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The history of Porthleven in Cornwall.

The history of Porthleven in Cornwall. Porthleven harbour in Cornwall

The History Of Porthleven In Cornwall

The History Of The Name, Porthleven.

There are two theories of how the name Porthleven came about:
1. It came from the Cornish words "porth" meaning port and "leven" meaning smooth.
2. It came from "porth" meaning port and "Elvan" from St Elvan the 5th century saint who landed on these shores to spread the word of Christianity. There was originally a settlement nearby called St Elvan.

Early maps showed a settlement called Porth Leuan and in 1714 the name Port Leven first appeared in legal documents. The modern parish of Porthleven was formed in 1846 taking some of its land from Breage to the west and some from Sithney to the east.

Early Settlements - The History Of Porthleven

Originally Porthleven was a marshy cove fed by a stream which marked the boundary of the Breage and Sithney parishes. There was a shingle bar at the mouth of the cove which rather like a miniature version of Loe Bar.

Porthleven was not a very important place as at the time the Cober valley was navigable as far as Helston. The continual silting up of of the Cober valley estuary however led to the formation of the Loe Bar sandbank. This resulted in the Cober valley and Helston being cut off from the sea, probably during the 12th century. By the 14th century a small hamlet of fishermen settled around the cove which is now Porthleven.

During the 1700's the fishermen in Porthleven were joined by farmworkers and miners, many of whom worked in the silver & lead mines in Penrose Estate near Loe Bar.

The History Of Porthleven And
The HMS Anson Tradegy of 1807

History of Porthleven - Picture depicting the shipwreck of the HMS Anson at Loe Bar near Porthleven in Cornwall

The 44 gun frigate, HMS Anson was shipwrecked at Loe Bar in 1807 and reportedly 130 people were drowned. This tragedy gave rise to 3 events:
1. The Henry Trengrouse life saving apparatus. Rocket fired rope line and cork filled life jackets invented by the local cabinet maker Henry Trengrouse.
2. The Thomas Grylls Act of 1808. Thomas was a local solicitor who drafted the act which sets out the procedures regarding burial of bodies cast up by the sea.
3. The Act Of Parliament signed by King George III in 1811 "for constructing a harbour, in Mounts Bay in the county of Cornwall". Porthleven was chosen because if its central location in Mounts Bay. The Act established the Porthleven Harbour Company that was responsible for building, maintaining and operating the the harbour.

Pictured below, divers examining the remains of HMS Anson in 2005:

Divers examining the wreck of HMS Anson HMS Anson sank off Loe Bar near Porthleven in 1807

Constructing Porthleven Harbour

The construction of the harbour was a tremendous and dangerous engineering achievement. The shingle bar with its stone bridge at the mouth of the south west facing valley had to be removed so ships could enter. Napoleonic War prisoners were used but the construction took 14 years and was not completed until 1825.

The granite pier and quays were constucted by 1825 but it was still an open harbour. The harbour was purchased in 1855 by Harvey and Co of Hayle in Cornwall, who built the inner harbour which was completed in 1858. The huge timbers (baulk) that seal the inner harbour in storms are still in use today. The population of Porthleven increased to well over 1000 by 1858.

The Inner Harbour Completed In 1858

History of Porthleven - Old picture of boats moored in Porthleven harbour

The harbour housed a large fishing fleet that harvested the huge shoals of pilchards & mackerel that swam in Mounts bay. The economy involved fishing, boatbuilding, net and rope making, fish smoking and packing in the village. Ships brought in coal, and lime for building work and timber for use in boatbuilding and the local mines. Exports included fish locally mined china clay, tin, and other minerals. Also Kitto & Sons of Porthleven built fishing boats, clippers, schooners and yachts used in ports all round the world. By 1900 the population was nearly 2000 people.

1900 To Present Day

History of Porthleven in Cornwall

Porthleven's traditional wooden sail boat building industry went into gradual decline due to the trend towards using steel boats with engines and later on smaller craft being made of fibre glass. Sail rope and net manufacture also declined. The local china clay production at Tregonning Hill declined under fresh competition from St Austell, which is also on the south coast of Cornwall. New methods of transportation and unloading ships lead to a reduction in traffic through Porthleven.

Although the economy in Porthleven has changed it continued to grow. The population of Porthleven was 3190 people in 2001. Fishing still continues from Porthleven with crab, lobster and crayfish being caught locally. Some of this seafood is sold at the award winning Quayside Fish in Porthleven and in the local cafes, restaurants and inns. There are sea angling trips from Porthleven harbour which can be booked through Porthleven Angling Centre.

Porthleven Angling Centre run fishing trips in Mounts Bay

Tourism is now very important to Porthleven and people are attracted by the history, the scenery, the excellent restaurants, pubs, real pasty and fish and chip shops. Porthleven has managed to strike exactly the right balance, being largely unchanged and unspoilt by tourism yet offering everything that visitors require, including a warm welcome. There is a thriving artistic community that has found inspiration in Porthleven and their works can be seen in the local shops and galleries.

To plan your visit please go to our internet links for useful information.

Porthleven as we know it today

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Porthleven in Cornwall - a guide to its accommodation and attractions
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