Penryn’s Town Hall, Market House & Clock Tower began with the construction of the original Market House in the C16th. Well known local traveler and diarist , Peter Mundy, (1539 – 1667), described the building as a, ‘handsome market-house, elevated, about the middle of the towne.’ In 1666 a, salt house was added and in 1667 a new market bell was added to the, Pent House. The market-house was rebuilt in 1720 and in 1825 a town hall was added with a further addition of the clock tower in 1839.
Tompion Clock Mechanism – Regarded as the, ‘Father of English Clock Making’, Thomas Tompion, (1693 – 1713), designed the mechanism for the clock and chimes that could be heard across the town. The exact date the mechanism was installed is uncertain but a citation from, ‘The Universal British Directory’, for Penryn, (1793 – 98), reads, ‘…an excellent town clock with chimes by Tompion..’ Another reference made in a newspaper held at the Cornwall Records office, dated 23rd September 1839 suggests that the old clock has been reinstated.
Penryn was granted a market charter in 1236. A weekly medieval fish market was held on Fish Cross at the junction between Broad Street and St Thomas Street, fish, oysters and other shellfish from the Helford River were sold by the women of the town from wooden stalls. Today the site is often tended to by local community group, Incredible Edible Penryn, and instead of fresh fish locals and visitors are invited to help themselves to free fresh veg and flowers planted by the group.
An announcement by, ‘The Corporation’, on their decision to remove the fish market was published in the, Penryn Advertiser in January 1894. Today the grade II listed granite Fish Cross Head stands outside the entrance to town’s museum where it was moved in 1895. Markets continued in the market-house where fish, poultry and vegetables were sold. Local butchers closed their shops on a Saturday and took their meats to the market where they were charged a, ‘toll’. Today a weekly market is held in the, ‘Tee-Total’, or, ‘Temperance’, hall every Friday.
The Fish Cross – is a standing cross, first scheduled as a monument of national importance in 1934. Over 12,000 standing crosses stood throughout England until the C16th/C17th reformation when many were destroyed. Today as few as 2,000 are believed to exist in various conditions. John Body is believed to have stood beneath this cross when he ordered the closure of all Catholic Churches.
Dating back to the medieval period standing crosses were erected to denote a number of areas including, places for preaching, penance, proclamation and defining boundaries. Penryn’s Fish Cross was likely erected to validate market transactions as well as an area of proclamation and possibly preaching. Penryn’s Fish Cross, although now standing on a modern base, remains as a beautiful example.
A local saying, ‘You’ll be under the clock’, makes reference to the Penryn borough goal, consisting of, ‘…two rooms adjoining to the town hall, about 7.5 ft square; a chimney in each.’ A report in C18th condemned the, ‘….two cramped cells on the staircase’. Another prison recorded in the town during the C18th was once part of the medieval, Bishops Palace, located near the hill-head junction. The Penryn Debtors prison was made up of, ‘one room 13 feet by 12.5 feet and 6.5 feet high; [with] a window 2 foot by 1 foot 4 inches.’ The date this building was lost is unknown however a building erected in 1835 on or near the same site can still be seen today and was also used to detain petty offenders during the C19th.
Today the town hall houses some interesting paintings and artifacts as well as hosting local events and marriages. Council meetings are still held in the chambers and the market-house is now home to the towns fascinating and welcoming museum.
For more information about the town hall please pop in and see the helpful and knowledgeable volunteers in the Museum located below the town hall. You can also follow their interesting posts in their Facebook group Penryn History.