Penzance Borough plans ‘slum’ clearance
Relations between Newlyn and Penzance had always been uneasy, so when in 1935 Penzance Borough expanded to include Newlyn the locals were unsurprisingly nervous, and their fears were soon confirmed when Penzance’s Medical Officer of Health started assessing the quality of housing in the village in order to eliminate its ‘slum’ conditions.
Though there were some genuine slums in Newlyn and very few properties in the village had running water, the majority of dwellings were clean and proudly well-kept. Hundreds, however, were soon declared ‘unfit for human habitation’ and recommended for demolition.
Penzance Borough had big ideas, futuristic schemes of open spaces and large blocks of flats, whole areas earmarked for destruction, lumping good houses in with the bad. In all, no less than 6 ¾ acres of Newlyn were destined to be flattened.
Angry protest & despair
The village went from angry protests to despair, not least because the compensation offered was too mean to fund the purchase of another property, meaning that the residents would never again own their own home.
Penzance was determined to proceed, but Newlyn’s protest earned widespread support, most influentially from the artists’ colony that had been attracted to Newlyn by the very landscape the officials wanted to destroy. They mobilised all their contacts in society and the media to highlight its predicament.
Rosebud to the rescue!
However, the most iconic protest was devised by Newlyn people themselves. They wanted to petition parliament, and someone came up with the inspired idea of carrying the petition on a fishing boat directly from Newlyn to the very seat of government at Westminster. Cecil Richards’ fishing boat, the Newlyn-built ‘Rosebud’ (PZ.87), was chosen for the mission.
On 22nd October 1937, Rosebud sailed up the Thames to a huge reception, bridges and both banks of the river thronged with supporters, cranes dipping in salute as they went, cheered all the way to parliament. Their arrival made the front cover of every newspaper and featured in Pathe and Movietone News in all cinemas.
Newlyn homes saved?
Did it work? Yes and no. Some parts of Newlyn were demolished, though only two blocks of flats were built and the rest was kept as car-parking. However, the stubborn resistance managed to delay the ‘modernisation’ of the village until the outbreak of war, when the empty cottages (whose occupants had been moved up the hill to the new Gwavas Estate) were requisitioned to house Belgian refugees.
After the war there was no enthusiasm for further destruction, and happily most of old Newlyn still survives, the houses once classed as ‘unfit for human habitation’ now protected under Conservation orders by the authorities which once tried to destroy them.
(The full story of the ‘Rosebud’ is told in The Rosebud and the Newlyn Clearances by Michael Sagar-Fenton, published by Truran, ISBN No 1 85022 183 9 )