Some of the key events – and miscellany – in the history of the area occupied by the Morrab Gardens. We would welcome amendments, corrections and additions to this timeline – please contact us with your suggestions!
Beginnings – a wealthy man’s estate
Prior to the nineteenth century, open land to the west of Penzance was known as The Morrep, from the Cornish words mor (n) = sea and reb (adj) = beside / near to / next to
1841 Morrab House was built by a wealthy brewer, Samuel Pidwell, on open ground running down to the seashore to the west of Penzance. The Pidwell family did not live here for long. The family moved to Portugal where an identical house was built, using the same plans as for the one in Penzance.
1844 Pigot’s Directory of Cornwall has the following entry listed under Gentry and Clergy: “Pidwell Saml. jun. Esq. Morrab fields” (http://west-penwith.org.uk/pzp44.htm)
1856 Presumably the Pidwells have moved away from Penzance by now, because Kelly’s Post Office Directory of Cornwall has no mention of Samuel Pidwell but has an entry for “Berryman Misses, ladies’ boarding school, Morrab house” (http://west-penwith.org.uk/pz56.htm)
1864 Educational establishments must have changed names and ownership rather frequently in the mid-nineteenth century. Coulson’s Directory of Penzance for 1864 has the following entry: “Morrab House. The Misses Short and Page, Seminary.” (http://west-penwith.org.uk/coulson4.htm#M)
1865-6??? Morrab House was acquired by Charles Campbell Ross, partner in a private bank, MP for St Ives, and four times mayor of Penzance, who used it as his residence until the early 1880s
1878 The Ordnance Survey “25-inch” map shows the stable yard was enclosed by a wall or fence which separates it from the carriage drive leading up to the entrance portico of the house. (http://maps.nls.uk/view/105996517). This is also described in the current Heritage Listing for the Morrab Gardens (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001492)
1883 The house appears to once more have new occupants; Kelly’s Directory of Cornwall lists, as private residents, “Jago Misses, Morrab house” with no further detail.
1887, November 10th From The West Briton newspaper: “It is stated that Mr. KING, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools for this district, has purchased Morrab House, Penzance, for the sum of £2,800. This prettily situated residence has for a long time been in the market, and Mr. King was one of the bidders when the house was recently offered for sale by auction.” (http://west-penwith.org.uk/wb18874.htm)
Purchased by Penzance Corporation
1888 The property, comprising the villa and a large walled garden, was purchased by Penzance Corporation for the sum of £3,120 for development as a public park, with the villa providing accommodation for Penzance Library.
1889 A competition for the design of the new park, with a premium of £21 was won by a London designer, Reginald Upcher. Much of the original planting was the result of gifts from local estates. Contributors to the gardens included the Bolitho family of Trengwainton, the Williams’ at Trewidden, the Dorrien-Smiths at Tresco and Canon Boscawen, rector of Ludgvan.
1889, September 27th Official opening of the Morrab Gardens. An image of the cover page of the programme is available online (https://www.picturepenzance.com/media/opening-of-morrab-gardens-september-27th-1889.24895/)
1891 The 1891 Census records the gardener as being a Thomas Dorothy who lived in Morrab Cottage with his wife and three children. He came originally from Devon. (http://morrabgardens.tripod.com/)
1893, January Penzance Council agreed spending of £63.16s.4d (equivalent to £2054 at 2017 prices) on ‘an item or two’ for Morrab Gardens. Also agreed a proposal for a shelter to be built against north wall subject to line of roof as Morrab Terrace residents had complained that their view might be affected. (Pengarth Day Centre now occupies the site of the shelter, and some of the cast ironwork from the original shelter can be seen in the Pengarth building.)
1893 There is evidence that streets around Morrab Gardens are already recognised as a prestigous location; Kelly’s Directory of Cornwall has the following entry: “Curnow Sophie (Mrs.), lodging & boarding house, facing Morrab gardens & library, commanding fine views of sea & land, bedrooms facing south, Aubrey House boarding establishment, St. Mary’s terrace” (http://west-penwith.org.uk/pz593.htm)
1901, 15th February The chair (of the Pleasure Gardens Committee) receive a gift for the Pleasure Gardens from Mr EL Millett, JP, of Bosavern, a parcel of seed of the Norfolk Island pine.
1901, 14th March From The Cornishman (report of Penzance Council meeting): Alderman Julyan asked if the Pleasure Gardens Committee would take steps to keep the shelter in Morrab Gardens in a cleaner condition on Sunday mornings? It was generally in a filthy state, being covered with matchboxes and paper. ……and to consider fixing pots in the garden for the deposit of refuse.
Councillor Poole said at present the gardeners took a great deal of trouble in picking up paper in the gardens. He was afraid that the matchboxes were left in the shelter by a lot of young men who assembled there every Sunday instead of going to church. He was sorry the shelter was such a nuisance.
The War Memorial and Bandstand
1904 South African War Memorial erected in Morrab Gardens.
1905 The cast iron bandstand was built with money donated by local coal merchant JH Bennett.
1908 The Ordnance Survey “25-inch” map shows glasshouses along the boundary wall of the garden behind Morrab House and another free-standing glasshouse nearby. There is no evidence on the map of a gardeners’ cottage behind Morrab House. The wall that enclosed the stable yard has by now been removed, and the position of the Stone Cross in front of Morrab House is marked. (http://maps.nls.uk/view/105996520)
1911, August 9th The Sanitation Committee recommend that the water from the old reservoir at Causewayhead be piped form the Morrab Gardens to the foot of Bay View Terrace at an estimated cost of £65.11.0 with a view of enabling the scheme to be used in connection with watering the roads and the Bowling Green and Tennis Courts.
1929 William Watson appointed Head Gardener (Sue Griffin, Mr Watson’s grand-daughter, personal communication)
1931, November 9th The Head Gardener reported that a certain person refused to put his dog on a lead when passing through the gardens. It was resolved that the Town Clerk be instructed to caution the offender. (Minutes of Penzance Council meetings)
1931, December 9th a complaint regarding the conduct of the Head Gardener was investigated by the Town Clerk ….
1932, January 13th The Head Gardener sought instruction for dealing with scooters, roller skates, hoops, skipping ropes and balls. The Town Clerk instructed to re-draft, and submit as soon as possible, Byelaws governing the Gardens and to include the matters mentioned. These would be displayed at the entrances to the Gardens. (Minutes of Penzance Council meetings)
1932, February 10th Head Gardener designated Parks Superintendent and a cap bearing these words provided. The lease to the library prohibits the passage cars through the Gardens(!) (Minutes of Penzance Council meetings)
Pride and delight of the townsfolk
1949, October 8th The Gardeners’ Chronicle carries an article featuring the Morrab Gardens which ‘have, for the past sixty years, been the pride and delight of the townsfolk’. Purchase of the gardens of Morrab House of ‘not much over £3000’ was considered ‘very extravagant and ill advised, and there was much discontent displayed’. Gardens ‘greatly developed and improved, especially in the last 20 years, since Mr. WD Watson, an enthusiast for all things Cornish, and especially for the Morrab Gardens, has been in charge’. (Sue Griffin, personal communication)
1951 William Watson retired from his position as Head Gardener. Shortly before his retirement he wrote “in 21 years I have never had a public holiday and I have had no annual holiday since January 1937. In the summer the garden is open for 97 hours per week and for the whole of that time I may be called upon for duty.” (Sue Griffin, personal communication)
2002 South African War Memorial restored
2004 Bandstand extensively renovated
This timeline has been compiled largely from online sources; thanks to researchers who have been generous in sharing the results of their work, in particular Robin Knight; Rick & Mary Parsons (http://west-penwith.org.uk); and Sandra & George Pritchard (http://morrabgardens.tripod.com/)