By J Kelynack*
October many boats went to Kinsale, Ireland, to fish for winter
mackerel. These, like the herring, were of very fine quality, and, as is said of
the apples, ‘The farther west the better’ so it might be said of the fish.
This is true of all our West Country produce. Herrings from the North Sea are
never cured to be brought home by Mount’s Bay fishermen, but those caught
off the coast of Ireland were cured and barrells-full were disposed of when they
came home. To-day you will find a St. Ives kipper far superior to East Coast
fish; therefore support home industry, and not only ‘buy British” but
“buy Cornish” if you want the best.
During the summer season St. Just men often came to Newlyn to go to
sea, and would bring strings of miner’s candles, which they exchanged for old
boots to wear underground On the other hand, when fishing was bad in the
winter, many Newlyn fishermen walked to St. Just to work on grass at the mines.
The living was very precarious dangers had to be faced, and sometimes
heavy losses sustained. The fishermen were not afraid to venture into far-off waters, as is seen by the fishing lugger
"Mystery" which, about 80 years
ago, sailed on the long hazardous voyage to Australia. They took about 6 months
to reach their destination and some of the crew settled there. The boat herself
was on exhibition in Australia. Her “log is still in Newlyn.
Smuggling goods from France got the men into many a tight corner, but
they were very daring, and as shrewd at hiding the contraband goods as they were
in landing them.
All sales of fish took place “under porth.’ Now that is done at the
Fish Market, constructed since the completion of the harbour.
On one occasion big chains were slung across the mouth of the harbour to
prevent the ingress and exit of East Coast craft which fished Sunday and Monday alike.
Trouble arose, Scotch and Manx fishing-boats came to uphold the Cornish fishermen, but when tempers rose
and asserted themselves, the
‘‘military” were sent to keep the peace.
The grand old rocks which protected the foot of the cliff have
disappeared, and the fun shore which was once owned by private individuals to
the extent of low water at spring tides, has now been taken over by the Duchy.
When the tide was so high that the sea covered the shallow stone bridge
which gave access to Newlyn Town, pedestrians had to make a detour by way of
“Jack Lane,” the lower part of the hill leading to Paul.
One place of interest was the Vaccination Station where public
vaccination took place.
The Bowgcv was a pretty, grassy hill where nets were spread to dry,
children played and rolled from top to bottom, and women sat and knitted. A
stream of water flowed along the top.
The beauty of the cliff walk has been spoiled by the
When smallpox visited Mousehole no one was allowed to go there from
other villages, neither was anyone allowed to leave Mousehole. To prevent this a
long spar was placed across the cliff road to bar the way.
Before St. Peter’s parish was formed out of Paul, the old Church at
Paul was the only one. This was destroyed by the Spaniards, who in 1595 landed
at Point Spaniard, Mousehole, and burnt the village except one house “The Old
Standard,” just below the Keigwin Arms, and the Church at Paul, only a
blackened arch being left to tell the tale. The Church was soon rebuilt, as the
old registers certify. The first entries were made in 1599. There was the
minstrels’ gallery and a fine choir.
The lane to the Church rose steeply from Newlyn Cliff to “The
Cross,” from where one obtained a delightful view of the bay and encircling
hills. “The Cross’ was a grassy bank surmounted by two big rocks overhung by
a hawthorn tree. At the foot of these rocks, long ago, the fishermen placed a
portion of their fish to propitiate the Bucca, the sea-god.
Becoming sceptical of the efficacy of their offerings, the more
venturesome watched one night and found that ‘twas no spiritual being that
carried off their fish, but human hands. From that time no more fish were
offered to the Bucca.
Farther up the lane in the eastern hedge was a granite stoup where all
the girls “christened” their dolls. Each girl carried a bottle of water,
which she poured into the stoup, and after naming the doll dropped a pin into
the ‘pin-mill” and wished.
On Easter Mondays people assembled on the “Green” at Church Town to
witness and participate in Games and Wrestling (Still called “Going to
The National School occupied part of one side of the Green. Here boys
and girls from Newlyn, Mousehole and the country round received their schooling.
The Parish Clerk was also School-master. One named Pentreath was father of Rd.
Pentreath, the artist whose tablet stands in Paul Church. James Richards was the
next grand old master. In addition to the usual subjects, he taught navigation
to young men, many of whom became sea captains or entered the Civil Service (100 years ago).
This man was fearless One day he went up the Church tower and climbing one of
its pinnacles stood on top of it.
There were “Dame” schools in Newlyn and some good schools at
Penzance where a few girls from Newlyn went for their education One for boys in
Newlyn was ruled over by a severe disciplinarian With his penknife he once
pinned an offender by the lobe of his ear to a desk.
Religious services were held in a room on St. Peter’s Hill. The
gallery was panelled, and in each panel was a picture painted by Mr. Wim.
Curnow, a self-taught local artist, uncle of Mrs. Harold Harvey. Penny Readings
also took place in this room and they were well attended.
The Church services were held, later, in a Mission Room at the foot of
the Bowgey, but a pretty stone building, St. Andrew’s, has supplanted that.
There are two other places of worship, one a Primitive and the other a Wesleyan
Chapel. A new Centenary Chapel substitutes the Primitive Chapel.
A very old hostelry stood on the top of Newlyn slip. At the corner was
a ‘‘hipping stock,’’ and at the back, in a square courtlet, stood a big
stone trough out of which the horses drank. Stables occupied one side of the
square and in one corner was an inner courtlet occupied by a cooperage and
dwelling house of the cooper. It was to this house that many women brought
their knitting of an afternoon and listened to the lads’ of the house
reading aloud the latest books, e.g., ‘‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,”
Sometimes the Fishermen's wives would come from their houses to the foot
of the street, with their knitting, to hear the news, or watch the boats go to
sea. When not at sea and if there was time to spare, the fishermen might be
seen arrayed along the cliff leaning on the rail, or walking up and down within
a certain length, as if on shipboard, discussing the fishing or politics. They
loved an argument.
On Midsummer Eve the whole place was alive and illumined by torches and
bonfires. Little girls wore head-dresses and garlands of flowers. At night lusty
youths and hefty girls swung torches, prepared quite a month previous, as they
ran along the cliff. Candles were stuck on the rails and lit, and as the night
deepened tar-barrels and bonfires blazed. This was also done on the opposite
shores at Marazion, St Michael’s Mount, Porthleven and Mullion.
Where Mr. Stanhope Forbes lives, at Fawgan, is a huge
A huge rock, known as the “Devil’s Rock,” at Tolcarne, overlooks
St. Peter’s Church. It derives its name from the peculiar net-like surface
called the “Devil’s Net.” There are also a “Devil’s Foot” and
It was not very far from here that John Wesley met with hostility when
he first came to Newlyn. His cause was championed and he was protected by a
The man who carried water was called Henry Dour— “Henry of the
The Newlyn folk are clannish. Community life is strong. Neighbours help
each other. No one is allowed to want sympathy or assistance. Funerals are, or
were, well attended: hymns were sung to old tunes at the deceased’s door, on
their way to Paul Church, and at the Church. One sympathetic soul once remarked,
“Iss, I must go to their berr’in. Ef I don’t go to their’s, they
waan’t come to mine!
* This article first appeared in the 1935 Autumn edition of "Old Cornwall" the magazine of the Society of that name. It followed on from the previous article which I have reproduced under the heading of Newlyn Fishing.