Connected with the borough of Penryn, was formerly the wealthy College of Glassey, of which no vestiges at present remain. This college was founded in the thirteenth century, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and St. Thomas the Martyr. In the year 1500, it appears from the will of Thomas Killigrew, that the church connected with this college was rebuilt, as this gentleman bequeathed one hundred marks towards the erection of this fabric. In the days of Leland, this college was "strongly walled, and had three towers, and guns toward the creek." When the Reformation took place, its revenues being seized, the edifice was suffered to fall into decay. It was entirely demolished in the days of Halse, except one tower, which continued for some time to survive the part parts of the building. But this was pulled down about the beginning of the last century, and a dwelling house was erected on its site.
So early as the 30th of Edward I, Thomas Button, was was then bishop of Exeter, exhibited his claim to certain privileges in his manor of Penryn, which he challenged to be a free borough, and asserted that these rights were enjoyed by his predecessors, who made it a borough. The rights this set forth in the petition, and secured by the favourable reply which it obtained, were alienated, together with the manor, by Edward VI.; and Penryn remained destitute of its ancient privileges, until the reign of Mary, by whom they were again restored, with some considerable additions; he also permitted them to send two members to parliament; which right continued during the reign of Elizabeth; but the town was not incorporated until the 18th of James I, 1619; when, at the petition of William Cotton, bishop of Exeter, that king granted them a charter, and legally sanctioned the rights which they had previously exercised without any such authority.
By this charter it was granted, that the government of this free borough should be vested in eleven discreet aldermen or burgesses, a mayor, and twelve common councilmen; and that these should have a recorder, a steward, an office of record every three weeks, a prison, and power to try felons within the precincts of their jurisdiction. James II granted a new charter to the corporation, which annulled some of the preceding rights, and vested the election of members in the magistrates of the town only; but no particular use was ever made of this charter. At present the right of election is in all the inhabitants who pay scot and lot; the present number are abut 300. A serious dispute having recently taken place between some members of the corporation, many privileges of the charter were curtailed.
The town of Penryn, is large and pleasantly situated on the declivity of a hill, from which the prospects are rather diversified than extensive. The market house and town hall stands almost im the centre of the principal street, from which others diverge at nearly right angles. The principle street is wide, and easy in descent, but the others which incline towards the church on the one side, and Falmouth on the other, are both narrow and steep, which render them incommodious for carriages. On the western side of the town, the lands are high and rather barren; from these issue several streams of water, which amply supply the inhabitants. One of these streams, flowing with rapidity over some huge masses of stone, forms a singular cascade; and with its accompaniments of cottages, and wheels driven by it, enlivens the scenery with much picturesque beauty. Its high lands abound with moorstone, vast quantities of which have lately been exported from the quays of Penryn to London. Waterloo Bridge, is chiefly formed of Cornish granite carried from this place. In addition to its domestic trade, there are manufactories for writing and packing papers, soap, pouldavis, woollens, tobacco, snuff, mustard, leather, and parchment. Salt works, and a starch manufactory were also commenced, but the consumption did not warrant a continuance.
The market is held on Saturday; is well supplied with butcher's meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables.
About the year 1769, some public spirited gentlemen established a woollen manufactory at Penryn, which afforded employment to upwards of 600 persons.
The borough of Penryn, though not considered as a distinct parish, is in some respects placed under a separate jurisdiction from that of Gluvias. Its boundaries extend about half a mile north of the town. It has a separate poor rate, and two churchwardens; one nominated by the vicar of Gluvias, and the other by the mayor of the borough. Penryn pays two thirds of the church rate, and Gluvias one.
A large silver cup, belongs to this town, which was given to the corporation by Lady Jane Killigrew, bearing the following inscription :- "From maior to maior for the towne of Permarin, (or Penryn) when they received me that was in great misery. J. K. 1633." This cup contains aboyt three quarts. This lady's trouble or great misery, originated in his own base conduct, which is thus related by Hals: - Towards the latter end of the reign of Elizabeth, when this country was engaged in a war with Spain, two Dutch ships belonging to the Hanse Towns, which were always free traders in times of war, were driven into Falmouth Harbour by contrary winds. They were laden with merchandise, belonging (it was thought) to the Spaniards. To secure some part of this valuable booty, this lady, attended by a party of ruffins, went on board, and murdering the two Spanish factors or merchants, seized two hogsheads of Spanish pieces of eight, and carrying them on shore, converted them to her own use. For this offence her accomplices were taken into custody, committed, tried, found guilty, and executed. Her ladyship, however, found means to evade the sentence of the law, through the interest which she was enabled to make; and she escaped amidst the exercrations of the unhappy wretches, whom her artifices had seduced and brought to the gallows. This lady was divorced from her husband, and died in the year 1648.
Besides the ancient college, it appears from Leland, that there was formerly a chapel in this town, appropriated to religious worship, but of this very little is now known. There are at present meeting-houses for the Independents and Wesleyan Methodists. The mayor of this borough is coroner for the time being.
Penryn which was a garrison of Charles during the civil war, surrendered to Fairfax, in March 1646.
Christmas amusements have been continued at Penryn, from time immemorial, it is scarely necessary to take notice of the Christmas plays, since the practice of these dramatic exhibitions is almost wholly confined to children, or very young persons. The lads who engage in these theatrical representations, appear fantastically dresses, decorated with ribbons and painted paper, wooden and other swords, and all the equipage necessary to support the several characters they assume. To entertain their auditors, they learn to repeat a barbarous jargon in the form of a drama, which has been handed down from distant generations. War and love are the general topics; and St. George and the Dragon are always the most predominant characters. Interlude, expostulation, debate, battle, and death, are sure to find a place among this mimicry; but a physician who is always at hand, immediately restores the dead to life. It is generally understood, that these Christmas plays derived their origin from the ancient crusades; and hence the feats of chivalry, and the romantic extravagance of knight-errantry, that are still preserved in all the varied pretensions and exploits. In many places in Cornwall these Christmas plays are still kept alive.
In the year 1565, it is said that a company of strolling players late at night, happened to be representing a battle on the stage, and suddenly struck up a clamour with their drums and trumpets, just as a party of Spaniards, which had privately landed the same night, was marching to attack the town, but hearing this alarm, they precipitately retired to their boats, after firing a few shot, by way of bravado, "as if an old Tilbury camp had lain in ambush." The townsmen were thus delivered from an impending danger, without incurring any risk against the enemy.
On the third of January, 1809, a peculiarly large basking shark was taken at Penryn, which proved on admeasurement, to be thirty-one feet long, nineteen feet in circumference, eight feet and half in height, or breath, and five feet and half wide at its mouth, and weighed, according to a computation, about seven tons. This extraordinary fish was observed about day-break, by some persons from the quay, in the act of steering towards the town. Intelligence of the event being communicated, three boats were manned and dispatched, under the directions of captain Dunn, and succeeded in effecting their object. The skin of this fish was carried about as a public exhibition.
In the year 1757, John Effingham died at Penryn, at the advanced age of 144. Also a few years since Mrs. Phillips aged nearly 102.
Penryn contains 360 houses, and 2713 inhabitants; is in the hundred of Kirrier. - It is situated 2 miles from Falmouth, 9 from Truro, 10 from Helston, 8 from Redruth, 52 from Plymouth, 90 from Exeter, and 263 from London.