Porthleven History

Porthleven is the most southerly port in the UK, but probably started its history in the 1600’s, when mining was the main industry in the area and houses were built up around the cove. There were a few silver lead mines nearby: Wheal Penrose and Wheal Rose to the east, plus Wheal Unity and Wheal Saturn.

Loe Pool and Loe Bar

Porthleven is well known for its sandbar to the east, known as Loe Bar. Originally, Loe Bar didn’t exist, and what is now Loe Pool was a tidal estuary until the 1300’s, when severe storms threw up tons of shingle and sand and cut off the sea from the inland water. Over the years, with no ingress from the sea, the newly formed lake became fresh water.

Porthleven history

Loe Bar

Even in the 1700’s, Porthleven didn’t really exist as a village and the now famous harbour wasn’t built until the early 1800’s when there were approximately 63 dwellings – one of which, The Gables, is the subject of this website. It is thought to be the second oldest dwelling in Porthleven – the oldest being Gar Tul on the cliffs to the west.

In 1814, the lime kiln was erected on the western side of the village, known as Breageside. Here, imported rock lime was burnt, with the resultant lime being used in the building of Porthleven harbour. The harbour was officially opened in 1826 for vessels up to 200 tons, and was built because there was a great need for a safe haven for ships, the coast around Porthleven being littered with shipwrecks. It was the wrecking in 1807 of HMS Anson off Loe Bar witnessed by Helston man Henry Trengrouse that inspired him to invent the breeches buoy, designed to rescue sailors from their stricken vessels.

By 1880 the fishing fleet had grown to its peak of 150 boats which employed almost 600 men and boys as crew and hundreds more workers on shore. Fishing was mainly for mackerel, herring and pilchards, the latter being very important in Porthleven as there was an important export trade of pilchards to Italy. At this time most fishermen’s houses had fish cellars for curing pilchards to preserve them. The fishermen also made crab and lobster pots from willow during the winter months

Porthleven’s well-known clock-tower, known as the Bickford-Smith Institute was opened in 1824, built on land originally occupied by a public house, The Fishermen’s Arms, which once stood at the seaward entrance to the village. The clocktower is an iconic landmark and often shown on TV being battered by waves during winter storms.

Storms and clocktower
Stormy Porthleven

Porthleven used to be well known for its boat building and by the early 1900’s there were four working shipyards and a number of net-making firms too. Many of the houses had their own net lofts – some of which are now used as small holiday lets.

Sadly the boat building industry in Porthleven has completely died out, along with all the connected industries, and Porthleven is now a thriving holiday resort with gift shops, craft workshops, cafes and restaurants. For anyone wanting to take a look at old photos of Porthleven history, visit the public house “Out of the Blue” at Methleigh, Porthleven. The proprietor, Simon Stone, has collected and framed a wonderful array of historic photographs which now adorn the walls.