Focus on Penryn

By admin | May 12, 2007
Under: Locations

Penryn is one of Cornwall’s most ancient towns, founded circa 1216.

The port was significant to the Cornish tin and cooper trade in the 16th century and again for granite works in the early 19th century.

Penryn received a royal charter, as a borough in 1621.

Engraving of Penryn Quays c 1600

  1086 Pre-Saxon Cornwall was both Christian and Celtic and Doomsday records in 1068 show that an extensive area above the Penryn River which included most of the land in four of today’s parishes – St Gluvias, Mabe, Mylor and Budock – was the Manor of Teliever owned by the Bishop of Exeter. The following entry dated 1086 appears in the Doomsday Book :-“The Bishop has 1 manor which is called Treliwel (Treliver) which Bishop Leuric (Bishop of Exeter)held T.R.E.(in the time of King Edward 1042-1066) and it rendered geld for 1 ½ hides (A hide is about 120acres). Twenty teams can plough this. Thereof the Bishop has in demesne half a hide and the villeins have 1 hide and 12 ploughs. There the Bishop has 30 villeins and 4 bordars and 4 serfs and 5 unbroken mares and 2 cows and 30 sheep and 60 acres of Woodland and of pasture 2 leagues in length and 2 in breath. This manor is worth 4li.(Pounds)”1236 The Borough of Penryn was enfranchised by the Bishop of Exeter1318 The parish church was dedicated July 25, 1318 to St. Gluvias, the martyr. Gluvias was a Welshman on a mission to his fellow Celts in the sixth century. His feast day is May 3rd. The first recorded Vicar was John Collier in 1696 but parish records start in 15981598 Parish registers of Baptisms, births and deaths started.

1259 Henry III granted to the Bishop of Exeter a weekly market at Penryn, with the usual ‘Court of Pye Powder’ (No records exist)

1259 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’.

1265 The great Collegiate Church of Glasney was founded, where the Antron River enters the Penryn Creek. This building stood within six acres of land and its imposing buildings comprised three fortified towers of granite and Caen stone, a church, rectory, chapter house and several corn mills. Within two years it had achieved great fame and students came from Europe to study here.


1283 It is known that fishing existed at this time as records show that “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!

1312 A further annual fair was granted by Edward II “on the morrow of Saint Vitalis the Martyr and two days following.”

1327 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.

1470 It would appear from the Doomsday Book entry in 1068 that the majority of the land to the north of Penryn was owned by the Bishop of Exeter, however by 1470 some land in this area was owned by other individuals the following copy of a will shows the value of the land at that time “Ricardus Menke and Mabilla his wife grant to John Menke their son and heir all their lands in Meke, Trevurvo and Reskolles, to hold at a rent of 20s for his life and paying to Ricardus for Menke 20s yearly, for Trevurvo 10s and Reskolles 4s. Remr after the death of the s’ Ricardus to the s’ John in tail, John son and heir of the s’ John Menke senr in tail, rem to John “fillo nostro fund and hered sue’ de corpe” Rem to the right heirs of the s’ Ricardus. Menke 26 Jan Ao.9 EdIV

1536 In 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,

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 .

1536 The ferry was leased to John Killigrew, Captain of the recently [1545] 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.”

1547 Saw the suppression of the great Glasney Collegiate Church After the dissolution of the monasteries the church had not yet been relieved of all its superfluous wealth, chantries, religious gilds and collegiate churches remained. Glasney being much the largest of the Cornish collegiate foundations the needy government sent out its commissioners to value the potential plunder. With a provost, twelve prebendaries, ten priests, four choristers, a bell-ringer and an income of £220 a year. It was not difficult to find witnesses who were ready to swear that the buildings had been neglected, and the provost and his priests were more given to drinking and the chase than to religion. In spite of the attempt of the local gentry to retain the place as a fortress, the church was stripped of its lead, bells and plate, the buildings were sold, and soon there was little trace of where the three-centuries-old college had stood.

The college was a haven for the Cornish language although services were ascribed to Latin much of the other business was in Cornish. The dissolution and consequent Pray Book changes (Which the Cornish rebelled against) struck a death knoll for the language.

1548 Commissioners sent by Edward VI to report on the affairs of the Glasney 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.”

1553 Penryn commenced regularly to return two members to Parliament

1599 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.”

1617 The Mayor of Penryn in a letter (Henderson MSS) described contemptuously the infant Falmouth as “those cottages of Penny – come – quick.”

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.)

Early 17th 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.

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.

1676 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”

Check out this drive though of Penryn!

Courtesy of youtube

Courtesy of youtube

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