Newlyn Walks No. 1

Tolcarne & Bethkele

Tolcarne 1881 click to see a modern aerial view.

THE Newlyn that we know today was originally divided into separate small communities, which with the passage of time, and the building of bridges and roads merged into one. In the 1930's Charles Henderson, the noted Cornish historian, carried out some research into Cornish place and field names. In his research he came up with  the following names for what has now become Newlyn:

Lulyn 1289, 1328, 1368;

Lulyn juxta Talcarn 1321;

Bethkele juxta Lewelyn 1388;

Jacford juxta Lulyu 1289;

Lulyn and Jaghford 1424; 

Streetonowan (undated).

These then were the separate areas which today make up the  whole of Newlyn. In days gone by and even as late of the last century the people living in the different areas tended to stay in their own communities.

This first walk takes us around the area on the Penzance side of the river which is known today as Tolcarne, although it includes the area of Bethkele which seems to have been lost as a place name.

Tolcarne was on the main route to Mousehole for pilgrims on their journey to Santiago de Compostello in Spain. Mousehole was an approved port for the trade in shipping pilgrims. The pilgrims would first visit St Michael's Mount and consequently the road from Marazion and Penzance was well established through the marshes and then along the Eastern Green to Penzance town. Although having a landing place the pilgrims had to travel on to Mousehole because departure from Penzance was not allowed. They may have stopped to pray in the old fisherman’s chapel of St. Anthony on the rocks.

Penzance was later to become a port with its the docklands, clustered around the piers and customs house, a noisy, dirty and sometimes dangerous place to be. The trains of packhorses, and their slimy loads of tin destined for the smelter, often ran free towards their destination. These were often unaccompanied, as they tended to act somewhat like homing pigeons apparently. There were also the inns, drinking houses and gambling dens, frequented by both the ‘paid off ’ sailors and also those of a somewhat higher station in society. Here were also the slums and boarding/bawdy houses. Not a place for those with tender sensibilities I imagine. 

After leaving the chapel they crossed the towans and the morraps. This was all grassy sand dunes and marshland and today it is commemorated in the name of Morrab Road and the nearby Morrab gardens. On over the Lidden river where even then they may have seen men breaking up the rocks that were exposed at low tide to get at the tin. 

wherry beach (old).jpg (17200 bytes)

These rocks would later become the  site of the Wherry Mine whose shaft was sited on the rocks out at sea linked to the shore by a jetty. There would also one day be a Tin Smelting works here, but their journey took place 200 years before Godolphin put the Spaniards to flight on this spot in  1595

The Pilgrims would now have entered the small hamlet known in 1321 as TALCARN, (Tat Cain), brow of the carn. This is the present Tolcarne district, and takes its name from the rock pile that is known as the Devil’s Rock. 

But our walk takes us around an area whose oldest buildings date from around the 1750's and detailed records of those who lived here from around the 1840's. In 1760 Tolcarne  would have been a very busy place with the boatyards, ropewalk and inn together with the nearby mills and brewery. 



 The plan is based on the map of MADRON parish in 1841 when a survey was made of all land in England and Wales. This was carried out when they were reforming the tithe system to one of payment in cash rather then the tenth part of all produce, as had been the centuries old custom.

    At this date all the land shown in the Tolcarne area was owned by the Le Grice family of Trereife Estate, MADRON


  A        Mount Prospect Field   [Tolcarne Rock + Devils Rock]

B        Higher Tolcarne Mill                                                      Henry Grylls / John Pollard

C        Lower Tolcarne Mill                                                          Richard Frean

D        Cooperage, Brewery, Offices & Yard                            Gurney, Downing & others

E         Rope Walk                                                                       Justinian Carter                                                                                

F         Tolcarne Inn                                                                      John Adams

G        Smiths Shop                                                                       Jackeh Rowe

H        Smith’s Shop                                                                     Thomas Cattran

J         Timber Yard                                                                        Abraham Chirgwin

K         Miller                                                                                John Burt

M        Farmhouse                                                                         Charles Ladner

 P        Orchards                                                                            William Ladner

 Q        Carpenter’s Shop                                                               William Peake & others

Orchards grew on the Madron side of the river belonging to the Le Grice family and also on the steeper PAUL parish side.

 This land was part of the Manor of Lanhydrock, which belonged to the Hon Agar Roberts after he  married the heiress to the estate.


St Peter’s Church was commemorated in 1866. The parish of St Peter was established in 1844 out of parts of MADRON & PAUL parishes.  The congregation used to meet in a building on St Peter’s Hill , Newlyn Town for many years. I am not sure if the place was named for the church or visa –versa. The building alongside was originally a schoolroom, afterwards the Parish Hall where an annual pantomime was staged. The photos below are of the cast of two of the productions in the 1950's.

St Peters panto.jpg (87195 bytes)  St Peters panto2.jpg (74274 bytes)

If we were to continue along the valley towards Trereife we would come to the site of what was the Trereife tin smelter at Stable Hobba. This later became the fish fertilizer plant but after this closed it became a small industrial estate. There is now a housing development on the land on the left as you go towards Stable Hobba, built in the 1960’s by a builder named Cattran.  This was originally market gardens and there were many lanes connecting the fields. The main lane was called Paul Hill and is not that of the same name today.  


Records show that the Nicholls family owned all of Newlyn Coombe down to and including Tolcarne foreshore. This included all the property shown on the section of the 1841 tithe map, towards the Larrigan river and back up it towards Mount Misery to Trereife House.

William Nicholls had married Elizabeth Fleming of Landithy, in 1590. Her dowry was Trereife and the lay tithe of Madron. The estate passed down through the Nicholls family to William John Godolphin Nicholls who died young in 1815. The ownership of the estate passed to his mother, a   young widow she had remarried in 1799 to the Rev. Charles Valentine Le Grice, curate at Madron. He had come to Trereife as tutor to her young son, William. John. In this second marriage she had another son, Day Perry Le Grice, ancestor of the present family who still live on the Trereife estate.

 Returning to the Church we go through the grounds and up some steps to the right of the building. These take us to the area of:

BETHKELE, ( Beth Kel), a name dating from  1388 which means hidden grave. 

This at first seems a little mystifying, but perhaps it has a connection with a legend that a lancer and his horse were buried in a cave, behind St. Peter’s Church. This cave is mentioned in Langdon’s Old Cornish Crosses (1896), page 212, where it is noted that originally- the cross now on a pillar in the church yard. close to the S.W. of the church, was dug up on Trereife estate c.1870, and given by C.D.M. Le Grice Esq., J.P.  to the Rev. W. S. Lach-Szyrma. The vicar  fixed it on a rock over a cave situated by the side of the road, not on the south side of the church, as stated by Langdon, but running along the N.E. side below the Devil’s Rock. With the development of the land the rock forming the cave was removed.  

In 1760 Tolcarne  would have been a very busy place with the boatyards, ropewalk and inn together with the nearby mills and brewery. The only contemporary accounts of Tolcarne at this time speak of Wesley’s first visit. He is reputed to have preached from the Devils Rock (A on map below). He got a bit of a rowdy welcome and had to be rescued from the mob by a local man who thought they were not giving him a fair hearing and should hear him out.


  C.     Lower Tolcarne Mill.

This was the Manor Mill for Madron. The river is on the left-hand side and also the building just in the picture is the old Brewery, now the home of a Pilchard Museum, which does actually produce “fairmaids” and exports them to Italy

There is the story going around that the owner was struggling to comply with Health & Hygiene rules and the Health Inspectors wanted to shut it down.  “It’s more like a museum than a factory” was their snide remark. “Well, ef et d’look like a museum, et‘l be a museum” and he applied for that status, got a grant and now is subsidized by the European Economic Community [Common Market] to do things in the old way.  He can sell his goods free from the restrictions of modern day bureaucrats. “Good Luck” to en I say.




G. Site of Jakeh Rowe’s Blacksmith Shop

Tolcarne had two smithy's at the time of the Tithe survey in 1841. The first (G) was in part of what is now a car showroom.  This three storey yellow building behind the bridge was once the place where the Rowe family carried on the business of blacksmith for over a hundred years. It was still there in the late 1950’s and a James Rowe was still shoeing horses, mending farm gates, ploughs and harrows. There was also the huge iron plate set in the ground where he would form the hoops to fit over the wooden wheels. The smell on cold days of the burning hooves as he set the shoe, the suck of the bellows and the strength of the man who was always so quietly spoken are memories safely stored away. He was the last of them as he only had a daughter, Valerie. The business of hacking holidays & mobile farriers had not yet materialized and horses were becoming a rare sight.


H.    Thomas Cattran’s Smithy  

As you walk along Florence Place’ from Tolcarne place on the right you can see Thomas Cattrans Smithy ( H ) tucked away in what is now someone's back garden. The wall facing you is of brick whilst the rest of the building is stone. Bricks were a rare commodity in Newlyn but some were brought into the little harbour as ballast in ships coming to load pilchards in the 18th century. This would mean the smithy was probably built around that time with bricks made in a foreign land.                 

 Wallis Basket Makers, hundreds of their baskets were used in transporting fish up country.

The Wallis family worked here for many years. Fishermen, farmers and miners used baskets. There used to be a set of granite steps up to the top floor where there is now a balcony. I can remember the ‘old man’ sitting there in the sunshine, winding his withies into a flasket that would hold so much washing it was a ‘double hander’.

The building next door, which is clearer in the picture below, was very long with a wooden upper floor with a double door opening at some height above the roadway. A block and tackle jerry rig, hanging from a scaffold pole provided the only access to this loft. Here the extra long planks, awaiting use in the shipwrights yard opposite, were stored, sometimes for years, before being used. There was also at one time a crane beside the water’s edge in the ropewalk area, which was used to get the boats out over the wall that enclosed the boatyard and into the sea at high tide. These crane launches were cranked by hand. These boats were clinker built and used mostly by men who fished for crab or lobster or were longshoremen lining for mackerel.   

Q.    Peake’s Boat Builders

Turning around from the last picture and then right at the end of the street is a tiny pathway that goes between two buildings. The bright white and black one is Peakes Undertakers –the name remains but the family does not run the business anymore. Across the lane is a building with stone lower level and wooden upper part, typical of many old workshops. These are now very scarce as they either get renovated or the sites built on. This was Peakes boat building yard



Ropewalk & Cottage: taken from position E :

The cottage on the right was once less than the height of the little white one. It was probably a workshop converted to a house by adding a stone built upper level or perhaps a net loft propped up on pillars. The lower level was used to store things such as salted fish or cutch for barking nets, which would smell too bad for those who had to live within range. The generous spacing of the doorway and windows & the different sizes of the upper widows to each other and those on the ground floor make this a possibility

Matelot’s Cottage:  taken from E


                           E.  Tolcarne Inn looking west                            Front Entrance date 1717  

The white fronted house on the right is the start of the new terrace of houses built across the open space by the J. Burt’s Mill. This was directly opposite the front entrance of the Tolcarne Inn. A lane had led from here back to Florence Place but whether there was still access this way after they built the terrace I do not know. If not, Chirgwin’s timber merchants yard & Thomas Cattran’s smithy and the many small carpenters workshops would have been blocked off. Perhaps they had already fallen into neglect before the houses were built. Certainly by 1909 the houses are there, together with the Florence Place extension up thee steps in picture H and there is no sign of the buildings that were on the 1841. The little workshop on picture Q looks like the sole survivor.

  The picture of the pub shows that there have been many additions. The bow windows appeared on the thirties and the surrounding wall sometime after 1970. The small collection of low buildings at the back may gave been the original hostelry. The lady of the house taught me music in the 1950’s and I used to enter through the little back door, now a window. The rooms were low and the floors below road level and the window opening was very small with tiny panes. Some even still had ‘bottle bottom’ glass in them. I’m afraid did not pay much attention to my lessons. Her piano had candleholders, complete with candles and a lace linen cloth covered the polished lid. On this were placed a collection of ornaments, the like of which would now fetch a fortune in any saleroom. My attention was prone to wander. Landlords of the Tolcarne Inn. 1844 John Adams. 1883, 1891 & 1893 James Trevaski(e)s. 1919 James Bray. 


The only contemporary accounts of Tolcarne at this time speak of Wesley’s first visit. He is reputed to have preached from the Devils Rock (A on map below). He got a bit of a rowdy welcome and had to be rescued from the mob by a local man who thought they were not giving him a fair hearing and should hear him out.