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Falmouth in 1837

FALMOUTH, a parish, borough, market, and seaport town in the county of Cornwall, in the hundred of Kerrier, 54 miles south-west from Launceston and 267 miles west-south-west from London.

The town is situated at the mouth of the river Fal, whence it derives its name, and consists principally of one street, which extends along the south-western shore of the harbour for about a mile. There is a convenient quay, a town-house, and gaol erected in 1831. The water near the quay is of sufficient depth to allow vessels of considerable burthen to discharge their cargoes on the wharf. Adjoining the principal street and near the centre of it stand the market-house and town-hall. The Public Rooms, a handsome building, is situated in the heart of the town : and not far from it is the polytechnic hall, a spacious and commodious structure, in which are held the annual exhibitions of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, an institution which, though only established in the year 1833, has always contributed much to promote emulation in the fine and useful arts among all classes throughout the county.

The church, which has a handsome alter, was built soon after the Restoration, and dedicated to Charles the Martyr. The average net income of the living is about £800. It is in the diocese of Exeter, and the patron is Lord Wodehouse. There are also places of worship for Baptists, Bryanites, the Society of Friends, Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians, a Roman Catholic chapel, and a Jew’s synagogue, and likewise several schools and numerous charitable institutions. On the whole Falmouth is a neat and tolerably well-built town. It is lighted with gas, and contains two good hotels. The suburbs are adorned with several villas, which, together with the harbour, when seen from the surrounding hills, have a very beautiful appearance.

The charter of incorporation bears the date 13 Charles II. The governing body, under the Act 5 and 6 William IV, c.76, consists of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors. The corporation has no revenue whatever ; the tolls of the market and the quay are the property of Lord Wodehouse. The only police are the constables appointed by the town councils, these and other expenses being paid by a rate. According to the returns made in 1831 the population of the town and parish of Falmouth was 7,284, of which the town alone contained 4,761. Falmouth is a parliamentary borough, and in union with Penryn returns two members to parliament. The market-days are Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and the fairs are held the 7th August and 10th October.

The harbour, which is extensive and well protected by the surrounding high lands, is so conveniently situated that vessels have frequently been able to proceed on their voyage from this port, while those from Plymouth and Portsmouth have been forced back by contrary winds before they could reach the mouth of the Channel.

It is defended by two castles ; one, towards the west, called Pendennis, and the other, towards the east, called St. Mawes. Carew, in his "Survey of Cornwall" (London, 1602) states that both these castles were built by Henry VIII, and subsequently improved and strengthened by Queen Elizabeth. Pendennis long resisted the attacks of Oliver Cromwell, whose lines of encampment may yet be seen. It now contains commodious barracks, storehouses, and magazines, with apartments for the lieutenant-governor. A light-house has recently been erected at St. Anthony’s Point, at the east side of the harbour. The Trinity Board have recently directed the building of an obelisk on the height of the Black Rock, between Pendennis and St. Mawes, for the assistance of mariners in making Falmouth harbour.

Formerly there was an extensive fishery in pilchards, and large quantities were annually exported. It has been stated that of late years this fish has become particularly scarce, though from the account given by Mr. M'Culloch of the present state of the fishery on the coast of Cornwall, there appears to be little or rather no foundation for such an assertion. The exports consist principally of the produce of the tin and copper mines : the trade with Jersey in fruit and cyder is considerable.

The port is first spoken of in the reign of Henry IV, when the duchess dowager of Bretagne landed here, in progress to celebrate her nuptials with that king. Until 1613, the site of the present town was occupied merely by the huts of fishermen. There was however one house of entertainment, at which Sir Walter Raleigh and his crew put up on their return from Guiana. Shortly after this period, Sir John Killegrew, bart., an enterprising individual, having obtained permission from James I, constructed a new quay, laid the foundation of the present town, and procured an act of parliament, by which the payment of certain duties was secured to himself and heirs.

The subsequent establishment, about 1688, of the post-office packets to the West Indies, Lisbon, &c, contributed much to the rising prosperity of the place. In 1700 there were 350 houses, in 1750, upwards of 500, and in 1811 there were 647 inhabited houses in the town and suburbs. Large amounts of specie and bullion are landed from the packets arriving from Spain, Portugal, and America. The steamers which run between London and the Mediterranean invariably call here on their outward and homeward passage to take in passengers and coals ; and the Peninsula Steam Navigation Company, having recently contracted with government to carry the mail, one of their powerful vessels now leaves the port every Monday. This alteration in the conveyance of the mail had long been felt necessary by merchants connected with the Peninsula.

About the middle of the entrance to the harbour is a large rock called the Black Rock, which is traditionally said to have been the island where the Phoenicians trafficked with the natives for tin. Borlase, in his 'Antiquities of the County of Cornwall,’ mentions the finding of a large quantity of Roman coins on a branch of Falmouth harbour, nearly the whole of which were of the coinage of the Emperors Gallienus, Carinus, and Numerian, who reigned A.D. 259-284. At the western extremity of the town stands Arwinnick-House, the ancient seat of the Killegrew family.