We know that you’ll have heard of the pretty waterfront harbour town of Falmouth. With visits from international events such as 2014 Tall Ships, its a popular port of choice for around the world single-hand sailing adventures from the likes of Robin Knox-Johnston and Ellen Macarthur. But bet you didn’t know that Falmouth is a mere youngster whose origins are delicately intertwined with the ancient town of Penryn and the reign of aristocratic Killigrew pirates!
Before Falmouth town as we know it, the area was ‘Smithwick’; a small hamlet, under the mighty influence of the wealthy parish of Penryn. Penryn town which stands tall today as a hub of Cornish culture, galleries and boutiques has shaped Cornwall since its creation as a market town in 1259. Ten years later, came the development of the religious Glasney college, built for the Bishop of Exeter to develop the church’s influence in the far west of the diocese. Needless to say, with its grand Bishop’s Palace (yes a Palace), his deer park, gardens and stone buildings; the opulence of Glasney College attracted King Henry VIII’s eye and took a turn for the worst in the 1530’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. Today you can still see the echo of Penryn’s lavish beginnings hidden throughout the town as Gargoyles, keystones and ancient stone work!
It was around this time, (when the religious hold on Penryn had somewhat slackened, thanks to King Henry VIII), that the notorious Nobel Killigrew family stepped up to fill the Church’s (by now, extremely) wealthy boots … and so began the reign of the Penryn’s pirates!
A national beauty in her day with her long auburn hair, Lady Mary Killigrew of Penryn was Cornwall’s own scarlet Pimpernel; leading her double life as Nobel aristocrat by day and ruthless, murderous pirate by night! Her husband, appointed by Queen Elizabeth I, as Sir Henry Killigrew, undertook legal pirating or ‘privateering’ of Spanish ships as he was ironically, entrusted with supressing piracy in English waters. His long stretches away at sea, allowed his beautiful, independent wife, Lady Mary Killigrew, to continue the family business from home. For years she looted and murdered crews until her demise, one fateful New Year’s night in 1583 when the Spanish ship Maria docked at the Killigrew’s Arwenack Castle. Lady Mary Killigrew ensured she entertained the Maria’s Captain and the crew whilst she probed them for information about treasure hidden on-board their ship. Once the Captain and crew left her castle for the bright lights of 16th century Penryn town, Lady Killigrew slipped on-board the ship Maria, killing her remaining crew and tossing them overboard as she then stole the Maria out to sea.
Alerted by the Maria’s captain; Lady Mary’s audacious stunt caught the attention of the Queen’s men and they lay in wait to arrest her as she returned to land. When it came time for her trial, Lady Mary Killigrew surprisingly received a full pardon from Queen Elizabeth I… but alas, her servants were not as lucky and were all executed in English court. The Killigrew family business would continue for century’s as they amassed vast wealth through piracy, looting and wrecking in Cornwall.
With such colourful beginnings, Penryn town and tales of her pirate deeds have become steeped in Cornish legend and mystery. Today the town’s ancient Glasney College routes have been revived with the establishment of University Campus built on the town’s outskirts. Penryn has embraced her maritime past and scholarly future as its high street has grown to be cosmopolitan and artistic, brimming with authentic Cornish culture.
At only a two minute car journey or bus ride from Cornwall Plus accommodation, a morning spent exploring today’s Penryn town is well worth the adventure. First on your whistle stop tour is The Thirsty Scholar pub; our rustic Local. Having been a brewery for more than 600 years and packed with charm, the Thirsty Scholar remains true to its origins. Even the outside beer garden hides brewery secrets as it once extended down to the waterfront where it would have been the setting of many a loading and unloading of smugglers contraband out of sight of the watchful Customs Officers. Today the friendly owners have swapped contraband for real ales, ciders and fresh, locally sourced home cooked food. A hearty home cooked breakfast and a fresh pot of coffee at The Thirsty Scholar is the perfect place to start you’re Penryn experience.
Venture further into Penryn on a Friday morning and you’ll catch the Penryn Friday Market. With Penryn’s rich market history, you can enjoy a mid-morning homemade cake and a cup of tea, surrounded by a variety of local flowers, plants, fresh fruit and vegetables and picture those many ancient Penryn markets of years gone by. From paintings to sculptures to drawings, continue you adventure through town where you’ll find galleries to fuel any artistic curiosity.
Headings towards the waterfront, grab a taste of the sea at lunchtime at the fresh and modern Mariners Fish and Chip shop which will also meet all your gluten free needs. With locally caught, sustainably sourced produce, take your portion of chips down to the waterfront and find a spot on the ancient quays to perch and watch the sailing boats bobbing on their moorings and home barges at their best. All that’s left is to potter back to the Health Food & Delicatessen shop for an iced tea whilst you await your taxi back to your base at Cornwall Plus.
For an extra treat, try an evening trip into Penryn town. Swap that breakfast for a delicious home cooked evening meal and bottle of wine at The Thirsty scholar pub or perhaps grab your take away fish and chips from Mariners and settle on a sunset waterfront spot to enjoy the best of Penryn. For something of that Cornish eclectic nature that Penryn effortlessly harnesses, head to Muddy Beach on the waterfront at Jubilee Wharf for a Friday or Saturday evening out. The stunning views from the eco-balcony that face out onto the blissful Penryn river, the family friendly areas and live acoustic music gigs will have you feeling like a Penryn local in no time! Remember to wave to any passing pirates!