History of Penzance Harbour. Penzance started as a fishing cove.
1313 - first quay
1322 - records show eight fishing boats each paying 2 shillings per annum to the Duchy of Cornwall.
A century later maritime life was no longer limited to fishing. During 1425, 1432 and 1440 Penzance ships were licensed to carry pilgrims to the shrine of St. James of Compostella in Northern Spain.
It is known that Penzance had a quay by 1500. The earliest document of the Corporation of Penzance is a short charter dated 16th March 1512. King Henry the Eighth granted Penzance all of the harbour dues instead of them going to the Duchy of Cornwall. This was on the condition that ‘the bulwarks and quays must be kept in good repair for the safeguard of shipping and the town’.
In the 1600’s the main imports to the harbour were timber, iron, coal and salt. Exported were pilchards, 3433 hogsheads in 1687, all salted and shipped to the Mediterranean.
From 1665 tin was shipped to London and overseas on a regular basis.
Harbour dues in those days were such that locals didn’t appear to pay any, while strangers paid a halfpenny to roll or land a hogshead of pilchards upon the pier.
On the 29th October 1764 the Corporation resolved to build a new quay. The work was completed in 1785 for a total of £3950. In 1809 it was resolved to extend the pier by 150ft, “to encourage and increase trade in the town”. Work took place between 1811and 1813 at a total cost of £6500.
In 1817 the Corporation placed a small lighthouse on the end of the quay to replace the lantern washed away by a great storm in January of that year. The lighthouse was to show mariners when they were in 10 feet of water, and to guide them round the pier head. This was replaced once more in 1825 when it was destroyed once again by a storm.
In 1840 the Corporation secured an Act of Parliament stating, “Trade and shipping having greatly increased, it would be of good utility if a wet dock and basin…were constructed and additional quays erected”. This was made possible when the proposal to build a railway to Penzance was announced. In April 1848 the pier had been completed to a length of 1200 feet it was called the Albert Pier after the Prince Consort, who landed there in September 1846. The Queen stayed on the Royal Yacht in Mount’s Bay.
In December 1848 a number of ships sustained damage entering the harbour to escape a threatening storm. The best that could be done was to raise money locally and extend the South Pier by 200-300 feet. The extension was started in December 1852 and after its completion a new lighthouse (still in position) was erected at its seaward end and went into service in August 1855.
In 1878 the decision to proceed with the floating dock was taken it was completed in November 1884, and is now proud to home the Bag O’ Rags!