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South Pier

A Grade II* Listed Building in Penzance, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.1168 / 50°7'0"N

Longitude: -5.5294 / 5°31'45"W

OS Eastings: 147790

OS Northings: 30044

OS Grid: SW477300

Mapcode National: GBR DXQC.Q1R

Mapcode Global: VH12Z.3BP9

Entry Name: South Pier

Listing Date: 6 March 2003

Last Amended: 24 June 2010

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1096159

English Heritage Legacy ID: 490124

Location: Penzance, Cornwall, TR18

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Penzance

Built-Up Area: Penzance

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Penzance St Mary the Virgin with St Paul

Church of England Diocese: Truro

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Listing Text


866/0/10030 South Pier
(Formerly listed as:
South Pier with Dock Office and Lighth
ouse and Dock Pier to North West)

Pier, built before 1512, with significant additions between 1740-87 and 1812-84 when the northern pier and dock gates were added.

Materials: The South Pier walling survives in a variety of building styles, utilising stone (mainly granite, with some elvan) from a number of sources. The interior infill includes rough granite slabs and mine waste as well as incorporating walling from earlier building phases.

The South Pier includes a variety of different finishes in many cases different periods and types of work. It is built on three different alignments, reflecting the position and character of the underlying reef. The multi-phase evolution of the pier has resulted in considerable differences in the character and form of the walling as well as preserving a whole series of pier heads, each of which was subsequently abandoned as the pier moved ever seaward. The evolution of the pier is clearly visible in the fabric of the seaward side. Early photographs indicate that further architectural details survive encased within the pier behind the existing wet dock wall. The earliest fabric is very likely to be medieval: it survives within the body of the pier and is therefore not visible, but is believed to consist of irregular shaped, massif granite rocks similar in character to the earliest parts of the Mousehole Pier. The oldest visible fabric includes a short length of bulwark walling at the south western end of the pier and survives as vertically laid square blocks of stone. The 1745-46 pier walling survives mainly as small vertical placed stones topped by large roughly shaped rocks, visible only on the seaward side. Occasional large irregular shaped stones within this fabric may represent reused material from the medieval pier. The pier head is constructed of flat laid blocks. The 1764-68 length of the pier is similar in character to the earlier C18 work, but the quality of the masonry is superior. The 1785-87 extension is relatively short, but the character and profile of the pier head is very clearly visible within the fabric of the wall, indicating that the seawall parapet terminated in an angle a short distance from the cambered edge of the pier itself. The 1811-12 work is also clearly expressed in the seaward fabric of the pier and includes a mixture of horizontal and vertical set stones. Most of the vertical work is confined to that part of the wall around the high water mark. Some isolated fragments of masonry probably belong to the remedial works carried out in the period between 1812 and 1840. Foremost amongst these are the repairs carried out after the Great Storm of 1817. The largest single extension forms the easternmost arm of the pier and was added in 1853-1855. The pier is composed of regularly shaped granite, ashlar blocks with a loose rubble infill and paved surface now covered with concrete. At the end of the pier stands a small lighthouse including a circular lantern room, with weather vane above, resting on a square plinth supported by an iron column built up from cast iron rings. This structure bears the inscription "PIER EXTENDED 1853 T.S. BOLITHO MAYOR".

A number of buildings stand on the pier. Foremost amongst these are a pair of dressed granite built stores built against the inner face of the sea wall. Both buildings are flat roofed and include a distinctive triple round arched front. These buildings are known as the colonnade stores. The northern store was built in 1768 and the central round arch has been in-filled with concrete blocks, whilst those on the sides have been partly blocked to accommodate smaller wooden doors. The southern store built in 1812 is essentially a replica of the first, but the central archway now contains a full sized wooden door with window above and the side arches have been partly blocked with brickwork to accommodate windows. Other buildings on the pier include a public convenience, built sometime before 1963, a small flat roofed granite building now used as a waiting room, built sometime after 1970 and a small locker.

The most recent element of the pier structure relate to its widening and the addition of a gate pier consisting of a bulbous reinforced projection to carry one side of the dock gates associated with the adjacent wet dock in 1882-4. This work increased the width of the northern part of the pier and resulted in the encapsulation of the eastern elements of the C18 pier walls. The result is that the visible fabric forming the eastern wall of the pier is of a mixture of late-C19 dressed, but irregular sized granite blocks and precisely cut and engineered granite laid to a camber.

The formerly listed north arm of the C19 wet dock represents a relatively late development in the history of Penzance Harbour and compared to the earlier ambitious schemes for the South Pier represents a more traditional and cautious approach. The most significant aspect of the wet dock is its association with the South Pier. The impact of the wet dock upon the commercial viability of the harbour is beyond doubt and indeed without it the harbour would have probably become redundant. A number of associated later buildings stand on the northern arm of the dock, including a large two story warehouse of 1935. However, the wet dock is of a late date for this type of structure, does not demonstrate any technological innovation and indeed is of an unimpressive, inferior standard design. This element is not included because it is not of specialist interest.

The date at which a pier was first built at Penzance is not known with certainty. Documentary evidence clearly indicates that by the early-C14 Penzance was already supporting a small fishing fleet, but the date at which a pier was built to protect these vessels is not recorded. Furthermore, it is difficult to envisage that the known early C15 expansion of the town, relying as it did on access to the sea was not accompanied by the construction of a pier. There was certainly a pier in existence before 1512, for in that year Henry VIII issued a charter which refers to the "kaye and bulwarks" as already existing. The form of the earliest pier is known from an illustration of around 1540, which indicates that it occupied the site of the existing south pier and extended in a straight line from the shore. The pier at this time may have been up to 85m long and probably survives within the fabric of the existing pier. In 1745-6, following years of remedial repairs, the existing pier was repaired, rebuilt and extended by Penzance Corporation with much of the work being supervised by Tobias Vibert. Considerable contemporary documentation including details of workers and sources of stone and lime relating to this work survives. The earliest significant extension to the length and alignment of the pier was carried out in 1764-68 to provide deeper water and increased landing facilities for the increasingly busy and prosperous port. The contract for the work was awarded to Thomas Richardson of Plymouth, who agreed to build a 170 foot long by 40 foot wide battered wall for £2,900. This contract was never fulfilled and instead a 113 foot length together with a colonnade store was completed by a directly employed labour force in 1768. A contract to complete the work unfinished by Richardson was awarded to local masons in 1785 and despite some dispute concerning its quality, it appears to have been completed. A second colonnade store (since removed) was added at this time. The final section of the new alignment started in 1764 was completed in 1811-12 by Edward Hambleton at a cost of about £6,500. A third colonnade was added at this time. In the period between 1812 and 1840 a number of relatively small scale, but significant, works were completed including the provision of: mooring posts; bollards; capstans; a light; protective timber baulking; new paving; a crane; new access road; protective wall and quay. Additional remedial works were also carried out, especially as a result of the considerable damage caused by a severe storm on 20 January 1817. The final extension to the South Pier was built between 1853 and 1855 on a third alignment. This length of pier was built using the same ashlar bond facing techniques employed successfully at the nearby listed Albert Pier [490125] completed in 1845. A small lighthouse built at the seaward end of the pier bears the inscription "PIER EXTENDED 1853 T.S. BOLITHO MAYOR". The new length of pier was widened in 1871. Between 1882 and 1884 the western part of the southern pier was incorporated into a wet dock, created by adding a new pier to the north, widening the existing South Pier and inserting gates between. After 1884 the South Pier changed very little and work seems to have included mainly repairs and renewals.

Up until the mid-C17 the nearby harbours at Marazion and Mousehole (69237) were more important than Penzance, but from 1663 when the town was granted stannary town status and local tin production significantly increased, the port became busier, more prosperous and dwarfed the importance of its neighbours. Indeed the wealth of the whole town and its hinterland depended on the success of the port and this is reflected in the constant upgrading of the facilities. The fortunes of the harbour were inevitably closely linked to those of the metal mining industry and the revenues would have been used to pay for the documented extensions and upgrades. The port would have been busiest in the periods proceeding the coinage fairs, but throughout the year coastal shipping and ocean going vessels seeking shelter would have made frequent use of the facilities. The second major export from the pier was hogsheads of pilchards many of which were sent to Mediterranean countries.

As well as the standing fabric a considerable body of surviving documentation provides a real insight into the life, characters and work of the people and ships that operated from Penzance. On the national stage the South Pier at Penzance is reputed to be the site of at least three notable events. The first is the claim to be the first place in England that tobacco was smoked (by Walter Raleigh), the second as the site of the last invasion of England (by the Spanish) in 1595 and the third where news of Nelson's victory and death at Trafalgar was first received.The pier was also the site of a number of dramatic shipping events including the great storm of 20th January 1817 which resulted in considerable damage to a number of vessels and the exploding of the gunpowder carrying "Jane" in 1830. When the metal mining industry declined in the latter years of the C19, the harbour continued operating as an important commercial port handling a variety of products including: china clay; cement, potatoes; coal; artificial manure and flowers before finally succumbing to the impact of road transport in the mid C20. The harbour is now mainly used by vessels serving the Isles of Scilly.

Carter, C, The Port of Penzance - A History (1998)
Pool, PAS, The history of the town and borough of Penzance (1974)
The Cahill Partnership with Eric Berry, Penzance Harbour, South Pier Historic Building Analysis (2009) Available at:- http://www.friendsofpzharbour.org/pdfs/HistoricBuildingAnalysis.pdf
Accessed 30-Nov-09.
Halcrow Group, Isles Scilly Link Harbour Works - Penzance Heritage Assessment (2009)

The South Pier at Penzance Harbour, built in several stages by Penzance Corporation is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Historic Interest: an important element of England's most westerly port, this pier stands on an earlier medieval pier which survives within the later fabric. It served the highly significant Cornish tin industry (one which is recognised by World Heritage Site Designation), and was witness also to several significant events: the last unsuccessful 'invasion' of England, by Spaniards in 1595, and the first reference to tobacco-smoking in England.

* Construction Interest: the pier shows the evolution of pier design, and embodies technical achievement in its structure. The several phases are clearly visible in the fabric of the pier. It amounts to one of the largest C18 maritime engineering projects in the region, and was a very early employment of building with hydraulic lime.

* Architectural Interest: visually most impressive, the pier is carefully designed and the upper elements (in particular the colonnades and the lighthouse) display clear architectural interest.

* Group Value: the pier has a close relationship with other designated structures in this renowned Cornish harbour, and is executed in complementary granite materials.

This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.

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