Whenever I move somewhere new (Exeter in the last decade and Petersfield about 7 years ago after my separation). I like to explore the place I will call home. I like a good walkabout and have so far done Truro and a little bit in Falmouth but I’ve not really done so in Penryn. It’s now August and that means quiet season for me in a year that’s been quieter due to the recent loss of a big contract. So, on Friday afternoon I decided to do just that and found both photographic and writing inspiration.
Penryn is the third oldest town in Cornwall and has a distinctly Cornish population compared to the more “English” and cosmopolitan Falmouth next door. The port town was always going to be a melting pot thanks to its history as one of the best commercial harbours along the south coast. It’s something like the third deepest natural harbour in the world.
But Penryn has 700 years of fascinating history. Some of the oldest buildings are on the high street and down St Gluvias Street where I took this photograph. It’s a relatively steep hill with these lovely cottages on both sides going up the hill to the town hall. St Gluvias is a local saint, most likely from Wales, who spent most of his time in this area of Cornwall. the church is also named after him.
Once I’d finished snapping some of these buildings, I crossed the road to peruse the small harbour and wandered around to St Gluvias Church where, to my delight, I saw the building was open. I regularly go running near the church and along the water side, sometimes around the building but I’ve never seen it open. I went inside to escape the lunchtime heat and got talking to one of the vergers, a pleasant and chatty older man who was only too happy to fill me in on the history of the area.
A Brief History of Penryn and Falmouth
I learnt about Lady Killigrew – a medieval patron of Falmouth without whose endowment the town is unlikely to have developed into such an important harbour throughout the later medieval and colonial period. I also learnt that the main town of Penryn on the hill is known as “Penryn Proper” whereas the valley and the waterside, including St Gluvias Church, is known as “Penryn Foreign”. It’s a beautiful medieval building and unfortunately none of my external images came out all that well. I also forgot to take some internal photos of Lady Killigrew’s tomb and an ornate mural at the High End. I also learnt that “Penryn Proper” didn’t have a church until the building of the Methodist Chapel a few hundred years later. But the Market House and clock tower (which now serves as the town museum but once housed a sheriff’s office and jail cells), had a bell tower that would be rung to call parishioners down the hill to St Gluvias Church. As I said, no external photos of the church or interior but I did take this gorgeous shot in the graveyard (I will take some another time).
Of course there is such thing as having “a photographer’s eye” but there is also such thing as having “a writer’s eye”. Penryn, like any other small historic town, has its quirks and unique characteristics and people who have made it what it is. Lady Killigrew for example is clearly a much-revered person in these parts – she’s buried in Penryn’s church but is the reason Falmouth even exists at all. Their relationship is unlikely to see a resurgence in Penryn and a waning of Falmouth’s influence over the area. They are great places, both of them. In their own ways, they will always inspire my writing. Cornwall simply has that effect on me now – from the rugged coasts of the north to the sandy bays of the south and the heath of Bodmin moor and Land’s End.
I’m looking at the world with a new set of eyes.
Like to Buy Either of these Images?
The photographs of St Gluvias Street and the rose in the graveyard are available on my Alamy stock photos page here. Alternatively, if you’d like a photographic print of any of the images featured here, please contact me using the web form below.