Porthleven Town Trail

Follow our Town Trail and peel back the layers of history, celebrating the heritage of Porthleven and sharing her stories.

Explore 13 sites around the harbour to lift the lid on the past. Look for the granite plaques on the buildings to guide you on your way.

Our dedicated smart phone app which is free to download on both Apple and Android devices via The Porthleven Town Trail. Town trail booklet available for £1 in various shops in Porthleven including: Custom House Gallery, Nauti-but-Ice, Stargazey, The Harbour and Dock office, The Brew House and Lindy Lou’s.

porthleven

A place to get away from it all. A vibrant coastal community. A surfers’ paradise. A fishing harbour. A foodie hotspot. Home.

Porthleven is many things to many people.

Thousands of visitors every year enjoy sunshine-filled days on the beach as well as the gastronomic delights of our many harbourside restaurants. Surfers flock in when the tide is right to test one of the most respected surf breaks in Europe. Students study the unique flora, fauna and geology of the cliffs and countryside, which have been designated as national Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Walkers and families from near and far enjoy the scenery and beaches of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Heritage Coast.

For those who are lucky enough to call it home, Porthleven is a friendly place with a packed events calendar and a generous slosh of community spirit.

A historic harbour

But whether you hunker down to watch winter storms or leap into turquoise waters; whether you spend a few hours or a lifetime here, Porthleven is a special place with a historic harbour at its heart.

There’s been a settlement here for thousands of years — for just how long no one knows for sure but by the 1600s there was a small hamlet populated by miners and fishermen. The harbour you see today was built in the early 1800s and outwardly it’s changed very little since.

You may recognise the handsome granite building in front of you from television and newspaper coverage of storms battering the UK’s coast. Often mistaken for a church (it has never been a church), owing to its 70ft steeple, the Institute has stood for over 100 years. One of its four clock faces was lit almost three decades before the village had any oil lamps and was a very welcoming beacon to fishermen returning home.

The Institute is a much photographed building that has stood the test of time against fierce winter storms.

The Institute is a much photographed building that has stood the test of time against fierce winter storms.

The Institute has stood for over 100 years as a welcoming beacon to fishermen returning home.

On 16 December 1884, the ‘Porthleven Literary Institute’ was formally opened. A public tea was held at 5pm after which the building’s benefactor William Bickford-Smith gave a speech on education before the Porthleven band played up a storm.

opening-poster

The poster advertising the opening of the Institute can be seen in the Helston Museum alongside other related memorabilia. Picture courtesy of Porthleven Town Council.

William, after whom the building is now named, made his fortune with the invention of the safety fuse for mining explosives and was the owner of the nearby Trevarno Estate. in 1885 he was elected to Parliament and tar barrels were burnt on the pier in front of the town clock to celebrate. He must have been a popular fellow as it’s recorded that on one occasion when he returned from London to give an election address, the fishermen met his carriage at the outskirts of Porthleven, unharnessed his horse and pulled him triumphantly into the village!

This fine drawing of William Bickford-Smith MP hangs in Helston Museum.

This fine drawing of William Bickford-Smith MP hangs in Helston Museum.
Picture courtesy of Tony Treglown

Originally a reading room and library for the furthering of scientific knowledge and literacy, this iconic landmark was built by William for the people of Porthleven. Lectures were held here and the reading room contained hundreds of books as well as the latest newspapers and a telegram news service. It was a much-valued resource at a time when up-to-date information was much harder to come by.

The Institute occupies the site of the former Fisherman’s Arms pub and the Long Room, which acted as a sort of community hall for public and religious meetings, housing of shipwreck survivors and salvage and more.

The poster advertising the opening of the Institute.

One of the oldest known photographs of Porthleven showing the Fisherman’s Arms and Long Room.
Picture courtesy of Tony Treglown

The Institute currently houses the local Snooker Club and the offices of the Town Council, who now own the building and are looking at ways of developing and preserving it for the future.

DID YOU KNOW?

On the side of the Institute you’ll find a bronze plaque commemorating Guy Penrose Gibson, the commanding officer of the Dambusters during WW2. Guy’s mother was from an old Porthleven family and this was his UK home.

The curved white terrace of Victorian town houses in front of you points to a prosperous and affluent Porthleven at the turn of the twentieth century. The buildings, with their bay windows and gables each featuring the Cornish coat of arms, are Grade 2 listed. Completed in 1905, these residences have stunning views taking in the entire harbour area.

Bay View Terrace replaced an earlier row of houses called Buenos Aires Row. This image shows the harbour pre-1893 as the China Clay store has not yet been built.

Bay View Terrace replaced an earlier row of houses called Buenos Aires Row. This image shows the harbour pre-1893 as the China Clay store has not yet been built.
Picture courtesy of Roger Hosking

The houses of Bay View Terrace stand on the site of a much earlier development called Buenos Aires Row. There are a number of theories for the earlier name – one of which was that the materials used to build the earlier residences came from a nearby wrecked Argentinian ship, another that a Porthleven captain visited South America and liked the name. Buenos Aires Row was demolished in 1902 to make way for the new dwellings.

The houses of Buenos Aires Row can be seen across the hill in this extraordinarily sharp photograph

The houses of Buenos Aires Row can be seen across the hill in this extraordinarily sharp photograph
Picture courtesy of Roger Hosking

The last house being built on Bay View Terrace in 1905

The last house being built on Bay View Terrace in 1905
Picture courtesy of Roger Hosking

The houses of Bay View Terrace stand on the site of a much earlier development called Buenos Aires Row.

Below the terrace the cobbled road along the outer harbour would once have seen teams of men hauling on long ropes to pull boats far enough out of the harbour to catch the wind. Called tracking, this is the reason there are railings only on the beach side of the pier – the harbour side being left free for the men to drag the ropes along.

Tracking in Porthleven

Tracking in Porthleven

The end plot was once a Temperance tearooms

The end plot was once a temperance tearooms

DID YOU KNOW?

The end plot has housed numerous buildings and was originally a temperance tearoom.

Salt was important to Porthleven as a method of preserving millions of pilchards (more commonly known outside Cornwall as sardines) in barrels for home consumption and for export. In 1891 it’s recorded that 700 hogshead of pilchards were exported from Porthleven to Naples (a hogshead held between two and three thousand pilchards). Fish were often shipped to nearby Penzance to be combined with other catches and then sent across the globe.

The Salt Cellar stands in the centre of the photograph.

The Salt Cellar stands in the centre of the photograph.

The Salt Cellar was built in 1816 for the storage of cargoes landed in the port here, including salt from Norway. Scandinavian ships also brought giant blocks of ice stored across the harbour in The Ice House.

Salt being unloaded from boats and carried into the Salt Cellar

Salt being unloaded from boats and carried into the Salt Cellar

The Salt Cellar was built in 1816 for the storage of cargoes landed in the Port, including salt from Norway.

Many local houses had cellars for curing pilchards. A layer of fish was covered in salt and the process was repeated until either the pilchards or the salt ran out. After about six weeks the fish were cured and they’d then last the winter – when the standard local diet was pilchards and potatoes.

Workers linde up outside the Salt Cellar.

Workers lined up outside the Salt Cellar.
Picture courtesy of Roger Hosking

Village gatherings often took place here, even before the wooden benches were put in place. On Sundays everyone would dress in their best, and promenade from The Square to the end of the pier and back. This was known as “taking a turn”.

Porthleveners ‘Taking a turn’ along the pier.

Porthleveners “Taking a turn” along the pier.

As late as 1950, people congregated here, telling tales, sharing gossip and singing hymns to the accompaniment of mouth organs or accordions.

The benches beside the Salt Cellar have been a gathering place for decades.

The benches beside the Salt Cellar have been a gathering place for decades.
Picture courtesy of Tony Treglown

The upper floors of the Salt Cellar now house craft workshops. Why not pop in and watch local artists, including a hatter and a basket maker at work? You’ll find the entrance just up Salt Cellar Hill.

Did you know?

Fish were originally cured by being packed in salt but later they were soaked in brine which was quicker.

Gaze up at the curved lintel of this handsome building and you’ll spy the initials of the first harbour master, William E. Cudlip (thanks goodness for that middle initial or it would look like quite a different building!) and the year 1840, when this building was erected as his accounts house.

Edward James Williams mending nets in front of Old Customs House

Mending nets in front of the Account House

Following his official appointment in 1825, with completion of the harbour, William was given no fixed salary. Instead he was granted 10% of all harbour dues and 5% of property rentals. Over the following years he acquired buildings around the harbour and purchased the harbour itself in 1843, but was declared bankrupt by 1848.

A view of the Inner Harbour showing the Commercial Hotel and, to the right, the Account House.

A view of the Inner Harbour showing the Commercial Hotel and, to the right, the Account House.

After operating as William Cudlip’s account house, this building was also used as a customs house.

In the early years the harbour did not make money for its owners, mainly because it was an ‘open’ harbour. That meant when winter gales came from the South West boats were known to be wrecked even when in port. On June 1, 1855 Harvey & Co purchased the Harbour and built an extra breakwater and pair of jetties to block the entrance – and after this things improved.

The harbour in the 1940’s. The Account House is the building with the large wooden door behind boat PZ165.

The harbour in the 1940’s. The Account House is the building with the large wooden door behind boat PZ165.

After operating as William’s account house, this building was also used as a customs house for a brief period, hence the name of the art gallery housed here today. The upper floor is a holiday property.

DID YOU KNOW?
Four Acts of Parliament were needed to enable Porthleven Harbour to be built. Find out more about these and the harbour’s history at our Harbour Head stop.

Look up to the third floor of this prominent cream coloured building and locate the hatch and hook, which point to its origins as a corn-grinding mill. Standing on this spot since the early 1800s, the Mill was originally powered by a waterwheel driven by the stream that now runs through the playing fields and under the road. (This stream was once the source of drinking water for the village).

The Mill operated as Wills’ Garage for 80 years until 1965.

The Mill operated as Wills’ Garage for 80 years until 1965.

The Mill operated as Wills’ Garage for 80 years until 1965.

The Mill was originally powered by a waterwheel driven by the stream that now runs through the playing fields and under the road.

In the Mill many of the large cargoes of grain brought into the port would have been stored and processed. Through the years the building has been used as stables for a horse-drawn bus company running excursions to Penzance, a garage and it’s now a restaurant.

After 1965 The Mill (painted blue here) was converted to The Granary restaurant. It still operates as a restaurant today.

After 1965 The Mill (painted blue here) was converted to The Granary restaurant. It still operates as a restaurant today.

Turn around to face the harbour and you’ll be looking at a small area known as The Square with Town Council notices and a map of the village. It’s a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by. The granite monument here was built in 1911 to commemorate the coronation of George V, and the much-welcomed Memorial Lamp sitting on top of it (originally paraffin) was the first public light in the village.

The Square has long been a popular place to sit and watch the world go by.

The Square has long been a popular place to sit and watch the world go by.

You are now standing on the east side of the harbour, known as Sithneyside. Before Porthleven was established as a settlement there were two small communities on either side of the valley. The unnamed stream that fed the waterwheel of the Mill marked the boundary of the two parishes: Sithney to the east and Breage to the west.

DID YOU KNOW?

When the paraffin Memorial Lamp on The Square was first installed, volunteers tended it nightly. It was the first public light in the village, although one of the faces of the clock tower on the Institute building had been lit since its construction in 1884.

In bad weather, the waters of Mount’s Bay are a treacherous place. The stretch of sea off Porthleven, between Land’s End and the Lizard, is a vicious trap to shipping. When the wind blows from the south west it mercilessly drives vessels onto the shore. Thousands of mariners have drowned on this stretch of coast. Prior to Porthleven harbour being proposed, there was no safe haven east of Penzance.

Photo-01-10-2015,-22-14-57

This image gives a very clear picture of how Porthleven looked prior to the construction of the Harbour Head buildings.

An Act of Parliament
In 1811 an Act of Parliament, signed by King George III, was passed “for constructing a harbour, in Mounts Bay in the county of Cornwall”, offering a place of refuge to ships of up to 200 tons caught here in storms.

Porthleven was chosen as the location and the Act enabled the Porthleven Harbour Company to compulsorily purchase the land. The original estimate for the harbour was £60,000 and five years. In the end it took more than £200,000 and almost 15 years to complete. When the harbour officially opened on 16 August 1825 the directors held a fine feast with plenty of roast beef and plum pudding for the whole village, as well as a celebration with fireworks, bonfires and cannon fire.

When the harbour officially opened on 16 August 1825 the directors held a fine feast with plenty of roast beef and plum pudding for the whole village.

And four more…
On the world stage Napoleon was defeated at the battle of Waterloo in 1815 and some sources say many of the 70 workmen who worked on Porthleven harbour were French prisoners of war. The men used barrows to shift 380,000 tonnes of sand and gravel that had formed a Bar at the entrance to the harbour. Porthleven before the harbour would have had a large expanse of standing water, much like Loe Pool further along the coast, with the sea blocked from entering.

A 465-foot long pier and breakwater was then built to prevent this blockage from returning. It had to be constructed from the sea inwards after several attempts to build it out from the land were washed away.

In total four Acts of Parliament were needed before the harbour was completed. These allowed the company to raise more funds and take more time. The early shareholders didn’t have much fun. They were asked for additional money no less than ten times in the first five years and in 1822 were warned that if money was not raised immediately the project would cease and all capital and employment would be lost.

The shareholders had to seek Exchequer Loans and only then, halfway through construction, were professional surveys and reports obtained. Noted engineer Thomas Telford and his assistant were then asked to look at the project and report back for the money to be released.

Early days
For the first 30 years the harbour failed to make money. One of the key reasons was that it was ‘open’ and when the weather came in from the south west ships could be wrecked in port!

In 1855, Harvey & Co purchased the harbour. They had many interests locally including coal and general merchants, rope & sail makers, shipbuilders, mining, sailing and steam ships and more. One of the first things they did was to build an inner harbour that could be protected and maintained. To do this they added the breakwater that marks the entrance to the inner harbour. This had a gap for access that could be closed using baulks – the same gap you see today. This work was completed in 1858 and prompted a further Act of Parliament in 1869 that, among other things, revised the harbour tariffs.

Raising the baulks

Raising the baulks

Imports for the Harvey & Co mines came in through Porthleven and the additional methods of closing the harbour off to protect boats made the port a safer one, attracting more business. Imports were always more significant than exports at Porthleven and ships often left port under ballast (ie. with rubble rather than cargo making them heavy enough to sail properly).

Boatbuilding and fishing
At the turn of the 20th Century there were four boatbuilding firms operating in Porthleven and it had a fine reputation for the trade. At the peak of production, a new vessel was being launched each month, on average, with huge crowds turning out to each event. Fishermen had their boats, nets, sails and ropes made in the village and a host of trades from cobblers to coopers and bakers to barbours plied a trade in the shops and houses here.

Boatbuilding in Porthleven.

Boat building in Porthleven.

Fishing was a big trade here with fishermen mainly bringing home mackerel, pilchards, herrings and crab. In 1885 Porthleven’s fishing fleet was recorded as 80 pilchard drivers, 23 mackerel drivers, and 20 smaller crabbers. Today there are less than half a dozen fishing boats.

Today
Porthleven harbour is still full of character and, as you can see from early photos, the main buildings haven’t changed all that much since the late 1800s. The harbour shape is unusual and can be observed well by taking one of the higher roads around the sides – these are also a great place for storm watching and taking in the awesome power of nature at a safe distance.

A photograph from around 1900 shows a harbour that’s still very recognizable over 100 years later.

A photograph from around 1900 shows a harbour that’s still very recognizable over 100 years later.

DID YOU KNOW?

At its busiest Porthleven harbour could hold up to 200 boats. It’s said you could walk across the harbour without getting your feet wet!

Busy Porthleven harbour.

Busy Porthleven harbour.

Stand on the grass at the Harbour Head and walk to the right hand end as you face out to sea. Across the road you’ll find a square building originally used by Italian pilchard merchants.

The harbour with the fish curing stores in the background

The harbour with the Fish Curing Stores in the background

The ground floor of this building was originally filled by six-foot deep vats of brine for preserving pilchards, which were then flattened and packed for export.

Pilchards, also known as sardines, were caught in abundance off the coast of Cornwall from around 1750 until the late 1800s. The trade from Porthleven was less than other Cornish ports but there was still a steady flow of these silvery fish, which formed a large part of the local winter diet.

Pilchards being cured in a barrel

Pilchards being cured in a barrel
Picture courtesy of Richard Greenwood via Wikimedia Commons

Built in the late 1800s, the ground floor of this building was originally filled with six-foot deep vats of brine for preserving pilchards, which were then flattened and packed for export. This was a very pungent operation!

By the early 1900’s all three floors of the building were occupied by Henry Cowls and Sons but a fire in 1912 destroyed the building before the horse-drawn fire engine could arrive from Helston.

Henry Cowls and Sons

Henry Cowls and Sons

Henry Cowls and Sons from above after the fire of 1912

Henry Cowls and Sons from above after the fire of 1912

The top floor was the netting room and the huge net machines crashed through into the fish tanks below. Following the fire the company moved to new premises on Prospect Place.

Holiday flats once occupied this building but it now houses private dwellings.

The stores as holiday flats in the 1960's

The stores as holiday flats in the 1960s

You’re now on the west side of the harbour, known as Breageside. Porthleven was originally two parishes (Breage and Sithney) either side of the creek. It probably wouldn’t have developed into what you see today had another harbour been built at Loe Pool, as mooted in 1837. Walking along Breageside you’ll pass the natural oak pergolas built by the current Harbour and Dock Company in 2009 to house the Harbour Market which runs three days a week in season. Several established local businesses started out as market traders here.

DID YOU KNOW?

Cliff-top lookouts known as huers were employed to watch for pilchard shoals and would cry ‘Hevva! Hevva!’ when they spotted one. Cornish tradition has it that local delicacy hevva cake was baked by the huers when they returned home. It was ready by the time the crews returned.

China Clay was first discovered in England on nearby Tregonning Hill in 1745. Before its discovery English pottery had consisted of coarse earthenware and stoneware ceramics. Pure white porcelain had been made in China for thousands of years but the rest of the world had nothing to compare and imported porcelain was a valuable commodity.

Fishermen mending their nets. The China Clay Store can be seen in the background.

Fishermen mending their nets. The China Clay Store can be seen in the background.

This building was built in 1893 for John Lovering who had the lease on the quarries that produced the clay.

Pottery manufacturers everywhere sought the formula for making hard white porcelain. It was William Cookworthy, a Plymouth-based apothecary-cum-potter (and Quaker) who discovered a rare type of decomposed granite, finer than most talcum powders and known locally as Moorstone, up on the hill. After 20 years of experiments, William patented his formula for fine porcelain in 1768 and established the Plymouth Porcelain Company to make china for the gentry. Unfortunately not being close to coal supplies for his kilns meant using wood, which was too expensive, and his factory lasted just a few short years before it was moved to Bristol. Josiah Wedgewood, a potter in Staffordshire (located close to those all important coal mines) fared much better.

Portrait of William Cookworthy. Picture courtesy of Wellcome Library, London. http://wellcomeimages.org

Portrait of William Cookworthy. Picture courtesy of Wellcome Library, London. wellcomeimages.org

Precious loads of raw china clay began leaving Porthleven Harbour, bound for Liverpool, in 1856, loaded in barrels made in the cooperage near the Harbour Head. 950 tonnes were shipped in the first year and trade would peak at 7,000 tonnes per year – that’s more than a ship a week!

William Miners on his boat The Celie in the 1930's. The China Clay Store can be seen in the background.

William Miners on his boat The Celie in the 1930s. The China Clay Store can be seen in the background.

This building was built in 1893 for John Lovering who had the lease on the quarries that produced the clay. It would have been brought down from the hill by horse and cart and loaded into the store by means of a chute at the back of the building. Clay was constantly being transported, stored here and then loaded onto ships via a further chute at the front of the building. Sometimes the amounts involved required day and nighttime loading of the cargo ships.

The Inner Harbour taken between the wars. The China Clay building is already looking worse for wear by this time.

The Inner Harbour taken between the wars. The China Clay building is already looking worse for wear by this time.

Built deep into the cliff, the China Clay Store has had a chequered past, until a triumph of engineering and damp proofing made it possible to keep it entirely dry. Derelict for 50 years, it has been at one time or another a Museum of Wrecks and a Meadery and was briefly the headquarters of a dolphin-watching society. Following a large investment and renovation in 2014 by the present harbour owners the Harbour and Dock Company, it’s now home to one of Porthleven’s fine dining restaurants.

DID YOU KNOW?

Although the china clay trade became focused around the St Austell area by the early 1900’s, shipments of china clay continued from Porthleven until the 1930s, mainly to the Staffordshire potteries of Josiah Wedgewood.

Built out of gravel from the beach (mixed with cement) in 1894, this commercial Ice House has stood the test of time and has now been converted into holiday accommodation.

The Harbour in 1937. The Ice House can be seen across the water.

The Harbour in 1937. The Ice House can be seen across the water.

Long before electric refrigeration fishermen used the ice to keep their catch fresh.

Ice was imported from Norway and the Baltic as well as being brought by horse and cart from The Gulval Ice Works near Penzance. Three giant hooks in the roof were used to stack the huge blocks.

Long before electric refrigeration fishermen used this ice to keep their catch fresh. Large fishing boats would leave Porthleven for as long as three months at a time, often travelling as far as Ireland for mackerel, or making the perilous journey to the North Sea off Scotland in search of herring.

Porthleven fishermen mending their nets. Again the Ice House can be seen in the background.

Porthleven fishermen mending their nets. Again the Ice House can be seen in the background.

DID YOU KNOW?

Constructed on the shaded side of the harbour, the ice was kept frozen by packing the blocks closely together to reduce surface area and providing insulation via thick walls and packing with straw.

Dating from 1814, this large granite building has three floors, each with a central loading door for hoisting produce and products on and off waiting vessels. At 56 feet by 25 feet, it’s a vast space.

Many trades sprang up around the harbour when it was flourishing and several of the buildings here were multi-functional.

The building has stored a variety of cargoes throughout the decades. In 1817, 59 casks of port were rescued from the wreck of London brig The Resolution and custom’s officers impounded the casks here.

The Warehouse and Ice House from across the harbour in the 1940’s.

The Warehouse and Ice House from across the harbour in the 1940’s.

Many trades sprang up around the harbour when it was flourishing and several of the buildings here were multi-functional, as were the local population who would have had overlapping and seasonal occupations in common with the men and women of most maritime environments. As well as fishermen you’d find coopers, net, rope and crab-pot makers, blacksmiths, carters, cobblers (kept busy with the fishermen’s long leather boots), shop-keepers, knitters of ganseys (the sweaters worn by the fishermen – also known as guernseys), coal merchants, sawyers and boat makers, fish hawkers, huers (who looked out for pilchard shoals), coastguards, customs men and more.

A photo of Porthleven harbour in 1937. The Warehouse can be seen in the background.

A photo of Porthleven harbour in 1937. The Warehouse can be seen in the background.

Perhaps surprisingly, imports were more significant than exports in Porthleven and ships rarely achieved the ideal of an equal load, often having to sail out under ballast. Coal, one of the biggest imports, was brought in during the summer months at a rate of up to 10,000 tonnes a year until the 1950s. The precious load was stored in two coal yards, one behind what are now the public toilets on Shute Lane and the other at St Elvan’s courtyard (now home to luxury holiday flats!) Before a steam crane was installed in 1907 (scrapped in 1959, it stood where the tables outside the Harbour Inn now sit), men would have hauled the great loads in baskets and barrows. Exports included fish, silver lead and copper ore from local mines and china clay from Tregonning Hill.

The crane stood on the harbour from 1907-1959 and can be seen clearly in this image.

The crane stood on the harbour from 1907-1959 and can be seen clearly in this image.

Porthleven has always had a draw for artists and painters and this huge granite building now houses large studio spaces for several professional artists. Open days are sometimes held during Cornwall’s Open Studios in May/June and at Porthleven’s Annual Food Festival in April.

The large 17th century anchor leaning against the building was brought up from the seabed and placed here by two local fishermen in 1977.

DID YOU KNOW?

The SS Titanic could be seen from Porthleven crossing Mounts Bay on its fateful maiden voyage in 1912. Two young men from a large Porthleven family were onboard and among the many drowned. Their parents were left with six sons and one daughter at their home on Unity Road.

Built in 1814 this kiln was used to burn rock lime. A full time attendant would have built up alternate layers of rock lime and coal inside the kiln. The finished lime was then raked out through a small doorway before the whole process began again.

The Lime Kiln seen from above.

The Lime Kiln seen from above.

It’s not the first lime kiln to be sited on Breageside, with the earliest recorded pair dating back to around 1770, producing lime for use in the construction of early cottages around the cove. What is thought to be a very early kiln has also been discovered close to Loe Bar.

Villagers were quick to appreciate the source of free heat at the kiln and it was not unusual to find clothes drying nearby.

The Lime Kiln you still see today was built for Archibald Blair, one of the Porthleven Harbour Company directors, but he died soon after its completion and the Harbour Company bought the kiln. Initially the product was used in harbour building work, then later it was bought by local builders for construction and lime washing, and used by farmers to balance acidic soils.

An early view across the harbour with the Lime Kiln in the background.

An early view across the harbour with the Lime Kiln in the background.

Villagers were quick to appreciate the source of free heat at the kiln and it was not unusual to find clothes drying nearby. Or to find mischievous youths cooking fish and other edibles filched from incoming ships cargoes.

Most of the limestone was imported from Plymouth and the coal was poor quality culm, shipped from South Wales. The last shipment of limestone is recorded entering the port in 1910. A small amount was subsequently bought in by road for the odd burning but the days of the kiln were numbered.

A later view of the kiln shows a sloped cover over the outer rim – used for storage of the finished lime.

A later view of the kiln shows a sloped cover over the outer rim – used for storage of the finished lime.

The Lime Kiln is now a Grade II listed building. It was rescued from beneath a covering of rubbish, weeds and ivy by local historians Martin Matthews and Stuart Pascoe in 2007. Their restoration included wall repairs, adding a protective cap to prevent water penetration and, of course, two coats of limewash.

During the Porthleven Food Festival in April the Lime Kiln has been turned into a very innovative bar.

The Lime Kiln with its bespoke cover being used as a bar during the Porthleven Food Festival.

The Lime Kiln with its bespoke cover being used as a bar during the Porthleven Food Festival.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Romans used lime extensively when building their viaducts and bridges. They were the first to develop and improve the designs of kilns which had been around since Greek times and were the first to realise the advantage of using lime to improve the land.

It’s often been speculated that the Ship Inn was built on top of an old smugglers’ tunnel.

Built into the cliffs sometime between 1800 and 1810 (some say earlier), the Ship Inn, formerly the Ship Tavern, is the oldest pub still standing in Porthleven. Back then the village had just 63 dwellings and 220 inhabitants.

An turn of the century photograph showing the Ship Inn before the area around it was built up.

An turn of the century photograph showing the Ship Inn before the area around it was built up.

It’s often been speculated that the Ship Inn was built on top of an old smugglers’ tunnel, but a succession of landlords have failed to find it. Tunnels are also rumoured leading from caves on the west side of the harbour to Methleigh Manor.

The Ship Inn in 1945.

The Ship Inn in 1945.

Legend has it that the Ship’s bar is haunted: by Mrs Ruberry, a former landlady and the ghost of a French prisoner of war who reportedly hanged himself there. It’s reported that French prisoners from the Napoleonic wars were used for much of the heavy work during the construction of the harbour.

The Ship c.1895

The Ship c.1895

Today the Ship Inn is still a working pub. In the late 90s it found brief TV fame when episodes of the TV Detective Series Wycliffe were filmed here.

At one time the pub was painted pink, as can be seen on this business card form the 1990's.

At one time the pub was painted pink, as can be seen on this business card from the 1990’s.

It’s well worth walking up to the different levels of the garden, each named after different parts of a ship. Look back over the Harbour for a bird’s eye view of its complex shape.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Ship Inn is one of four pubs in Porthleven. You’ll find the Harbour Inn (formerly the Commercial Inn) on Sithneyside, the Atlantic Inn near the Coastguard Station and Out of the Blue near Gala Park, home of Porthleven FC.

Just a short walk from the Ship Inn you’ll find the old Lifeboat House perched on the rocks of the outer harbour. Today the building is used as an Art Gallery and can be hired for exhibitions, workshops and events.

An early photograph of The Lifeboat House c1900 with sailing ships in the foreground.

An early photograph of The Lifeboat House c1900 with sailing ships in the foreground.

In 1863 the Porthleven lifeboat was kept on a carriage in a galvanized shed up on Breageside (on what is now Claremont Terrace). From there it was pulled by up to six heavy horses and launched by tipping it into the water from whichever quay or beach was closest to a stricken vessel. One Sunday in January 1867 the lifeboat was called to Mullion. What a sight and sound the thunderous hurtle through the main street of Helston must have been to those on their weekly trip to church! Back then the boat would have been crewed by local fishermen and tradesmen, many of whom could not swim and the whole village would have turned out to haul the lifeboat back in and tend to the rescued.

The Lifeboat Crew and shore helpers.

The Lifeboat Crew and shore helpers.
Picture courtesy of Tony Treglown

During the station’s 66-year history, 28 emergency launches were made and 50 lives saved.

The lifeboat house you see now was opened in 1894 and closed in 1929 when other, safer launches further afield had engine speed to cover this treacherous part of the coastline.

The Lifeboat House under construction during a regatta in 1894.

The Lifeboat House under construction during a regatta in 1894.

The first boat to launch from here was the Agar Robertes, a six-oared boat brought from London for free by the railway companies and in service from 1863-1882. Next came the ten-oared Charles Henry Wright in service until 1900, the John Francis White until 1926 and then the Dash. During the station’s 66-year history, 28 emergency launches were made and 50 lives saved.

In this image the older Lifeboat house can be seen directly up the hill, to the left of the building with the white window outers.

In this image the older Lifeboat house can be seen directly up the hill, to the left of the building with the white window outers.
Picture courtesy of Stuart Pascoe

The original wooden doors were smashed in by the first big storm and quickly replaced by iron gates which allowed water to run in and out. In the January storms of 2014 a single wave removed half the roof tiles, smashed the rafters and flooded the building. Watch the fury of the seas here on a bad day and the bravery of the men who launched their rowing boat into the most treacherous of conditions becomes astonishingly apparent.

The metal doors of the Lieboat House can be clearly seen in this image from the early 1900’s.

The metal gates of the Lieboat House can be clearly seen in this image from the early 1900s.

Despite no longer hosting a Lifeboat Station, Porthleven still holds a Lifeboat Day each year to raise funds for the RNLI.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Lizard Peninsula welcomes seafarers home by providing one of the most treacherous shipping traps in British waters. At one stage more than 3000 mariners were being drowned every year.

The Town Trail is produced by the Porthleven Community Interest Company (CIC). It is the last of five key projects being delivered to support the economy and community of Porthleven.

The Trail would not have been possible without our supporters in the village and beyond.

Our sincere thanks to:

  • Tony Treglown
  • Roger Hosking
  • Helston Museum
  • Caitlin McLintock
  • Stephen Dyer (J.H. Ching Monumental Masons)
  • Wilf Wilcock (Phoenix Signs)
  • Porthleven Town Council
  • Trevor Osborne and the Harbour and Dock Company
  • Rod Stephens
  • Julia Schofield
  • Cornwall Records Office
  • The owners of all the businesses and properties featured in the Trail

Further Reading
Tony Treglown’s books on many aspects of Porthleven were a major source for many of our facts and figures on the history of Porthleven. They can be purchased from The Albatross Gallery or Slipway Studios in Porthleven.

Thanks to Neil Hawke who has kindly donated his book on Captain William Strike to be sold and monies raised to go to Porthleven CIC

Town Trail written by mightier.co.uk

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You can also pick up the Town Trail in leaflet form at numerous locations in Porthleven or download it as an app on Apple and android devices – visit the app store and search “Porthleven Town Trail”.
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