Chapel Street and the Pirate of Penzance
Market Jew Street may be the main street in Penzance, but historic Chapel Street is without doubt my favourite. It leads from the harbour right up to the Greenmarket in the centre of town and has an eclectic mix of architecture and some intriguing maritime history.
Like the rest of Penzance, Chapel Street was almost razed to the ground in 1595 when a Spanish raiding party set fire to the town in retaliation for the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. One of the buildings that did manage to survive was the Turks Head which has supposedly been here since 1233. According to the pub’s website it gets its name from when the Turks invaded the town around the same time, and was the first pub in the country to be called by that name.
Whatever the truth is, it’s definitely one of the oldest buildings in Penzance – and it’s a well-known fact that Penzance was raided by corsairs from the Barbary Coast from the 16th century onwards. In 1625 it was recorded that 60 men, women, and children were taken from a local church, no doubt to be used as slaves, as was normally the case, by these Mediterranean pirates.
More often than not, I travel to Penzance by train, and every time I arrive I always feel that I’ve reached the end of the line – and that’s because I have. It’s the final stop on Brunel’s Great Western Railway and the most southerly railway station in the country. Land’s End is less than ten miles away and when you come out of the station and see a sign that says Pensans A ‘Gas Dynergh (Welcome to Penzance) you know you’re somewhere different than where you started out from.
Nestled in the shelter of Mounts Bay, the town has a similar population to Newquay, but that’s where the similarities end. Penzance may have a beach, a prom and a harbour, but it’s all very low key in comparison and the pace of life is much more genteel.
Instead of amusements, discos, and surfing, think art galleries, parks, and sub-tropical gardens instead, but this doesn’t tell the whole story because in amongst the palm trees and fuchsias is another side of life to this enigmatic town.