A Penzance timeline

Sail boat in Penzance Harbour at Sunset
  • 1301 – Pensans is first referred to as a port available for rent.
  • 1332 – The community is granted rights to hold weekly markets.
  • 1397 – A chapel dedicated to St Mary is licensed for worship in ‘Pensance’.
  • 1588 – Sir John Hawkins, recruiting Cornishmen to fight against the Spanish Armada, sets up headquarters at The Dolphin Tavern on Quay Street. Hawkins was a friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, and it’s said that Raleigh smoked the first ever tobacco on English soil at the inn.
  • 1595 – On 23 July, a fleet of Spanish ships invades Penzance, setting light to around 400 houses.
  • 1614 – The settlement of Penzance is important enough to be ‘incorporated’ and classed as a borough.
  • 1646 – During the Civil War, Parliamentarian troops sack Penzance as punishment for the town’s loyalty to the Royalists.
  • 1755 – A freak tsunami, caused by an earthquake in Lisbon, hits Mount’s Bay. Giant waves batter Penzance, St Michael’s Mount and Marazion.
  • 1803 – Penzance becomes the first Cornish port to have a lifeboat, bought for 150 guineas. Still unused nine years later, it is sold to pay off a debt.
  • 1805 – News of the Battle of Trafalgar is first reported on UK soil at the Union Hotel.
  • 1814 – The Royal Geological Society of Cornwall is founded in Penzance, with Davies Gilbert acting as its first President.
  • 1815 – Penzance’s Humphry Davy invents the miners’ safety lamp.
  • 1846 – The royal family visits Penzance as part of a local tour, calling at the Wherry Town serpentine works and purchasing mantelpieces and pedestals for Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
  • 1867 – The first passenger trains travel from Penzance to London with Great Western Railway. By 1904, an express train takes around seven hours to complete the journey.
  • 1879 – The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan is first performed on Fifth Avenue in New York.
  • 1930 – A fierce storm strips sand away from Mount’s Bay to reveal a petrified forest dating back 4,000-6,000 years.
  • 1935 – The Jubilee Pool, an outdoor saltwater bathing pool, opens to commemorate the jubilee of King George V.
  • 1937 – Writers Dylan Thomas and Caitlin Macnamara marry at the Penzance registry office, holding their reception at the Lobster Pot hotel in Mousehole.
  • 1944 – General Dwight Eisenhower visits Penzance to inspect American troops stationed here.
  • 1971 – Rock group Queen perform at Penzance’s Winter Gardens just before releasing their first single. Three years later, having found major fame, they return to say thank you. Throughout the 60s and 70s, the venue was one of Cornwall’s best: other performers included Genesis, Status Quo, Fleetwood Mac and the Sex Pistols.
  • 1991 – The Golowan festival is revived, celebrating midsummer according to Penzance tradition for the first time in a century.
  • 2008 – Workers renovating the Abbey Warehouse discover hatches leading to historic smugglers’ tunnels under Chapel Street.
  • 2010 – The first Penzance Literary Festival is held.
  • 2011 – Penzance breaks the official record for the largest number of pirates in one place when 8,734 people in fancy dress gather on the promenade.
  • 2012 – A postbox opposite the harbour is painted gold to celebrate the Olympic gold medal win of Penzance-born Helen Glover.