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Pendennis Castle
Pendennis Point, Falmouth, Cornwall
associated engineer
Not known
date  October 1540 - circa 1545, 1595 - 1600 and onwards
era  Tudor  |  category  Castle  |  reference  SW823318
The castle at Pendennis, which means “cliff castle headland”, was built on the orders of Henry VIII to repel invaders from France and Spain, and is the only castle of his reign built on a headland. It safeguards anchorages on the western side of the Carrick Roads and the Fal Estuary — its counterpart at St Mawes defends the eastern side.
The castle is essentially an artillery fort and consists of a central circular gun tower (the oldest part of the complex) encircled by a gun platform, and a projecting entrance block with a three-sided bay window. The masonry tower is 10.6m high and 17m in diameter, with walls 3m thick. The drawbridge — replaced in stone in the 1860s — leads to the two-storey gatehouse, which retains the original portcullis.
Pendennis Point and headland belonged to John Killigrew, who had a house at nearby Arwenack. He leased the land on the point to the Crown and was appointed first captain of the castle. He may also have supervised the initial work. Construction began in October 1540 with the fort itself, which was probably completed by 1545.
In 1595, during the reign of Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh, then Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, warned that Pendennis Castle could be a prime target for an invasion force — a bridgehead for control of west Cornwall with anchorage suitable for a fleet. Indeed, in 1596 a Spanish fleet carrying some 20,000 men was deflected from seizing Pendennis only by sudden gales off Land’s End.
In October 1596, Sir Walter appointed a professional soldier, Sir Nicholas Parker, to oversee defensive works at the castle. Paul Ivy was asked to plan and supervise the building of ramparts and angled bastions around the headland and the fort, as he had construction experience in the Netherlands and the Channel Islands.
By February 1597 work had begun. It was completed in 1600 at a cost of £2,000 — twice the original estimate. It's possible that the outer gateway was not completed until 1611. The ramparts enclose some 1.2 hectares in a rough north-east to south-west rectangle. The plot is about 120m wide and almost twice as long with the castle situated at the south eastern end. In 1599 there were 200 soldiers garrisoned here. The ramparts were repaired and reinforced in 1627.
During the English Civil War (1642-51), the castle was held by the Royalist forces of Sir John Arundel of Trerice, then in his 70s. In July 1644, Queen Henrietta Maria (wife of Charles I) stayed for at least one night before sailing to France. In February/March 1646, Prince Charles (the future Charles II) stayed for a fortnight before escaping by sea to the Scilly Isles and Jersey.
Although under siege from Parliamentary forces, the castle remained loyal to the Crown but following the king’s surrender to the Scots, and malnutrition among those within the castle, Sir John Arundel negotiated an 'honourable' surrender in August 1646. Pendennis’s surrender was the penultimate one of the Civil War.
In the 1690s a new gatehouse and barracks were built, although the garrison had dwindled to around 50 men with their families. By 1715, Colonel Christian Lilly, engineer in charge of defences in the west country for the Board of Ordnance, reported that the earthworks were in a "very ruinous condition" and the gunners were drunken and "should be replaced". The headland defences were strengthened in 1730.
During the 18th century, France planned to invade on at least five occasions, although the best opportunity arose in 1779. While Britain was preoccupied with the American War of Independence, France and Spain joined forces and an enormous fleet was sighted off Land’s End on 16th August 1779. Their objective was to establish a bridgehead at Falmouth, and thence seize Cornwall. The garrison at Pendennis was reinforced by 2,000 tin miners but the indecision of the enemy’s Spanish commander Conde d’Orvilliers led to failure and the fleet did not attempt to land.
Revolution in France in 1789 and the Napoleonic Wars confirmed the importance of Pendennis as a fortress. A new semi-circular gun battery was constructed below the ramparts at Half Moon Battery in 1793. However, with peace in 1815, the castle was neglected again and the office of Governor of the castle was abolished in 1840.
By the mid-19th century fears of French invasion resurfaced, strengthening works were carried out at Half Moon Battery and Crab Quay Battery and seven new heavy guns on traversing platforms were installed at each location.
In the early 1890s, Falmouth was designated a “coast fortress”, which led to the construction of a new battery to accommodate three breech-loading hydropneumatic or “disappearing” guns. New barracks were built in 1901. The castle was in military use until 1920 and again during World War II. In 1956, troops left the castle for the last time and it was returned to the guardianship of the Ministry of Works, which was succeeded by English Heritage in 1984.
The castle became an ancient monument under State care in 1920 and is now administered by English Heritage. The Noonday Gun is fired every day during July and August.
Supervising engineer (1540-45): possibly John Killigrew
Supervising Engineer (1596-1600): Sir Nicholas Parker
Resident engineer (1597-1600): Paul Ivy
Research: ECPK
"Cornish Place Names & Language" by Craig Weatherhill
Sigma Leisure, Cheshire, 1995
"The Castles of Devon and Cornwall" by Mike Salter
Folly Publications, Malvern, 1999
"The Castles of Pendennis and St Mawes" edited by Lorimer Poultney
English Heritage, London, 1999

Pendennis Castle