11: Penryn -The Granite Port

Of course the Cornish granite destined for London had to be got there somehow. It would be put on tramways, or simply on horse drawn carts but ultimately it need to end up at a railway siding or wharf to be transported to London. I’ve posted about Lamorna before [ https://buildinglondon.blog/2021/08/11/4-lamorna-or-lands-end-granite/ ] a small dock built directly beneath a quarry, but Penryn is a much bigger affair – “the major port of the south west of England” and due to it’s role in shipping Carnmenellis Granite it was named the “Granite Port” [1] or “the Cornish equivalent of Aberdeen’s Granite City” [6]

The Penryn granite wharfs were originally in the Inner Harbour but by the early 20thC they seem to have shut and the trade was continued at the much larger Freeman’s Wharf of which sadly there is nothing of historic value there now, unlike the old dock and town itself.

Penryn Inner Harbour
“Trailer used for carrying granite from the Mabe Quarries to Freeman & Sons & Co Penryn. Photographer R A Curtis 1935,” 
cornishmemory.com, accessed August 20, 2021, http://cornishmemory.com/item/WAT_26_075. Mac Waters collection

This old picture is from 1935 and I suspect shows the dock now derelict. The lovely granite building in the background was a ‘Manure Manufactury’ in 1907.

Map of Penryn in 1880 and not the granite works in the dock
Copyright ? and/or Database Rights Old-Maps and Ordnance Survey Crown Copyright and/or Datbase Rights 2010. All rights reserved. https://www.old-maps.co.uk/
And in 1907 and the dock works seem to have closed and Freeman’s is now much bigger and seems to have a monopoly
Copyright ? and/or Database Rights Old-Maps and Ordnance Survey Crown Copyright and/or Datbase Rights 2010. All rights reserved. https://www.old-maps.co.uk/
Freemans granite works and wharf in the background. The dock is to the right of the photo
“The Quay with “Penryn”,” cornishmemory.com, accessed August 20, 2021, http://cornishmemory.com/item/WAT_26_072.

Surprisingly there were no tramways or railways down into the harbour. All the massive amounts of granite were transported down by horse and cart, sometimes backwards, down the precipitous Hillhead Road, past the ancient Barrel Pub, to the wharfs.

Matthew Dixon in the local Falmouth Packet writes “The traditional way of conveying granite to Penryn from places likes Mabe and Constantine was by horse drawn wagons, with six horses pulling 12 tons at a time. Wagon drivers were so confident of their horses that it was common to see several strings of horses proceeding driverless through the area towards Penryn. On an empty wagon behind, the drivers would sit smoking or having their “crouse”. It was also said that the horse teams would return home with the empty wagons, while their drivers remained in the pubs of Penryn for the night.” [2]

“Transporting a huge granite block from John Freeman’s Quarry at Mabe, 1901,” cornishmemory.com, accessed August 20, 2021, http://cornishmemory.com/item/WAT_18_323. [ The rock was later transported by railway from Penryn to be used for Alfred the Great’s Statue in Winchester.

Horses were replaced through time by steam engines and this form of transport was demonstrated in 2014 in what must have been an incredible sight! [3] Video here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7WJ5YaqC9Y&list=UUvYmRlpIyZgk1b3568JR82A


Penryn is a lovely Cornish town, well worth visiting, with some ancient granite buildings.
“It still has this olde worlde feel and some of the oldest streets still standing in Europe. We have more scheduled ancient monuments here than anywhere else in Cornwall.” says a local Cllr. [4] Penryn is also known as Shagtown! Most say that that’s due to the Cormorants in the area but the internet also hints it could be a description from Penryn’s more colourful busy international port past!

Pavement on Penryn Lower Street
The Town Hall now a museum.

Penryn is also a very important town in Cornish history due to Glasney College, the largest Cornish religious institution before it was shut down by Henry VIII in the Reformation, a closure felt more viscerally in Cornwall than maybe elsewhere due to Glasney’s role in the Cornish culture. “The smashing and looting of the Cornish colleges at Glasney and Crantock brought an end to the formal scholarship that helped sustain the Cornish language and the Cornish cultural identity, and played a significant part in fomenting the opposition to cultural ‘reforms’ that led to the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549. The granite taken from the college was used to form and build King Henry VIII’s fort at Pendennis castle.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glasney_College

Vernon39 WikiCommons https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_Book_Rebellion#/media/File:DSCN1948PenrynPrayerBookRebellionMemorial.jpg

As the memorial stone, granite, notes, several 1000 Cornish men died in the Prayer Book Rebellion and it seems to have been an historic defeat for Cornwall from which it tragically never recovered. [5]

Very little is left to see of Glasney College but one small piece of wall, but some of the stones ended up being re-used in houses in Penryn and can still be seen! See this visit for details! Interestingly some of the re-discovered stone is Beer-Stone which I will be covering in a future post soon. https://3darchaeologyvisualization.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/trip-to-penryn-the-glasney-site/

[1] https://www.cornwallharbours.co.uk/our-harbours/penryn/ [2] https://www.falmouthpacket.co.uk/news/17880023.teamwork-sculpture-among-statues-carved-cornish-quarries/ [3] https://www.falmouthpacket.co.uk/news/11400858.massive-steam-engines-pull-15-ton-granite-blocks-through-penryn-and-mabe-picture/ [4] https://www.cornwalllive.com/news/cornwall-news/penryn-ghost-town-high-street-2209313
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_Book_Rebellion
[6] Stanier, Peter (1985) The granite industry of South-West England, 1800-1980: A study in historical geography. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 646pp. https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/413336/1/85075041.pdf

N.b. some of the above photos are in the collection of a Mac Water. Mac is a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedh, his bardic name is the magnificent “Cunteller an Brewyon” “Gatherer of the Fragments”.

One response to “11: Penryn -The Granite Port”

  1. […] wall from 1820[11] Penryn old port where lots of London bogranite used in London was exported from https://buildinglondon.blog/2021/08/20/11-penryn-the-granite-port/%5B12%5D Visit to Kit Hill quarry – granite used to build Battersea Bridge […]


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