Pendennis Castle // Falmouth

Pendennis Castle was built in the middle of the 16th century by Henry VIII as one of a pair of forts, with St Mawes Castle, to protect the Fal Estuary from the threat of invasion from France and Spain

Pendennis and St Mawes Castles were both constructed in the middle of the 16th century to form the Cornish end of a chain of coastal castles built by Henry VIII to defend the country from invasion by France and Spain. Over the following 400 years Pendennis was frequently adapted to provide new coastal defences, up to and including the Second World War.

Although St Mawes was constructed as quite a showplace, with decorative carvings on quality stone, Pendennis began as a simple round tower and gate enclosed by a curtain wall. A new defensive wall was built around the original fort in 1598 and the castle was further strengthened prior to the English Civil War. The future Charles II and his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, stayed here in 1646, before sailing to the Isles of Scilly. It withstood five months of siege, before becoming next to the last mainland Royalist garrison to surrender.

Throughout the site, there is evidence of the fascinating history of Pendennis. The Noonday Gun is fired each day during the summer season and the Guardhouse has been renovated to reflect its First World War appearance. There are underground tunnels, which are open to visitors, a Second World War battery, and the original Tudor keep with a recreated gun deck.

The great siege of Pendennis Castle began when Parliamentary forces attacked the fortress from land and sea in 1646. The Roundheads cut lines of communication using trenches and gun positions, and set up headquarters at Arwenack House in Falmouth. Pendennis Garrison was under the command of 80 year old Sir John Arundel, assisted by Sir Henry Killigrew MP, and held out for six months. The defenders were reduced to eating their horses and dogs meat before final surrendering to the Parliamentary army of Sir Thomas Fairfax.

The location of the castle high on Pendennis Head overlooking Falmouth and the surrounding area has made it an integral part of the British coastal defences since the beginning, although the castle really predates the town which grew in the shadow of Pendennis. The land was originally leased from the Killigrew family, who provided several Captains of the castle.

Various buildings, storehouses and barracks were constructed, altered, demolished or replaced and the weaponry of the castle was constantly updated to counter the threat of invasion. There are reconstructions in several rooms, allowing visitors to see what life in the castle was like during different periods of history. The Discovery Centre has interactive displays and activities, and medieval re-enactments are frequently staged at Pendennis.

There is a large castle car park at Pendennis and various facilities for the visitor. A tourist train runs from Falmouth to this car park during the summer season. The site is open daily throughout the year apart from at Christmas and New Year.