Uncover the story of Penzance by walking its official trail. This easy route takes in the town’s history and some of its most interesting landmarks.
Distance: approx. 2km or 1.3 miles
Duration: allow at least two hours
As you walk around Penzance, you may notice small slate markers engraved with numbers on streets and buildings. Taken in turn, these form a whistle-stop tour of the town’s heritage (not to mention its top beauty spots).
1. St John’s Hall
Begin your walk at St John’s Hall in Alverton Street. This impressive structure was built between 1864 and 1867 to celebrate Penzance’s prosperity during the Victorian era. Its official opening event featured a firework-emitting hot air balloon, a public dinner and an evening concert.
Designed by architect John Matthews (who also created many other buildings in the town), it incorporates ‘Downs Stone’ taken from the embankment of the Iron Age Chun Castle.
Through time, the building has housed the Natural History Society, borough police, a museum, the Freemasons, magistrate’s court and guildhall. Today, it contains the town’s library, One Stop Shop and registry office. On a Friday, you’ll find the Penzance Farmers’ Market here.
Did you know? The top step measures 5.75m by 1m, making it one of the largest pieces of granite ever quarried.
Walk towards the town centre and take the first left into Clarence Street. Continue to the top of the street on the left-hand side.
2. The Cattle Market
Penzance’s weekly market drew crowds of farmers and producers from the surrounding towns and villages. The event lasted all day, with livestock starting their journey into town well before dawn.
A new market built here was extended in 1932, covering the old town reservoir. You can still see evidence of the water supply today: just across the road is a restored drinking chute, which once connected to the same stream that fed the reservoir.
Did you know? The cattle market was first moved here around 1820 after livestock escaped from the nearby Green Market site, wreaking havoc in Causewayhead.
Turn right to walk down Causewayhead.
3. The Savoy Cinema
The Savoy opened in November 1912, described as ‘the handsomest Picture Palace in the country, outside the West End’. It’s now the oldest continuously running cinema in the UK.
When it first opened, the cinema was decorated in green and gold silk paper, boasting high-tech electric lighting and three of the latest screening devices.
Did you know? Years ago, there were two cinemas in Penzance: the Savoy, which you see here, and the Ritz, on Queen Street. The Ritz operated as a cinema for only 30 years, becoming a bingo hall in 1965.
Continue to the bottom of Causewayhead, stopping near the bank on your right.
4. The Green Market
The Green Market represents the joining of four roads, and was once home to the Penzance Market Cross. This stone cross dates back to the 11th century and was previously used as a marker for the centre of the town: the 1614 charter defined Penzance as everything within a half-mile circle of the cross. The Market Cross itself has been moved several times in its history, but today stands in the grounds of Penlee House (number 15 on our trail).
Before the 1820s, the Green Market contained grocery stalls and cattle on market days. After the cattle market was moved, it became more typically ‘green’, with the stalls of market gardeners.
Did you know? The ornate red brick building in front of you dates to 1905 and was once used by The Public Benefit Boot Company. It’s one of very few red brick structures in Penzance, as most historic buildings were constructed using granite.
Continue left out of Causewayhead, and take the first turning past the Market House (Lloyd’s Bank).
5. Humphry Davy Statue
This likeness of Penzance’s most famous son was erected in pride of place in 1872. Born very near here on 17 December 1778, Sir Humphry Davy is best known as the inventor of the ‘Davy Lamp’: a safe form of lighting for coal mines. He also discovered the elements potassium, sodium and chlorine.
Just across the road, on the corner of New Street, is the former pharmacy building where a young Davy first leaned his trade as a surgeon.
Did you know? Although he’s best known as a chemist and inventor, Davy was also a keen writer whose friends included Wordsworth and Coleridge.
With the statue on your right, walk down the slope and across the pedestrian crossing. Go right, back up the street, until you reach the Star Inn. Turn immediately left into New Street, and take the next right into Princes Street. Follow this until you emerge onto Chapel Street and then turn left to walk down the street.
6. The Union Hotel
The Union Hotel is the oldest hotel in Penzance, dating back to the Elizabethan period. During the Georgian era, it was a fashionable hotspot with a theatre and assembly rooms in the grounds. Here, the gentry and local merchants mingled with ship’s captains and officers.
The assembly rooms, now used as the hotel dining room, are famously where victory at the Battle of Trafalgar was first announced on British soil in 1805.
Did you know? If you head inside to the Nelson Bar, you can still see smoke damage caused by the Spanish invasion of Penzance in 1595.
Continue walking down Chapel Street
7. No. 20 Chapel Street (Artist Residence)
Now a boutique hotel, this Georgian building has historically been a cooperage, dispensary and mayoral residence. It achieved notoriety, however, as the site of a grim death and strange haunting.
This respectable home once belonged to a wealthy widow named Mrs Baines. Highly protective of her orchard, she went to great measures to prevent local children stealing the apples – including paying a personal night watchman (her servant Jan) to guard them. Suspicious that Jan was sleeping on the job, she crept out in her nightgown and bonnet to catch him out. This she did a little too well, being unfortunately shot as a poacher when Jan awoke. For years later, her ghost was said to walk the area, still looking out for thieves.
Did you know? When sightings of Mrs Baines’ spirit died down, the man living opposite projected a ghostly image onto the walls using a magic lantern trick.
Take a left straight after the Admiral Benbow and walk down Abbey Street. Pass along the Abbey Slip until you see the Lifeboat House ahead. If you have mobility issues, instead continue down Chapel Street and Quay Street and jump ahead to The Dolphin Inn (marker number nine).
8. The Lifeboat House
As Penzance’s harbour became bigger and busier in the 1880s, its lifeboat service earned a new base. Opened in 1885, this building first contained the eight-oared boat Dora. The bell tower that you’ll see at the top was used to summon volunteers in an emergency.
Despite the pomp and ceremony of its opening, the lifeboat house didn’t work quite as well in real life as it did on paper. Its position made launching the boat difficult and a team of horses was needed to drag it around the corners to Abbey Slip. Eventually, larger lifeboats were stationed at Newlyn, with only reserve boats kept at Penzance. The station finally closed in 1917, and is now used as a bistro.
Did you know? The crew of Penzance’s lifeboat Janet Hoyle became overnight heroes during the 1912 Boxing Day hurricane. Pounded by waves while trying to reach the SS Tripolitania, they returned to Penzance with the boat almost wrecked and areas of paintwork stripped back to the first coat.
With the lifeboat house in front of you, turn left to walk across the bridge and along the quayside.
9. The Dolphin Tavern
A history filled with salty sea dogs and shady characters has made the Dolphin one of Penzance’s most famous pubs. Dating to the 1500s, it was used as a recruitment base for sailors fighting the Spanish Armada, and is said to be where Sir Walter Raleigh first smoked tobacco on English soil.
During the 1680s, the dining room became a courtroom for the infamous Judge Jeffreys, with the cellars serving as a jail. Three ghosts apparently haunt the site: a sea captain named George, a Victorian lady who crosses the bar, and a fair-haired man.
Did you know? Before the sea wall was built, stormy weather often caused waves to crash against the pub, flooding its cellars with seawater.
Walk around the corner and along the road, passing over to the Jubilee Pool at the pedestrian crossing.
10. The Jubilee Pool
Opened in 1935 to celebrate the silver jubilee of George V, the Jubilee Pool is an Art Deco masterpiece. Built on a historic bathing spot on the Battery Rocks, it provided a safe and sheltered alternative to diving off the rocks and straight into the sea.
Despite this, the full force of Mother Nature couldn’t be resisted forever, and in 2014 ferocious storms severely damaged the pool. Two years of campaigning and funding followed, with the pool finally reopening in May 2016.
Did you know? Jubilee Pool is Britain’s largest surviving seawater lido.
Go back across the pedestrian crossing, turn left and walk alongside the car park. Turn right after the car park and up the hill past the Yacht Inn, towards the church.
11. St Mary’s Churchyard
Stroll up through this tranquil churchyard to look back over Mount’s Bay from one of its many benches. Although the church you see now was built in 1895, the spot has been religious ground since the 12th century.
If the church is open, don’t be afraid to pop inside – it’s a wonderfully calm and welcoming place. As well as the usual services, you’ll find a good calendar of events, including regular lunchtime and evening concerts. These make the most of the organ, which comes from the University Church at Oxford.
On the southern side of the church you’ll see St Anthony’s Cross, which has survived since the 12th century. This once belonged to a small fishermen’s chapel that stood on the holy headland Penzance (Pen Sans) is named after.
Did you know? In 1985, St Mary’s Church suffered a disastrous fire, which destroyed the altarpiece and work by Newlyn School artists.
Walk up through the churchyard and exit through the main gate onto Chapel Street, turning left to walk up the street. Take a peek at the red brick house you’ll pass on the way – this is where Maria Branwell, mother of the Bronte sisters, was born. Continue on and take a left onto Voundervour Lane (past the number seven marker you saw earlier). Where it forks, keep to the left.
12. Regent Square
This elegant Georgian-style square was built in the 1830s, as Penzance reached new heights of wealth and popularity. In early summer, the air here is richly floral from the tightly packed well-kept gardens.
During the 1840s, Regent Square was one of the highly fashionable locations for visitors to stay, along with the other new-builds in Morrab Place, Cornwall Terrace and Clarence Street.
Did you know? Regent Square was built on land known as Close Yeare Meadow: a popular spot for Sunday school outings.
Continue through the square and turn left at the road, walking downwards. Take the first right onto St Mary’s Terrace and follow it around until you reach the gate to Morrab Gardens.
13. Morrab Gardens
Morrab House was built in 1841 for the brewer Samuel Pidwell, who worked at Tolcarne and Penzance Brewery and became mayor of Penzance in 1844. The informal sub-tropical gardens still in bloom today were created in 1888 after the house and grounds were bought at auction by the Corporation of Penzance.
The gardens’ design was chosen from several entries to a public competition, with the winner, Reginald Upcher, being awarded 20 guineas. The mature plants you’ll walk among come from locations including North and South America, North Africa and Australia.
Did you know? Morrab House is now the Morrab Library: a remarkable independent library with old and rare books, historic memorabilia and a photographic archive.
Take the garden exit leading onto Morrab Road and walk down the hill towards the sea. Turn right and walk along to cross the road at the pedestrian crossing, heading onto the promenade. Keep the water on your left and walk along to enjoy the experience of ‘promenading’ (once a highly popular pastime).
14. The Promenade
Before this grand promenade was created, the area you now stand on was rough sand dunes. After its opening in 1843, ‘the prom’ became a popular meeting and walking spot. Bathing machines were available on the beach, allowing swimmers (particularly women) to protect their modesty while changing into bathing suits.
A bandstand, built in 1905, once stood opposite the Queen’s Hotel and provided light music to accompany those taking a stroll or relaxing on folding chairs.
Did you know? During extreme weather, the promenade can bear the full brunt of high waves and is sometimes closed off for safety.
Continue along the prom and cross the road (taking care) before the mini-roundabout. Follow the pavement up Alexandra Road. Around halfway up the road, turn right onto Trewithen Road (opposite Penzance Backpackers) and take the first right into Penlee Park.
15. Penlee House
This fine Victorian home was built in 1865 for the Branwell family and purchased by the local council in 1946. The park surrounding it was opened as a Second World War memorial garden, while the house became a museum.
Today, museum exhibits sit alongside an impressive art collection with works by members of the Newlyn School. Inside, you’ll find art by Stanhope Forbes, Lamorna Birch, Laura Knight and Walter Langley.
Did you know? One of the gallery’s most famous paintings is The Rain it Raineth Every Day by Norman Garstin, which shows waves and rain whipping across walkers on Penzance promenade.
Continue through the park to exit at Morrab Road and turn left, walking up the street.
16. Penzance School of Art
Penzance was one of the first rural British towns to have an art school, with the institution dating back to the 1850s (when it was based in Princes Street).
Designed by the respected Cornish architect Silvanus Trevail, this building opened in 1881 to house the growing school. It originally stood without the extension to its left, which was added in 1888 for the new public library.
Did you know? Oscar Wilde toured the Penzance School of Art during a visit to the town in 1883.
Walk up Morrab Road and turn left at the top to return to St John’s Hall.