History and Stories
A view of the castle from above showing a grassy area and grey castle and walls.

Pendennis Castle: History and Stories

Pendennis Castle dominates a rocky headland high above Falmouth in Cornwall. It is one of a handful of distinctive circular artillery forts built during a period of national emergency in the 1540s.

Explore this castle’s eventful history, from the time of Henry VIII to the Second World War.

Henry VIII’s circular gun tower, begun in about 1540. The building on the right is a later Tudor addition.

Key facts about Pendennis Castle

  • Pendennis Castle overlooks Carrick Roads, an important anchorage in the Fal estuary. Controlling this area was critical to defending England, to prevent its use by an enemy intending to invade.
  • The castle was part of national defensive preparations under Henry VIII, between 1539 and 1547. It is one of a small group of artillery forts with a distinctive circular shape designed for 360° defence. 
  • With its small garrison of gunners and soldiers, Pendennis Castle kept watch over the Fal estuary and the emerging port of Falmouth for over 400 years. 
  • In 1646 an 800-strong Royalist force withstood a lengthy siege during the English Civil War, finally surrendering to Parliament after holding out for five months.
  • The castle was an important supply base for the British Army in France and Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century.
  • In the First and Second World Wars, the castle was the headquarters of the Falmouth defences. Its concealed Battery Observation Post controlled Half Moon Battery’s guns, which could fire up to 14 miles out to sea.
  • Pendennis Castle has many spectacular guns. Some can be seen in action on firing days. These include replica Tudor ‘sakers’ (named after a falcon), Edwardian quick-firing guns for fighting torpedo boats and Second World War coast, field and anti-aircraft guns.

Find out more

  • A history of Pendennis Castle

    Read the full 400-year history of Pendennis Castle, from its Tudor origins, through the Civil War siege, to its role in the First and Second World Wars.

  • Tudor Warfare

    The Tudor period saw the gradual evolution of England’s medieval army into a larger, firearm-wielding force supported by powerful ships and formidable gun forts.

  • A Soldier Writes from Pendennis

    John Glasson Thomas wrote fond letters to a friend, Gertie Brooks, when he was posted to Pendennis Castle during the First World War. Read excerpts for insights into his wartime life.

Spring Cleaning Pendennis’s Guns

Pendennis Castle has a large number of historic cannon, some of which can be seen in action on firing days. The cannon all need to be cared for to keep them in tip-top condition and here, metal conservator Tim Martin explains more about how he cleans them to preserve them for the future. 

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