Penlee House Gallery & Museum in Penzance takes the modern visitor on an intriguing tour of the 19th and early 20th century Penzance tourists


There is something endlessly fascinating about the then’ and now’ photography and Then and Now: an Enchanted Landscape this exhibition at Penlee House Gallery & Museum in Penzance, takes the modern visitor on an intriguing tour of the nineteenth and early twentieth century Penzance tourists. The exhibition features rare images of West Penwith from the dawn of photography by artists such as John Branwell and Gibson & Sons.

A selection of new work sits cleverly alongside these images taken by members of Penlee’s Photographic Research Group, who also curated the show.

Inspired by John Blight’s pioneering book of 1861, A Week at the Land’s End, the exhibition takes the visitor on an old-fashioned excursion through West Penwith, described by the Victorians as an enchanted landscape’. These tourists saw the sights in horse-drawn coaches, usually starting from the large seafront hotels, such as the Queens Hotel on Penzance Esplanade.

The majority of the photographs on show come from Penlee’s own extensive collection and range predominantly from the 1860s to the 1950s,’ explains Director of Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Louise Connell. We did, however, commission new photographs to show how the local landscape had altered over the last 150 years. Apart from changes in transport and fashion, we were surprised to what extent things have remained the same and would have been familiar sights for these early travellers.’


One early tourism pioneer was James Richards who started running his four horse brake from Penzance to the Logan Rock and Land’s End in 1876. It met the first train from Plymouth and left the Esplanade at half past nine in the morning, returning to Penzance in time for the last up-train. Photographers, alive to the potential earnings, often took a photograph of the passengers at the bottom of Alexandra Road and would have the prints ready for their return. These photographs, along with contemporary travel guides and newspapers, give a fascinating insight into these early sightseeing tours.

The exhibition also shows an excursion that was undertaken, by Penzance residents, A Trip to the Stones took place on 27 August 1909 and included stops to see the Men-an-Tol and Men Scryfa, Chun Quoit, prehistoric huts at Bussudow, Penance Barrow and Zennor Churchtown. Other areas depicted include Newlyn, Mousehole, Gulval, St Buryan, Lamorna, Logan Rock, Penberth, Porthgwarra, Land’s End, Sennen, St Just, Gurnard’s Head and Zennor.

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Also showing at Penlee House will be a selection of popular Newlyn School paintings from the gallery’s magnificent collection, including Norman Garstin’s The Rain it Raineth Every Day and School is Out by Elizabeth Forbes.

Penlee House Museum, Penlee Manor Drive, Penzance, Cornwall TR18 4HE