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Reminiscences of Newlyn
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.
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.
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.
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
sales of fish took place “under porth.’ Now that is done at the Fish Market,
constructed since the completion of the harbour.
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.
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.
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.
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.
place of interest was the Vaccination Station where public vaccination took
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.
beauty of the cliff walk has been spoiled by the
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Easter Mondays people assembled on the “Green” at Church Town to witness and
participate in Games and Wrestling (Still called “Going to Games”).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,” ‘‘Hiawatha,” etc.
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.
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.
Mr. Stanhope Forbes lives, at Fawgan, is a huge
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 “Devil’s
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 strong
man who carried water was called Henry Dour— “Henry of the water.”
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
* 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.