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Mounts Bay Fishing
As will be seen from the obituary of Thomas Ellis Vingoe he was very knowledgeable when it came to the various marks and
fishing grounds around the Mounts Bay. Unfortunately, no one wrote any of this down but the following article appeared in
the magazine of the Old Cornwall Society in the 1930's. Mr. Cowls was a well respected member of the Society and made
many contributions to the magazine on the subject of the fishing industry. In the "Longshoreman's Marks" he gives an insight
into the secrets held by fishermen such as Thomas Ellis that were handed down in the family from generation to generation.
Of the four sons born to Thomas Ellis none "took up the fishing" In fact, I was led to believe that grandfather had discouraged
all his sons from doing so. Instead, one became a bank clerk with Barclays, married a Redruth girl and was 'posted' to a branch
in South Africa. He ended up working on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.Another left for London to teach, joined the police
force and later became a Chief Inspector in the Metropolitan Police. Yet another joined the wartime Royal Navy, signed on as
a regular and was stationed overseas in various Naval Dockyards. My father was always a frustrated seaman After serving in
the Royal Navy in WW2 he returned home to Newlyn and became the auctioneer on Newlyn Fish Market. Apart from the
usual winter sojourns in Plymouth, when the Newlyn fleet fished along the channel for the herring, he never left his beloved
Cornwall again. With Thomas Ellis Vingoe's death in 1954 all connections with fishing came to an end, although a cousin in
Texas operates a seafood business.
The Longshoreman's Marks
By P. Cowls
To many who have stood on the foreshore at Porthleven and watched the boats entering and leaving the harbour, or watched
them sailing—apparently without any set plan—around the Bay, it may come as news that the laws of the sea are as fixed as
the laws of the road, as are also the bounds as to where one may or may not go. It might appear to the uninitiated that with
such a wide expanse to sail over one could not easily go wrong; ‘also that one would be as likely to catch fish in one part of the
Bay as in any other. But such is not the case. It is vitally necessary for the fisherman and particularly the type known as the
“longshoreman”, the man who does not go out of sight of land to do his fishing, to know the rules of the sea, and to know what
the bottom of the sea is like, in order to be able to decide what particular type of fish finds the particular type of ground to its
liking, and consequently may be expected to frequent it. For fish are more susceptible to a set type of sea-bottom than are
sheep or cattle to a set type of pasture.
The large black conger clings to the black rock, his protective colouring being made full use of accordingly; similarly the large
brown pollack loves the area where the brown, ribboned seaweed languidly sways in the undertow, while its nearest relative—
locally known as the “whiting pollack” from its silvery resemblance to the whiting—is a roamer not branded by any local
colour: he takes the silver and grey of the great sea. The crab, the lobster, the crayfish, each possesses its “home ground,” and it
is the discovering and marking of
these grounds that is a great part of the business lore of the longshoreman.
The sea-bottom of Mount’s Bay is more rugged and undulating even than the land immediately on its shores; very deep are
some of its areas, while in others so shallow is the water that at low tide even small boats have been known to strike the crest
of those sunken hills. As a boy I have often heard the fishermen refer to the “Great Row” and “Little Row ” but had no idea at
that time that the shallows referred to were the crests of submerged hills which were only a continuation of the ridges of which
such headlands as Tremearne and Cudden are but the land termination. The longshoreman knows these ridges well ; he knows,
too, the valleys on each side of them. In the month of February he takes out his long strings of crab and lobster pots and lays
them along the ridges where he knows his intended victims will be found. At the first sign of the approach of a south-west
gale, with its accompanying rough sea, he hurries out and deposits his pots in the valleys below the ridges, where the
tremendous swell will not be able to wreak such destruction on his frail wattles.
At the present day the deep sea fisherman has a wealth information about the habits, breeding areas and periods, and migration
of fish supplied to him by the Government Fishery Research Department but a hundred years ago, when few fishermen had
had the privilege of schooling and those who could read were rare, all the information had to be gained in the hardest and most
efficient of all schools— that of bitter experience. Consequently when the information was first gained it was jealously guarded.
Let us imagine that Dick Body (nicknamed Barras) has discovered that a certain patch of black rock on the sea bottom is a
prolific spot for conger (the sea bottom is easily to be noted on still days). After a few days of good fishing and consequently
good landings, it has come to be noticed by his brothers of the line that he has fished with good results at the same spot for
many days; others try the spot with success, and its position is marked in the following way.
From the boat it is noticed that a line of houses in Mullion village are exactly in line with the end of Mullion Island. In the other
direction it is noted that the tower of Cury Church is lying immediately to the right of a patch of green on Gunwalloe Sand
known as the “Castle.” The longshoreman has thus marked it as “Barras’s Mark." The position has to be taught to the younger
generation by the sea patriarchs, and from them to be passed to their descendants. Each branch of the longshore fishing industry
has its own particular and peculiar mark as do the trawlers, the crabber’s and day hookers. Many of them are virtually copyright
and are by no means revealed lightly. Nor should they be; they have been come by far from easily and ought to be jealously
guarded as the rights of the inheritors. I may say here in passing that when I approached one old fisherman to obtain the names
of some of
the marks he said quite abruptly; “Whaffar?” I am a landsman, and
consequently not above suspicion of poaching.
You will notice in the list of marks I shall be quoting presently how frequently the churches are used as marks. As my old friend
said, “You see, they are sure to be there always, and don’t change.” Perched on the top of Wheal Mount is a long low building,
now a stable but once the farm house. It is a famous “depth” mark with the fishermen. Some weeks ago one of them said to
me, “Tell the man at We’l Mount to gie th’ old house a coot of whitewash; we shall be usen of un soon.” The Cornish fishing-
village abounds in “nick-names, not given out of any disrespect for the bearer, but to enable even friends to disassociate them
from perhaps two or even three bearing the same Christian and surname. This accounts for some of the curious names of the
an old “crabber.”
Beginning with Beacon Crag on the west side of Porthleven Harbour and extending to St. Michael’s Mount, we have :
Bullan, Song, Sawn or Sowan Shaggy (a long gully in’ the cliffs frequented by Shags or Cormorants), Pertrammel, Perslinches,
Mearne (Tremearne) Cove, White Par (bands of white granite in the cliff), Blue Par, Madgy. Leggy, Git Sawn, Jane Jump
(steep cliff), The Cloodges, Baagel-coulen or cowlin, Nine-wells, Perkew, The Winnocks, Streath Water, The Innes, The
Mount. I have
left out well-known headlands, bays, etc. The White Par is also known as “The
Flakes o’ Mearne.”
In addition to natural phenomena, there are also marked by the fishermen the positions of Ships’ Anchors that have been lost in
the Bay at various times; unless the position of these is known to the trawlers serious loss of gear is likely to ensue.
One of these is found “over the stile of Breage Tower, in
line with the splat of sand on the east of the Bar.”
Then we have: Jimmy Read’s Anchor - Breage Tower in line with Beacon Crag, trees in Gunwalloe over western chimney of
Harry Cuttance’s— Breage Tower with Seymour’s outhouse; western end of Harry Cuttance’s house with eastern end of
Gunwalloe Coastguard house.
Tower with Scott’s House; Umbrella Trees (behind Chyvarloe) just in sight.
Tower clearing Gwinion Point; Breage Tower with Scott’s House; short hedge
with the pit.
Old Pembro anchor gets its name from Pembro Farm in Breage; “Antonio” was the name of the ship which lost the anchor; the
others bear the names of those
fortunate (?) enough
to be the first to discover them (usually associated with the loss of a trawl).
now for some fishing marks:
Town with Castle--- (Cury Church in line with green on Gunwalloe sand. Point of Pradnack in line with the Git Ubble.)
The Ubble mounds on Cudden Point, (the hollows between being known as Saddles.)
Town scarfing the Castle.
(the Marshes) and the Middle Stagg in sight - Hocken’s Mark—Sinny Tower over Harry Boy’s (house near the Institute), Cury
Ulla— Trencrom joining the east side of the Mount, Paul Tower in Mousehole, Coastguard Row. The Gob Minner Head (west
of Bishop Rock)
just in sight over Gwavas Head. Ship Inn, Porthleven with the end of pier.
over Minner Head, Mount in line with Minner Ubble.
out from Cudden.
song near Poldhu Cove. Lifeboathouse scarfing
in line. Wheal Mount
In addition to these, there are The Calligan, The Mern, Jack and Benny, The Drusk (Sinny Tower with Beacon Crag, Cury in
sight), The Bream Mark (Breage Tower with Flakes of Tremearne, Cury out of sight),- Cairn Mallas. (a very shallow area off
Prussia Cove), The Stone (another shallow beyond Cairn Mallas), Mount Mowpas (shallow off Cudden point—only 6 feet of
water over it), Great Row (a shallow beyond the Welloe, running in line Rinsey Head-WelloeGreat Row). On the eastern side
of Porthleven are found The Clidja (Clyde.ja—The Morrops), Hog-a-dower (near Pradnack), The Booder (east side of
Pengwinion), Trig-a-bellah (near Poldhu Cove), The Visses (in Mullion Bay), Growse and Growse Cliff (near Poldhu).
Most of these names, known only to fishermen, are Celtic fragments that, however corrupted they may be, are worth
preserving. I am afraid the collection of them has been left somewhat late, as an old fisherman friend aged 80, who knew most
of them, tells me that he “caan’t maake it out, but he can’t run them off haaf like he used to, and the young wans have gaw
new names far thum.