History of Falmouth Cornwall
Coming to Falmouth and want to know a bit more about the place? Well check into The Rathgowry Guesthouse and then you can go and inspect the places mentioned in this post for yourselves. Our warm and friendly guesthouse overlooks the beautiful Gyllyngvase Beach and is just a ten minute walk into the centre of Falmouth.
As I may have already mentioned in a previous blog, Falmouth is the site of the third deepest natural harbour in the world, and the deepest natural port in Western Europe. Our Cornish port is considered to be one of the finest natural harbours in the world and is the reason it exists and plays by far the largest part in the town’s history.
Falmouth is a relatively new town, but has far outgrown the much older neighbouring settlement of Penryn . Falmouth owes its foundation to Sir John Killigrew who first created the port and town at lands he owned in 1613. The town was set up in the shadow of the twin forts of Pendennis Castle and St Mawes Castle, which guard the Carrick Roads and the entrance to the harbour. In the early 1600s Killigrew’s home at Arwenack Manor House was probably the only property in the area. You can still see parts of the Killigrew Manor just off the high street.
Falmouth was originally a small village known as Smithwick, or Pny-cwm-cuic (the head of a narrow vale) which itself became ‘Penny-come-quick’.
Falmouth was designated a Royal Mail Packet Station in 1688 and specifically assigned the duty of carrying mail to and from Britain’s expanding empire. The town enjoyed a 150 year monopoly on the incoming and outgoing mail; no mail left England except via Falmouth. News from outside the country often landed first in Falmouth, making it a rival even to London for being up to date with the goings on of the outside world. The packet service ended in 1850. During the age of steam the old wind powered packet boats soon lost supremacy to the new, faster and more reliable steam propelled ships.
Did you know that Falmouth received the body of the fallen Admiral Nelson after his victory and death at the Battle of Trafalgar? His body was conveyed to London by carriage in great haste, the journey taking just 38 hours instead of the usual seven days!
In 1839 Falmouth was the site of the ‘Great Gold Dust Robber’ when a clerk in a shipping office helped himself to £4, 600 of gold dust that was on its way to London from Brazil. The value of the gold dust was very considerable at the time and the robbery caused a big stir. Lewin Casper enrolled the help of his father Ellis to steal the gold but the pair got caught and were transported to a penal colony on Tasmania.
Falmouth was an important port in the Battle of the Atlantic in WWII and rarely had less than 100 ships anchored in Falmouth bay and Carrick Roads. The town was bombed 12 times by the Luftwaffe killing 31 people. The town was also very important as a departure point for the D-day landings in 1944. Visit Pendennis Castle and take the guided tours of the battlements, as the guides tell you lots of interesting stories from the time the American troops were based in Falmouth.
Falmouth’s docks now employ a fraction of the 3, 000 or so they retained in the port’s peak years of the 1950s. The sea is still very important to the local economy although tourism, both from land and sea, are increasingly taking over from trade and commerce as the principle source of income for Falmouth.
The railway came late to Falmouth, the line opened in 1863. The railway not only made the incoming and outgoing transportation of goods going via the port much easier, but it also helped start the Cornish tourist industry. Falmouth responded quickly to the opportunity, building its first purpose built tourist hotel in 1865 and developing family bathing facilities at Swanpool, Gyllyngvase and Maenporth.
And finally…the famous London landmark known as ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’ made its treacherous way to its final destination on the banks of the River Thames, via Falmouth, after being lost in a storm in the bay of Biscay. The giant stone obelisk was being towed to England from Egypt but had to be cut loose during a severe storm in which several crewmen were lost. After being abandoned during the storm off the coast of Portugal, it was later found drifting off Spain and towed into Falmouth before continuing its journey by sea to London’s Victoria Embankment.
Today Falmouth is a lively and thriving town, without losing any of that Cornish seaside charm. The Docks, University & Colleges the magnificent South West Coastal path and the thousands of visitors (and, of course, the residents) make Falmouth a wonderful & vibrant place to live, study, work and visit – at any time of the year.