Cornwall and Scilly Urban Survey Logo Background The Project The Towns Links Contact Us
 home > towns > falmouth


Falmouth originated in the early 17th century as a village established close to the medieval manor house. It developed rapidly and was a borough from 1661. It became an international port, particularly through its role in the packet trade with the Americas, developing additional functions as a dockyard and as a resort in the 19th century.

Falmouth is on Cornwall’s southern coast and, as its name indicates, is near the opening into the English Channel of the long complex ria system of the tidal Fal River. It has a near urban neighbour in Penryn, just four kilometres up the Penryn River. The curve of land protected from off-sea southerlies by the Pendennis promontory and next to the natural deep-water harbour at the mouth of the Penryn River seems to be a perfect place for a port. It is a position as attractive as that of the much more ancient harbour town of Fowey. A great sheltered stretch of deep water, the Carrick Roads, lies to the east and only a narrow ridge of land separates Falmouth from the Channel to the south. Less than a mile to the west is the deep valley of Swan Vale, now partly filled with silt and the natural Swan Pool, but probably once a long narrow tidal creek extending as far as Penmere.

River, roads and creek cut Falmouth’s undulating promontory off from land to the west except at the linking ridge to the north-west near Trescobeas. While the Truro branch railway line (with its stations at Penmere, Town/Dell and Docks) and the A39 road, both running into the town from this north-westerly direction, now give the town reasonably good land communications, Falmouth was formerly mainly reached by water. The great Victorian docks with their eastern breakwater attached to the Pendennis peninsula succeeded a line of smaller wharves, quays and slips running along the waterfront. The town’s main street ran parallel with this and settlement climbed up the steep slopes, virtually cliffs, immediately inland, and along the sides of another former inlet, now the Moor. Beyond the cliff crests were rounded hills (Beacon and Marlborough Road) up to 60 metres high from which glorious views can be had over the multi-armed Fal to the Roseland, Lizard and Carnmenellis The southern hill, formerly part of Arwenack’s deer park, was upland rough ground until early modern enclosure, but further west and north in Budock parish is anciently enclosed land with a typically Cornish scattering of farms and hamlets. The character of Pendennis headland is dominated by former military installations and now through use as an area of recreation, emphasised visually by the modern Ships and Castles leisure pool. The southern strip of hotels and beach amenities is continued to the west by a golf course at Pennance.

The downloads offered below represent the different elements of the CSUS Falmouth Report including the core text, seven illustrative figures and six character area summaries. The majority of the downloads are large files (to maintain some quality of image resolution) and therefore may take time to download.

  Title Description



CSUS Falmouth Report REPORT text detailing the results of the historic character study for the town of Falmouth. Graeme Kirkham, Historic Environment Service..

Format type: PDF


Figure 1 - Location & Topography Map Map showing the location of Falmouth and its immediate topography.

Format type: PDF

Figure 2a/b - OS 2nd Edition 1:2500 Map (c1907) Map showing the town of Falmouth in c1907.

2aFormat type: PDF

2bFormat type: PDF 329/332kb
Figure 3 - Historic Development Map Map showing the historic development and expansion of Falmouth.

Format type: PDF

Figure 4 - Historic Settlement Topography Map Map showing the historic topography of Falmouth with key areas of historic activity.

Format type: PDF

Figures 5 - Surviving Historic Components Maps Three maps showing the surviving historic buildings of Falmouth. Format type: PDF 1302kb
Figure 6 - Urban Archaeological Potential Map Map showing the areas and sites of archaeological potential in Falmouth.

Format type: PDF


Figure 7 - Character Areas Map Map showing the seven character areas identified by the survey of Falmouth.

Format type: PDF


Character Area 1. Main commercial axis An area of memorably high-quality townscape making up Falmouth’s primary retail and commercial focus. It incorporates the oldest portions of the town and its distinctive form – a series of narrow streets on varying alignments connecting end-to-end and strongly enclosed by tall, predominantly historic buildings – has a unique interest and charm.

Format type: PDF

736 kb
Character Area 2. The Moor Falmouth’s busy civic centre and former market area, with a cluster of large historic institutional buildings around an extensive open public space recently the subject of a major environmental scheme. With the adjacent streets it forms an important urban focus and a key entrance to the town.

Format type: PDF


Character Area 3. The waterfront Falmouth’s historic working focus and raison d’être. Its historic topography and fabric form a striking and distinctive area of townscape, both from land and water. Large-scale modern developments are visually prominent but the area remains particularly notable for the fine grain, diversity and charm of its historic components.

Format type: PDF

Character Area 4. ‘The cliff’ This area represents secondary expansion from Falmouth’s historic core. It has an intriguing topography, some good historic fabric and much evidence of past activity. However, there has been extensive removal of historic structures and much of the area now appears as badly degraded townscape, with an air of neglect and inappropriate interventions in the treatment of spaces, the public realm and the design of modern components. It has high potential for making a substantive contribution to regeneration.

Format type: PDF


Character Area 5. The terraced suburbs A large area of terraced suburbs of varying social status in a grid of streets on the higher ground around the historic core of the town. Stucco is the dominant finish, but there is wide diversity in form and detail and the high degree of variation within the area is a significant element of its character.

Format type: PDF


Character Area 6. Seaside resort and wooded suburbs A polite green suburban and seaside area covering much of Falmouth’s southern extent. Its character derives from a scatter of large eighteenth and nineteenth century houses and their wooded grounds, sited to take advantage of the wide views. Larger buildings and gardens continue to be dominant, despite greater density in later expansion of visitor accommodation and housing.

Format type: PDF


You need Adobe Acrobat Reader 6 to view these documents. Download a free copy by clicking the logo
 home > towns > falmouth
frequently asked questions general credits terms & conditions © 2005. Historic Environment Service Last Updated: 1/11/2005