In the third part of an occasional series, publications which may be of interest to fellow Social, Historical and Cultural Geographers of this particular area of research are reviewed.
Firstly, the newly published Penzance: The Biography by Michael Sagar-Fenton, published by Amberley of Stroud (£16.99), 224 pages.
Sagar is a man who, there is no doubt is steeped in Penzance, and is an established writer of several excellent books which include Penlee – The Loss of a Lifeboat and The ‘Rosebud’ and the Newlyn Clearances. Having been born in Penzance and a director of the town’s successful Golowan festival, there is no better person to write such a book.
The story begins back in the days of early civilisation and details the attacks on the town made by a range of rampaging men from overseas, including Vikings, Africans, the famous Spanish galleons and bombing in World War II. All the renowned local characters are here, from Perkin Warbeck to Humphrey Davy and John Wesley. Sagar-Fenton also examines Penzance’s wrecking past, which includes a telling quote on why local people may not have been so quick to save those on board a ship in distress as “The law stated that a ship did not officially become a wreck unless no person (or animal) survived” , and once it did become a wreck, then it was more permissible for the various on board items which were floating in the sea, or washed up on beaches to be taken (p116).
The book does suffer at times from some rather brief chapters – some of which are only four pages long – it felt like the text was being broken up too much too often and perhaps could have been better served with longer chapters covering a wider range of subjects – but this is merely a criticism of my own and should not prevent anyone for getting hold of a copy. There was also a surprising lack of attention paid to Penzance’s sporting history. Penzance & Newlyn/Cornish Pirates Rugby Club are mentioned in the text (but strangely are not mentioned in the index!) reasonably briefly, but Penzance AFC are not mentioned at all, which considering their long history (formation in 1888) and the fact that, in the 1988/89 season they hosted both Liverpool and Celtic in friendly matches for their centenary celebrations, with huge crowds attracted to these games, is rather puzzling.
This book is an excellent starting place for those who wish to build up a wide ranging history of Penzance.