soil and lord of the Wherry Mine. He turned the counting-house into the house which was long the residence of the officer of the coast-guard, and is now occupied by the chief boatman. Mr. Boase afterwards built a row of cottages for the coast-guard men, and within recent years cottages have been built by other people. Alexandra Road was opened by the Princess of Wales in 1865, and two or three houses have been built in it.

On the north of the town many new buildings have sprung up. Going from the east towards the west the first places are Penrose and Trewartha Terraces; these were begun in 1834. Penrose Terrace was slowly completed, but Trewartha, commenced at both ends, is still unfinished. The first house in this terrace was begun by Mr. P. B. Harris, but he died before its completion; the first tenant was Mr. Joel Lean, a quaker, brother of Captain Thomas Lean, reporter of duty done by Cornish Steam Engines, etc. Opposite to Penrose Terrace are Albert Villas, begun in 1865. East Terrace, Leskinnick Street and Terrace, all date from about 1834; the upper part of the last-named place was formerly called Jerusalem Terrace, from its proximity to the Jews’ burying ground. Between Adelaide and Mount Streets, at the foot of the hill, is a small row of houses known as Gothic Row; this was part of a large plan devised by Mr. Francis Paynter, solicitor, and Mr. H. M. Moyle, and was built to form a sort of screen to larger houses which were to rise in crescents and terraces on the slope upon which Adelaide and other streets stand. Some dispute, however, arising, Mr. Moyle contented himself with building the houses in Adelaide Street, east side from Market-jew Street to Gothic Row; the remaining ground was then let in plots, and Adelaide, Camberwell, Mount, and Penwith Streets are the result. The first houses in Adelaide Street were erected in 1828, but it was a dozen years before the whole street was completed; the other places soon followed. On the fields which were between Bread Street and Taroveor Road (formerly Bull’s Lane), have been built, at different times in the last twenty years, Victoria Square, Albert Terrace, Alma Terrace and Place, St. James’ Street, Belgravia Street, and High Street,—all these with the exception of the last-named place are on the property of the Tonkin family. Where High Street stands was for several years the Corpus Christi Fair, it was then the town field; at the top of it was a wide opening leading into Taroveor Road, and a narrow passage at the bottom into Bread Street.

The row now called Taroveor Terrace was built about 1840 by Mr. J. B. Pentreath, of the firm of Luke, Pentreath, and Co., brewers; for many years it was known as Pentreath’s Cottages. For a long time these were the only houses on the right-hand side of Taroveor between Causewayhead and Adelaide Street. On the left-hand were but two small cottages, until about forty years ago, when Bellevue Terrace and Rosevean Road were begun. Rosevean Road was laid out for the purpose of making a carriage drive to the Rev. Canon Rogers’ property, at Lescudjack Castle, which was to have been covered with villas; and a very pretty plan was sketched out for that purpose, but it never came to the desired end. However, Rosevean Road gradually extended and some detatched houses such as Rosevean, Penare, etc., were built. Besides the houses, the Roman Catholic Church was erected; this was done principally through the instrumentality of the Rev. Father Young, an Irishman.

Father Young began his mission in a small building, originally a school-room, on the spot where Scott’s marble yard stands, in Victoria Place; he was a most enthusiastic man, and devoted himself entirely to the cause; his work was known as “The Cornish Mission.” Falmouth, having had a church many years before Penzance, was not included in the father’s district. The building of the Roman Catholic Church happened in this way.—I was at the bank when Father Young brought a small sum of money to be at the disposal of a young woman who had opened a shop on the terrace for the sale of Roman Catholic books. Shortly after, I was told the money was towards building the church, and weekly I was to pay the young woman for the work done. The shop was soon closed, and the woman gone; the men then came to me for their wages, and before long I found it almost a matter of necessity that I should superintend the building. Father Young did indeed try to get Dr. Hockin, who took great interest in the building of St. Paul’s Church, to overlook the matter, but he declined; and in the end it all rested with a young exciseman, named Mac Enerny, and myself. The funds were supplied in a marvellous manner, remitted from all parts of the kingdom. We never had a month’s pay in hand,—often at the end of the week scarcely a pound; but yet it went on, and the masons’ and carpenters’ work was done. Before everything was ready for the opening, the building was handed over to the order of “The Immaculate Conception,” whose head-quarters were at Marseilles. Bishop Aubert, of Marseilles, came to open the church, and the Rev. Father Daly was appointed to the charge of it. Some nuns were located in Medrose Cottage, but did not stay long in the town. After a short time, the expenditure exceeding the income, the organ and some other things were obliged to be sold, and by some means the connection with the order of “The Immaculate Conception” ceased. I have forgotten who had the charge when Mr. Daly removed, but since 1858 it has been held by the Rev. Canon Shortland.

There is little to say beyond what has been already written of the northern part of the town. St. Clare Street on the right extended someway up the hill before I first knew it, but the garden at the back of Castle Windy, now Clare Villa, has been covered with houses, and a chapel, opened by the Wesleyans in 1888, has been erected on part of the ground. Continuing on the same side, Union Terrace, the houses behind it, and St. Michael’s Terrace are new since my coming to the town; they were begun in 1828, but St. Michael’s Terrace was not finished until 1870.

The left-hand dates from 1826, excepting some of the lower houses, which are rather later. The Poor House is of the same date, this is now used as the Penzance Infirmary and Dispensary; and the Prison which was near to the Poor House, has been altered and made into a school. Clarence Street has already been mentioned, but not Clarence Terrace and Place; the former of these was built in 1832, and the latter soon after.

There remain to be noticed the houses in Victoria Place and the Morrab fields, begun in 1829, but only lately completed; and lastly, that great ornament to the town the Public Buildings. These are situated in Alverton, on what were the Church fields. The foundation stones were laid in 1864, and the buildings opened with much ceremony in 1867. Under the same roof are St. John’s Hall, a Lecture Hall, Guild-hall and Police Courts, Corporation Offices, Penzance Library, Institute and News Rooms, Geological and Natural History Society, and rooms of various other societies. Mr. John Matthews was the architect. One building I had almost forgotten, the Pork or Shamble Market; it was erected soon after the Market House, and the south entrance was designed by Mr. John Pope Vibert.

A few words must be said about the paving of the streets and some other subjects. In 1825 nearly all the footpaths of the streets were pitch-paved; the flat paving was begun about 1826 or 1827. Mr. Jacob Corin and Mr. John Pope Vibert were at that time waywardens, the latter being the acting man. To prevent any break in the plan the above-named persons were elected waywardens for several years in succession. Mr. Vibert was the originator of all public improvements for many years.

Penzance in 1825 was behind several towns in the county in its lighting. At that time there was no gas in the town, but a few oil lamps here and there; these were paid for by a subscription from the inhabitants. The Gas Company was formed in 1830, and in the following year gas lamps were introduced into the streets.

I have mentioned, in the remarks on Causewayhead, the reservoir at the top of the street, constructed in 1757. When I came to Penzance this supplied the whole town; the water was brought there in pipes and open gutters from Madron Well, and then conveyed to the bottom of the street, where the pavement abruptly terminated at a height of nearly three feet above the level of the road. In the end of the pavement facing south were two granite troughs through which the water poured, and to this place all the people who had not a well in their own premises were obliged to come with their pitchers to supply their wants.* The water fell from the granite troughs into a slight hollow, and then by a watercourse through Chapel Street, and so on to the sea. In winter the supply was quite sufficient, but in summer there was often a great want of water, especially in 1826, when there was no rain from April to October. People were sometimes obliged to wait nearly an hour before it came to their turn to fill their pitchers.

About thirty years since the scarcity of water was so severely felt, although in the meantime several wells had been sunk, that the corporation resolved to purchase another stream. Polteggan was obtained, and water could then be carried into every house in the town. The water supply and a comprehensive scheme of sewerage were carried out by the town surveyor, the late Mr. John Matthews.

Nothing has changed more in the last fifty years than the postal arrangements throughout the kingdom. In 1825 a letter from London to Penzance cost one shilling, and took two days to do the journey. So few letters came to the town that for many years after I was in Penzance, and probably until the days of the Penny Post, they were delivered by one old woman who carried them about in a basket; and there was only one delivery a day. Correspondence was extremely limited, and for short distances the common carrier conveyed the letters done up in small parcels. At St. Ives I have been told that the postman could not read, but had his letters arranged for him, and each person on having his or her letter told him who was to follow. In 1825 Penzance booksellers professed to have a monthly parcel from London, but it often came a fortnight behind the proper time.

Early in this century the use of wheeled vehicles was rare in Cornwall. Mr. Dennis, an old agriculturist well known in his time in this neighbourhood, has often told me that he remembered the first cart west of Penzance. Before I came to the town carts were common, and the farmers and their wives came in them to market; the gigs and other carriages now seen on market days would astonish these old people. At Wall, in Gwinear, lived in 1837 a Mr. Hale, who was the first wheel-wright in this district for anything but the roughest work; he began business at the end of the last century. It is not more than twenty years ago that the first cab plied for hire in Penzance; and so little was the demand at that time, that some of the members of the corporation guaranteed to make up any loss the man might suffer.

Two or three customs have died out since 1825, and notably the guise-dancing at Christmas. This lasted every evening from Christmas until Twelfth Day. The performers, if I may use the word, tried to dress in such a way as to deceive if possible their friends or acquaintances; they walked about the town and into the houses of those they knew, but they often abused the liberty accorded them by making horrid noises and trying to frighten the people. Guise-dancing is now prohibited by the authorities, and so also is the acting of the old Cornish play of “St. George and the Dragon,” which was generally performed in the public-houses at Christmas. Again, Shrove Tuesday from mid-day until night was a day of disorder; about noon the fire engines, under the superintendence of Mr. George Giddy, were taken out and tested, and the water very liberally distributed over the persons of the unwary. Some of the roughs used to get soot and grease on their hands, and coming behind the backs of the passers covered their faces with the disagreeable compound. In the evening boys often opened doors and threw in handfuls of wrinkle shells or sometimes more annoying things. The next morning signs and gates would be found anywhere but in their proper places.

On Easter Monday a small sort of raffle was held in front of many of the houses, especially in Market-jew Street. The articles raffled were of various descriptions, but consisted principally of cups and saucers, small articles of earthenware, squares of ginger-bread, Easter buns, etc. This custom has disappeared for some years, but the May-day observances are still carried on with great vigour. During the last days of April the boys in the town go about blowing tin horns, and arranging with their comrades for excursions on May-morning. On that day from early morn all sleep is banished by the noise they make with these horns, trumpets, conch shells, etc., They visit many houses of the town and ask for money, and then go into the country to partake of junket, milk and cream; about nine they return with flowers and branches of sycamore, locally called “May,” and as a rule again perambulate the town. In former times the respectable town’s-people were accustomed to form breakfast parties at farm houses, and the amateur boatmen rowed to Mousehole Island, where lighting a fire they prepared a breakfast which was heartily enjoyed after their row. The fires at Midsummer and St. Peter’s Eves are still kept up with some of the old spirit, but the custom of parties of men and women starting from the Quay, and being augmented as they went through the streets threading the needle, is extinct. The children on Midsummer-day used to wear garlands of flowers—a pretty custom that has almost entirely gone.

Some comparison between the prices of provisions in 1825 and the present time may be interesting. When first I came to the town, and for some years after, beef and mutton were sold at from three-pence to four-pence a pound; in 1839 they had risen to six-pence, at which price they remained for a considerable time. Pork was sold by the side at two-pence half-penny and three-pence a pound; this had risen in 1839 to four-pence half-penny and five-pence. Fowls were never more than one shilling each; eggs when plentiful were sold at four-pence a dozen, and in the winter went up to seven-pence. Butter in the summer was seven-pence and eight-pence a pound, and in the winter was sold for one shilling. A pound of butter in 1825 weighed eighteen ounces; in the year 1839 the sixteen-ounce pound averaged eleven-pence. Large bakes were to be had at six-pence each, and other fish in the same proportion. The best potatoes could be bought at from four to six shillings the Cornish bushel, and other vegetables and fruits were equally cheap. The following is the Penzance market list for June 20th, 1878—pork 6¼d. to 6½d. per pound, wholesale; beef 9d. to 10d.; mutton 9d. to 10d.; lamb 10d.; veal 7d. to 8d.; fowls 4s. to 6s. per pair; butter 13d.; and eggs 1s. per dozen.

*Skinner Prout’s picture of the Market House shows another shoot, which I had forgotten.

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