Falmouth Packet Archives 1688-1850
Extracts from “A Calendar of Old Cornwall ”
History of Penryn Harbour
(with some references to Falmouth*)
By Roland J. Roddis - of the Middle Temple, Barrister-at-Law.
“Greeks and Phoenicians here of old hath been
Fetching and hence furs, hides, pure corn, and tin,
Before great Caesar fought Cassibelyn.”
* Descriptive of VALUBIA, Val-genow (Cornish), Val-mun (Saxon) or VALE-MOUTH
Falmouth, as the great harbour
was known, famous over Europe and parts of Asia ever since this island was first known. The harbour of old was not the present day Falmouth harbour, which did not provide sufficient protection for the type of vessel in use before the end of the 17th
It was to places, being Boroughs and Market Towns, where shelter in a creek was afforded, such as Truro
and ancient Tregony
, that ships came.
Prior to the Charter of Incorporation, Falmouth Borough
, was the former village of “Smethick.”
In unrecorded times the was a settlement at “Round Ring” in “the fields of Behethlen” (Bohellan fields) with, very probably, its pre-Christian place of worship on the site now occupied by St. Gluvias Church. This, before its dedication in the 14th
Century, was probably the ancient “capella de Behethlen
”. (Chapel of Bohellan) To the creek below the church, probably came the first foreign traders.
The Borough of Penryn was enfranchised by the Bishop of Exeter
Henry III granted to the Bishop of Exeter a weekly market at Penryn, with the usual `Court of Pye Powder' (alas! Its records are not to be found)
On January 8th
, Penryn was granted a Charter Fair, to be held yearly on the Feast of St. Thomas the Martyr (referred to as the `Blood Fair'.
The great Collegiate Church of Glasney was founded, where the Antron River enters the Penryn Creek.
Travel by land was difficult and dangerous and trade almost exclusively confined to Chartered Markets under the supervision of a “Portreeve
It must have been a sight for the natives of a small village to witness, for the building of Glasney College, the arrival of the famous workmen and stone of CAEN in ships filling the little creek. ( at the bottom of what is now St. Thomas street.)
, we know that fishing was carried on, because the drying of nets in the open field at Penryn was interfered with by Roger, son of innocent, of Trewin, who allowed his pigs to rootle
amongst them, with the result that his neck was broken!
a further annual fair was granted by Edward II “on the morrow of Saint Vitalis the Martyr and two days following.”
, such was the intercourse of foreign trade through the harbour, it is recorded that half the population of Penryn consisted of foreigners and 22 substantial merchants paid the subsidy, as compared with 33 at Helston and 42 at Truro.
Ships came into the Falmouth Harbour for shelter included the expedition headed by the Ambassador Nanpean from Southampton in 1489 to treat with Ferdinand of Spain and to confer the Order of the Garter upon the King of Portugal.
saw the harbour sheltering ships carrying King Philip and his Queen Juana, with the Venetian Ambassador to Castile. They reported that they had great difficulty in understanding the language of the local inhabitants.
The valuation of the Manor [of Penryn] taken at the instance of Henry VIII appears the following, “Hayleford
[Helford]. Johannes Thomas tenet passium cum batilia domini ibidem quod reddere solut per annum XXIIs et mode reddit inde per annum nisi.
” - from which we learn that one John Thomas held the Passage with the Lords' Boat there and paid annually the sum of 22s. 0d, which was quite a tidy sum in those days.
The inhabitants of Meneage (meaning Monkish Land, which probably came to the Bishops of Cornwall from the old Celtic Monasteries, who in their turn received grants of the land from the West Saxon Kings) who had much business in Penryn, would benefit from using the ferry .
In 1536 the ferry was leased to John Killigrew, Captain of the recently  erected Pendennis Castle at the entrance to Falmouth Harbour. The Killigrews were notoriously active in smuggling operations on the Helford River, the King was doubtless rewarding Killigrew for services rendered at the expense of the Bishop, for the Bishop makes it clear in his Register and in the Lease, that it was “required of him by the King, and the rent seems very low.”
saw the suppression of the great Glasney Collegiate Church
Crop of an engraving, Penryn Quays c.1600
, Commissioners sent by Edward VI to report on the affairs of the College, gave the following description; “the fayer resorte to the said Colledge to see havyn nammed ffalmouth to which sometimes resort one hunred great shippes, which being there have allwayes used to the Mynystracon, and the walls of the said Colledge on the Southe-syde well fortified with Towers and Ordinance in the same for the Defence of the said towne and ryver comynge to the same whych Ordinance perteyn to the men of the said Towne.”
References to the defences of the harbour [of Penryn] are also made in Leland's description, who wrote;
“out of eche side of Penrine Creke, breaketh out an arme or ever it cum to Penrin. Stakes and foundation of stone sette in the creke at Penrine, afore the toun, a little lower than wher it brekith into armes. (Coves) A gappe in the middle of the stakes, and a chain. “
[see map in the British Museum Ref. Royal MSS. 18 Diij ] A copy of the map held by the Penryn Town Clerk, shows two gaps for the admission of shipping. This was part of the sea defences against the feared Spanish Invasion. The map also confirms there was no village where Falmouth now stands, but shows a defensive fence running from a point on the shore about opposite the Congregational Church to Swanpool. This map also shows that very little in the way of quays existed; the only harbour works apparently at the rear of the (former) Anchor Inn. It was at this time that Thomas Lukey acquired all the property fronting on the harbour (of Penryn), which he transferred to the Corporation, but the Corporation does not now pay to “Thomas Glason his heires and assings yerly one Redde Rose at the feast of St. John Baptiste yerely… for all sutes services relyess and other demawnds.” !
, Penryn commenced regularly to return two members to Parliament
, the Mayor of Penryn was selected to hire a frigate - a fast sailing vessel - to sail off the coast of Spain in order to see “that the coast be clear.” (The Spaniards had attempted a raid on the town in 1759
, the Mayor of Penryn in a letter (Henderson MSS) described contemptuously the infant Falmouth as “those cottages of Penny - come - quick.”
In 1619, the Charter of Incorporation
(of Penryn) seemed to have as its chief aim, the setting up of a stronger system of enforcement of justice and loyalty to the Crown - even the Town Clerk was to be dismissed at the pleasure of the King and was to be ex-officio a Justice of the Peace. (As, in many seaport towns, life was full of disturbances.)
Century saw the trade grow and Penryn ships carried “tin to Constantinople, Turkey, Italy, Spain and France, and hundreds of barrels of oysters [at 2d per hundred] were sent to London.” The oyster beds in Penryn River were let out by lease until the early part of the present century.
There was a fish market established on the site of the (Penryn) Fire Station and today the cross-roads there are referred to as the “Fish Cross
.” There was so much trade in shell fish.
- fees for oysterage, shrimpage, etc (due the See of Exeter, to the Bishop)
In the first year of Elizabeth's reign an Act was passed directing when and where merchandise should be landed and Customs paid. This was followed in 1663 by a similar Act entitled “an Act for preventing frauds and regulating abuses in the Customs.
” Under this Act, a Commission was set up to perambulate the ports of Penryn, Truro and Falmouth, and they prescribed the sole landing places in each of those ports.
those landing places were enrolled in the Exchequer. - hence the building of quays, and the expression heard in Penryn in which the Town Quay is called “Exchequer Quay
It seems the Killigrews at Falmouth who were great favourites at the Court of Charles II, had received very favourable treatment in the delimitation of the Port of Falmouth, and in the early years of Queen Anne, Penryn and Truro managed to get a revision of the earlier grant.
, recited in the deed establishing a Commission of Enquiry that “ it hath been represented to us that the p'sent [present] settlement of the extents and limits of the member port of Falmouth… is injurious and p'judiciall to the trade and priviledges of our ancient member ports of Penryn and Truro.”
( b ) “Restores to the several very considerable Trading merchants” at Penryn, their ancient right of unloading out of any ship in the “New Harbour of Falmouth” and landing goods in the Perran Arwothall River” in the Port of Truro, such goods “to be entered outwards or inwards in the Port of Penryn.”
( c ) Appoints the “open place or Key, now called the New Quay or Town Quay of Penryn,” to be the only lawful landing place. The quay was described as being 36 feet long on the seaward side, 210 feet long and 36 feet wide, and the Commission did “utterly prohibit disanull make void determine and debarr all other places within the limitts and districts of the said member (Killigrew) from the priviledges right and benefitt of a place key or wharfe for the landing or discharging lading or shipping of any goods or merchandises as aforesaid.”
In 1703, as the River Helford appeared to have been overlooked, Queen Anne appointed certain persons “very confident of their fidelity industry provident circumspections and discretions” to look into matters there. They decided that in order to exercise control, all goods were to be landed at Gweek. “ fish taken by our subjects, Bestialls and Seacole only excepted.” Their award was enrolled in the Exchequer Office in Michaelmas Term, 1703. Falmouth, Penryn and Truro had been dealt with in the 28th year of the reign of Charles II.
Helford Passage, courtesy of Cornish Studies Library (CSL), Redruth
FP 3/4/1847: P.3 Col.4 Helford Oysters, Nisi Prius court.
Verdict for Duke of Leeds, 40 shillings. [good reading for those interested in Helford Oysters...]
Lord Clinton sought to get Parliament to pass the Flushing Road and Pier Bill
This project would have resulted in a road from Truro through Flushing and over the Penryn River to Green Bank on the Falmouth side. Alarmed by the probable loss of trade to Penryn, the Corporation besought their representatives in Parliament, Henry Swann and Phillip Gill, to obstruct. A clause was introduced to except Penryn traders from the tolls arising from the new projects and the Bill was abandoned.
[extracts for cross-referencing purposes, by Andrew Campbell (1997)]
A crop of the map in A Panorama of Falmouth, published in 1827, clearly shows the packet moorings off Greenbank and Flushing, and the Penryn river...