A late C19 public park laid out to the designs of Reginald Upcher and developed as a sub-tropical garden in the late C19 and early C20.
Morrab House, a mid C19 villa, was built by a wealthy brewer, Samuel Pidwell, on open ground running down to the seashore to the west of Penzance in 1841 (Pett 1998). This open ground between Penzance and Ludgvan was known as the Morrep, from which the name of Pidwell's villa derived. Morrab House was acquired by Charles Campbell Ross, partner in a private bank, MP for St Ives, and four times mayor of Penzance, who used it as his residence until the early 1880s when he moved to Carne. In 1888-9 the property, comprising the villa and a large walled garden, was purchased by Penzance Corporation for development as a public park, with the villa providing accommodation for Penzance Library. By the late C19 Penzance was developing as a popular seaside resort and the provision of a park was seen as a necessary facility for the recreation of visitors, particularly when the weather rendered the promenades unusable. This beneficial aspect of the park was noted in 1889: 'When the sea is lashing over the celebrated promenade, these sheltered gardens will form a pleasant retreat' (Gardeners' Chronicle).
The Corporation held a competition for the design of the new park, with a premium of £21 (Pring 1996); this was won in 1889 by a London designer, Reginald Upcher, who the same year submitted a paper to the Falmouth Naturalist Society on exotic planting (Royal Polytechnic Soc Ann Rep 1889). Upcher's plan for the park included a bandstand, tennis grounds, children's playground, and gymnasium, and an area described as a sub-tropical garden. The sloping site was to be divided into areas for different activities by a series of curvilinear walks, while mature trees from the gardens of Morrab House were incorporated into the scheme. At the opening of the park in 1889 the Gardeners' Chronicle noted that 'One of its features is to be a Palm-grove, where tourists may fancy themselves in the tropics or on the Mediterranean shores', while a significant role for the park in the study of acclimatisation was anticipated.
Upcher's design was varied in its execution, and the 1909 OS map indicates that between 1889 and 1909 significant developments were made: the bandstand took the place of the children's playground, while a fountain was constructed on the upper tennis ground below a conservatory. Early C20 photographs and descriptions of the park (Morrab Library/CLSL) suggest that the extent of the exotic, 'sub-tropical' planting was significantly increased from Upcher's original scheme. As early as 1895 The Garden noted the use of bamboos, cordylines, and agaves, while in 1930 cordylines, tree ferns, olives, and Musa ensente in fruit were noted (Thurston 1930). This tradition of planting continued until the late C20, while the late C19 conservatory and greenhouse was replaced on the original footprint by a single-storey old people's day centre c 1970. Today (2000), Morrab Gardens remains in municipal ownership.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Morrab Gardens are situated c 0.25km south-west of the centre of Penzance, to the east of Morrab Road. The c 1.5ha site is bounded to the east by a stone wall which separates it from St Mary's Terrace, a mid C19 residential street with two- and three-storey terraced houses and villas overlooking the gardens. To the south-east the site adjoins mid or late C19 domestic properties in Coulson's Place, from which it is separated by further stone walls, while to the south a similar wall forms the boundary between the park and rear gardens belonging to domestic properties in Daniel Place. The west boundary is formed by stone walls dividing the park from a service lane serving properties on the east side of Morrab Road, while to the north-east and north the site is bounded by a stone wall which separates the park from terraced domestic properties in Morrab Place and Morrab Terrace, and a further service lane. The mid C19 terraced houses in Morrab Terrace to the north have first-floor cast-iron balconies over looking the park. The site slopes consistently from north-north-east to south-south-west, with views extending south from the upper area of the park to the sea, and east from the lower areas towards the tower of St Mary's parish church.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The principal entrance to Morrab Gardens is from Morrab Road to the south-west, at a point c 110m north-west of its junction with the Western Promenade Road. The entrance is marked by a pair of late C19, square-section and flat-coped granite piers with chamfered edges which support a pair of mid C20 wrought-iron gates. The piers are flanked by quadrant railings which stand on low granite quadrant walls. To the east of the entrance a serpentine tarmac walk extends c 50m through an avenue of cordylines underplanted with ornamental shrubs. This entrance accords to that shown on Upcher's plan (1889), while the avenue of cordylines is shown on late C19 and early C20 photographs (Pring 1996).
A further entrance leads to the site from St Mary's Terrace to the east. A pair of granite square-section piers surmounted by pyramid caps support a pair of late C20 wrought-iron gates with spear-head finials. The entrance is flanked by quadrant granite walls which form a continuation of the eastern boundary wall. Upcher's plan (1889) indicates that this east entrance formed the original entrance to Morrab House and its grounds; it was incorporated by Upcher into his scheme for the park.
To the north-east of the park a tarmac drive flanked by C19 and C20 ornamental trees and shrubs extends south from the eastern end of Morrab Terrace to an entrance which comprises a pair of square-section granite piers with flat caps which support a pair of late C20 wrought-iron gates similar to those at the eastern entrance. The carriage entrance is adjoined to the west by a similar, single pedestrian gate which is supported by a further square-section granite pier. The north-east entrance is indicated on Upcher's plan of 1889.
A single late C20 wrought-iron pedestrian gate at the south-east corner of the site is supported by a pair of rusticated granite piers with flat tops. This entrance leads north from the east end of Coulson's Place to a curving flight of stone steps which ascends through evergreen shrubbery for c 20m to reach the principal curvilinear walk running through the park. The south-east entrance is shown as part of Upcher's scheme of 1889.
Morrab House (listed grade II) stands towards the north-west corner of the site and comprises an approximately square, stuccoed, two-storey villa. The south facade with a slightly projecting central section overlooks the park, while the east facade is of similar design but with a single-storey granite porch supported on Tuscan columns. A single-storey range of rubble-stone service buildings extends to the north of the main block, while c 30m north-east of the House a two-storey range of stone stables faces south across a carriage court. The tarmac carriage court is enclosed to the east by a belt of C19 evergreen trees and shrubs which are retained to the west by a drystone wall, against which are arranged a cannon, anchor, Celtic cross, and other artefacts (Pevsner and Radcliffe 1970). The disposition of House, stables, and carriage court remains substantially as shown on Upcher's plan of 1889, with the exception of a wall which extended east from the House, enclosing a yard south of the stables; this had been removed by 1909 (OS).
Morrab House was constructed in 1841 and was purchased by Penzance Corporation in 1888-9 for use as a library, in which use it continues (2000).
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
The park is laid out with a principal curvilinear walk which extends through the site from the south-west entrance to the north-east entrance. This walk and a series of subsidiary curvilinear walks divide the sloping ground into four principal areas, with other areas of shrubbery and ornamental planting around the peripheries. The path pattern within the site is more complex than that shown on Upcher's original scheme (1889), but reflects that established by 1909 (OS).
The cordyline avenue divides c 40m east of the south-west entrance to encircle an irregularly shaped area of exotic and ornamental planting, which on its western side incorporates an irregularly shaped concrete-lined pool which is surrounded by rocks and ornamental planting. The pool is planted with waterlilies and is enclosed within C20 painted metal safety railings; it is shown in its present form on the 1909 OS map. To the east the planted area is adjoined by a mown grass verge planted with specimen trees, while to the south of the curvilinear walk, the southern boundary wall is screened by further specimen trees and shrubs. At the south-east corner of the site is a small service yard screened by planting; this occupies the site allocated to the gymnasium on Upcher's plan (1889).
To the north of the pool and exotic planting, walks encircle an approximately elliptical-shaped lawn in which are set quadrant-shaped beds containing exotic seasonal planting. The lawn is crossed by three symmetrically placed walks which lead to a central circular walk which surrounds an octagonal late C19 or early C20 bandstand. The outer edge of this walk is marked by mature specimen cordylines. The bandstand comprises a rusticated granite octagonal drum surmounted by slender cast-iron columns linked by cast-iron ornamental railings, which in turn support a pyramidal roof with an elaborate wrought-iron finial and matching ornamentation to the eaves. The bandstand is shown in its present position by 1909 (OS) with a similar arrangement of surrounding walks and lawns, but Upcher's original scheme indicated a bandstand in a position to the north; it is uncertain whether Upcher's plan was implemented. There are views east from the bandstand lawn towards the tower of St Mary's parish church.
To the north of the bandstand an informal path ascends a bank planted with bamboos, exotic subjects, and ornamental trees and shrubs; this area formerly concealed a public convenience (OS 1909) which does not survive today (2000). On the northern side of this area of planting is a further informal concrete-lined pool which is surrounded by exotic planting and rustic stones. This pool is shown on the 1909 OS map. Opposite the pool and to the north of the path is a Boer War memorial which comprises an inscribed rusticated granite pedestal of classical form; the memorial is backed by evergreen trees and shrubs which separate it from the terraces below Morrab House. The shrubbery, pool, and memorial occupy the site of a tennis ground indicated on Upcher's plan (1889), but had assumed their present form by 1909 (OS). A tarmac terrace extends below the south facade of Morrab House, leading west to Morrab Cottage, a late C20 detached house which stands immediately west of the mid C19 villa, on the site of a late C19 gardener's cottage. The garden of Morrab Cottage occupies the site of a service yard and glasshouses (OS 1909), which in turn occupied the site of a flower garden indicated on Upcher's original scheme (1889). A flight of stone steps descends from the upper terrace which is retained by a planted stone wall to a lower terrace which is laid out with three rectangular beds, the central one being raised and retained by stone walls, which are placed symmetrically on a panel of lawn; this area was redesigned in 1994(6 (commemorative inscription). To the south-east of the terraces is an area of mixed shrubbery underplanted with specimen tree ferns.
East of the terraces and to the north-east of the bandstand, walks encircle a further elliptical-shaped lawn in which are set a series of small circular beds, some planted with seasonal subjects and specimen plants of exotic appearance while others contain mature specimen shrubs including magnolias and rhododendrons. A narrow gravel path of late C20 construction crosses this lawn from north to south, with a similar path running from east to west linking the peripheral walks. The north/south path follows approximately the line of a walk shown on Upcher's plan (1889). A group of evergreen shrubs and specimen trees to the north-east partly screens the east entrance, and, together with the shrubbery to the south-east of the terraces below Morrab House, frames views north towards the fountain lawn.
The fountain lawn c 40m north-east of Morrab House is approximately circular on plan, with a central circular basin and fountain. The basin is edged with rustic rockwork while the cast-iron fountain is of elaborate design and comprises a pedestal ornamented with dolphins and cherubs riding tortoises, all of which incorporate water jets. The pedestal is surmounted by two graduated tazzas, the upper of which supports a finial in the form of a globe surmounted by an otter holding a fish in its mouth; this formerly provided further jets (dry, 2000). The fountain is not indicated on Upcher's plan of 1889, where this lawn is identified as a tennis ground; it is however shown on the 1909 OS map, and in late C19 and early C20 postcard views. The views indicate a series of water jets around the circumference of the stone basin (inoperative, 2000). There are views south and south-west from the fountain lawn across the park towards the sea and Newlyn, while to the south of the lawn and peripheral walk an inclined bed for carpet bedding displays is retained by rustic stone walls. To the north the fountain lawn is enclosed by a low hedge of clipped lonicera which separates it from a gravel walk, to the north of which a south-facing bank is planted with mixed shrubbery and exotics. Serpentine rustic stone steps ascend through the shrubbery to emerge onto the principal walk opposite a late C20 single-storey day centre. Of stone and rendered construction under a tiled roof with large windows in the south facade overlooking the park, this structure stands on the site of a range of late C19 display glasshouses which included a fernery and palm house (Thurston 1930). The principal walk sweeps north-east to reach the north-east entrance, while a secondary walk returns south-east through an area of mixed shrubbery to the east of the fountain lawn. There are further areas of shrubbery and ornamental planting beneath mature oaks planted on the eastern boundary of the site. A narrow belt of shrubbery and a late C20 alpine garden separate the principal walk from a walk which extends parallel to the eastern boundary, and screens the eastern entrance.
Gardeners' Chronicle, ii (1889), pp 163, 750
Ann Rep Royal Polytechnic Soc Cornwall (1889)
The Garden, i (1895), p 322; ii (1907), p 599
E Thurston, British and Foreign Trees and Shrubs in Cornwall (1930), p 58
N Pevsner and E Radcliffe, The Buildings of England: Cornwall (2nd edn 1970), p 139
The Cornish Garden, no 25 (1982), pp 28-35
S Pring, Glorious Gardens of Cornwall (1996), pp 29, 34, 95-6
Cornwall Register Review, (English Heritage 1998)
D E Pett, The Parks and Gardens of Cornwall (1998), pp 42-3
[R Upcher], Design for Public Pleasure Grounds, Penzance,  (DC Penwith/814), (Cornwall Record Office) [partially reproduced in Pring 1996]
OS 6" to 1 mile: 2nd edition published 1909
OS 25" to 1 mile: 2nd edition published 1910
Photograph, bamboo around the lower pool, Morrab Gardens, c 1895 (reproduced in Pring 1996)
Postcard, the fountain, Morrab Gardens, c 1900 (reproduced in Pring 1996)
Late C19 and early C20 photographs (Morrab Library/Cornwall Local Studies Library)
Postcard views, c 1910 (AD.541/415), (Cornwall Record Office)
Description written: October 2000
Amended: November 2000
Register Inspector: JML
Edited: May 2001
This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 9 December 2016.