Penzance has a long and colourful history but its significance as a market town in West Penwith arguably began in 1404 when it was granted a Royal Market by Henry IV.
By 1512, Henry VIII had granted the town the right to charge harbour dues which boosted the town’s significance as a major port.
In 1614, James I granted Penzance its Royal Charter and the town was promoted to the status of Borough. The Charter defined the bounds of the town – a half-mile circle measured from the Market Cross in the Greenmarket. The Market Cross now sits outside Penlee House Gallery & Museum. The Charter also confirmed the harbour rights granted in 1512 and allowed for two weekly markets to be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
By becoming a Borough, Penzance was independent of the County Courts so that the town could run its own legal affairs. Additionally, the town could own land and property; impose fines for breaking bylaws; hold a civil court for cases not exceeding £50; and have a prison.
Within the first year, the Borough bought freedoms from the Manor of Alverton for £34 with an annual payment of £1 – this was last paid in 1936. The Market House and Guildhall were built, and together with the freedoms bought from the Manor of Alverton, provided almost all the Borough income for more than two centuries.
A rent of five marks (£3 6s 8d) was paid every year to the crown, until 1832, to acknowledge the rights granted to Penzance by the Charter but there was no grant of Parliamentary representations.
The original Charter document and seal of Penzance is still held by the Council.