“The Treacherous Passage”
It is difficult to say if there were any buildings at present-day Malpas in the Middle Ages, however there was certainly a river crossing very early on, which gave Malpas its name: “The Treacherous Passage”.
Malpas lies in the parish of St Clement, which in the Doomsday Book is recorded as Moresk. A manor of Moresk originally stood just above the village of St Clement and was one of the original estates of the Duchy of Cornwall when it was founded in 1337.
Although there is no evidence that there was a settlement at Malpas and the land there appears to be poor, the records show that the land was owned by several major landowners, including the Robartes family of Lanhydrock. It is possible that these landowners were trying to control the ferry crossing, which made the location particularly desirable. In 1674, the Boscawen family (now Lords of Falmouth) purchased the ferry crossing and the hamlet of Mopus, which appeared to be two houses at the ferry landing on the Tregothnan (Roseland) side of the river.
Myth or history?
Many people crossed the river at Malpas, but the two most famous travellers are veiled by the mists of time. According to the ancient Cornish legend, which pre-dates Arthurian stories, Tristan and Iseult crossed the river here as they fled Iseult’s husband King Mark (Margh).
King Mark of Cornwall lived in the early 6th century and his court was probably at Goodern in the parish of Kea to the west of the river. He gave his nephew Tristan (Drustanus?) the task of bringing Princess Iseult (Eselt) from Ireland to Cornwall, so he could marry her. However, Tristan and Iseult fell for each other during the journey and continued their romance after Iseult married King Mark.
Once Iseult’s husband discovered they had been meeting behind his back, he ordered Tristan to be hanged and Iseult sent to a lepers’ colony. However, Tristan managed to escape and rescue Iseult. They crossed the river at Malpas and found shelter in the forest of Morrois (Moresk, now St Clement).
When King Mark found them, he promised to spare their lives if Iseult returned and Tristan left Cornwall for good. Indeed, Iseult duly returned to her husband, whereas Tristan spent the rest of his life in Brittany.
The Malpas ferry is, however, connected to another, real larger-than-life individual. In the early 19th century, the ferry boat was run by Jane Davies (born in 1754), who was better known as Jenny Mopus.
Born in 1754, Jenny ferried many picnic parties across the river to the Tregothnan boat house, where there was dancing in a large room upstairs. But not all was easy sailing as in 1804 she foiled an attempted robbery of Lord Falmouth’s post and even captured the robber. Lord Falmouth was so grateful to her, that he had a portrait of Jenny painted by John Boyle and hung in the servants’ hall at Tregothnan House.
Jenny was not only decisive, but also outspoken. When asked what gave her most trouble in her work as a ferry skipper, she promptly replied: “Wemmin and Pigs!”
During Jenny’s lifetime, the river between Truro and Malpas saw unprecedented development. Boatyards and tanneries sprang one after another, timber for tin mines was floated on the river, coal yards shipped coal by boat and large ships moored outside Malpas, transferring their cargo to barges for transport to the city.
Probably the busiest boatyard was that of Sunny Corner, a mile out of Malpas in the direction of Truro. There, several vessels in excess of a hundred tons were built, such as The Mary, a clipper schooner of 120 tons in 1855 and The Galatea in 1862. Another busy boatyard was that of Messrs Scoble in Malpas.
All this development called for a better land connection between Malpas and Truro. The old route connecting Truro with the ferry crossing at Malpas went up the slope inland at Trennick Mill and descended sharply at the ferry crossing. In the late 18th and early 19th century, a road along the river was constructed, serving the numerous boatyards and fuelling further development. Buildings were constructed as the road took shape and the village of Malpas as we know it today emerged.
The bustling activity and industries along and on the river called for labour. However, workers and their families needed homes. This gave rise to the present-day village of Malpas. One of the several rows of cottages that sprang up was Trenhaile Terrace. Built around 1835 by John Trenhaile, it consists of simple, one-up one-down dwellings that gave roof over the head to labourers and their families. The first two houses in the terrace were Park Hotel and Tearooms, now Heron Inn. House no. 8 was a shop and a post office (now Grade II listed), whereas No. 5 is now Fal River Cottage. Once simple homes have now become comfortable holiday lets with stunning views of the river.
The life very much revolved around the river not only for profitable pursuits, but also for pleasure. There are numerous reports of regattas. In 1859 the Tregothnan and Malpas Regatta attracted large crowds on the riverbanks with music playing and flags flying.
In 1846, the Malpas regatta was enjoyed even by royalty. Queen Victoria accompanied by Prince Albert and the young Prince Edward sailed on the royal yacht up Truro River. They stopped just above Malpas, at what is now Victoria Point. In her diary Queen Victoria wrote: “We stopped here for a while as so many boats came out to meet us from a little place named Sunny Corner, just below Truro, in order to see us. Indeed, the whole population poured out on foot and in carts etc. along the banks. They cheered and were enchanted when Bertie was held up for them to see. It was a very pretty gratifying sight.”
The Prince of Wales visited again in 1865. The Prince and Princess of Wales transferred to a barge at Malpas and were rowed above Sunny Corner. They were followed by numerous boats on the river and by cheering crowds on shore. The steamboats conveyed large numbers of passengers up and down the river to obtain a good view of the Royal Visitors.
Where to Stay
Fal River Cottage is perched on the riverbank in the centre of Malpas, only 3 doors down from The Heron Inn. It is a perfect base for river walks and cruises, as well as visiting Truro and exploring the rest of Cornwall. A perfect retreat from the madding crowd, it benefits from spectacular views and guarantees the highly sought-after privacy for a relaxing break from a busy everyday life.
Address: 5 Trenhaile Terrace, Malpas, Truro