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.

Most parish and church description(s) on these pages are from Lake's Parochial History of the County of Cornwall by J Polsue (Truro, 1867 - 1873)


Archives & Libraries

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



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.



  • A Municipal Cemetery exists at Heamoor with two Mortuary Chapels. It is located about half a mile from the town centre, and is in the parish of Madron.
  • The Penzance Cemetery is a Private Burial Ground. This Cemetery is next to the Wesley Rock Chapel at Heamoor, Penzance. It was believed to be part of the Chapel, but this is not so. It is a Private Burial Ground opened in 1845 and set up by 24 Business Men of the area. The records contain The Penzance Cemetery Proprietors Registry Book, which has the Registry of the name of the Proprietors; a Plan of the Ground; the Registry of Certificates for allotment of Ground, also all the Interments in the Ground.
  • Available parish records include:
    • The Cornwall Family History Society have published Monumental Inscriptions for:
      • The Parish Church of St Mary - 971 entries
      • The Parish Church of St John
      • The Parish Church of St Paul
      • The Jewish Cemetery - 49 entries. (The Jew's Burial Ground behind Leskinnick Terrace is a small walled plot first shown on a map of 1841).
    • War memorial inscriptions for Penzance are available on-line as follows:


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.
Specific census information for this parish is available as follows:


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.

  • Anglican. "The parish church of Penzance is at Madron about a mile and a half from the town: the living is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the corporation; the Rev. C. N. Le Grice is the present curate. In the town are, a chapel of ease under Madron parish, with several meeting houses for dissenters and a jewish synagogue."(Pigot & Co 1830 Directory).
    Penzance was, therefore, originally a Chapelry of Madron. However, the growth of the Town of Penzance required a church in the town, and the building of a new church, dedicated to St Mary, was commenced on 17th August 1832, and the structure was opened for divine service on 15th November 1835.
    At the end of the 20th century, the Town of Penzance consisted of three ecclesiastical Anglican parishes:
    • St Mary the Virgin. This is the oldest parish covering Penzance. The parish was separated from Madron parish in 1835, and formally became a parish in its own right in 1871.
    • St John the Baptist. This is a modern parish in Penzance, created 1847, and is situated in the north-west part of the town.
    • St Paul's. St Paul's parish is also a relatively modern parish of Penzance, situated in the southern part of the town. It was created from part of Penzance in 1852, but it merged with St Mary's parish in 2000.
  • Roman Catholics. The Church of Our Lady was officially opened on 26th October 1843. At that time there were very few Catholics in the area. The dedication was probably influenced by the fact that the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady was to be defined and promulgated in 1854, by Pope Pius IX (1846-1878). It may be of some interest to know that in 1497 the University of Paris and, apparently, subsequently many other seats of learning demanded of their students an oath to defend and uphold the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
    The dignified, grandiose, lofty interior of this Cornish church is worth a visit. A new east window was fitted over the High Altar in 1991, constructed in the workshops of Mr Roy Mead of Falmouth. The new window, providing double glazing against the existing, is built up from a composite of textured water glasses from America and from various Cathedral glasses.
    The RC Parish Priest of Penzance is also responsible for the Mission on the Isles of Scilly and the small church of Our Lady Star of the Sea on St Mary's.
  • Non-Conformist.
    • The Society of Friends (Quakers) had a Meeting House in Causewayhead Street.
    • A Baptist Chapel in Clarence Street was built in 1836.
    • The Congregationalist Chapel in Market Jew Street was built in 1662.
    • The Bible Christian chapel in High Street was opened in May 1879, and enlarged 1893.
    • The Primitive Methodists had a chapel in Mount Street.
    • There is a Wesleyan Chapel in Heamoor, which is known as the Wesleyan Rock Chapel.
    • The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Chapel Street was erected in 1814 and enlarged in 1864. It is a building of granite with a portico of the Doric Order, and has seating for 1800 persons; it is still open at the beginning of the 21st century.
    • The Free Methodists had a chapel in Parade Street.
  • Jews. There was a Jewish Synagogue in New Street; it was first used in 1768 and rebuilt in 1806. The Synagogue continued in use until 1913, when it was sold to the Plymouth Brethren; it is now the Gospel Hall.

Church Records

  • [See also for records under the GENUKI pages for each of the Anglican parishes in Penzance, and for Madron].
  • LDS Church Records.
  • The Cornwall Record Office holdings (see also under Madron): Deposited original records 1789 - 1967, Non-Conformist records 1791 - 1837.
  • Transcribed Anglican baptism, marriage and burial records are described under the relevant parish pages - see CHURCH HISTORY above. In addition, please note that the following Non-Conformist baptism records in Penzance, may also be available on-line through the OPC search Facility (C-PROP):
    • Baptisms.
      • Independent baptisms in Penzance 1791 to 1837 are available on-line through the OPC search Facility - (C-PROP).
      • Parade Street, UMFC/UK Methodist church 1855 to 1884. Baptisms here between 1866 and 1901 are available on-line through the OPC search Facility - (C-PROP).
      • Wesleyan Baptisms 1805 to 1874 are available on-line through the OPC search Facility - (C-PROP).
    • The Cornish Forefathers' Society have published on CD, baptisms 1700 to 1840 for Madron (which includes Penzance) which can be purchased on Parish Chest.
  • Banns. Banns in St Paul's Church 1878 to 1898 are available on-line through the OPC search Facility - (C-PROP).
  • Marriages.
    • Marriages in St Mary's Church 1837 to 1900 are available on-line through the OPC search Facility - (C-PROP).
    • Marriages in St Paul's Church 1867 to 1900 are available on-line through the OPC search Facility - (C-PROP).
  • Burials. Non-Conformist burials in the Lower Meeting Yard, Penzance, 1806 to 1837 are available on-line through the OPC search Facility - (C-PROP).
  • Other Non-Conformist Records. OPC Coverage of Non-Conformist records of this parish is available.

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.


Description & Travel

You can see pictures of Penzance which are provided by:


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.





  • OPC Assistance. The On-line Parish Clerk (OPC) scheme operates a service to help family historians; the OPC page for this borough and its parishes is available on-line, from where the OPC can be contacted by email.
  • West Penwith Resources have a genealogical webpage for Penzance available.

Land & Property

  • The parish and town tithe maps, and accompanying survey books of c1840, provide a fascinating snap-shot of land use and ownership in the 19th century. In order to preserve the documents and improve access to them, the Cornwall Record Office are digitising these maps and survey books. The CD ROM tithe package include a map and survey books, together with a reader, for Penzance; it is now available from the Cornwall Record Office. Details are on their website.

You can see maps centred on OS grid reference SW472303 (Lat/Lon: 50.118496, -5.538187), Penzance which are provided by:



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

  • The Penzance Journal 1847-50, covered Penzance. 177 issues were published between 16 Jun 1847 and 30 Oct 1850. The only complete set is in the British Newspaper Library (BLNL), though the Cornish Studies Library (CSL) claims to have them as well.
  • The Cornish Telegraph, Mining, Agricultural and Commercial Gazette 1851-1915, Penzance. 2277 issues were published between 3 Jan 1851 and 14 Jan 1915 at which point it became incorporated into The Cornishman. It began in 1850 and was purchased by The Cornishman in 1908 but continued as a distinct Newspaper (presumably until 1915). The BLNL microfilm lacks parts of 5 years (1868-69, 72, 97 & 1912). With the exception of the first 5 months of 1868, these can be found in the Morrab Library in Penzance.
  • The Cornishman 1878 to date covering Penzance.
    This started as a single edition on 18 Jul 1878 and continued until 16 Nov 1944. From then on local editions were published for Camborne, St. Ives, the Scilly Isles and Helston. These were essentially the same paper with additional local material on special pages. The St. Ives edition went from 22 Aug 1946 until 8 Nov 1951 when it became the West Penwith edition, Penzance having earlier split off for its own version on 4 Nov 1948. These two edition ran in parallel until 26 Mar 1981 when they re-united as the Penzance and West Penwith edition for a further 5 years. On 2 Jan 1986 it became the Penzance and District edition and on 14 Feb 1991; variations were introduced for Land's End and Penwith Rural.
    Meanwhile, on 5 Jan 1984, a St. Ives and Hayle edition was spun off which further divided to separate St. Ives and Hayle editions on 1 Feb 1990. These five editions (Penzance, Land's End, Rural, St. Ives and Hayle) are still going together with the successors to the Scilly and Camborne editions. The BLNL have all the editions mentioned above and the Morrab Library have a bound collection which is rapidly deteriorating due to poor storage facilities. The CSL have a full set, as does the Penzance Library.





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.


Poor Houses, Poor Law

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.



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


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



  • The Penzance Old Cornwall Society Web Page is on-line.
  • The Penwith Local History Group aims:
    • To encourage and sustain public interest in the history of Penwith to provide mutual support and encouragement to members in their individual research projects, whether related to Penwith or of wider historical interest.
    • To work as a group on specific research projects, with the aim of publication to an academic standard.
    • To encourage the strong link with the Morrab Library, supporting the Library in its aims and activities.


The Town of Penzance occupied 502 acres of land.