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Penlee House

penlee house

Penlee House: A Grand Cornish Residence Turned Museum

Nestled in the heart of picturesque Penzance sits the eclectic Penlee House Gallery & Museum. Whether you’re already soaking up the sights of this pretty Cornish harbour town or planning a trip down to Penzance, don’t miss a visit to uncover its impressive collections of art and artefacts.

Inside this historic former family home you’ll discover stunning paintings showcasing Newlyn School artists, lots of unique China figurines and intriguing maritime mementos. Here’s what you need to plan the perfect day:

penlee house interior

Getting There

Penlee House perches in a prime seafront position above Penzance’s sandy harbour beach. It overlooks the charming harbourfront promenade at the top of Morrab Road.

The gallery lies just a few minutes gentle uphill stroll from the railway and bus stations. Limited parking is available behind Penlee Park or at the nearby pay and displays.

It’s easiest to visit via foot or public transport. Direct trains frequently come into Penzance from across Cornwall including St Ives, Truro and Falmouth.

Opening Times & Tickets at Penlee House

April – October Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm

November – March Monday – Saturday 10am – 4:30pm

Note that Penlee House is closed on Sundays.

Standard admission prices are very affordable at just £6 for adults and £3 for young people between 18 – 26. Under 18s enter for free.

summer storm painting in penlee house

Penlee House History

Penlee House boasts a rich history dating back to the mid-19th century. Originally built in 1865 for the wealthy merchant John Richards Branwell, the house embodied the prosperity and grandeur of the Victorian era.

Branwell, a prominent figure in Penzance, spared no expense in constructing his dream home. The house featured three grand reception rooms, a spacious dining room, and numerous bedrooms, all designed to impress. However, following Branwell’s death in 1879, the house changed hands several times before facing potential demolition in the 1940s.

A Community Effort for Preservation

Recognizing the historical and cultural significance of Penlee House, the local community rallied together in 1946 to purchase the estate through public subscription. This remarkable effort transformed the once-private residence into a War Memorial and a haven for the town’s art and historical collections.

In 1949, Penlee House was officially opened as the District Museum, marking the start of its journey as a public institution. Over the years, the museum expanded its collection, encompassing archaeological artifacts, social history items, and artworks by renowned British and European artists.

Today, Penlee House stands as a testament to the power of community spirit and the enduring legacy of the Branwell family. The museum’s diverse collections offer visitors a captivating glimpse into Cornwall’s rich history, culture, and artistic heritage. From prehistoric tools to contemporary paintings, Penlee House serves as a valuable resource for understanding the region’s identity and evolution.

bicycle exhibition at penlee house

The Newlyn School: Capturing the Cornish Coast and Life

The Newlyn School of artists was a vibrant artistic community that flourished in the Cornish village of Newlyn from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. Renowned for their impressionistic and plein air paintings, these artists were proud to draw inspiration from the rugged Cornish coast, it’s fishing communities, and the lives of it’s people.

Among the most prominent figures of the Newlyn School were Stanhope Forbes, Walter Langley, Elizabeth Forbes, and Frank Bramley. Forbes, considered the leader of the movement, established an art school in Newlyn that attracted talented artists like Langley and Elizabeth Forbes, his wife. These artists often depicted scenes of everyday life in Newlyn, capturing the beauty of the natural world and the resilience of the local fishing community.

Penlee House holds a deep connection to the Newlyn School and it boasts an extensive collection of Newlyn School paintings, sculptures, and drawings, offering visitors a unique window into this significant artistic movement.

A Glimpse into the Collection

Penlee House’s Newlyn School collection includes iconic works such as Stanhope Forbes’ “The Health of the Bride” and Elizabeth Forbes’ “The Accordion Player”. These paintings, along with many others, showcase the artists’ masterful use of light and colour, their sensitivity to social themes, and their deep connection to the Cornish landscape and its people.

Beyond the Collection: Exhibitions and Engagement

Penlee House actively celebrates the Newlyn School through its exhibition programme. Recent exhibitions like “Newlyn School Interiors” delve deeper into specific aspects of the movement and its individual artists. The gallery also hosts talks, workshops, and educational events, fostering public engagement with the Newlyn School’s artistic legacy.

Permanent Collection Highlights

Gaze in awe at paintings from the acclaimed Newlyn School artists colony that thrived here 1888-1914. Striking harbour views, emotive seascapes and touching portraits capture local Cornish life at the turn of the century.

Don’t miss works by Norman Garstin, Alethea Garstin, Fred Millard, Stanhope Forbes, Dod Procter and others from this influential era.

The museum also showcases ceramics crafted by the world-renowned Pilkington’s Royal Lancastrian Pottery 1920-1970s. See Burselm ware, art deco designs and quirky animal figures up close and learn the factory’s history.

schools at penlee house

What to See & Do

This intimate gallery delivers an impressive variety of art and curiosities without being overwhelming. Well-designed displays across two floors make navigating easy including handy lifts.

Exhibits change regularly from their 14,000 strong collection but here’s a flavour of top things your family can enjoy:

  • Admiring harbour views immortalised in paintings
  • Getting hands-on with creative family packs like designing your own plate or painting a seascape
  • Comparing how pottery and porcelain items have evolved though the years
  • Reading about extraordinary shipwrecks shown through salvaged artefacts
  • Letting kids dress up and play with vintage toys and dolls

Insider Tips

  • Try timing your visit to enjoy morning coffee or afternoon tea in the charming cafe
  • Take advantage of free entry for people under 18
  • Check what temporary exhibits are on before visiting
  • Look out for special late opening nights across the year

Culinary Delights at the Orangery Café in Penlee House

Nestled within the tranquil grounds, the Orangery Café is a cornerstone of the Penlee House experience. This licensed café delights your taste buds with freshly prepared, locally sourced treats. Have a delicious light lunch, including homemade soups, sandwiches, and quiche, while basking in the sunshine on the cafe’s terrace overlooking the scenic park. We also enjoyed indulging in homemade cakes and pastries, perfect for a sweet afternoon pick-me-up. The Orangery Café offers a range of drinks, from classic teas and coffees to refreshing local ciders and wines, ensuring a beverage to complement your chosen bites. They also do a great Cornish cream tea.

cream teaa at penlee house

Penlee Park: A Green Haven in Penzance

More than just a backdrop to Penlee House, Penlee Park offers a delightful green escape in the heart of Penzance. Spanning 12 acres, this park welcomes visitors with diverse offerings for all ages and interests.

Wander through wooded areas bursting with mature trees and vibrant flora, or let your senses sing in the Sensory Garden, designed to stimulate touch, smell, and sight. Find quiet contemplation in the Memorial Garden, a serene space honoring fallen soldiers.

Energetic visitors can unleash their inner child at the children’s play area, featuring equipment suitable for various ages. The park also caters to sports enthusiasts with the Penzance Tennis Club courts nestled within its grounds.

Penlee Park boasts stunning coastal views, making it a scenic spot for picnics or leisurely strolls. Soak up the Cornish sunshine or enjoy a refreshing breeze as you admire the picturesque panorama.

This award-winning park is a haven for locals and tourists alike, offering a space for recreation, relaxation, and connection with nature. Whether you seek active play, quiet reflection, or simply a scenic escape, Penlee Park has something for everyone.

penlee park

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there guided tours? – Yes, guided tours are available for individuals and groups. Pre-booking is recommended.

Do I need to book tickets in advance? – No, it will be fine just to turn up.

Is there parking available? – Yes, limited free parking is available on-site and additional paid parking nearby.

Can I bring my dog to Penlee House? – Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed inside Penlee House or the gardens, except for registered assistance dogs.

Is Penlee House wheelchair accessible? – Yes, the entire building is fully accessible, including lifts, wheelchair toilets, and a designated viewing platform.

Other Nearby Attractions

When you have been to Penlee House, think about some of these other places:

  • St Michael’s Mount – Catch a ferry or walk across the causeway at low tide to explore this tidal island with its medieval church, castle, subtropical gardens and tiny village harbour.
  • Penzance Promenade and Harbour – Take a scenic seaside stroll along the recently restored Victorian promenade, ending in views of the picturesque harbour filled with fishing boats, shops and art galleries behind.
  • Trengwainton Garden – These National Trust gardens just outside town contain exotic and ornamental plant collections set amongst scenic woodland, ponds and architectural follies.
  • Mousehole Harbour – Walk the narrow lanes of this classic Cornish fishing village dotted with cafés and independent shops which lead down to the picturesque tiny protected harbour.
  • Minack Theatre – This uniquely constructed cliffside theatre near Porthcurno hosts open-air theatre productions and other performances from spring to autumn with unforgettable panoramic views from its steep rock-cut terraces.
  • Porthcurno Beach – Found near the Minack is this beautiful white sandy Blue Flag beach, famous for its crystal clear waters varying from turquoise to deep blue by the cliffs.
  • Geevor Tin Mine Museum – Go underground and explore 18th century mine buildings at this preserved tin mine. Learn about the history of mining in Cornwall plus see the huge working steam engines.
  • Lamorna Cove – Follow windy roads down to this tranquil wooded fishing cove surrounded by streams and waterfalls, with an artist community and options for scenic coastal walks.
  • St Ives – Just up the coast sits this picturesque harbour town with sandy beaches, narrow cobbled streets filled with galleries, shops and restaurants plus the Tate St Ives gallery.

Whether you want to admire seaside vistas from a bygone era, appreciate the craft behind collectible pottery or simply soak up some culture, Penlee House charms. And its position overlooking sandy beaches means family fun or peaceful seaside wanderings are just moments away too!

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