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The name 'Penzance' means holy headland; it originates from the Cornish 'Pensans', probably because the chapel of St Mary, first mentioned in 1327, was built on the ridge. Penzance was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 under the Manor of Alverton, and was the chief town in Madron parish. It became a borough in 1615, and was split off ecclesiastically from Madron in 1835.

The harbour of Penzance lies in a sheltered corner of Mount's Bay in south-west Cornwall, from which boats leave for the Isles of Scilly. There is also a helicopter service to the Isles from a nearby heliport. A Historical Timeline of events in Penzance is available from West Penwith Resources. A Spanish raid took place in 1595 which burnt the whole town and the old chapel; the town accounts were destroyed in the fire for the lack of very old buildings of any substance.

The Borough of Penzance is bounded on three sides by the parish of Madron and on the fourth by Mount's Bay. It was incorporated as a Borough by King James I on 9th May 1615. The town and port of Penzance became the centre of trade and activity in the west of Cornwall. There was a Coinage Hall for coining tin, a custom-house, a collector of taxes and many trades in support of shipping. The news of Nelson's naval victory at Trafalgar was first proclaimed in Penzance after news arrived from a passing naval ship.

Although the Borough was originally part of Madron parish, it now consists of three ecclesiastic parishes and is ecclesiastically quite separate from Madron; further information on each is available on its own page: see Church History.

Whilst the port continues, the town today has grown at great deal and the old parishes of Madron, Gulval, Newlyn, etc. have, in reality, become suburbs of Penzance. The town contains many shops and interesting and historic buildings, and is used as a holiday centre by tourists.

Archives & Libraries

The Morrab Library, Morrab Gardens, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 4DA
Tel./Fax. 01736 364474.

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Half a Century of Penzance (1825-1875) - A description of Penzance in the middle years of the 19th century was written by Louise Courtney based on notes made by her father, J. S. Courtney. It is available on-line and must be read in the context of that date.

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Census information for this parish (1841 - 1901) is held in the Cornwall Record Office. The Cornwall Family History Society offers a census search service for its members. The Cornwall Family History Society have also published on-line census detail by surname on the FamilyHistoryonLine site.

Specific census information for this parish is available as follows:

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Church History

Originally, Penzance was the chief town in Madron parish, but as it grew that church was not able to support the growing population of the borough. Details of Churches in Penzance and the local district are available on-line.

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Church Records

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Civil Registration

The town of Penzance has been in the Penzance Registration District continuously from 1st July 1837. There were originally sub-districts at Marazion, Penzance, St Buryan, St Just, St Ives and Uny-Lelant but these have now been abolished. Parishes within the district are: Gulval, Ludgvan, Madron, Marazion, Morvah, Penzance, Perranuthnoe, St. Buryan, St. Erth, St. Hilary, St. Ives, St. Just in Penwith, St. Levan, St. Michael's Mount, St. Paul, Sancreed, Sennen, Towednack, Uny-Lelant, Wolfe Rock Lighthouse, and Zennor.

The Superintendant Registrar can be contacted at: Alphington House, Alverton Place, Penzance, TR18 4JJ. Tel: 01736 330093.

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Description & Travel

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Emigration & Immigration

Cornish Emigrants to Akron, Ohio, USA is a partial list of the Penzance, Newlyn, & Mousehole Cornish that went over to Akron, Ohio, during the 1910 time period to work in the five major rubber factories in town.

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Land & Property

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More detailed information on Newspapers in Penzance and elsewhere is available.

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Details of Publicans and Public Houses, Inns, Taverns and Hotels in Penzance are available on line.

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Politics & Government

The London Gazette Archive contains all London Gazette editions from the war years (1914-1920, 1939-1948), and all London Gazette Honours and Awards in the 20th Century. The archive is searchable.

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Poorhouses, Poor Law, etc.

The whole of Penzance was part of the Penzance Union for Poor Law administration and parish relief. The Union comprised: St Erth, Ludgvan, Lelant, Towednack, St Ives, Zennor, Perranuthnoe, St Hilary, Marazion, St Michael's Mount, Paul, Gulval, Penzance, Madron, Morvah, Sancreed, St Just-in-Penwith, Buryan, St Leven, Sennen and the Scilly Isles.

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In 1974,local boundaries changed. Different boundaries were also used in arriving at totals after 1981.

  • Population in 1801 - 2248 persons
  • Population in 1811 - 2297 persons
  • Population in 1821 - 2671 persons
  • Population in 1831 - 3293 persons
  • Population in 1841 - 3503 persons in the parish, and 81 persons in the Madron Union Workhouse
  • Population in 1851 - 3555 persons
  • Population in 1861 - 3843 persons
  • Population in 1871 - 3797 persons
  • Population in 1881 - 3432 persons
  • Population in 1891 - 3198 persons
  • Population in 1901 - 3088 persons
  • Population in 1911 - 2937 persons
  • Population in 1921 - 2616 persons
  • Population in 1931 - 4888 persons
  • Population in 1951 - 5545 persons
  • Population in 1961 - 4830 persons
  • Population in 1971 - 5378 persons
  • Population in 1981 - 11195 persons
  • Population in 1991 - 11370 persons
  • Population in 2001 - 21168 persons
  • Population in 2011 - 21382 persons

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Probate Records

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Information on schools in the Penzance district is available on-line, courtesy of West Penwith resources.

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The Town of Penzance occupied 502 acres of land.

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