Penzance School of Art and Library


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Penzance School of Art, Morrab Road, Penzance, Cornwall


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Statutory Address:
Penzance School of Art, Morrab Road, Penzance, Cornwall

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


An art school and library of 1880-1900 by Silvanus Trevail and Henry White. Its teaching and output was closely associated with the Newlyn School in the late C19 and early C20, and with the pottery of Bernard Leach and his sons from the 1940s.

Reasons for Designation

Penzance School of Art and Library, Morrab Road, Penzance, 1880-1900 is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* For its original design by Silvanus Trevail and completion by School of Art alumnus Henry White FRIBA, which created a strong set of civic buildings in harmony with their suburban setting; * While parts of the building have been adapted to serve changing needs and uses, the level of survival of the principal spaces of the art school and former museum/gallery is very good, illustrating their functions notably in their open plan layout, generous glazing and art studio fittings. The studios have been relatively little altered since their construction.

Historic interest:

* As a key regional centre for the creation and development of art in the late C19 and early C20, principally of the Newlyn School and its associated artists such as Walter Langley and Stanhope Forbes; * It was the first art school to be established west of Bristol and was the centre of art teaching and exhibition in Cornwall from the late C19; * The former museum of 1886 hosted the first exhibition by the Newlyn School; * For the exceptional reputation and standing of the tutors and visitor lecturers such as Lamorna Birch, Dod Procter, Peter Lanyon, Barbara Hepworth and Graham Sutherland that taught there; * With a pottery school established and run by Bernard Leach and his sons, the renowned potters, and which continues to operate in the C21 as part of the art school within Truro and Penwith College.


Penzance School of Art was established in 1853 at the instigation of the Borough Council, and was the first art school west of Bristol. Under Henry Malcolm Geoffroi the school was well-attended at the outset and its students competed for and won regular art competitions over the subsequent years. However, the school had no permanent home until, through the gift of land and further donations, it moved into its purpose-built establishment on Morrab Road, which opened on 7 March 1881. The building was designed by the prolific Cornish architect Silvanus Trevail, and was his first design for an adult education purpose. Oscar Wilde visited the building while in Penzance on a lecture tour in 1883.

In 1886 the façade of the School of Art was remodelled as part of a scheme to add an adjacent museum. This was carried out to the designs of former pupil Henry White FRIBA. The School of Art and museum became the centre for teaching and exhibiting art in western Cornwall over the next 14 years. The museum was the venue for major exhibitions including the first of the Newlyn School where works by Stanhope Forbes, Walter Langley and others were shown. Henry White was called on again in 1889, to design a Mining and Science School that was built that year alongside the library and would replace the unsuitable rooms in the basement of the geological museum previously used for that purpose. By 1894, with the construction of a dedicated Newlyn Art Gallery (listed at Grade II), the use of the museum building was in decline and it was taken over by the Borough Council for use as a library. It was at this time that the letters FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY were added to the façade gable. In the C20 the wall between the Science School and Free Library was opened up and the upper floor of the school became a reference library. Also, a door between the library and the art school was sealed.

Regular classes took place at the School of Art during the C20 despite repeated rumours of its imminent closure and visiting lecturers included such notable figures as Stanhope Forbes, Lamorna Birch, Thomas Cooper Gotch, Dod Procter, Peter Lanyon, Barbara Hepworth and Graham Sutherland. Bernard Leach helped start pottery classes at the School during the Second World War, following his own pottery being damaged by a German bomb, and he opened a pottery classroom in 1947. Shortly afterwards he handed tutorship over to his potter sons David and Michael Leach and later the pottery classes continued under other teachers. The Free Library was extended to the rear after 1936.

Cornwall County Council ran the School from 1984, passing on that responsibility to Penwith College in 1989. In 1995 ownership was transferred to Penwith College and the building has continued to serve as a venue for adult education in artistic subjects, including pottery. The library closed in May 2016.


An art school of 1880/1 designed by Silvanus Trevail and built by James Julian & Sons of Truro, remodelled and extended twice by Henry White FRIBA to provide a museum (1886/7) and a science school (1889). There are also mid-C20 additions and some later C20 alterations.

MATERIALS: constructed of dressed granite with dressed granite quoin-work to the slightly projecting gabled bays. There are brick arches to the rear windows of the Science School. All are under roofs of Cornish slate set with crested ridge tiles. Windows and other fittings are of timber construction. The lobby to each hall has encaustic floor tiles.

PLAN: the combined building comprises two halls and an adjacent two-storey Science School building, with residential accommodation and additional studios to the rear of the School of Art. There is a single-storey, flat-roofed lobby to the front of the School of Art and the 1886/7 range.

EXTERIOR: the principal elevation is in mixed English Domestic Revival styles. It comprises one scheme of 1886 to the central and right bays incorporated the façade of the 1880 School of Art (right bay), and a Science School façade to the left. The two projecting gables of the 1886 façade are linked with a central blind screen with marginal flanking screens to each end. Both gables have tall mullioned windows surmounted with coped and bracketed gables topped by ball finials with central oculi embellished with decorative terracotta panels below. The function of each hall is identified with carved lettering on the frieze of each gable, to the left stating FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY and to the right 18 SCHOOL OF ART 80. The projecting ground floor lobby, canted at the south end, is surmounted with a cartouche enriched with terracotta laurels. Inset in the walls to each side of the first-floor windows are Bath stone plaques in poor condition. One has the thistle, rose and shamrock emblem of the Department of Art and the other the head of John the Baptist, the insignia of the Borough. There are cast-iron rainwater goods in the wall behind the cartouche. Each lobby has two sets of panelled double-leaf doors with leaded stained glass fanlights. Signage above the doors to the right reads: PENZANCE SCHOOL OF ART.

Attached to the left (south) is the Science School, which has a snecked stone façade designed to blend with the adjoining terraced houses of a similar date. It has a central canted bay, partially slate-hung, and neat stone dressings with terracotta detailing to the ground-floor openings either side. In the gable end is a terracotta panel inscribed: SCIENCE SCHOOL.

The flanking north elevation is of three bays, defined by seven buttresses with two and three light mullion and transom windows in between. The rear elevation comprises a small former domestic range and additional classrooms or studios, mainly rendered in concrete or with metal cladding. The rear window openings to the Science School have red brick arches to the ground floor.

INTERIOR: the hall interiors are relatively plain, both with generous areas of glazing at upper level as befits their studio/museum functions. The School of Art hall has timber wainscoting, panelled doors, fitted cupboards and sinks, and pine floorboards. The timber roof structure has principal rafters with slender chamfers and a single tier of stop-chamfered purlins. The roof is braced with steel ties. The former museum/ library hall has a deep coffered ceiling with full-length lantern above, ceiling vents and a strainer arch with finials. The lantern has clerestorey windows and there are large windows in each end elevation. A former doorway between the two halls at the west end has been sealed. The internal wall to the Science School has been largely removed at ground-floor level and a lift inserted. There is a mid-late-C20 cantilevered stair by the Science School front door and some of the late-C20 reference library fittings and modern partitions remain at both levels. To the rear of the School of Art hall are further studios and an office. The Life Drawing Studio has a double-raked roof and timber floorboards. There are timber stairs with balusters and turned newel posts down to lower ground-floor level where there is the pottery, kiln room, clay store, and other storage areas. A boiler room to the rear of the School of Art, within the 1880 building, has accommodation/ a studio above that was not inspected.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: there are two cast-iron and granite electric street lamps on the chequered-tile forecourt, one in front of the library doors and one in front of the School of Art doors.


Books and journals
Beacham, P, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Cornwall, (2014), 429
Perry, R, Harradence, H, Silvanus Trevail Cornish Architect and Entrepreneur, (2008), 28
Waverly, P, Penzance School of Art 1853 - 2003 , (2004)
The Cornishman - Thursday 4 April 1889, accessed 09/06/2017 from
The Silvanus Trevail Society Newsletter 2004: Summer in Penzance by Hazel Harradence, accessed 09/06/2017 from


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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