History & Homes of the Sunbeam One Design
Discovering Falmouth - 1926
“Discovering Falmouth” By WINIFRED HALL, F.R.S.A., F.R.H.S.
“ W h y! ” you will say there is nothing to be “discovered” in the long narrow street of that little town.
Investigate it, however, in the same careful way in which you would visit some old or foreign city, and you will find that your childhood's love of exploration will revive surprisingly, having plenty of material on which to feed.
To play this “Game of Exploration” in Falmouth, you must first of all become really imbued with the spirit of the place as it was in its hey-day, with two squadrons of ten frigates and forty packet vessels anchored in the harbour, for these were the days in Falmouth's history which really mattered.
Lean, then, over the harbour wall of the Yacht Club and look across the water to the little town of Flushing.
What a little “sleepy-hollow” of a place it seems now! Yet no quiet spot was it in olden days, for here lived the two squadron commanders and their ladies, the captains, and other married officers of the frigates, as well as most of the `officers of the Packet boats, who, if possible, wore more resplendent uniforms than the naval men, though, even for them, gold epaulets and brilliant uniforms were the order of the day. Our bluejackets, too, would indeed look sombre by the side of the boats' crews of that time in their scarlet winter waistcoats; whilst the well-dressed, young, and often handsome men of the Packet Service were still more noticeable, picked men as they were.
To add their quota, also, to the general gaiety, were the men from the line-of-battle and other smaller warships constantly arriving and departing in the Roads, for part of this “Packet” period covers the time of “Boney”.
[Winifred Hall seems to be virtually quoting from The Autobiography of James Silk Buckingham (1786-1855). Printed in London in1855 by Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans]
Those were the days of high wages and big prize-money for officers and crew, with the result that night after night parties, dinners, and balls were held at one or other of the senior officers' houses in the beautiful wainscoted rooms, some of which may still be seen; and many a dance at the taverns for the sailors and their sweethearts. Peep through the open doors or windows of some of the houses, and the old panelled rooms, many now inhabited by labourers, and it will help you to gain a vision of those palmy days when they echoed to the “ sounds of revelry.”
Like ourselves, the sailors probably thought little or nothing of the quays at which they landed, though before Falmouth had outgrown its village stage, the Dutch, who settled at Flushing, had built both this quay and the one at Green Bank, constructing them in a most unusual way, no mortar being used to keep the large surface stones together.
The ferry between the two quays is mentioned in the Falmouth Charter of Incorporation of 1660, but alas! has recently had to be discontinued owing to its being, at present, a non-paying concern.
To the left lies Little Falmouth, today practically derelict, but in the eighteenth century the centre of a busy “hive of industry,” for here it was that many of the Packets were built.
Then cast your eyes yet further Penryn-wards to that well wooded slope -Trevissome
- where now lives Captain Dowman
, the owner of the Cutty Sark
; for in a little farmstead close by, at least one patient was inoculated for small-pox, in the days when Dr. Jenner's discovery was almost unknown in Cornwall.
Still standing on the same spot, Green-bank Quay is but a stone's throw-and oft-told as is the following tale, it yet bears re-telling.
Hard by, as I say, on this quay, stood, long ago, a little alehouse kept by an old servant of a certain Mr. Pendarves. At his request she brewed some ale in preparation for his expected arrival, but before he had a chance of sampling it, she had sold out to a crew of Dutch sailors then in the harbour. When Mr. Pendarves and his guests appeared, she excused herself in the well-known words: “Truly, master, the penny-come-so-quick I could not deny them.”
Vouch for this story I cannot! but the fact remains that Falmouth is called Penny-come-quick in many of the older documents. A far more reasonable explanation of the name is that it was a corruption of “Pen-y-cwm-quic” - “the head of a creek.”
Have you yet begun to recapture your old adventurous exploring spirit? If so, you will now be in the mood to ”ramble” through the winding street, full of twists and turns, following the original lane which led from Arwenack Manor to Market Strand, and from thence to Penryn.
When “discovering” any town, it is wise to keep one's eyes turned roof-wards, for in the older parts, many otherwise unseen, beauties might be lost.
Take, for instance, the rounded windows of the house next to the garage near the [Yacht] Club, which if one's eyes had been cast pavement-wards would have escaped the notice they deserve. And on no account pass by, as though beneath your notice (though, in truth, they are below your eye level !) the old house - Winchester Buildings - now occupied by several working-class families, who nestle comfortably in the old-fashioned rooms once occupied by Admiral Winchester. To see the house at close quarters, choose a season when the sewerage excavation hoardings have been removed. Walk down the slope leading to the laundry, bear to the right, and then sharp to the left until you come to the picturesque little dwelling known as Vine Cottage Whether ancient or not, I neither know nor care, for the peep of the harbour seen, as it were, through a picture frame, is inducement enough for me. Pass up the slope once more and you will be surprised at the fine old house of the long dead admiral fulfilling even now a useful purpose.
Perhaps the “slip” at `Vine Cottage is the most beautiful of all the “opes” - as these narrow openings leading to the harbour edge are called - though better known is the one a few yards further along the main road down High Street facing Oddfellows Hall (at one time the Guildhall and Police Station, and given to the Corporation by Mr. Martin Lister Killigrew of the Arwenack Pyramid fame with new maces costing him £100).
Here on the left-hand side is Barracks Ope, an archway “giving” on to the main street, making a natural framework to the beautiful picture of the harbour seen beyond. Take my advice, and as each alley shows itself, wander down towards the harbour edge, for each is very individual in the quaintness it discloses; and do not fail to note the small granite block “Jeffery's Mid-High Street” over the sweet-stuff shops near Briton's Yard as you walk down the street to Mulberry Square.
Mulberry Square ! What a svlvan retreat it sounds, yet what a very short exploration of its “coal-dusty” interior will suffice you!