More about Penzance


Excepting that they still make mackerel and pilchards the great object of their fishing, everything is changed in the Mount’s Bay fishing since 1825. The boats then were good buoyant vessels and very seaworthy, but they were much smaller than those now used, and afforded but little shelter for the men. The produce of their fishing was mostly consumed near home, and it was only when larger quantities were taken that they went to Plymouth and Bristol; the prices therefore were usually very moderate. The mackerel fishing began in March or April. In the winter the boats were hauled up on the beach between Lariggan and Newlyn; instead of a seawall there was then a sloping beach from the road down. I remember in 1831 standing and watching men playing bat and ball on a flat space outside the wall, and I have also seen them winnowing corn near the same spot. In May, 1826, some boats first went from here to Ireland for the herring fishery; one of the Kelynacks, a name well known in Newlyn, was the person to propose this expedition. In 1847 they began to fish for herring off the coast of Yorkshire. Sometime before 1838, fast-sailing smacks came here to carry mackerel to Bristol market; Peacock, of Bristol, was then the great fish buyer. When the steam-boats ran from Hayle to Bristol, that means was adopted to bring fish with certainty early to the market, and on steam-boat days the price would probably be from twenty shillings upwards for 120, whereas on other days it was not half as much. The line of rail direct from Penzance to London and all the great manufacturing towns has given further facilities for sending away fish. Buyers come here every season, and ordinarily purchase many thousands of pounds worth of mackerel. This increased demand has not benefited the Penzance consumer, who now pays nearly double what he did. It is much easier to sell in a large quantity to the London buyer than to hawk them about from door to door, indeed the supply of fish in the town is not equal to what it was half a century ago. With the termination of the mackerel fishing the buyers depart for other places. The pilchard fishing which comes on in July, and continues until November or December, is very little altered since 1825; the whole quantity taken is either consumed near at hand or salted and prepared for exportation to Italy. The prices however paid for the fish for exportation are higher than they used to be. In the last year or so the small pilchards, formerly of hardly any value, have been preserved in oil and sold as Cornish sardines; this has been done at Newlyn and also at Mevagissey. At times during the pilchard fishery large quantities of hakes are taken, these are mostly sent to distant markets; a hake which used to be bought for four-pence, at present costs at least a shilling. Hakes which were formerly salted and dried, and sold during the winter months, are now rarely seen; twenty-five years ago many hundreds were sometimes brought to Penzance on a single market-day. The fishing-boats are much larger than they were, and are made for fast sailing; during the mackerel season they often fish at thirty leagues from Penzance, some way west of Scilly. The boats then meet at those Islands, and two steam-boats are constantly running between them and Penzance with the fish; thus the fish taken ninety miles at sea, is often in London in less than twenty-four hours. The boats being larger there is more accommodation for the men, and they have good berths in which they can rest when tired. In 1825, and for years after, all the nets were made of Bridport twine, and the fishermen’s wives used to make or “breed” them; now a large quantity of cotton netting is used, and the making of nets at home is quite gone out. For fully forty years after I came to the town there was no trawl boat belonging to the place, but a good deal of fish was then taken and is now caught by the hook and line.


Domesday Book
facsimile extract from the book of Domesday
Domesday Book, folio 121d, chapter 5, part 1, paragraph 11 [James 1861].

Translation—The count [of Mortain] himself holds ‘ALVERTON’. Alfward held it in the time of King Edward (before 1066), and paid tax for 2 hides [240 acres]; 3 hides [360 acres] there, however. Land for 60 ploughs [requiring, perhaps, 8 oxen each]; in lordship 3 ploughs; 11 slaves;. 35 villagers and 25 smallholders with 12 ploughs. Meadow, 3 acres; pasture, 2 leagues long and 1 league wide. Formerly £8; it now pays £20. Exon Domesday folio 255r adds that the slaves work “½hide”, the villagers work “& 2½hides” and that there were “1 cob; 17 unbroken mares; 9 cattle; 4 pigs; 100 sheep.”

Photos from the late 1800s

Market-jew Street

Looking up Market-jew Street

Chapel Street

The Queens Hotel

Arcade Steps

St. Clares

Top of Market-jew Street

Market-jew Street

The Greenmarket

The Greenmarket


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A Book of Cornwall