At the very heart of Cornwall's industrial and cultural past lies the market town and port of Penzance. The town, which is the most westerly in the county, takes its name from the Cornish 'Pen Sans', meaning 'Holy Headland', and sits in the north-east corner of the beautiful Mount's Bay, with the iconic St Michael's Mount in its view.
Evidence of early human settlement in the area includes Bronze Age tools and an Iron Age earthwork found at the top of Lescudnack Hill, the Town's highest point. There are also some signs of Saxon occupation with Alverton Street, which runs through the centre of the town, named after a Saxon overlord named Alward.
The 16th century saw Penzance be overshadowed by its bustling neighbour, Marazion. In 1595, along with the other nearby settlements of Mousehole and Paul, it was victim to a Spanish raid, which left much of the town, including its harbour, devastated by fire. However, in 1614 the town was granted borough status, allowing it to quickly overtake its neighbours and become the principal settlement in the Mounts Bay area.
As it continued to prosper over the next two hundred years, Penzance was a frequent stop-over for ships from all over the globe heading to or from the English Channel, with larger vessels anchoring in the relative shelter of Mount's Bay. This constant flow of laden ships, along with the local population's tendency for keeping certain information quiet, allowed the practices of smuggling and privateering to run rife.
Luxury goods such as brandy, tea, silk and tobacco where either 'acquired' from passing ships or brought over from France and Spain. Once back in port, the contraband would be kept in secret cellars and underground passages. In fact, an early 19th century smugglers passage was recently discovered below one of the town's harbourside warehouses leading to a local public house. Probably excavated with the help and expertise of local miners, the tunnel even features a spy-hole allowing occupants to make sure the pub was clear of the tax-man before surfacing.
The town was so well connected, with fishermen constantly bringing back news from conversations with passing vessels, that Penzance was said to have known about the victory at Trafalgar and Admiral Nelson's death before the news had reached even London.
Chemist and inventor Sir Humphrey Davey, born in 1778, became the town's most celebrated son when he invented the famous miners safety lamp. By enclosing the lamp's flame in a fine mesh it prevented the possibility of the flame igniting explosive gases that might be present in the mines. The flame would also glow a slightly blue colour if in the presence of the dangerous gases, alerting those around it.
Penzance is now a thriving market town with many independent shops and services operating along its highstreet. The train station terminal and the dual carriageway (the A30) make travelling to and from the town very easy, with St Ives less than 25 minutes away by car and the whole of Penwith, including the picturesque villages of Zennor and St Just, within just a short drive.