Is Penzance’s Iconic Market House falling into disrepair?

As Penzance celebrates the 400th anniversary of the granting of its Royal Charter by King James I, is its most iconic building, the handsome Market House, falling into disrepair?

[See the updates at the bottom of this post – as of September 2014 progress has been made and the first wave of repairs to the Market House are due to begin in October]

To use its formal name, Penzance Market Building is Grade I listed (English Heritage building ID: 69515), and of national importance. Its impressive portico atop ionic columns on the eastern side has commanded the view of Market Jew Street since its completion in 1838. The building, crowned by its lead-covered dome with octagonal lantern, can be seen from all around the town and surrounding landscape.

The western half of the building is occupied by Lloyds Bank. Unfortunately the eastern half, once home to the town’s Guildhall, lays empty and at risk from further dilapidation. The basement shop has been vacant for many years. The former clothes shop on the ground floor closed over two years ago. The businesses occupying the offices on the first floor left years ago. There are no “To Let” signs. Many of the basement windows are boarded up.

It is becoming a shadow of its former glory, right under the eyes of everyone who lives in, works in, or visits the town. Slow decline can be difficult to notice. But listen to tourists visiting the town – I have heard several saying that it was a shame that it’s all shut up.

A few weeks ago, I had a good look at the eastern half of building. A quick look through the middle side door on Market Place alerted me to the damage that may be occurring inside.

The middle side door

Damp runs up the wall and across the ceiling. Fallen plaster lays on the floor. This indicates water ingress, possibly as a result of the recent storms. There will also be damage in the floor above.

Damp and fallen plaster

Damp and fallen plaster

Inside the old Guildhall, with its beautiful moulded ceiling, paint is peeling off and plaster falling off around the ornate ceiling rose. Dark stains indicate water damage.

Peeling paint and fallen plaster around the ornate ceiling rose

Peeling paint and fallen plaster around the ornate ceiling rose

Meanwhile, several of the windows of the basement are boarded up, reinforcing an image of neglect.

Boarded up windows

Tehmina and I have been worried about the building for a long time, and have gone to some effort to try and discover who is responsible for the building. The Corporation of Penzance owned the building until 1965 when it sold it to Lloyds Bank, retaining use of the flagpole and portico for official occasions.

Lloyds sold the freehold of the Market Building in 1995 as part of a sale and leaseback programme. They remain lessees of the building, and responsible for repairs. Sadly, until recent pressure, they have let the unoccupied (eastern) portion building fall into disrepair. The lack of any “To Let” signs have done little to encourage local businesses to move into the premises.

The best way to look after a historic building is to use it. People working there would notice leaks, and keep it ventilated and heated. This is what needs to happen to our beloved Market House. It needs to be used again.

In mid-April, after first noticing the damage inside, we contacted the Cornwall Buildings Group with our concerns.
They took them very seriously, and summarised them on their website:

We are concerned about the state of the Market House building, Market Jew Street, Penzance. The major portion including the basement lies derelict and has done so for some years. We are concerned that

  1. Despite the building being cleaned in 2011 the surface of the granite is showing signs of algenous growth and vegetation is emerging from the pointing between the granite blocks.

  2. There are probable damp problems in the basement, it has been boarded up for so long.

  3. Plaster is falling from within and the interiors are becoming ruinous.

  4. The building appears to be in a neglected state

We have asked Cornwall Council Enforcement and a conservation officer to get together to look at this important building in Penzance.

Cornwall Buildings Group also wrote to SAVE and the Victorian Society. I have done the same to the latter and Cornwall Council.

Simon Reed, a good friend and former Mayor of Penzance, has been lobbying Town and County Councillors, and the matter will be brought before Penzance Town Council’s Planning Committee on 21 May 2014.

The pressure from the Cornwall Buildings Group has caught the attention of local newspaper, The Cornishman, in the article “Pressure group calls for clean-up of Penzance’s historic Market House” which was published whilst I was drafting this blog post.

A Lloyds spokesman said:

“We understand that Market House is an important place in Penzance and take our responsibility to manage the building very seriously”

“We are currently evaluating the required work, and plan to carry out a repair programme over the coming months.”

This is excellent news. However, we must continue to keep up the pressure to make sure that this grand old building gets the new lease of life that it deserves.

Penzance Market House was built to:

direct its users attention away from the vulgarity of the streets and the uninspired and often depressingly ugly uniformity of the town.

Here’s to it continuing to do just that. Maybe one day it could even host the Town’s market once again.

See more photos of the problems caused by the dereliction of the Market House.

[Update] There is a movement by Popup Penzance to negotiate with the property owners to transform the vacant units into a multipurpose community venue, incorporating a museum exploring the life of scientist Humphry Davy who was born here in Penzance in 1778. It will be fantastic to have the building repaired and see it used again.

[Update 11 August 2014] No visible repairs have been made to Penzance Market House since this post was first written – I assume that we are still in the “coming months” period. Further damage is visible through the glass of the Market Place door – a large piece of wood has fallen from presumably the ceiling of the landing and slid down the stairs. Further plaster is visible on the floor.

Damp, fallen plaster and wood inside the Market Place door into the eastern half of Penzance Market House

The warm weather has dried out some of the damp visible on the ceiling of the former Guildhall, but it is not possible to see if any plaster has fallen off. The building requires an internal inspection.

There are still no “To Let” signs, suggesting a lack of will to have the building reoccupied.

Cornwall Buildings Group have issued a statement about the state of Cornwall’s listed buildings and Cornwall Council’s lack of action in several cases. Watch this space.

[Update 27 September 2014]

Progress. A survey of the external and limited internal damage has been completed, and a planning application has been made and approved by Cornwall Council. The Heritage Statement, prepared by B3 Architects suggests that an enforcement notice has been served on Lloyds, compelling them to fix the damage. It makes sad reading:

To date the bank as failed in its duty to maintain this building effectively so these proposed works – as a result of the enforcement notice – are designed to put that shortcoming right.

The damage in the eastern half is more extensive than is visible from the outside, and quite shocking, especially on the first floor:

This area has suffered from lack of maintenance for many years; there is a large buildup of organic spores on all surfaces.

The ceilings have largely collapsed, the doors have delaminated and a good portion of the flooring is soft under foot.

This area is a danger to Health and a real safety risk. It should not be occupied unless under strict supervision.

According to a further report in The Cornishman entitled Repairs to start at listed Market House building in Penzance repairs will begin in October 2014, and from a glance at the Heritage Statement, it’s going to cost Lloyds a pretty penny as the entire building and dome will be encased in walled and roofed scaffolding.

This is just the first planning application to get the building watertight. Further work and applications will be required to repair the rooms inside. Doubtless this will cost several hundred thousand pounds to complete – all because routine maintanance hadn’t been undertaken.

Hopefully this is the beginning of getting our wonderful Market House back into shape, and bringing the eastern half back into use. We are on the path to helping Penzance be proud of it once more.

Breaking waves on Penzance Promenade

20140101-202642.jpg

The sea was rough earlier on today, with huge waves breaking on the sea defences below Penzance Promenade. At high tide, spray was thrown ten metres or more into the air.

I managed to capture this photo on my iPhone as we sheltered from a shower by Gino’s restaurant next to the Queens Hotel. There were much bigger waves, but since I value my phone, after capturing a quick video with Vine, I opted to enjoy the waves and keep my phone dry in my pocket.

Recent 3D Scanning in West Cornwall

Noti Noti stone

A few weeks ago I gave a talk to the Cornwall Archaeological Society about 3D capture methods in archaeology, with examples of some of my recent work. It’s all work in progress, but here are some of the images shown during the lecture.

The stones were all chosen as case studies as they all contain details which can be difficult to see with the naked eye under normal lighting conditions. They include the Noti Noti stone in St Hilary, an inscribed stone and decorated crosses at Phillack, the Penzance Market Cross (left elevation) and the Cunaide Stone in Hayle.

The Pasties of Penzance

Pasty from Ian Lentern butchers, Penzance
Pasty from Ian Lentern butchers, Penzance
Pasty from Ian Lentern butchers, Penzance

Does Penzance have more pasty shops than anywhere else in Cornwall? The total number of establishments selling fresh hot pasties is now at 20.

When I moved to Penzance one of the first things I had to eat was, of course, a pasty. It was huge. Bigger than my head, and I couldn’t finish it. It was from Lavenders, and made here in the town. After that, I noticed the sheer number of establishments which sold pasties. And there began a most important piece of research. Is Penzance the pasty capital of Cornwall?

Here is a list of establishments that sell fresh, hot (as hot as the Pasty Tax allows, anyway) pasties, baked daily. In the town centre there are 18 19 20 such places. If you know of anywhere that isn’t on the list, tell me. If you know of any other town in Cornwall that has more pasty outlets, I want to know!

Takeaway Pasties

  • Lavenders (Alverton St)
  • Cindy’s (Alverton St)
  • Warrens (Alverton St)
  • AJ’s Eats and Treats (Causewayhead)
  • Rowes (Causewayhead)
  • Mounts Bay Pasty Company (Market Jew St)
  • Warrens (upper Market Jew St)
  • Pellows (Market Jew St)
  • Rowes (Market Jew St)
  • Warrens (lower Market Jew St)
  • Lavenders (Market Jew St)
  • Dreckleys Steakhouse (Wharf Rd)
  • Steamers (Penzance Station)
  • Chy an Clare News (St Clare St, allegedly baked by Lavenders)
  • Costcutters (Market Jew St, sells hot Rowes pasties)
  • Ian Lentern butchers (Chapel St)
  • Cornish Hen deli (Market Place)
  • All Day Takeaway & Ice Cream shop (Barbican & Coinagehall St junction)
  • Barbican Coffee Shop (Barbican Lane)

(19)

Pasties for Eat-in Only

  • Tremenheere Wetherspoons (Market Jew St)

(1)

Pasty and SwanThe best pasties in Penzance?

I’ve had a pasty for my croust (Cornish term for lunch, or just a time when you’re starving) from most of the places listed above. My personal preference is for a large pasty from the Mounts Bay Pasty Company. They’ve got plenty of sweetness and gravy, and the pastry is just right, and nice and buttery, with soft delicious meat. I do like a Lavenders pasty on occasion, but lately they’ve been a bit too salty for me. Warrens is probably the best “mass produced” baker’s pasty in Penzance. They’re actually made in St Just, so it’s still pretty local.

I need your help

Is Penzance truly the pasty capital of Cornwall? Have I missed somewhere? Probably! Leave a comment below and I’ll publish it and add to the list. Does your town have more pasty outlets? Prove it!

Life in Penzance

Porth Nanven

It’s now been six weeks since Tehm and I made Penzance our home. It’s taken a bit of getting used to. Not the place, but getting used to the reality that a dream that we have had for many many years has finally been achieved. Plenty of need for reality checks each time we catch a glimpse of the sea or St Michael’s Mount.

We are currently without any form of permanent heating system, and are making do with plug-in oil radiators, which are expensive to run. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of an efficient wood-burning stove which is due to be installed in three weeks time. And a bigger project after that involving a back boiler and a thermal store, but that is for another post nearer the time.

Avoiding supermarkets

Another change that we have made is the decision to avoid shopping in supermarkets, which is quite possible here, if you put your mind to it. Penzance is gifted with a fine greengrocer, Thornes, who also stock the largest array, nay, battery, of jams and preserves I have ever seen, as well as other ‘exotic’ food items and all the basics. There are delicatessens here, and the highest concentration of bakeries that I have ever seen. We have the fine butchers, Ian Lentern, a large health food shop which sells lots of groceries too, an organic food shop, the “Weigh Inn” as well as two Co-op stores for the bits you can’t get elsewhere. We haven’t made it to the fishmongers yet, but that’s next. A short drive, cycle, or even walk, and you can take in the shops of Newlyn or Marazion. And you know what? We’re no worse off, and in fact, I think shopping and eating this way is proving cheaper and more healthy. No temptations to buy ready meals, and we buy fresh as we need it.

Life without TV

I blogged about life with no TV when I first moved to Salisbury, back in 2006, and shamefully, we did eventually get one again a few years later. Well, this time, we’ve ditched it again, and I’m certain that it will be for good this time. With super-fast broadband on the way, a collection of over a thousand books, and when you’re learning a new instrument (the Irish Bouzouki) there always seems so much to do to find the time to watch live TV. iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD, and Demand5 are there for catch-up should we hear about something worth watching.

Exploring

Penzance is in an area called West Penwith, which is truly the most beautiful part of the UK, in my opinion. There is so much to explore. Because most of our time has been spent settling in and unpacking, we haven’t been exploring much. However, we have made it out to Porthcurno, St Just, and Porth Nanven.

When you get views like this, I can’t wait to get out and experience more places here in the far west, letting those roots get a little deeper each time, and feel the elation that, finally, this is my home!

Porth Nanven
Porth Nanven

Living in Cornwall

Over the last few years I have moved about quite a lot. I’ve lived in Salisbury, London, Swansea, and have moved yet again. I have moved back to my homeland, to Cornwall. And this time I hope it’s the last move for a very long time!

I now live in West Cornwall, an area called West Penwith, and the town of Penzance is my new home. I have been visiting this part of the Duchy with Tehmina every year for the last twelve years, and we have completely fallen in love with it. I didn’t often visit this part of the world whilst I was growing up in Cornwall, so we’ve discovered it together. Penzance began to feel like home some years ago, and it seemed after moving around so much, that it was the only place we could settle down in. And a few weeks in, we’re really glad that we’ve finally made it.

I’ll undoubtedly post more in the coming weeks, once we get our phone and broadband installed, on the amazing place that I can now call home. For now, here are a few photographs that I have taken whilst out and about.

Cornish Choughs in West Cornwall

Two weeks ago I was in the St Just area for a week back in Cornwall, recharging my batteries – a much needed holiday. It’s such a beautiful area; moors, tors, megaliths, wooded valleys, azure seas, granite houses, amazing wildlife, and of course, Cornish choughs.

On our first day there Tehmina and I went for a walk down through the beautiful Cot Valley to Porth Nanven. The beauty of this place is breathtaking, especially when the sea appears between the valley walls

The Brisons, viewed down the Cot Valley

When we arrived at Porth Nanven, we experienced our first sighting of a pair of Cornish choughs in the wild. I managed to take a photo as one landed on the cliff, but without my zoom lens, the photo isn’t up to much. We were just in awe at having seen them. The following day we decided to follow the cliff path from St Just to Geevor. When we got to Botallack, we spotted another chough!

Cornish chough at Botallack

I still didn’t have my zoom lens with me, but you should be able to spot him in the photo above (click to see a larger version). How do I know he’s a he? There’s a yellow tag on his right leg. That evening we were chatting to a member of staff in a local pub and mentioned our sighting. As it happens, she happened to also be a volunteer who monitors choughs in the area – what luck!

A couple of days later, we went back to Porth Nanven. This time I had my zoom lens with me.

Cornish choughs in flight

A pair flew across the valley above us. It was a truly unforgettable sight, and I’m glad to have this photo as a reminder.

I am only used to seeing the Cornish chough as a heraldic device, so seeing them in real life, in Cornwall was unforgettable. I have four on my coat of arms (three ‘in the field’ and one on the crest). We are very lucky to have them once again in Cornwall, may they thrive once more!

Goskar coat of Arms
Goskar coat of Arms

Cornish pasties receive Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status

Tuesday 22nd February 2011 was a great day for the humble Cornish pasty. As reported by the Cornish Pasty Association:

The Cornish Pasty Association (CPA) is celebrating after receiving Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for its world famous pasty. The decision from the European Commission means that from now only Cornish pasties made in Cornwall and following the traditional recipe can be called ‘Cornish pasties’.
From
http://www.cornishpastyassociation.co.uk/news11.html

A pasty can still be baked elsewhere in the country, so long as it was prepared in Cornwall. The West Cornwall Pasty Company, Pasty Presto, and The Pasty Shop to name but a few will be glad of that. With a bit of luck this could be good news for the Cornish economy, as it is hoped that demand for the real thing will grow.

I’d like to think that this will be an end to the word “Cornish” being used to describe the pale imitation pasty that is prevalent across the UK, made with flaky pastry, crimped on top and filled with grey slush, corned beef, or worse. Let’s hope so. From the middle of March purveyors of imposters will need to change those signs.

Sadly, a friend reminded me that Ginsters pasties are made in Launceston, and can legally be called a Cornish Pasty under the new rules. For the uninitiated, the word ‘Ginsters’ is a bit of a swear word amongst Cornish pasty appreciators across the land, a blight on our pasty landscape. They did once upon a time make a nice proper pasty with short pastry called the “Beast of Bodmin” which came in a cardboard box, but this didn’t take off and we’re now left with those horrible tasteless flaky ‘pressed’ pies sold in motorway service stations and overpriced railway station cafes. But this is a rant for another time, the world isn’t perfect, and people do need jobs, I suppose.

Ginsters. A swear word amongst Cornish pasty appreciators. Here is a Ginsters sponsored train heading off to Cardiff in Salisbury.

Head over to the Cornish Pasty Association to find out more about the PGI status, and download a fine recipe. But what happens if you cook some pasties at home outside of Cornwall, can you call them Cornish? Or will it be a ‘pasty made to a traditional Cornish recipe’? Maybe PGI status is only applicable if you try to sell it. That’s a debate to be had!

So here’s to the Cornish pasty, the humble hoggan, made in Cornwall!

Wikipedia in Cornish

A while back I stumbled ‘pon a curious URL – http://kw.wikipedia.org/

That’s right – there’s a Kernewek Wikipedia! It currently has 1,288 articles, and will hopefully grow.

A lot of people might be thinking “what’s the point”, but it’s very important for the Cornish language. It gives Cornish speakers a place to compile articles in the language, and it’s a perfect place for people who want to learn to go and have a read of a good body of material.

It gives Cornish/Kernewek/Kernowek (call it what you will) exposure on the web. The language nearly died out, and it’s wonderful to see a resurgence of interest that’s making this a truly living language once again. A Cornish Wikipedia is a truly noble project in my (admittedly Cornish) eye..